So you're new to cichlids. Maybe you're even new to fish keeping in general. Are you wanting to be a serious aquarist or are you just looking to "scratch an interest itch" so-to-speak? Regardless, take your role as fish keeper seriously enough to do some homework about the hobby and the fish you intend to keep.
There are way too many newbies who would rather take the easy and quick route of asking someone first. Make doing some research your first step. There are tons of resources out there to learn about cichlids and how to keep them in aquaria. Learn about the nitrogen cycle, learn about filter types, learn about the characteristics of the fish (e.g., maxumum size, diet). These things matter, and not knowing them is going to create problems for your fish and make your experience less than enjoyable.
Relying initially, or solely, on information provided by people on Facebook and fish forums is a risk your fish shouldn't be exposed to. You have no way of knowing if the advice you're receiving is accurate, whereas what you read in books, magazines, etc. is typically vetted, meaning the information is generally verified as accurate. Yes, there are plenty of folks in Facebook groups and other online resources that are very knowledgable and eager to help. There are also plenty of folks who know less than you do but want you to think they're knowledgeable.
If you're serious about fish keeping, you owe it to your fish to do your homework and at least learn the basics on your own. Anything less is just being lazy.
I came across an intersting article on canister filters today that someone posted on Facebook. Titled "How to get a fantastic canister filter with minimal spending," the majority of the article provides pros and cons of name brand filters, or "worthy filter models" as the author calls them. It is quite interesting and quite informative. However, not including Sicce canister filters in the list is a sizeable omission, in my opinion. I've used some of the filters the author reviews and I would stack the Sicces up against all of them in terms of quality and budget friendliness.
In any case, check out the article and see what you think. If you're in the market for a canister filter that you've never used or you've never used any canister filter before, perhaps you'll find some of the information in the article helpful. I didn't read the entire piece, so I won't comment on the accuracy of the author's info.
Also, some folks build their own canister filters. So if you're the do-it-yourself type, there are plenty of videos and instructions online detailing how to build them.
As this Christmas season is nearing its end, I wanted to remind you of the benefits of patronizing your local fish store (LFS). This post isn't about debating the pros and cons of brick and mortar stores versus online stores. It's more a plea to get you to support small business and what they represent. The big box pet store chains (e.g. Petco, PetSmart) and the small business independents support the local economy in many ways that are unseen.
If you've lived in the same city or locality for any length of time, you've seen businesses come and go. You've probably even witnessed many small businesses close up. Retail trends over the last 20 years suggest that online purchases continue to outpace brick and mortar purchases, which is bad news for your local stores. E-commerce is increasing dramatically. Even though there is tremendous value in the local stores to the communities that they serve, they will eventually go away without your support.
If you still have some last minute gifts for that cichlidophile in your life, please consider making a purchase at your LFS, even it it means you have to drive a short distance to do so.
In my continuous efforts to diversify the portfolio of interviewees for the blog, I make it a point to reach out to aquarium product vendors and manufacturers. A couple of months ago, I reached out to Les Wilson, one of the founding partners of Cobalt Aquatics in South Carolina, and he graciously agreed to an interview.
Les oversees marketing, product development, and sourcing for Cobalt. Prior to founding Cobalt, he spent 17 years with United Pet Group Aquatics. Les began his career with Marineland as an aquatic biologist, working in and then managing the aquatics lab. After eight years, he joined the marketing department as the product development manager. His final position was the director of marketing for the Equipment and Consumables group, responsible for the Marineland, Tetra, Instant Ocean, and Jungle brands and private label projects in those categories. Les personally spearheaded many of the projects you know today, including his favorites Marineland LED lighting, Bio-Spira Nitrifying bacteria, Corner flow tanks, and the Marineland Deep dimension aquariums. In 2011, he left UPG to start Cobalt Aquatics with the goal to get back to his roots as a fish geek and give back to the hobby the lessons he learned.
Let's get going!
Do you recall my post from a couple of months ago about Pleco Caves, the small company in Indiana that makes various types of ceramic caves? I provided them with some specifications for a couple of types of caves I wanted for my cichlid tanks. I described these a bit in that previous post, but what I didn't mention is that I had some of the caves made with one end sealed off. See the photos below.
After a couple of months and some trial and error on their part, I recently received 16 custom made caves. These things are awesome! You can't see them in the photo of my 75g tank (see the post What is my set-up? Pt. 1), but the entire understructure of the rock work is made with these caves, allowing numerous tunnels under the rocks.
I highly recommend the company, even if you don't want something custom made. They stock a wide variety of cave types for plecos, cichlids, and other aquarium inhabitants. They also sell driftwood, Xtreme brand fish food, and other products. Visit their website and place an order. Tell Brantley and Jodi that I recommended them!
Because I have a breeding pair of cichlids in my 75g community tank and I've not moved them into a breeding tank, it's natural that some fry will make it but most won't. For those fry still darting around, it can be difficult to vacuum the sand substrate.
I like to keep my sand pretty clean and I'm prety careful when I'm vacuuming around very little fry because 1) they aren't easy to spot and 2) they don't move near as quick as larger fry. Thus, it's easy to suck some of them up and not even know it.
When I do vacuum around them, I use my PEX vacuum process. Though I've improved upon that method a bit (I've drilled a hole in the top of the bucket that I run the PEX hose through instead of using the binder clip), the basic process is still the same. The obvious concern with this method is ensuring that any fry that do get siphoned don't subsequently get carried off to the sink via the Python. I could probably address that also in a few ways, but I don't intend to.
Needless to say, each time I PEX vacuum near the fry, I always check the large bucket before I empty it to make sure that any fry that did avoid the Python don't get tossed. Much to my surprise, this very thing happened the other day. After finishing up with the tank maintenance, I set the bucket on the counter to look for fry. I not only spotted one darting around, but there were 5. YES, 5!!!
Good grief, my vision must be getting worse because I clearly never saw them when I was vacuuming and I really am quite careful. I actually didn't see them in the bucket until they moved. I use a 5 gallon bucket and the good news is that fry will typically swim away from the center of the bucket. There is usually no more than about an inch of water left once I turn off the Python, so it's easy to just stick a finger in and run it around the perimeter of the bucket. Fry will move away from your finger, so then you can spot them. Because my bucket always has sand in the bottom that gets sucked up during the vacuum, it's even harder to spot the fry sometimes. Nevertheless, I had to get them out of the bucket and back to the tank.
To do this, I use a small Solo cup. This works well to "herd" them in and then transfer them back to the tank. As confident as I am that I rescued all the fry that were in the bucket, I'm not as confident that I didn't vacuum up some fry that weren't whisked away by the Python. That saddens me becuase I know the probability is pretty low that only 5 fry were vacuumed from the tank and they all avoided the Python.
If you have a tank with one or more overflows built in, don't forget to vacuum them when you do your regular cleaning. While you might think that all detritus either gets sucked into the filter or rests on the substrate, some can and will slowly accumulate on the tank bottom inside the overflow chamber.
In this post from almost a year ago, I mentioned that I use a prefilter sponge over the overflow intake on my 75g tank. Though this will prevent nearly all detritus from reaching the filter, waste will always find its way to the bottom of the overflow. If you test your water parameters and you notice that your nitrates are creeping up, check your overflow for build-up. That could be a contributing problem.
Your substrate vacuum (Python or whatever you use) may or may not reach the bottom depending on the plumbing, the size of the overflow chamber, etc. If it doesn't reach, just assemble a small PEX vacuum and clean the overflow using gravity siphon.
Earlier this year, I posted about Tools of the trade, which identified tools every aquarist should have, in my opinion. Though not a tool, per se, towels are an asolute necessity for anyone who keeps fish. It's not uncommon during my weekly maintenance to dirty at least three towels. Between drying my hands, wiping down tank glass, or drying up water drips, a supply of towels is indispensible.
Any type of towel will work. I don't like large bath towels (too large) nor do I like hand towels (too small). I use hair towels, which are a size in between. At 20" x 40", hair towels are the perfect size to drape over my shoulder while I'm working...and to remain there when I bend over and not hang down to my waste. Towels are easy to find. Your local big retail store (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) will have them, or you can order them online to get exactly what you want. I ordered my towels from Amazon.com.
Since I do some kind of work on at least one of tanks almost every day, I dirty a lot of towels pretty quickly. That's why I always have a stack of at least a dozen clean towels at the ready.
Those of you who have been in the hobby for years have probably seen both ends of the expense spectrum with respect to aquarium products. For example, there are cichlidophiles who invest in thousands of dollars in lighting for a single tank. There are others, who for the same size tank, may spend spend less than a hundred dollars. The same goes for filtration. Does that mean that the quality of the tank environment is exponentially greater with higher end equipment? Absolutely not. Dependability not withstanding, high quality aquarium environments can be achieved with low cost equipment.
If you've seen the last few posts here on the blog, you might have noticed that I use some reasonably standard aquarium equipment that is not considered high-end by any stretch of the imagination. However, in terms of water quality, I'll happily stack my tanks up againts any others that cost 20x more than what I have invested.
There are lots of reasons why someone may choose to spend $1000 or more to illuminate a 150g tank or invest in a filtration system that costs as much as a refrigerator. But you don't have to in order to have a beautiful display tank that is parametrically equal to a much lower cost set-up. A zero ammonia, zero nitrite environment can be easily achieved with lower cost hardware. Don't misunderstand me, though. I am not being critical of those who invest heavily in their equipment. They do so by choice and probably have very good reasons for doing so. However, high expense is not a prerequisite for producing a high quality aquatic environment.
This is the last installment in the series describing the four tanks I currently have set up. The 4th and final tank is a 5.5g All-Glass fry tank with no substrate.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub