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I am thinking of setting up a new 55 gal. SA or CA cichlid aquarium, but would prefer a non-planted tank.
Which species(if any) would be happy in this kind of set-up?

Red Dwarf
 

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You can probably stock quite a few different species in a non-planted tank. If you have wood and rocks to create site-breaks and delineate territories, you can probably re-create a naturalistic environment as well - not all parts of every river in SA/CA is chock full of plants!

I think the more limiting factor is the size of the tank - there are plenty of SA/CA cichlids that are notorious for tearing up plants and/or eating them - but many of them get too large for a 55g tank.

So keeping in mind you may be better off with smaller growing species, I think you could choose from the following (and more)!

SA;
- Keyhole cichlid
- Festivum
- Bolivian Ram
- Severum (some species may get too large).
- Angelfish
- Blue Acara / Electric Blue Acara
- Redhead Tapajos

CA;
- Firemouth
- Convict
- amatitlania nanolutea (Yellow convict)
- Sajica
- Salvini
- Jack Dempsey

Keep in mind that many of these fish, especially the CA's, are highly aggressive, so single specimens may be necessary (a wet pet situation).

I also know that some of these fish often pop-up in planted tanks (ANgelfish), but that doesn't mean you have to keep them in planted tanks. Many breeders maintain bare bottom tanks with a breeding cone. It all depends on what you want!
 
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