Having recently visited my local fish store (lfs), I thought I would comment on what, IMO, makes a good one (the photo above is not my local fish store, btw). At the end of the day, where you choose to purchase your fish is entirely up to you. Some hobbyists order online, some buy from their lfs, some buy from general pet stores. Pull back the curtain a bit at an lfs and you'll figure out quickly who knows what they're doing, who to trust, and who not to.
Here are some things to look for that, more often than not, suggest that an lfs takes good care of its fish.
Let me introduce Morrell Devlin, cichlid keeper extraordinaire and expert aquatic photographer. Better known as Mo or Aquamojo by fellow hobbyists, he has kept hundreds of species. His main area of interest is New World cichlids and for the past 20 years he's focused on the diverse species from Central America. When it comes to aquatic photography, he has to be one of the finest in the hobby. In fact, you’ve probably seen his photos many times and didn’t know it. He's a long term member of the American Cichlid Association (ACA) as well as its governing body, so he attends the ACA annual convention regularly. He’s also the proprietor of AquaMojo.com, a website for those interested in “tank buster” cichlids, as he calls them. I encourage you to visit his website and see some of the finest cichlid photos you will ever see. Check out his Facebook page too!
I met Mo sometime back in the early 2000s at an ACA convention and I have to say he is one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. We always enjoy good-natured banter about his love for large cichlids and my love for the dwarf variety.
Aquarists add wood to their aquariums for many reasons. Some seek to emulate the natural environment of the fish they keep, some want to help buffer their water in a natural way, and others use wood as natural shelter for their fish. Whatever the reason, there are many benefits to adding wood decor to your tank.
I have seen many questions by novice aquarists about what wood to use, when to use it, and how to prepare it for the tank. The latest issue of the Tropical Fish Hobbyist contains a great article about driftwood where many of these questions are answered.
In a previous post, I mentioned online forums for cichlid enthusiasts. The forums I mentioned in that post are the typical bulletin board types. For those of you that use Facebook, there are also some really nice cichlid groups. Many of them are closed (i.e,, member-only, you must request to join), however joining them only requires a single click. I follow several of these and I must admit there are some knowledgeable members who are happy to help with all types of issues (fish compatibility, water quality, fish selection, fish identification, etc.).
A few of the groups I follow:
I encourage you to join one or more of these groups and participate. Whether a novice or expert aquarist, you can always learn something new. I certainly have.
Not long after beginning in the hobby, I took a determined path toward keeping and breeding cichlids. My interests originally focused on colorful dwarf species of Central and South America. Very quickly I was starving for knowledge, having already consumed nearly every monograph and magazine article I could get my hands on. It was then I began reaching out to the experts. One of my very first contacts was a kind gentleman by the name of Don Zilliox, otherwise known as Z-Man in the aquarium hobby. I can't count the number of times I e-mailed him with questions. He responded to every e-mail and was quite patient with me.
When it comes to pretty much any maintenance activity that involves my tanks, I always take notes. Whether it's adding/removing fish, testing the water parameters, doing water changes, or anything besides feeding the fish, I always write down what I did. Why? Many reasons.
The day will come when something will go wrong in one of your tanks - water problems, livestock issues, etc. Rather than trying to rely on memory as to what you might have done or not done to contribute to the problem, often times a simple check of your notes will reveal the issue.
Do you remember how many of those black skirt tetras you added as dither fish three months ago? Do you do a dfc (dead fish check) nightly, such that you'll quickly recognize one is missing before his carcass becomes so decomposed that he blends in nicely with the substrate?
Or how about noticing that your pH has been slowly rising with each water change and subsequent test?
There are lots of reasons to take good notes about your maintenance activities. Use whatever method works best for you. I've used a pencil and little notebook (or several of them) over the years. Now I use a nifty little app on my Macbook called Evernote. Though not specifically for logging aquarium data, it's a great tool for keeping, storing, and searching notes of all types. Trust me, over time you will come to realize the value in keeping notes on your aquarium activities.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub