Yesterday, I received a shipment of cichlids from Mike's Cichlids in Florida. I ordered the following:
Eretmodus cyanostictus x 1
Labidochromis perlmutt x2
Lamprologus tretocephalus x2
Pseudo. Elongatus Chailosi x2
Pseudo. Red Top Ndumbi x2
Telmatochromis temporalis x 2
Because Mike and Jennifer generally add an extra fish in orders of multiples, I received four extra fish - one Tret, one Chailosi, one Red Top, and one temporalis.
Below are a couple of photos of a T. temporalis and a L. tretocephalus. Two of the Trets are in the 75g Tanganyikan tank along with all three temporalis and the goby cichlid (E. cyanosticus). The temporalis are pretty shy, at least at the moment. The goby isn't really shy but it comes out in spurts. I'll get a photo of it when I catch it out and about. As you can see from the tank photo below, the tank is full of rock and plants, so there are tons of places to hide.
If you follow the blog, you probably remember a previous post on never having enough holey rock. What that post didn't include was any tips on selecting the "right" pieces of rock. Of course, such decisions revolve around what you want your tank to look like, what you like in holey rock, etc.
However, there are some practical reasons to be selective beyond the appearance you're striving for in your tank. Here are a few questions you might want to answer:
What size are the cichlids you are keeping?
Do you have at least a pair of rock dwelling cichlids?
What kind of substrate do you have, if any?
In my experience, holey rock comes in two basic types - course and smooth. You'll easily notice the difference if you see enough of it. The former variety tends to have more holes or pits. It's also rather jagged throughout, which can pose a problem. The good news is that no two pieces are shaped the same. Just stacking a few together will almost always create numerous crevices, caves, and pass throughs.
Since I only keep dwarf species of cichlids, holey rock with built-in holes are ideal (see images 2a and 3b below). I don't have to always strategically stack the rock to create caves. In my experience, the smooth variety of rock tends to have the larger holes. I also use sand substrate, so I look for rock that are long and somewhat thin with "arches" on one side (see image 2b). I also like flat pieces that I can easily stack on (see image 4). I use these as my base. Many African cichlids like to dig, especially mbuna. So I like to take the rock with arches and put the arch side down on the sand. This creates natural caves, and the sand can be dug out a little making the caves larger. I will intersperse some course rock on top of the smooth rock, where fry have numerous little holes to seek refuge.
Sadly, the red zebra was deceased the next day. This is very unfortunate. Upon reflection, I'm reluctant to place any/all of the blame on con-specific aggression. Had it truly been stuck in the hole, it would have struggled to remove itself, which would have resulted in physical evidence on its body. There were no physical markings on it at all - no scratches, missing scales, etc. It was just pale and seemed weak.
I honestly do not know what happened to it. The fish appeared fine the night before and had shown no prior indication that anything was amiss. The fact that there were free swimming fry indicates that the egg laying and incubation period had long past, and I had not witnessed any parental aggression prior to discovering it lodged in the hole. If the fish was going to get beaten to death, in my opinion it certainly should have happened well before it did, not to mention that it should have shown some evidence of it.
No one knows your fish and your tanks better than you. If you've spent any amount of time observing your cichlids, you'll soon know what behavior to expect when you approach their tank, feed them, perform water changes, and various other tasks in which you interact with them. For this reason, you'll usually know something is wrong before you actually spot the problem.
It happened to me tonight. While feeding my 55g mbuna tank, one of the three red zebras was not making an appearance. Usually the most vigorous eaters in the tank, not seeing one within a minute or two gave me that "oh no" feeling. I finished feeding the tank and sat down to watch. After about 5 minutes, I knew something was really wrong.
Because the tank contains numerous holey rock and river rock from end to end, I naturally began moving stuff around attempting to get "eyes on" all three zebras simultaneously. I moved about 85% of the rock and still never saw more than two.
The next step was to start removing the rock. While doing so, I thought I saw some detritus that moved funny. Then I saw them. Yep, FRY!
Okay, so that might explain part of the problem. The fry had to belong to one of the zebras because I did notice one of the zebras really getting after the other cichlids in the tank while they were all feeding, which was unusual. I was not able to sex the zebras when I bought them because they were only about 2" TL and I hadn't given it any more thought. Thus, I really wasn't sure if I had a breeding pair or not.
As I pulled the third large piece of holey rock from tank and almost had it in the bucket, I heard that unmistakable fluttering sound of a fish's shake. I turned the rock over and, sure enough, one of the zebras was lodged in a hole. It was pretty pale compared to the others, so I can only surmise it might have been in there for a while.
I successfully dislodged the zebra once I had the rock back in the tank, but it was swimming very slowly and gingerly. It was still pretty pale after a minute or two.
Though the largest of the three zebras, my conclusion is that this was the subdominant male who was beaten up pretty badly and simply ended up in the hole. Either that, or it was driven there and had become stuck. The former hypothesis makes the most sense, though it happened pretty quickly. Less than 24 hours prior, all three zebras were actively swimming and eating.
About 10 minutes after extracting the zebra from the hole, I noticed it lying sideways on the sand at the back of the tank. I thought it had expired so I brushed its tail with my finger. It righted itself and slowly swam under a rock. I don't have a quarantine/hospital tank set up and can't get one set up until at least tomorrow. I suspect it will be too late by then but I will check on it in the morning and see if it survived the night.
Cichlidophiles know very well that tanks containing multiple cichlids will invariably have a tank boss. This will be the apex cichlid, the one that none of the other cichlids can bully, but it won't necessarily be the largest in the tank. Among other things, who the boss becomes will depend on the mix of species in the tank and their genders.
My 75g is no different. It's a mixed Tanganyikan tank that, at present, contains 5 different species of cichlids (A. calvus, N. leleupi, T. vittatus, C. macrops, J. marlieri), three species of dithers, and a couple of species of bottom dwellers. The tank boss is a male Altolamprologus calvus, one of three calvus in the tank (2m, 1f). However, I've discovered that the tank has an associate tank boss...and it's not a calvus.
Below is a photo of the associate tank boss. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in tenacity. He just generally has a bad disposition. As far as I can tell, he hasn't really carved out a territory. He just roams the tank doling out cichlid justice to pretty much anything that crosses his path. He's not killed or injured anyone yet, but he's certainly sent the entire population in a panic when he zeros in on someone...except the boss calvus.
The ACA has started a monthly photo contest and it's open to everyone, non-members included. Get your favorite cichlid photos together and send them in. Prizes are awarded for the top three. Visit the rules page and show everyone your fish!
I submitted my T. vittatus below.
As your collection and variety of commercial fish foods increases, so does the space required to store them. If you're like me and favor organization over clutter, there are plenty of low cost options to address the storage of your growing supply of flakes, pellets, cubes, etc.
My show tanks all sit on wooden cabinet stands with storage underneath. Each of the stands has doors to conceal under-cabinet filters, supplies, and such. For the longest time, I would put my flake and pellet containers on top of the tank but that soon began to look cluttered and disorganized. It also became a greater hassle when I had to remove 15 containers before I could remove the glass canopies.
My solution to this was to pick up a few Rubbermaid wire baskets. These are very inexpensive (< $4 each) and easy to install (each one requires two small wood screws). At roughly 4" x 11' x 4", they're also the perfect size for the regular size food jars and bags. See photos below.
I picked my baskets up at Lowe's or Home Depot a few years ago. Menard's also has them by a different manufacturer, and they can probably be found other places as well.
Many cichlid keepers new to the hobby often want to know what the best shell is for their particular Tanganyikan shell dweller(s). The answer to that question isn't as straightforward as it might seem. For one, most cichlids in the hobby are captive bred, and thus shells must be introduced to their aquarium. Secondly, providing a variety of shells doesn't guarantee that your shell dwellers will select those that are endemic to the lake.
It's widely accepted that the shell of the Neothauma tanganyicense snail (pictured below), the largest gastropod in the lake, is preferred by most of the resident shell dwelling cichlids. It makes sense that these shells, which aren't very large at their maximum size, would be the shell of choice. They're large enough and abundant. However, for domestically bred cichlids that aren't naturally exposed to Neothauma shells, it means other options are widely available. Furthermore, the shell selection process of the shellies is more a product of individual preference, and there are many variables that affect that choice, especially when breeding - ability to move the shell, the size of the female relative to the shell, etc.
I have kept two shell dwelling species of Tanganyikans - Telmatochromis vittatus and Neolamprolgus ocellatus. However, I experienced other dwarf cichlids that will seek shelter in shells, specifically Altolamprologus calvus. I bred ocellatus and, while a bit selective, they didn't always choose a single shell species when presented with multiple options. Below are some of the shells I've made available to my shellies in the past.
With my N. ocellatus, I've had the most success using a Babylonia japonica, which is the shell at the six o'clock position above. Lots of shellie keepers advocate for Apple snail shells, but for some reason, my ocellatus just didn't find them attractive. A couple of the shells above are turbo species, which I thought might also be appealing but weren't. My juvenile A. calvus would seek shelter in the Apple snail shells (the large, dark shell at the two o'clock position above) but abandoned them once they grew too large to fit.
Needless to say, your shell dwellers may readily take to any of the shells you provide. They might also be picky and not like their choices. Shells aren't very expensive, so you might give them at least a few options and see what works for you.
Got several cichlids that are skittish or that are reluctant to come out in the open except to eat? Fear not. Many species are known to be notoriously shy, and being confined to a small space surrounded by an invisible barrier (glass walls) can produce myriad behavioral changes.
Fish react to the behavior of other fish, and those swimming naturally out in the open are often a sign that "the coast is clear" from predators, which can de-stress trepid tankmates. The same works with cichlids. Next time you're at your LFS, pick up some non-cichlid, open water species and watch your trepid cichlids become more visible. These open water fish become what are called dithers for your cichlids. They may also make a nice addition to your tank.
I like to provide multiple species of dither fish, especially species that behaviorally complement each other. One of my favorites are black skirt tetras (pictured above). They are peaceful, hardy, and reasonably long lived for a tetra. They are also deliberate swimmers, meaning they don't just swim constantly from one end of the tank to the other. They are schooling fish thus purchasing 5-6 or more is ideal.
Another favorite, because they complement the behavior of black skirts, are giant danios. These are also a schooling species and are quite fast swimmers. Unlike the black skirts, giant danios are in constant motion. I'm also fond of Buenos Aires tetras - regular and albino varieties (pictured below). These are a little less active than the danios but more deliberate than the black skirts.
Yes, I recognize that the three species of dithers I list above are not endemic to the rift lakes and thus may be perceived as incompatible with the harder water of the rift lakes. I find the latter not to be true at all.
I encourage you to consider adding some dither fish to your tank(s) if you have some cichlids that just don't seem to be comfortable out in the open. Whatever dither species you choose, be sure to acquire those that are sufficient size to avoid being eaten by larger, predatory cichlid species.
Registration is now open for the ACA convention in Cincinnati. I put in a plug for the convention in a previous post. It's a great event and a place to meet some awesome cichlidophiles like yourself. Registration is really reasonable for non-ACA members, so please consider attending. You won't be disappointed.
If you've ever conducted a Web search for anything, you understand how serendipitous it can be. I unintentionally stumble across new and exciting information all the time when I'm searching for various things. It's the same when I'm looking on YouTube for a video of some kind. In fact, serendipity is what's responsible for this interview.
I don't recall exactly what I was looking for, but several months ago I came across this great YouTube channel called Fincasters. Described as "…your video fish fix," the channel is where excellent video production meets various aspects of the aquarium hobby. Who could ask for more? Covering marine and freshwater, videos range from the installation of monster aquariums to coral propagation to cichlid species spotlights.
Meet John Carlin, the man who produces and hosts Fincasters. I reached out to John a few weeks ago about appearing on the blog, and he graciously agreed.
Those of you who keep Rift Lake cichlids, especially mbuna from Malawi or any number of Tanganyikans, know that Texas holey rock are awesome rocks. In my opinion, you can never have enough, simply because each rock is unique and, together, they offer so many creative cave building possibilities.
Above is a photo of the 7 pieces I bought from my LFS today. Both of my current tanks contain a lot of this rock, which I believe, from a decorating flexibility perspective, provides the most options, especially if you're trying to maximize caves.
Everyone has their own preference for rock size, shape, etc. Personally, I like the smaller rocks because they 1) provide more stacking options, 2) they're easier to handle/clean, and 3) they're less likely to cause a major problem in the tank if they tumble.
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