Why Do Cichlids Move Rocks Around In An Aquarium?

As stated in Britannica, “Cichlids are from the family Cichlidae, and there are more than 1,300 species”. Cichlids are a prevalent freshwater aquarium fish. Most Cichlids do not grow to be more than 12 inches long.

One exception is the Oscar. They get to about 14 inches in length. Some of the most known fish in the Cichlidae family; Jack Dempsey, Oscar, Angelfish, Discus, and the Electric Blue or Yellow Cichlid. 

Why do Cichlids move the rocks in the aquarium? One of the reasons that your Cichlid is rearranging the rocks is that they are territorial. By moving the rocks they are claiming “their space” in the tank. They prefer an area with a clear boundary. If they feel there is not one, then they move rocks around and dig to make one. 

The male Cichlids are notorious for staking out their territory and chasing other fish away.

Because Cichlids can be so territorial and aggressive, you need to do plenty of research to see what other species, if any, would be safe to have in the same aquarium. Personally, I would only have the Cichlid in the tank. Just one, with no other fish at all. You can help your Cichlid (and other fish) by creating spaces for them to hide from each other. 

Arrange your rocks so that they are out of the other line of sight. Your Cichlid also moves the rocks around in the tank for courtship purposes and parenting reasons. Both of which you will not have to worry about if you only have 1 Cichlid in the aquarium. 

What Items Do You Put In A Cichlid Aquarium?

Sand as Substrate: For the Cichlid aquarium, you want to use sand as your substrate. Not only does it mimic their habitat in the wild, but it also aids in their digestion. This is because they will, on occasion, ingest a little bit of the sand specifically for digestive purposes.

Rocks for Them to Hide: You want to have rocks for them to hide behind or in. It doesn’t matter if they are plastic, ceramic, or real. If you choose to use real rocks, please do not just go outsides and pick them up.

There could be bacteria and other harmful things on these rocks that could harm your fish and definitely alter the tank’s pH. Go to an actual pet store to purchase your rocks.

You can choose from a variety of sizes and colors. Make sure there are no sharp corners or jagged edges that the fish could hurt themselves on. You can also choose ships, castles, and other decorations. 

Basic Plants: Depending on the species of Cichlid, you can and will want to have plants in the aquarium. An Angelfish enjoys having a few plants in their environment, where an oscar is destructive and will just uproot and destroy them.

So you will need to do some research and purchase the best plant/Cichlid combination. If you are set on a specific Cichlid, then read up on their interaction with plants and what the basics of their natural habitat are. 

The Best Rocks For Your Cichlid Aquarium

Rocks are a Cichlids best friend. They make the fish extremely happy. The Cichlid will use rocks to play, for privacy, spawning, and hiding from other fish. The hardest part is finding the right rock for your Cichlid. We are going to provide you with the top 5 options. 

Your Cichlid will enjoy exploring the insides of the rock cave. He will appreciate a place to call his own. When CIchlids have their own space, they feel safe and secure, which reduces their stress and anxiety. 

You can choose from a white color, a purplish color, or natural coral. This rock is very porous, easy to break to create a wonderful private hiding place for your Cichlid. Make sure to rinse them off well before placing them in your tank. 

They will not provide a hiding spot or safety for your Cichlid, but they are nice and smooth, so there is no risk of harm to your fish, and they still enjoy them. You can get creative and glue them together to make a cave or a rock wall for your Cichlid to hide behind.

This type of stone will not affect your pH level in your tank. You will receive a set of two; one large Cichlid stone and one smaller. 

Tons of nooks and crannies for your Cichlid to hide and explore. Beware, this is a 15-pound chunk of decoration. So, you definitely do not want to purchase it if you have a smaller tank. It is going to displace water and take up the swimming room. So a larger tank is better for this particular rock. 

How To Stop Cichlids From Moving The Rock In The Aquarium

There is basically only 1 simple solution to keep your Cichlid from moving the rocks around in the aquarium. Purchase your tank, decorations, and all of the other necessities. Set-up the tank completely. Make sure that you are constructing hiding spots and places to explore.

Caves, castles, and rocks with holes to explore are going to be your ideal items for your Cichlid tank. If you have a couple of designated boundary spots in place when you introduce the Cichlid to the tank, they will not move anything around. Watch Youtube videos and research ways to set up a Cichlid tank so that it is perfect for your new friend.

Other Rock and Cichlid Facts

With such a large number of fish belonging to the Cichlid species, there are a large variety of things to consider and research. Believe it or not, certain Cichlids will like certain rocks, and other Cichlids will hate them. Once you decide on the Cichlid, you want it in your aquarium.

You will then have to research the type and style of rocks and other decorations that they prefer. Remember, you want your aquarium to mimic their natural habitat so that they feel safe, happy, and secure in the aquarium. 

Ensure that the rocks, caves, and other decorations you choose are proportionate to your tank and your Cichlid. You do not want to place a large rock or cave in a 5-gallon aquarium with a smaller Cichlid species. This will cause stress and anxiety in the fish. He will not feel safe or secure, and he will be intimidated by the large item. 

You want to be cautious with buying white rock or other decorations. White will reflect your aquarium lights when turned on, and it may be too much for your Cichlid. Consider your background when choosing your decorations. YOu want them to complement but also contrast each other. 


There are many aspects to owning a Cichlid: rocks, aggression, other decorations, housing mates, and more. Cichlids will move the rocks to make sure they have a designated boundary and hiding spot.

If they do not visually see a boundary, they will move everything around until it suits them. Until they feel safe and secure. You want to make sure that your decorations are not too light-weight, as some Cichlids (like the Oscar) will toss them around like nothing and possibly destroy them. 

The only way to get your Cichlid to not move around everything in the tank is to set up visual boundaries for them before introducing them to their new habitat.

Unfortunately, this is just their nature, and there is not a lot that a person can do about it. If fish do not feel safe and secure, then they are not going to be happy. They will be stressed and have anxiety if they do not have their personal space.

Enjoy your Cichlid! They are fun to have and watch, and they come in some gorgeous colors. 

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I'm passionate about fish pets and love sharing everything I learn about them.

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