Whether you're keeping new world or old world cichlids, caves are a good thing. In addition to providing shelter, they're nearly indispensable for cave spawners. Caves can be constructed by simply stacking a few rocks together, or there are even many commercially made ceramic caves available in the hobby. More importantly, what you consider an ideal cave may not be considered ideal by your fish, especially your breeding cichlids that are very specific about the conditions they demand in order to spawn. Needless to say, the options for creating/providing aquarium caves are numerous.
At the ACA convention in July, I had a real nice conversation with Jodi and Brantley Berry, owners of Pleco Caves in Indiana. They make a variety of ceramic and composite-based caves for the hobby, where they specialize in caves for plecos. I was looking for a specific design that I had not been able to find, so I inquired about the Berry's ability to produce a customized, open-ended rectangular tube. A few follow-up e-mails and a few weeks later, they sent me custom samples based on dimensions and other specifications I gave them. They delivered!!
The photos above show the two samples I received. You can see the dimensions in the photos containing the tape measure. One tube is a little shorter than the other, but they're made of the same material, and the inner dimensions are the same for both. I chose rectangles because I want the ability to stack them with some stability, especially on a sand substrate. Also, having external flat surfaces on the tubes provides more stacking options without using silicone or some other adhesive.
Because I keep dwarf Rift Lake cichlids and use sand substrates, I'm always performing sand maintenance of some kind. Whether shell dwellers or mbuna, they'll dig and move sand around. This is fine except when they inadvertently act like house cats and bury their feces. For this and other reasons, I'm partial to lighter color sand. For one, detritus and fish waste are more easily spotted on light sand. Secondly, buried feces is also easily spotted because it generally will lie just under the sand, which gives it a darker shade than the surrounding clean sand, almost like a shadow.
One tool that makes sand maintenance easier is the algae scraper multi-tool, particularly when it includes the slotted shovel attachment. There are several brands, but I'm partial to the one made by Kollercraft under the brand name TOM. It is well made and comes with interchangeable components. Available in three handle lengths (14", 22", and 34"), it includes the slotted shovel along with a metal scraper and a padded glass scrubber that swivels on two axes (that's the plural of axis, btw). I actually use the slotted shovel as a sand rake. It works perfectly to flatten sand piles and greatly helps to uncover buried feces.
Pictured below is the 14" Tom with the three interchangeable components. The pieces easily snap into the handle and fit securely. Your LFS probably carries the TOM. If not, you can find it online via various retailers including Amazon.
Got blue-green algae problems? Who hasn't at one time another. While there are many solutions for curbing its growth, this post is about a very effective yet quite underutilized solution for eliminating it. Often referred to as BGA, it's not really an algae but rather a cyanobacteria.
I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to fish keeping. That means I'm reluctant to use most chemicals except water conditioners. However, because I've had my share of BGA in the past, I've become partial to using a common antibiotic typically used to treat bacterial infections in many invertebrates - Erythromycin.
You can Google the use of Erythromycin as an algaecide and you'll find plenty of information. I don't generally use chemical filtration in my tanks, but I've read that you can continue to use chemical filtration when dosing with Erythromycin. However, it won't do any harm if you choose to remove your active carbon or whatever else you're using.
As a side note, I've also had black beard algae (BBA) in the past. Though I've read that Erythromycin does not treat BBA, I have found this to not be accurate. I have dosed a BBA-laden tank with the antibiotic before, and it did significantly reduce the algae.
Sump filters, also called trickle filters or wet-drys, are arguably one of the most efficient filtration systems you can employ on your cichlid tank. In fact, they're so popular, many aquarists make their own using a small fish tank (10g is popular), plastic tubs, or other similar containers. These types of filters are also manufactured (e.g., Eshopps, Aquarium Life Support Sytems, CPR). I won't go into the details of a good sump-based filter or the technical differences between a simple sump and a wet-dry because that information is readily available on the Web.
However, if you're using a sump-type filter and you want a change, say to a large canister filter due to noise, water evaporation, or some other reason, don't fret. If you have a pre-drilled tank with an overflow or two, that's not a problem either. You can can connect your overflow hoses to a canister or canisters. In fact, I have a 75g tank with a corner overflow that I used to filter with an Aquarium Life Support Systems model P1000 wet-dry. A few years ago, I decided to take that system down and install a canister.
The photo below shows one of my canisters on my 75g tank connected to the overflow holes in the bottom of the tank (left). Also, notice the reducers that I've used to "step down" the hose diameters so I can connect the Eheim canister quick-release values (right).
If you decide to swap your sump system for a canister or you have a brand new pre-drilled tank with an overflow and want to install a canister, go for it. If you're replacing a sump, you'll probably have to do some hose reductions because it's likely the hoses from your overflow will be larger than the canister connectors. That's not a problem, though. There are plenty of couplers available to reduce hose sizes.
A couple of months ago, I posted about using short PEX pipe to vacuum your substrate in tight spaces. I mentioned that using the short PEX pipe allows you to especially vacuum sand because it's draw strength (suction) is less and it has a much smaller intake than the gravel tube of a Python or similar gravel cleaner.
What I didn't really discuss in that previous post is exactly how I use the PEX in the whole vacuum process. Yes, I use it as a gravity siphon, in which the water goes into a bucket. However, the bucket never fills up. Why? I insert the gravel tube of the Python into the bucket with the other end connected to the faucet in the usual way. Though I could step a Python hose at the faucet down to the 1/2" OD of the PEX hose, I don't because I don't want to create super suction. With my sand substrate, too much suction makes vacuuming too large of a challenge.
In the photo below, you can see the PEX hose in the back of the bucket with the Python gravel tube inside the bucket in front. Because the PEX hose is so small in diameter and lightweight, it's hard to keep it inside the bucket. Thus, notice the binder clip on the rim of the bucket being used to anchor it.
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