It's probably safe to say that most cichlidophiles began their fishkeeping with community fish (tetras, guppies, mollies, etc.). I certainly did. Regardless, all fish keepers at some point in time should have come across the name Dr. Herbert Axelrod, an ichthyologist who was a pioneer in the tropical fish hobby. Dr. Axelrod passed away May 15th at the age of 89.
When I began my fish keeping journey many years ago, one of the first books I purchased was Aquarium Fishes of the World (see photo of my copy below). This book was instrumental in kickstarting that journey. I spent HOURS pouring over photos, reading profiles, etc.
For an extensive peek into the life of Dr. Axelrod, check out Nathan Hill's recent piece in Practical Fishkeeping. A shout out to Vin Kutty for the link.
If you keep cichlids and you acquire healthy stock, then the fish health problems you experience are of your own making. What does that mean? Inevitably, it means you aren't doing something (or several things) well enough to maintain healthy fish.
Yes, even expert cichlidophiles can experience sick fish. However, the probability of experiencing problems will increase exponentially with each of the recommendations below that you don't follow. These are assuming that your aquarium is appropriately cycled.
I can assure you that if you adhere to the tips above, you WILL experience less frequent health problems with your fish.
Every once in a while as I'm looking for something cichlid related, I'll stumble upon a YouTube channel with some interesting cichlid content. Check out Steve Poland's channel. He focuses on African cichlids, and his channel contains myriad content. From tips and DIY ideas to videos on setting up a cichlid tank, there should be something for every cichlidophile.
Though I don't keep Pelvicachromis pulcher (Kribensis or Rainbow Kribs), it's a popular cichlid in the hobby. There are several species of Pelvicachromis, and sometimes "Kribs" is used to label all of them. However, when most cichlid keepers refer to "Kribs" they mean the pulcher species.
Male and female Kribs are both very protective of their fry, and the parents are highly territorial. But apparently, that's not the only behavior that is reflective of the species. As it turns out, female Kribs are a bit predictable regarding their mate selection when given options.
If you only have a breeding pair of these beautiful little cichlids, then you won't be able to experience their mate selection process. But if you had a community of males and females, what might females be looking for in a mate?
A group of researchers at the University of Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany recently discovered that, given options of male boldness behavior (defined as "activity under simulated predation risk"), females may well exhibit a preference. Observing both level of boldness and degree of boldness consistency, the researchers concluded that females tend to favor males who exhibit boldness levels dissimilar to their own level but favor males that are similar in degree of consistency to their own. In other words, females with high levels of boldness tend to favor males with lower levels of boldness (and vice versa), but favor males with the same degree of boldness consistency as themselves. What does this mean? It means this mate selection pattern would be expected to occur more frequently than what would be expected versus a random mating pattern.
Scherer, U., M. Kuhnhardt, and W. Schuett. "Different or alike? Female rainbow kribs choose males of similar consistency and dissimilar level of boldness." Animal Behaviour 128 (2017): 117-124.
Every once in a while one of my tanks will seem like it has some extra particulate matter floating around. This can be the product of many things - new rocks or decorations - that weren't adequately cleaned before adding them to the tank. Or sometimes the filter you're using just needs to be cleaned more frequently because you've increased the bioload or added some new cichlids that keep the substrate stirred up more than usual.
Also, for the sake of redundancy, a little extra water movement isn't a bad thing, unless you have lot of plants (but that's a post for another day). If you follow the blog regularly, you know how I feel about redundancy.
So how can you clear up particulate matter while simultaneously increasing the bio-filtration and moving some extra water at the same time? The easy answer is to add another filter. No problem, if you have an unlimited budget and the time to set one up. However, you might just have what you need to accomplish both goals without leaving your house.
Do you have a powerhead that you aren't using or a small submersible pump? How about a 16 oz. plastic water/soda bottle? What about a power drill? There are several YouTube videos available that show you how to create small internal filters using plastic bottles and powerheads. Check those out. You can even make these bottle filters with air pumps, but I only use air pumps for power outage emergencies.
I posted a couple of years ago about my own filter design that I borrowed and customized from those YouTube videos. Instead of soda bottles, I use condiment squeeze bottles because they have wide mouths. As a result, I can easily get media in and out but I can also secure whatever I use in the bottle because of the screw on tops. You can pick up two or three of these bottles online for just a few dollars. I also like condiment bottles because they're generally larger in volume (24 oz or even 36), which allows me greater versatility. I can apply new mechanical and biological filtration simultaneously without taking up a great deal of space in the tank while moving more water at the same time. You can also use small submersible pumps instead of powerheads, if you prefer.
In the photos below, you can see a small (16 oz) condiment bottle with a powerhead. I drill small holes in the lid of the bottle (photo 5) and one large hole in the bottom of the bottle (photo 2). The large hole in the bottom is where the bottle attaches to the powerhead or the pump. You can fill the bottle with polyfill (not pictured) for water polishing (removing fine particulate matter) or you can use your favorite bio-media for extra biological filtration. You can put the media in loose or use a media bag (photos 3 and 4). When I use these bottle filters for extra biological filtration, I insert a cut-to-fit sponge in the very top to also provide a little mechanical filtration (not pictured).
What's the advantage of this DIY internal filter over a new store filter? Cost, aesthetics, and flexibility. Building this filter with a small powerhead can be cheaper than a retail filter. It's easy and quick to set up as opposed to a new canister filter or sump. It's easy to hide behind some rocks, which you can't do with a HOB filter. Lastly, you can vary the size and type of media you use by swapping different size bottles. Furthermore, I can move the whole filter unit around pretty much anywhere, change its intake depth, modify the outflow direction, and change the media at will using whatever I want.
Remember the purpose of this is multiple - remove particulate (water polishing), provide extra biological filtration, and provide extra water movement.
In an earlier post about emergency preparedness, I mentioned the use of controllers. One such controller is for your aquarium heater(s). Though most current aquarium heaters are extremely reliable with respect to a stuck thermostat, the thought of having one get stuck in the "on" position while you're away all day is quite unpleasant. For piece of mind, it's a good idea to use a temperature controller that will shut the heater off in the event of such a malfunction. If you use digital heaters, like Hagen's Fluval E series, which have a built-in, easy to read thermometer, remember that a temp controller shuts off the power to the heater so the heater's display will also cease functioning.
There are many controllers on the market, and you can spend a lot or spend a little. Many aquarists employ multiple heaters in large tanks ( >90 gallons). Some folks use multiple heaters on small tanks too, just to be safe. I don't. My largest tank is 75g, and I'm perfectly comfortable using a single heater. There are dual-controllers available that can control two heaters if you're a multiple heater user.
A heater that fails in the "off" position generally presents less risk because fish succumb much quicker in higher heat. Dissolved oxygen levels are lower in warm water, meaning if you have a heater that malfunctions in the "on" position, your fish not only have high temps to worry about but oxygen may deplete quicker also.
I've tested the Inkbird controller like the one pictured above, model C206. It worked fine, was simple to set up, and is quite economical at ~$20 each. Set your low and high temps (C206 will display C or F), plug your heater into it, then let the controller handle the rest. Don't worry about using it with big heaters. It's rated to 1100W. The digital display is easy to read and it displays the current water temperature concurrently with your high and low temp settings. Also, the temperature probe is extra long at 4 feet.
I see only two downsides to this controller. The least problematic is that temps can only be set in 1 degree increments. The bigger issue is that this model Inkbird plugs directly into an outlet, which for most aquarists make it a bit impractical. Most US electrical outlets are usually low on the wall rather than up near the top of the tank where the display would be easy to read. Sure, you can use an extension cord, but remember the heater plugs into the front of the Inkbird unit, which makes the placement of the controller a big awkward. However, these controllers aren't made specifically for aquariums, so the company wasn't inclined to take all of that into account when it designed them.
In any case, whichever temperature controller you decide upon is less important than the fact that you have one.
If you've heard about egg crate but don't know what it is, it's simply louvered light diffuser. It can be purchased at your big box DIY stores, among other places, and typically comes in sheets that are 24" x 48". Plaskolite is one brand, but there may be others. Aquarists use it to line the bottom of their aquariums, typically under the substrate, but the reason is a bit misleading. You'll read that the purpose of the egg crate is to distribute the weight of rocks in the tank. That is true but it's not the only purpose. The glass floor or your tank is perfectly capable of supporting much more weight than you think without using egg crate. A more applicable reason for using it is that it can protect your tank from a rock fall that might otherwise impact the glass directly at just the right (or wrong as it may be) angle to exploit an already existing (but unseen) concentrated area of flaws. Glass flexes but it has a flex threshold at which point the integrity of the bonds are compromised. This is true with or without egg crate. But the egg crate can lessen the flexing and thus protect those weak points (existing flaws). Remember, not everyone uses substrate in their tanks.
Having said all of that, many species of cichlids dig in the substrate or otherwise rearrange the substrate to suit them. When they do this, they can't cognitively consider the inherent danger from any instability that they might create. If you keep mbuna from Lake Malawi, they like to dig...a lot, especially if you have lots of rock cover. By utilizing egg crate between your rock and your glass tank floor, you eliminate the single strike point if a rock structure gets undermined by your cichlids. If rocks fall, they strike the egg crate, which prevents that single point of contact from a pointed or jagged rock. Furthermore, egg crate provides a more stable platform on which to build rock structures, even if it's buried by the substrate.
I use sand substrates, and my cichlids dig, both mbuna and some Tanganyikans. It's not uncommon to find several small areas of exposed egg crate under the rocks when I move them to clean. You might not like the look of exposed egg crate in your tank, but if you utilize lots of rock structure, using it is good insurance.
Looking for that special gift for your cichilophile loved one or friend (besides a new tank or some new fish)? Consider CafePress.com.
From t-shirts, to mugs, to stickers and tote bags, they have it. With numerous designs and multiple products, they're sure to be able to provide you with the perfect cichlid gift.
For an African Rift lake cichlid community tank (Malawi or Tanganyika), the standard is that it contain adequate shelter (e.g., caves, hiding places), unless it houses mostly a single species and/or is heavily stocked. Malawi mbuna aggression is no secret but it is often underestimated and underappreciated. Tanganyikans can be quite similar, but I've found that abundant shelter in Tang communities makes a huge difference. In my experience, mbuna are more apt to "carry the fight" in an aquarium, which means aggression isn't as greatly mitigated by shelter as it is with Tanganyikans. I have never kept cichlids endemic to Lake Victoria, west Africa, Madagascar, etc. so have no experience to draw upon, though there is no reason to believe similar shelter issues don't apply.
My current Tang community tank contains 8 species of cichlids, 16 total adults of different gender ratios, including some singles (there are some fry and juveniles too). It's a reasonably heterogeneous community. For more information on the species and ratios, see my post from back in November, What is my set-up, Pt. 1.
Though my mbuna tanks and Tanganyikan tank are all heavily loaded with rocks, I've found that the size of the caves formed by the rocks can provide a significant advantage. Recipients of aggression of any type (breeding, territorial, status) need a place to retreat to in which the aggressor has no access. Sounds profound, but you would be surprised what little attention is typically paid to the actual size of the crevices and "caves" that are formed when the rocky aquascape is redone or initially done. Cichlidophiles are well advised to pay closer attention to that.
Make no mistake however, caves and other hiding places can be created without rocks or ceramic products designed for cichlid breeding, etc. If tank ornaments are what you like (ships, logs, castles, etc.), they can provide sufficient shelter too.
As part of my Tang community set-up, I use customized ceramic caves made specifically for me by Pleco Caves in Indiana. I posted about Pleco Caves back in August, 2016 where I described a custom order I worked with them on. In fact, I just ordered some new ones with new dimensions that had been molded as of last week but still need to be fired. The advantage of these is that I don't have to be as cognizant about my rock formations when rescaping. The new caves have been designed to perfectly accommodate specific species and exclude others. I am very confident this is one reason why I have not lost a single cichlid to aggression in my Tang community tank. So, in a nutshell, shelter size can matter. It's not really shelter from aggression if the aggressor can still reach the defender.
Just a simple reminder that if you're planning to attend the ACA Convention in July (13th-16th) and you want to stay at the convention hotel, rooms will be running out soon if they haven't already. The ACA only reserves a limited block of rooms. Go ahead and register for the convention and reserve your room.
If you've never attended and you truly love cichlids, you're missing a great opportunity to meet other cichlidophiles, see some amazing fish, and hear some great speakers.
See the Convention website for more information.
This is an interesting question. The short answer is yes, no, and maybe. Since anthropomorphizing is generally frowned upon by the scientific community, the subjectivity of the word "play" becomes more acute. If we assume that behavior we observe in other species occurs under the same motivation as our own, then applying our own term for it is less problematic. However, now the word "motivation" becomes an issue. So just think of the terms "stimulus and reward," and let's move on.
Do you own Tropheus duboisi? If so, you might be interested to know that a team of researchers has recently concluded that the species does play. If you can get your hands on a copy of the article "Highly Repetitive Object Play in a Cichlid Fish (Tropheus duboisi)," give it a read. It's pretty fascinating.
In fact, one of the co-authors, Gordon Burghardt, has outlined in the article his five criteria for defining play:
1. The behavior is incompletely functional in the behavioral context in which it is expressed
Interestingly enough, according to the authors, at the time of the article T. duboisi was the only cichlid species to have been studied and display behavior that met the "play" criteria above.
Burghardt, G. M. 2011: Defining and recognizing play. In: Oxford Handbook of the Development of Play (Pellegrini, A. D., ed.). Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 9-18.
Burghardt, G. M., Dinets, V. and Murphy, J. B. (2015), Highly Repetitive Object Play in a Cichlid Fish (Tropheus duboisi). Ethology, 121: 38–44. doi:10.1111/eth.12312.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of filter products available to you and not sure what is best? Don't worry. You don't always need the best. Furthermore, how do you define what's "best"? If you're a novice, it's only normal to seek information about what products to avoid. However, the list of products to avoid in the aquarium hobby is much shorter than the list of products that work well.
Probably one of the best examples of this is filter media. The list of media available for power filters (e.g., canister, sump, HOB) is extensive. In fact, most filter types accommodate all three types of media (biological, mechanical, and chemical). The number of different combinations available is directly proportional to the number of different media types. For example, the number and availability of different bio-media materials alone are high. There are ceramic, composite, plastic, sintered glass, and lava rock just to name a few. All of these even come in different sizes, shapes, surface areas, densities, etc.
So how do you know which to use? Try a few and see how they do with your filter and your water. There is no rule that says you can't use more than one material. Some aquarists use multiple bio-media types concurrently in the same filter. I do.
On the other hand, some aquarists don't use any of the material I listed above because they don't even use power filters. These fish keepers use either sponge filters as bio-media (a type of filtration that utilizes pump driven air to pull water through sponge material), or use wet/dry or sump-based filtration, all of which work very well. Sponges also work as bio-media in power filters, though most people use them there for only mechanical filtration in combination with other bio-media options like plastic bio balls and ceramic beads.
The bottom line is...use what works for you (budget, maintenance time, etc.). As long as you have sufficient filtration to colonize enough bacteria to keep ammonia and nitrite at zero, it doesn't really matter. I've used all of the types listed above and I've done so for a long time. Yes, I have some favorite combinations and some that work better than others. There are certain circumstances that will dictate your media choices (e.g., filtering heavily planted tanks, unusually messy livestock, larger than normal bioloads). However, the majority of aquarium set-ups will function just fine with whatever you choose. Experience will tell you what works best for your situation. You'll learn what leaves your water the most sparkling clean and parametrically stable.
In the nearly 20 years that I've been an aquarist, I have experienced only two significant power outages that affected my tanks. Two nights ago I thought might be the third. A massive oak tree fell across the road perfectly perpendicular to the power lines along the street, snapping three power poles and bringing to a halt a whole host of services (electricity, cable television, and cable Internet). Being certain the outage would be through the night, I unpacked my brand new battery powered air pumps and hooked them up to the tanks. Fortunately, the outage was only for three hours (our utility company is phenomenal). However, the new pumps worked flawlessly.
For more information on emergency plans, see my post from March titled Be prepared, not sorry.
There are several brands of battery powered air pumps available. Because it's almost inevitable that you will need them eventually, I encourage you to acquire some. Look for features that best fit your needs - some can operate on either one or two batteries, some require two batteries, some are battery/AC combinations that auto switch to battery when AC ceases.
I use the Bubble Box portables by Marine Metal Products. These come with short silicone tubing, an airstone, and a weight to keep the stone submerged. All three components come stored in the battery compartment (batteries are not included) as shown in right image above. They run on either one or two D-size batteries and claim two batteries supply nearly 40 hours of run time.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
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