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Mbuna Condos, concepts for a African Cichlid tank


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My LFS is still selling 75 gallon tanks for $100, time to start planning my next system, a Mbuna tank.

My primary focus when aquascaping a Mbuna tank will be to create as many 'caves' as possible. This is a highly territorial rock dwelling fish that wants a place to call home. In my previous tank, the Mbuna were quite happy on doing the work of digging out the gravel/sand to make a home, nothing else to do in a tank. So I want to create an environment where the Mbunas have many areas they can dig out the sand/gravel and create a home. How do this is quite simple, first I will place a piece of PVC pipe with a section cut off:


Then place a large rock on top as shown below:


Now the Mbunas can literal dig out under the rock creating a nice little home they can call their own. This design may require some walls to prevent the gravel/sand from pouring in, you can do this by using the pipe sections cut off:



another option is some screen material:



Here are a couple quick prototype (I used an old drawer), the first shows the rocks sloping upward.



Filled with some crush coral (most likely I will use sand).



Here is one with no sloop:



And finally, filled with crush coral:




Now this is still a work in progress but to build a wall, add pipes of increasing height:



Now add some rocks:



Gorilla (polyurethane) glue

From the PlantedTank forum, I found this quote from a company rep:


"Gorilla Glue will work on varied surfaces and it does provide a 100% waterproof bond which can be submerged after curing a full 7 days. Once cured, it is inert and it will not leach anything into your aquarium water."

This makes sense, polyurethane glues will cure by a chemical reaction, once complete the atoms are bonded together. My first interest in Gorilla glue for this project, cover your rocks with a substrate material such as sand to give your aquascape a consistent look. My original source for rocks was landscaping rocks at my former employer. Unfortunately they removed all the rocks. I will not pay $2/lb for rocks at my local fish store, that just too expensive. One rock source near me is a drainage culvert near my house. These are standard boring construction rocks with a dull gray color.

To create a rock, put on some disposable glove, spray some water on the rock and cover it with the Gorilla glue. Toss the rock into a bucket of substrate and fully cover it, wait a few hours before removing. Gorilla will foam up while curing; the thicker application will foam up more. It will also remove any sharp jagged edges on the rocks.

Below are some examples:

The one on the left is a drainage culvert rock, the middle one is covered with pool filter sand, the one on the right used pool sand and a PetCo fine black gravel. With this method, you can make all your rocks look similar.




A closeup of the middle rock:



The darker area were created by not apply the any Gorilla glue, it's the gray from the rock. Lots of potential using this idea, more work to be done. Finally, the piece of pipe support the rocks covered with pool filter sand:




Hopefully the pipes will blend it when the Mbuna dig up the sand.

Well that's it for now, all opinions are welcomed.




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Love it! Trying to imagine how this could go wrong, but it all makes great sense. Love the G-Glue process for uniform look. Very clever. Nice photos too. We usually set up a Hardscape plan on a flat surface before going at the tank. What species of mbunas are you keen on? Attached a photo of our 55 gal mbuna tank. We went the Texas holey rock (honeycomb limestone) route. 


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Wow that's a cool idea!

I went the expensive route but I like the look.

Now I've got more Electric Yellow Cichlids than I know what to do with! Aaaaah!

Sorry for the glare, the tank gets alot of natural light so I don't need a light for it.





Edited by Matt E
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11 hours ago, Fish Folk said:

.What species of mbunas are you keen on? Attached a photo of our 55 gal mbuna tank. We went the Texas holey rock (honeycomb limestone) route. 

Great tank! I have never seen honeycomb limestone locally. 

After a 20+ year hiatus, I just got back into the hobby and this would be my second (and last) display tank. I don't have a strong desire for rare Mbuna, size and color is the primary factor. The big stocking mistake I made the last time I had a Mbuna tank, too many species ie: I will take one of those and one of those, etc.

So this time, the first issue is  how many different species in a 75 gallon tank. It will have a sump filter so filtration is not an issue. 

Next issue, should  I try to get breeding pairs and let the Mbunas stock the tank. I do have a unused 29 and 20 gallon tank, I could use these for breeding.

Last issue, do I want a overstocked peaceful Mbuna tank or understock it to encourage their aggressive territorial behavior? 

Thanks for your reply!


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3 hours ago, Matt E said:

Wow that's a cool idea!

I went the expensive route but I like the look.

Great tank, 5 stars! I get annoyed at some of the 'aquascaped' Mbuna tanks you find of youtube, a huge tank with a carefully stack of rocks in the middle. These guys love  rocks, you can clearly see that from your pictures.

My plans for the 75 gallon tank, ~1/2 of the tank will be in a corner, the other half will be a peninsula ie: open on both side. So one side of the tank will have vertical rock structures.

Anyways, thanks for posting pictures of your tank.



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4 minutes ago, Matt E said:

The closest LSF is a big box store, again intimidated

Hmm, yeah, big box stores usually have strict rules from the top down that prohibit individual stores from buying or taking fish from customers. It takes awhile to build a good relationship too. If there's no local fish store that you usually do business with, it may just not be a reasonable thing to pursue. 

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@madmark285  I would not go the aggressive route, it will just cause more headaches with undue stress (possibly diseases and death), fin nipping, and etc. This is why you always see the center island in tanks when stocked with various types. That way they do not claim territory and become aggressive. When I first started with Mabuna I ran into the problems above because I liked the rocky look over the center island and I stocked too many at once. I've always kept my tank temperature around 75F when I had various types and lowering never effectively helped with aggression. Someone was always picked on and it was a consistent hassle of well that guy needs to get moved. Most Mabuna owners know this happens and the challenge is finding the ones that get along with each other at an adult age. Juvenile can be misleading and when they grow up, they can start being more bossy!

I don't have to worry about aggression because I only have one type of Mabuna and they have colonized. I use to have a breeding pair of Convicts until the unfortunate AIR PUMP TRADEGY about a year ago. Where I lost one Convict (The Male) overnight, along with my Electric Yellow tank Daddy. 😱😢 The worst part was the Convicts had just laid eggs for the first time a month prior.

I didn't have any problems adding two Convicts because they were out numbered and just kept to themselves. The Yellow's seemed to respect them and their area of the tank. Even today no one will go after the Female and she is very welcomed in the colony. If you want various Mabuna I'd recommend starting with your breeding pair (preferably at an adult age) and slowly add a different type here and there over longer periods of time. This way you can monitor the behavior and determine if they will get along or not. I do not recommend the "buy all at once" strategy, this will only increase the probability of aggression over territory. 


Edited by Matt E
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2 hours ago, Matt E said:

 I do not recommend the "buy all at once" strategy, this will only increase the probability of aggression over territory. 

Thanks so much for the great advice. I have alot of work to do and Mrs. Mad is unaware of  my plans for a second 75 gallon tank😰 Lots of time to think about a wife and stocking strategy.

I need to make a road trip (90 minutes) to this store, CNY Fish Exchange. They seem very active in taking in fish and connecting sellers with buyers. My LFS has a very limited selection. 

This hobby has change so much in the past 20 year with the internet. 

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