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Need stocking ideas/help - 380 gallon in wall tank

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Hi Everyone,

I have an opportunity to rip out a wet bar and put in an in wall aquarium in our sitting room. It’s our most favorite room in the house and my wife would like it to be a scaped tank and i want it to be something very active. It will be a custom built 80”x28” deep x42” tall acrylic tank with overflows. Since this is a wet bar i’m going to plumb in an automatic water change and tap into the existing drain. 

i’ve done monster fish and guppies but I’m looking for a cool active tank with some scaping but don’t want to have to constantly be in the tank with maintenance. Thoughts are:

African Cichlids 

mbuna Cichlids


looking for a living piece of art.


filtration will be a custom sump with 5-10x turnover depending on stocking needs.

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Mbunas or other African cichlids  will cause challenges with a planted tank.  A discus tank can be pretty nice but you might run into some challenges with temps with plants and other tank mates.  There are some nice examples out there on the interwebs to emulate though.  Could probably do discus and angels together in a tank that big…

I agree to check out rainbowfish.  A densely planted community tank with some rainbows can look pretty nice.

or you could try salt water 🤷🏼‍♂️

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Some of my favorite large tanks have been rainbowfish tanks. I've only ever kept the Pseudomugils, but the larger species are stunning as well.

If you're looking for activity, why not consider a barb tank? Stick with some of the less aggressive species - I'm thinking Rosy Barbs, Denison's Barbs, and Black Ruby Barbs. You could do a huge school of each in that tank, or pick one species and go all out with a couple hundred of them. That'd get expensive with the Denisons, though.

A saltwater tank could be fun, but if you have no experience with it, I'd recommend against such a large tank as your first one. It can actually get a bit overwhelming on such a large scale until you're used to it, despite what the old wisdom used to say about bigger being better.

Or... Maybe a tank full of guppies and shrimp could look great.

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Your challenge will be the depth of the tank. It is not easy to maintain, let alone plant up a tank that deep. Lighting will be a major burden. Heating it will be difficult.

We've kept mbunas. They're very fun for awhile, and they show off nicely. But as has been said, they'll shred plants if you're not careful.

I like the idea @lefty o suggests of schools of nice tetras. But I think @Colu has a great notion with those Congo Tetras. They are unbelievably beautiful. IF you got into a school of them, they'd be stunning. Here's a nice video I stumbled on recently...

Now . . . with a crew of these for beauty and color . . . I'm going to wonder out loud if you could get away with a big stunner in the tank. I'm so interested in some of the Madagascar Cichlids . . . I'd love to see someone set up a community context with some featured Paratilapia polleni ("Starry Night Cichlid"). But they'd get huge . . . probably not plant friendly . . . would eventually eat everything else in there. Maybe a bad idea.

I was in Pittsburgh, PA the other day, and saw a stunning Rainbowfish Display at the PPG Aquarium. Like @Kalopsia suggests, they can put on an epic display. Here's a photo or two . . .




Of course . . . you can never really go wrong with a Discus Tank. I keep mine at 83-F, and the plants push through...




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Anything planted will be some work, and probably a snorkel, so probably want to stick to hardscapes and some of those really nice 'false' plants that Cory found when in Germany - Look damn near real!

I recently fell in love with bichirs and other polypterus, because I found a few at my LFS and immediately went home and start looking into them - My advice is to go check out some LFS, make a trip to an aquarium (bring a notepad!), or make a weekend trip to some check out some other cities LFS's, as they will often have different fish/breeders. Maybe you'll find a type of fish, colors of fish, type of scape, or fall in love with something you never expected!

Sounds like you like cichlids though, they're not my thing, but I can appreciate them for their wild array of colors and behaviours and a well-done tank is quite a sight to behold.

I would have to resist the urge to put 200 rummy nose or scissortail rasboras in a tank that big. I'm still actively fighting the urge with my 210 because I want my bichirs!

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African cichlids sound perfect for what you want. They've very colorful, very active, and pretty hardy. You can make a largely carefree tank using rocks for hardscape. Since you're having a sump, you can have a bog chamber in the sump where a few bog plants can be grown to help strip nitrates from the water. And speaking of water, you'll want your tap water to be pretty hard with a higher pH for African cichlids if you're using an auto-water change system. You can cheat on that a bit by using alkaline enhancing rocks, coral, and substrate, (even hiding some in the sump) but they tend to be slower acting and if your water is very soft and acidic out of the tap, larger water changes may not reach the desired levels. You'll need to spend quite a bit on rocks and fish as you like an African cichlid tank to be pretty crowded from the start. That tends to minimize bullying. But if you're custom building a 380-gallon in-wall tank with a large sump, money is probably not a huge concern. Do an online image search for African Cichlid tanks and check out some videos of African cichlid tanks on YouTube for inspiration. 

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I think a African cichlid tank would make a great display, especially with the automatic water change system to take care of the large amount of waste they can produce. It’ll be beautiful, but it won’t be a planted “aquascaped” tank. For that you don’t need to look any farther than Takashi Amano’s large aquascaped nature aquariums. Again, the auto water change with an auto dosing system for fertilizer would dramatically cut down on maintenance. 

Here’s some work by Columbian aquascaper Johnny V. 






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Bichir is a french word brought to english I believe, so technically the correct pronunciation is (Bih-Sheer)


Anywho tank maintenance with plants doesn’t have to be a snorkel. For this exact reason alot of aquarium people use a telescoping arm like so:


and I would almost assuredly get the extra strong algae magnets specifically designed for acrylic. It will cost you a good $200+ but won’t scratch.


Also I enjoy the suggestions although personally I’d go South American cichlids. There are more gentle giants such as uaru that would really look good in that type of display. There is also a company that makes fake banyon roots called aquadecor and they make custom orders.


Cheers let us know what you decide!

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So many ideas come to mind. As everyone mentioned African Cichlids are an obvious choice, depending on the kind of scraping you want. I think there are some people who have mentioned varying success with planted African tanks, although it’s not easy. I’m pretty sure there is even a species of Val native to the rift lakes.

Barbs are super active and can be plant friendly. You can see some of Cory’s older videos where he had the 800g stocked with hundreds of tiger barbs. Filament Barbs, Denison Barbs, and Mascara Barbs are larger colorful options too.

I love Colu’s African biotope idea. When I was setting up my 90g that was an idea I went with for a long time. Congo,Diamond, & Niger Red Eye Tetra, six line barbs, and kribs are all very cool, plus Africa has plenty of cool odd balls like rope fish/bichir, African butterfly fish, buffalo head cichlids, etc. And the plants with Anubius, Buce, African Onion, African Val, etc have lots of cool options too.

Another biotope that adds lots of color and activity would be Central America (which is what I was kind up doing. Firemouths, Nicaraguans, And Flier Cichlids are what I have. Super beautiful and active. wild type sword tails and astyanax species also add a lot of activity.

And of course there is always Discus setups, Rainbow set ups, other community set ups. Honorable mention from me for these are panda garras, colorful, very active in groups, and algae eaters which will help (a little) with maintenance needs. 

These days I have a hard time wanting to do anything that doesn’t have live plants, although for a built in wall tank I would hate the added maintenance of most plants. I don’t want to trim stems or worry about root tabs (and definitely don’t want to worry about dirt going awry). Rhizomes however are easy, practically maintenance free, will take forever before they over grow that big of a tank, and are my favorite plants anyway.

One last suggestion is a 3D background. I think it’s hard for them not to look good, makes your tank very unique, and have the benefit of adding a ton of surface area for beneficial bacteria. If you DIY one like I did you can hide all of your equipment behind it and make it exactly how you want. If that’s not your thing Universal Rocks makes some excellent backgrounds. They also make some really cool hard scape stuff, which is what Cory has in his 800g. I’ll add a picture of mine, it was actually very easy to make. 


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