Captive young cichlids recognize early on where their food comes from. The video below shows my Telmatochromis sp. "temporalis shell" juveniles positioning to get fed. They are in a small grow out tank.
There are at least two interesting observations here. One is that they have already learned to associate my presence with being fed. Hence they assemble when they see me approach. The second is that they've learned exactly where the food enters the tank. I always place the food in the tank in the same spot (in the front right corner). Notice how they all line up facing the same direction. Because the current created by the filter output naturally moves water from left to right (as you face the front of the tank), any food that enters on the right will immediately begin to flow to the left.
A little over a year ago, I decided to do something a little creative with my substrate. I have always used sand or gravel substrates in all of my tanks but I've never had a tank with a combination.
As you can see in the photo at top, there is a large anubias (the plant in the right rear corner), which I've had for years. I didn't want to part with it, so I needed to leave a healthy amount of gravel on the right end of the tank where it's planted.
Eventually, I decided to go with all sand, except for where the anubias is. Thus that little patch of gravel on the right was the only gravel left.
The tank has changed immensely since I added all of the white sand. Not only have I completely redecorated the tank (as you can see in the photo above), but it also has a lot of new cichlids. The anubias, by the way, is a bit smaller because I trimmed it and planted offshoots beside it.
Needless to say, the clear delineation between gravel and sand didn't last long, though I wouldn't have expected it to if I had numerous substrate sifters and stirrers. However, I have a few rambunctious cichlids that surprisingly stir the sand up significantly. The result is that the whole right end of the tank is now pretty much nothing but a mix of sand and gravel. The photo above was taken in November 2016, and you can still make out quite a bit of gravel. Now it's almost all mixed up.
The point is, if you're wanting to keep multiple substrate types segregated, you'll probably need to set some clear barriers between them (hint: think of a solid fence) in order to make it difficult for your cichlids to mix them. Mixing not a bad thing, but it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as you had planned. If you keep Geophagus species (eartheaters), a clear barrier of some kind won't be enough.
Back in 2015, I published a post about experimentation (not experimentation in the scientific sense) in which I highlighted the fact that a lot is going on with respect to your tank water, whether you can see it or not. While I wasn't specifically referring to cichlid communication, cichlids do communicate using chemical cues.
An interesting paper regarding cichlid urination and communication was published online last week in the academic journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (the paper is also in the February edition of the print version of the journal). Experimenting with Neolamprologus pulcher (commonly called the Daffodil cichlid) from Lake Tanganyika, the authors discovered that these cichlids use urination to signal aggression.
Here is the significance statement from the journal article:
The communication of aggressive tendencies can be achieved by transmitting visual, acoustical and chemical information. In this context chemical communication received less attention than other modalities thus far. We studied the importance of chemical information released via urine during agonistic encounters in the cooperatively breeding cichlid N. pulcher. Using dye injections, we measured urination patterns as well as the aggressive and submissive behaviours of two contestants. We show that N. pulcher actively signals aggressive tendencies via altered urination patterns. Furthermore, we show that appropriate agonistic responses appear to be dependent on the availability of such chemical information. Thus, our results suggest that chemical communication plays a crucial role in multimodal communication of aggression in these fish. These findings highlight the importance of chemical communication during agonistic encounters in general, even if other signals are more obvious to the human observer.
Here is the citation for the article: Bayani, DM., Taborsky, M. & Frommen, J.G. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2017) 71: 37. doi:10.1007/s00265-016-2260-6
Though we just ushered in the new year, time goes quickly, and summer is just around the corner. That means the annual American Cichlid Association (ACA) convention will be here before you know it. If you're a true cichlidophile and you've never been, I suggest you make an effort to attend. The registration cost is reasonable, even if you're not an ACA member. Nowhere will you find a larger collection of cichlid geeks in one place over the course of several days.
This year's convention is going to be held July 13-16 at the Sheraton Novi in Novi, Michigan, which is located a few miles northwest of Detroit. Hosted by the Michigan Cichlid Association, the convention promises to be another stellar event.
As of today, the convention website is incomplete, but check back often as more information will be added very soon. Start making plans!
I've posted many times about various online resources for information about cichlids. Here's another one. Check out Steve Poland's YouTube channel.
Launched a couple of years ago, Steve's channel provides videos on a variety of subjects relevant to African cichlids. Steve interviews folks, provides product reviews, covers DIY projects, and much more.
I haven't watched all of the content on the channel, but what I've seen is pretty good. Spend a little time browsing his videos. I'm sure you'll find something of interest.
You go to feed your cichlids and you notice one has a cloudy eye. Or perhaps one or more of you fish is lethargic, not eating, and hugging the substrate. Or maybe one of your fish, that you've only had for three months, suddenly has some kind of sores on it. Does this sound familiar?
Yes, well kept fish can develop problems just like healthy people can get sick. However, the probability of experiencing any of the above with your fish is directly proportional to the quality of the environment your fish live in.
I can't count the number of times I've seen cichlid keepers ask for help online with at least one of the above problems. It happens regularly. I can say with extreme confidence that most of the time the reason a fish develops a health problem is because of poor water quality. You hear experienced aquarists say it all of the time, "Do frequent water changes." How much water to change and how often depends on many factors, and that's a post for another day. But changing water weekly is a good rule of thumb.
In a healthy tank, the ammonia and nitrites should read zero ppm. ZERO. Sustained exposure to anything higher for either one will result in health problems and, eventually, death for your fish. Nitrates should remain below 40ppm, at minimum. Less is best.
Don't be one of those who asks "How'd that happen?" Test your water regularly, don't assume anything about your water parameters, and address any fluctuations immediately. You can't prevent an occasional loss of fish, but you can minimize the frequency simply by being conscientious, doing regular water changes, and taking your fish keeping responsibilities seriously.
Here are some scenarios. You just saw some cool cichlids online and you're going to order them. Maybe you just saw a few species of awesome new cichlids at your LFS and plan to bring some home. Perhaps you just got a pay increase or you're expecting a tax refund this year. The wheels in your head are spinning because you want that new tank, you know what cichlids you're going to put in it, and you now have the funds to make it all happen. So you do. Now the tank is at home and you're already planning to fill it up and get the fish.
Oh, hang on a second. You just remembered that you have to cycle that tank. Whether you're planning to cycle it the traditional way (with a few hardy fish) or whether you're going to do a fish-less cycle by dosing with ammonia, you still have to wait.
You've read about it or heard someone mention it but you've been afraid to ask what it means. What is seeded media or, more accurately, seed media? It's simply bio-media from a stable tank that is saturated with bacteria, which can be used to begin breaking down ammonia and nitrite immediately in an uncycled tank. However, don't confuse "immediately" with "sufficiently." Those aren't the same thing.
The amount of bio-media you'll need to handle a new bio-load varies. Unless you're a scientist, that will have to come with experience. A small amount of bio-media will typically only kick-start the cycling process. However, a large amount may well be enough to prevent any stage of the cycle from restarting, which means the new tank can be ready for fish immediately.
Sure, you can buy some of the "cycling" products on the market to get things going, but using seed media is the best way to go. So where do you get it? Get some from a fellow aquarist, ask for some from your LFS, or keep some at the ready yourself. That last option is what I do, and it's easy.
The photo at top is a media bag that contains two types of bio-media. This is one of two bags of extra bio-media that I keep in the corner overflow of my 75g tank all of the time to serve as seed media. You can do the same thing in a sump. If you don't have an overflow or sump, you can always "rob" your canister, your HOB, or other filter of a portion of bio-media. However, be careful with the "robbing" plan. Removing too much media from an existing filter can diminish the capacity of that filter to manage the bio-load of the tank it's filtering.
Water circulation and surface agitation are two important aspects of good fish keeping, especially for cichlid keepers. However, the two water manipulations are not mutually inclusive. The former isn't quite as important as the latter.
Many cichlids not only enjoy considerable water circulation, but many species actually need it (e.g., Crenicichla species), especially to spawn. There are many ways to circulate water, but most folks employ powerheads to move water around. I've used powerheads and small, submersible pumps with PVC pipe to create underwater flow. Many variables come into play when deciding what to use to move your water (e.g., tank size, livestock, your goals), but that's a post for another day. Suffice it to say that you should figure out what kind of movement you want and why you want it before you do anything.
Surface agitation is a requirement for gas exchange, which aerates you water, an essential component of maintaining healthy oxygen levels for your livestock. Many aquarists use air pumps to agitate the surface, but the same result can be accomplished by directing the output of your power filters (e.g, HOBs, canisters, sumps) toward the water surface. In a nutshell, making the surface of your tank water a little wavy is a good thing.
Keeping cichlids is an inexact science. Just when you think you have them figured out, you realize you don't. One of the keys to understanding their behavior is to try and identify patterns. Some behaviors are typically predictable, while others are a bit more nuanced.
If you've kept both New and Old world cichlids, you've undoubtedly noticed differences in aggression. In fact, in my experience, aggression among Africans from Lake Tanganyika differs significantly from that of Lake Malawi Africans. Mbuna are generally regarded as some of the nastiest among Malawi cichlids. I call them night stalkers.
Every mbuna I have ever lost has occurred overnight, following completely normal behavior during the day before. And because there is a clearly discernible pattern here, the conclusion is that the mbuna I've had do their destruction overnight.
In my 40g breeder, I had two adult mbuna - a P. Red top Ndumbi and a P. Elongatus Chailosi. The first couple of months or so, the Ndumbi was clearly the dominant fish. Over time, however, that changed. In the last couple of months, I noticed the Ndumbi hanging in corners or within the artificial plants, with occasional chasing by the Chailosi. I watched the Ndumbi closely for any signs of damage (ripped fins, etc.) or other significant stress (not eating). Just yesterday evening, it was out in the open eating and it looked very nice. Late today, I went to feed them and the Ndumbi was dead. It had already lost all its color and was pretty rigid, meaning it had been dead a while. It had to have been beaten to death overnight.
In the previous post (and probably other posts), I mentioned that I remove only one half of the rock work in a tank when I clean. In fact, I don't remove rocks and decorations every week, which is the frequency of my regular tank maintenance. There are two reason for only removing half when I clean:
1) Stripping the environment of all rock and decorations leaves it bare, albeit temporarily, with no cover and no place to retreat to.
2) Cichlids do, in fact, establish territories or "space" in the tank as well as use the rocks and decorations as landmarks.
Removing everything each time tanks are cleaned distresses the fish by eliminating everything they are used to other than the substrate, elecrtical components, and the glass walls. Furthermore, it's not necessary to sufficiently clean the tank on a weekly basis. However, it is sometimes necessary to rearrange the contents when adding new cichlids in order to disrupt established territories and reduce agression towards newcomers.
In summary, do your cichlids a favor and don't add unnecessary distress to what is often a stressful environment to begin with.
Well, it's not really a tool in the typical sense. Maybe utensil is the better word. In any case, I ordered this Rubbermaid scoop to perform two main tasks - scoop sand and scoop fry.
I used it today for the latter. I suspect this won't work well for some fry, but it does great for shell dwellers. Shellies and their offspring tend to hug the substrate more than many other cichlid species. In fact, my Telmatochromis sp. "shell dweller" fry stay attached to the bottom like glue. The flat bottom of the scoop makes it really easy to run it across the substrate (or underneath the substrate if you're scooping it out). Also, the scoop is clear, which may be less threatening to the fry.
During tank maintenance this afternoon, it was time to remove the rock-work in the half of the tank where my Telmats reside (my 75g Tanganyikan community tank). A little over a month ago, I set up a fry/grow-out tank. I had already moved some fry that I caught, but had many more to catch in the 75g. Rather than continuing to rely on moving the fry in shells, like I had been doing, I decided to use the scoop. It worked phenomenally well. In the span of 10 minutes, I had caught nearly 10 fry (~ 1/4 inch +). There are a few more still in the 75g that I tried to catch but was unsuccessful. A task for another day.
If you've ever been to an ACA convention, you know that there are always myriad species of cichlids at the event with tanks set up in lobbies, the fish rooms, and even attendees' rooms - some sold by hobbyists and some sold by retailers. This summer's convention was no exception with an astounding variety of beautiful fish for sale.
Imperial Tropicals, a tropical fish farm and wholesale/retail business located in Lakeland Florida, was well represented at the 2016 convention with a wide selection of cichlids, including Peacocks, Eartheaters, and many others. Mike Drawdy, the manager of Imperial Tropicals, was also in attendance. Mike grew up on the fish farm in Lakeland Florida, where he developed a love of the outdoors and a healthy understanding of the balance of nature. Mike is passionate about fish keeping and breeding, and the fish farm specializes in breeding fish (including numerous cichlids) from around the world, many of which are threatened in the wild. In addition, the farm takes pride in educating people about the threats that tropical fish face in their natural habitat. For more information or to place an online fish order, visit their website. Also, check out their Facebook page.
While at the convention, I talked to Mike and invited him to be interviewed for the blog. He happily agreed, so let's get started.
If you're the "make a new year's resolution" type, consider one of your resolutions to be rearranging your tank. One of the best ways to experience the full range of behaviors from your cichlids, especially if you have a community tank, is to modify their landscape. Rearranging the tank often eliminates established territories and changes the tank dynamics. That cichlid that was once quite dominant can suddenly become a bit less rowdy and aggressive. Of course, the opposite might also occur, but that's a risk I'm always willing to take.
Put in new rock, add some plants (artificial or live depending on the species you keep), change the substrate, add other new elements. The beauty of rearranging the tank is that what you do is often more a result of your imagination than anything else. If you want to emulate the natural environment of the species you keep, go for it. If you want to be more whimsical and decorate with a theme, do that too (read Pam Chin's interview to see what she does).
A new, fresh perspective might reinvigorate the aquarist in you, it might make you feel better about your tank, and it might give your fish new things to explore.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub