I was on social media today and came across an interesting thread. A fellow aquarist recently acquired a tank that is 24" x 24" x 24", which holds roughly 60 US gallons of water. He asked the following of his fish keeping peers: "Would this be big enough to house a single large cichlid?"
My first thought was, how is he defining "large cichlid"? My second thought was, why would he even consider housing a cichlid in a tank that only has two feet of swimming space glass-to-glass?
Every hobby has novices who deserve the opportunity to learn. However, at some point, common sense has to be a guide. Furthermore, a conscience needs to also be part of the equation.
So I've been thinking about replacing one of my existing tanks. My 55g, which has been running continuously since 2000, is due to be replaced. Two of the larger aquarium brands, Aqueon and Marineland, offer a pretty comprehensive selection of tank configurations for retail. However, the industry is moving away from aquariums with oak color trim. Higher end and custom built glass tanks come in a wide array of wood grained trims, including oak and cherry, but most of the retail offerings are exclusively black trimmed.
Because I have a nice oak stand with the 55g footprint (48.3" x 12.8"), I actually have several tank size options. Stock aquariums with the same footprint as the 55g include the 33g long and 40g long, so there are options. However, oak trimmed varieties are difficult to come by from my local aquarium store. I don't want to put a black tank on an oak stand and the existing stand is too nice to paint. Fortunately, my local shop found a supplier that still had one 55g in oak remaining.
I bought it.
Mimicking the biotope of mbuna cichlids in aquariums requires the use of natural, artificial rocks, some type of water safe objects, or a combination thereof arranged in such a way that they create caves, crevices, etc. Lots of objects are available to hobbyists to accomplish this. For example, PVC pipe and connectors as well as ceramic pots and other ceramic structures are readily available and are often used to create shelter most mbuna instinctually gravitate to.
I have used all of the aforementioned. In fact, I just recently purchased some terra cotta pots for a new dwarf mbuna tank. Though I have used clay pots before, I haven't ever systematically attempted to create individuals caves with them by breaking the edges to create side holes when the pots are upside down. There are many ways to do this and you can search Youtube for videos of various methods. I discovered it's quite easy using nothing but a ballpeen hammer, and you can get reasonably precise with it. See the image below. The Dremel was for sanding down the rough edges. You could also use 100 or 80 grit sand paper. However, I find using a micro sander like the sand drum of a Dremel to be much easier and efficient. Unglazed terra cotta is quite soft, so it doesn't take much effort to sand smooth.
I accomplished the same basic result that Alexis Elwood did with her pots, which is where I got the idea from. The great thing about creating these artificial caves is that your imagination is the limit, for the most part. Whatever looks good to you, whatever works, and whatever isn't detrimental to your water quality or your fishes' health are all that matter.
When I started this blog, I intended it to be informative to both the novice and expert aquarist. However, I didn't want the information found here to come from me exclusively. To that end, I planned to interview various cichlid and aquarium experts that I know. Here's the first.
Let me introduce Ralph Cabage. Ralph is founder and owner of Aquarium Life Support Systems. He is a well-respected businessman in the aquarium industry and is an expert on both fresh and saltwater aquariums as well as freshwater ponds.
Aggression in fish, as in many other creatures, has many determinants. These may be environmental, biological, and/or social in nature. The Cichlidae family of fish, as a rule, readily display aggression in their natural habitat. This doesn't change in aquaria and is, in fact, exacerbated. If you're interested in learning the science behind cichlid aggression, there are plenty of scholarly papers on the subject, most of which are experiments conducted on aquarium fish.
Too many novice cichlid keepers have learned the hard way that cichlids can be brutal tank mates. Fish that look and act fine one minute can be beaten to death in less than an hour. Sadly, some irresponsible aquarists find cichlid aggression enjoyable, and hobby forums are rife with individuals who ask silly questions about which species is the toughest, etc.
IMO, two of the most effective ways to mitigate aggression (besides keeping a single specimen or none at all) are to keep very few cichlids in a very large tank or to keep a large population of different species in a modest-sized tank. The advantage of the former is space/distance and the advantage of the latter is redundancy. Giving cichlids plenty of room to either avoid tank mates or not interfere with a territory is usually effective. On the other hand, keeping many specimens in one tank distributes aggression and often prevents one fish from bearing the brunt or prevents any from staking out a territory.
There are other more subtle strategies to minimize aggression in your tank so I encourage you to become informed about these various methods before unnecessarily creating a behaviorally toxic environment for your fish.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub