The blog migration is coming along really well. I originally planned to do it over the course of a couple of months. However, I started on it this past Friday and worked on it almost all weekend. I got the new platform installed, got the framework of the new site set up, and got all of the posts imported to the new platform. I expect the new site to come online in the next couple of weeks.
In addition, I just secured another interview that should appear toward the end of the year. I won't give away who it is, but I will say that those of you who are fans of CA cichlids should be pleased. Stay tuned.
This reminds me. If you have any suggestions for interviewees, send them my way. I'm not shy about reaching out to folks, even those I don't know. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will agree to do it, but I'm not afraid to ask. I've been fortunate that the majority of people I've contacted have agreed to do one. In fact, I've only been explicitly turned down one time. I have had many simply not respond to my inquiry, which is rather unfortunate and, frankly, pretty unprofessional. I would hope people would at least have the common courtesy to reply. A simple, "No thank you" is sufficient.
If you've followed the blog for a while, you've noticed some changes along the way. Up until now, all of those have simply been cosmetic in nature. However, that too is going to change shortly. I am in the process of migrating to a new blog platform. While the current platform has served me well, it's not been without its challenges as the site has grown and the content has evolved. I am beginning to run up against some limitations that just can't be overcome on this platform.
As a result, don't be surprised if there is a decrease in the frequency of posts over the next two or three months as I make the migration. The posts won't stop, but more of my time will be dedicated to the migration. However, I can tell you there are some good interviews coming up - one with an expert hobbyist, one with the president of a major product manufacturer, and one with a vendor of cichlid products. If you've been in the cichlid hobby for any length of time, you'll recognize all of them.
I'm excited about the new version of the blog. Not only is the platform going to change, but the appearance is going to change also. Please be patient with me as I embark on this comprehensive makeover. I think you'll be pleased when it's done.
As always, thanks for reading!
Many cichlidophiles will tell you that the "cichlid bug" is easily caught and hard to extinguish. Some call it an addiction rather than a bug. Just ask someone who's experienced it. I have and I assure you it's palpable.
It's no secret that novice cichlidophiles can't just stop at one...or two....or three fish or species. In fact, the more you read about the many species available in the hobby and everyone's experiences with them, the quicker your own addiction will manifest itself. However, after a while, you start to recognize that the first cichlid you bought is probably a species that is readily available - an oscar, convict, frontosa, yellow lab, etc. These are the equivalent of Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, poodles, chihuahuas, and German shepherds of dog breeds. Or you'll simply get bored of keeping the species that you have. I'm neither criticizing or ridiculing those cichlid species above nor the aquarists who keep them. I'm just pointing out that they're really common species, easy to acquire, and, for the most part, easy to keep.
Part of the excitement of keeping species you've never kept is the challenge, especially breeding them. Another exciting element is the chase - trying to acquire cichlids that aren't commonly available. So where do you start when trying to find those less common species?
That's a great question, and there is no simple answer. Much depends on where you live. Larger cities typically have more local fish stores, so these cities may have greater cichlid availability. Also, larger cities typically have cichlid clubs, whose members usually include some seasoned cichlidophiles. Those seasoned members are also often part of a network of hard-core cichlid keepers with an emphasis on the word network. Expert cichlid keepers comprise a pretty small community, and they usually know each other.
I'm not part of that crowd but I'll share my experiences with you. If you want a species that you're having trouble locating, either near where you live or via online cichlid sellers, start making inquiries and get involved. Join a local club, contact a club, join the ACA, or simply find a way to engage. The aforementioned experts can be a pretty tight group. Most of those that are really experienced are friendly but they're also pretty cautious, in my experience. They're not readily forthcoming with where they get all of their fish (hint: they get many of them from each other, they know the importers, or they acquire species themselves by going on collection trips to native habitats). In my experience, these folks will try to ascertain your cichlid knowledge before they decide how much information they share with you. Right or wrong, this sums up my experiences with many of these folks.
Thus, my advice is to check around and don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't take it personally if you reach out to someone via e-mail and don't get a reply. Also, don't take it personally if you do get a response and the person doesn't give you much information. It's possible he or she simply doesn't have any information to give or doesn't know much about the species you're after. On the other hand, you may reach someone who knows how to find what you're looking for but they won't tell you. It's not all that uncommon that species with limited availability are highly coveted, and those few who have them simply keep that information to themselves. Also, remember that not every species you read about is readily available in the hobby. In fact, there are numerous species that simply aren't imported/exported for a variety of reasons - politics, cost, location. Be persistent, be patient, and remember simple economics - supply vs demand. Hard to find species in the hobby are generally expensive if you find some available.
I'm not really one to get attached to my fish, like I do my dogs. I don't name my cichlids nor do I tend to have favorites among them. Don't get me wrong, though. I HATE to lose a fish for any reason...due to my fault or anything else, and it upsets me when I do. In fact, I'm highly self-reflective, always asking myself how I might have contributed to every fish's death.
With all of that said, I have to admit I do have one particular little cichlid that I often feel sorry for. She's a Callochromis macrops, and I posted about her earlier this year. Why do I feel sorry for her? Let's back up for just a minute and talk about emotion in fish. Back in July, I posted about ethics in fishkeeping. I mentioned that fish are quite sentient. But do they have "feelings"? The human species is notorious for anthropomorphizing, and I am guilty myself, though I work hard not to. In any case, I often feel sorry for my macrops because I wonder if she is sad.
As I mentioned in the post about her, she resides in a 75g Tanganyikan cichlid community tank with many other species. The tank occupants are pretty heterogenous, not just in species but also in gender and size. She is neither the smallest nor the largest. The smallest honor goes to my single Telmatochromis vittatus at about 3". The largest are either my male Neolamprologus tretocephalus or the "three stooges" - my three male Altolamprologus calvus 'black' - all four of which are 5" plus. Miss macrops is about 3.5". In temperament, she is easily the most docile and laid back cichlid in the tank, a fact that I think works against her.
Sadly, she is pretty much the one cichlid in the tank that seemingly can not find a safe spot to be in for any length of time. If my breeding pair of Telmatochromis sp. "temporalis shell" aren't chasing her off from their end of the tank, my dominant male Neolamprolous leleupi takes out his frustration on her whenever she gets near him. To make matters worse, it seems that everyone else has concluded that she's also a good target whenever she's in the vicinity at feeding time. She's often scrambling to pick up just a small bit of food wherever she finds it. To her credit though, she just seems to roll with the punches. She's always on the go and does her best to blend in, using her large forked caudal fin to dart away when targeted. She's not particularly pretty, sporting a uniform champagne color, a mouth with a slight overbite, and eyes so proportionally large that she appears almost deformed.
Maybe all of the above paints the picture of an underdog. Doesn't everyone pull for the underdog? I do.
If you use canister or HOB filters (or any filter that employs sponge or floss type media), you know that you can purchase additional or replacement sponges and floss from your filter's manufacturer or your LFS. Whether it's a Fluval, Aqueon, Eheim, SunSun, Sicce, Marineland, or another brand, sponges and pre-cut floss pads are often available to replace what is included with your filter purchase.
However, if you're like me, you buy your own sponge and floss in bulk and cut them to fit your various filters. To ensure that I always have these sponge media ready to go, I will often cut multiple copies and store them. To make this process easy, I simply create a template using a piece of cardboard. For canister filters with media trays, I outline a tray on the cardboard, then cut the cardboard template out. I then use the cardboard template on the sponge sheet, etc.
Depending on the filtration you use as well as the number of tanks that you maintain, this can be an economical approach to media replacement. Futhermore, buying your sponge or floss this way gives you greater media flexibility (e.g., thickness, PPI density).
Most fishkeeping hobbyists have standard aquariums - glass or acrylic tanks that are mass produced in standard sizes (e.g., 10, 20, 55, 75 gallons). The reason for this is availability. You can purchase these tanks at your big box pet stores (e.g., PetSmart, Petco, Pet Valu, Pet Supplies Plus), independent LFSs, Wal-Mart, etc. On the other hand, some fishkeepers have custom aquariums.
Why would cichlid hobbyists want custom made tanks? Some cichlidophiles have tanks built for specific display locations in homes (e.g, in walls, furniture), some have them built for keeping or breeding specific species, and others have them designed for a unique look. Whatever the reason, there are vendors that will build that special tank for you. Below is a video from Custom Aquariums out of Wisconsin.
Video of fish tank fabrication at Custom Aquariums.
The downside, of course, is cost. A custom tank is more than just a few pieces of glass or acrylic siliconed together to create unique volumes. The more customized the tank, the more expensive it becomes compared to the mass produced standard versions because the process becomes less automated as customizations increase. For example, the components are cut to size based on your specifications, and then the assembly process is modified to accommodate your other choices. Many parts of the fabrication workflow may be modified just to construct your individual tank - whether it's a shallow, rectangular version or a tall, hexagonal design. Options include glass/acrylic thickness, glass clarity, joint types, tempering options, rimmed/rimless, pre-drilled, and of course volume and dimensions. On the other hand, depending on your options, you may well find a vendor who will construct a tank of the exact same dimensions for less than a standard tank in a big store. However, you need to also consider the shipping charges. Unless you live nearby and can pick the tank up yourself (or have it shipped to your LFS at a cut rate), the shipping charge alone may add considerable cost, especially for larger tanks.
But don't let any additional cost stop you from owning that beautiful showpiece that you've always wanted. Do your homework before selecting the design of your tank and then do your homework on who to get to build it. Below are a few tank vendors that can accommodate your need for that special tank build (Disclaimer: I've never used any of these vendors and thus can't speak for the quality of their work. I'm not endorsing them in any way, only providing links to their sites as a resource for you, the reader).
How deep do you have the intake(s) of your filter(s)? Where you position the bottom of the intake can matter in several different ways. In fact, you don't even have to position the intake vertically, but that's a story for another day.
If you have sand substrates and you seem to get regularly get sand in your filter, you should consider raising the intake. A little sand in your filter isn't going to destroy it. It may decrease its lifespan as it wears on the impeller, but that's unlikely to happen quickly unless the intake is gulping large quantities. How much sand gets in your filter might also correlate with the cichlid species that you keep. Larger species kick up greater volumes of sand more often. You can mitigate some of this by prefiltering the intake with a sponge, but be cognizant of the sponge's PPI (pores pre inch) density. Too dense and it will collapse from the water intake pressure. Too sparse and too many particles (including sand grains) will get through. I use approximately 30 PPI sponges on my intakes. Some folks refuse to use prefilters because they claim the sponges place too much pressure on the filter impellers. I disagree.
I don't unplug my filters when I do water changes, even though I change 50% of the water each time. My intakes are deep, so I don't have to worry about the water dropping below the intake. If you have a filter that isn't self priming and you want to do large water changes, I would suggest that you make your intakes deep also. Otherwise, if you do a very large water change and the water line drops below the intake, you'll have to manually prime your filter to get it restarted. I've posted an easy trick for priming problems. The other advantage to having a lower intake is that it will better capture any detritus that gets stirred up by the fish.
It might take some trial and error to find the intake sweet spot, but you'll find it. Experiment and see what works best for you. You don't have to prefilter, but I do and I highly recommend it, especially if you have live plants. Plants shed lots of bits and pieces, which are easily caught by the prefilter turning the intake into an extra mechanical filter, ultimately decreasing the time between filter cleanings.
Yes, the freshwater angelfish is a cichlid. They belong to the genus Pterophyllum and are endemic to various locations in the Amazon basin of South America. Many aquarists don't realize that these thin, oddly shaped, "finny" fish are cichlids, though they are very popular in the hobby. I personally have never kept them, so can offer nothing substantive about them. However, they are readily available at most fish stores.
Because of their popularity in the hobby, there are numerous resources available to learn about them, if you've never kept them or are a novice cichlidophile. One good place to start is this article in Tropical Fish Hobbyist.
Serious cichlidophiles understand the importance of effort when it comes to providing the most optimal environment possible for their fish. Effective fish keeping isn't about the quantity or cost of the equipment you use (dependability aside). It's about the quality of the fish you get and your effort as a fish keeper.
I encounter fish keepers frequently who are more interested in doing less work and taking short cuts rather than exerting effort. Folks, being a good aquarist requires effort. Do the work - water changes, water testing, substrate cleaning, filter cleaning, glass cleaning, decor cleaning. At the end of the day, performing those tasks are the only way to ensure quality tanks and healthy fish.
Because a significant number of vendors of aquarium products and livestock are based in coastal states like Texas and Florida, you might be wondering what impact the hurricanes had on those businesses. The folks at Reef to Rainforest recently reached out to many of them for status updates. Sr. Editor and Associate Publisher Matt Pedersen then compiled the feedback into a nice four-part piece on the Reef2Rainforest website. Check it out to see how some of your favorite vendors are doing after the hurricanes.
I have posted several times in the past about the fecundity of my breeding pair of Telmatochromis sp. "temporalis shell". I have also posted photos of the parents and their fry. However, I believe this is the first time I've captured a photo of the female next to a shell containing visible eggs. Because adults of this species are often jet black in color and they prefer to remain hidden, it's often difficult to get good photos of them due to their proclivity to use the numerous ceramic caves I provide. This time, though, I was successful...partially.
If you look in the photo above, you can see the eggs in the shell aperture (horizontal arrow) and you can see the female (vertical arrow) to the right of the shell just peeking out from within the cave opening. The photo appears washed out because I had to adjust it to make the female more visible. She's looking straight on at me because I'm right against the front glass of the tank. She's obviously curious about what I am doing, especially since her shell is only about 3-4" from the front glass. If you're familiar with temporalis, both genders have a nuchal hump. You can see hers quite visibly in the photo even though she is looking straight on. Also notice the white of the anterior dentary portion of her jaw (i.e., surface of lower front lip). This is not uncommon and can be especially noticeable in males, as they jaw joust frequently.
It's hard to say if the eggs are fertile and hard to say if there are more inside. As you can see, the visible ones are quite light, almost egg-white in color, which is often indicative of being infertile, since typical temporalis eggs are more of a cream color (at least in my experience). She's spawned probably over 80 times already, so she's not a novice.
Though it doesn't take a hurricane to lose electrical power, Harvey and Irma are further proof that extended power outages can be fatal to your fish. As I've discovered over the past several days, lots of cichlidophiles have suffered extensive fish loss because of a lack of power due to these two devastating hurricanes. While a minimal catastrophe in the grand scheme of things, it is extremely unfortunate yet preventable.
I've posted about how you can be prepared for power outages, at least short ones. See this post from back in March and this post from May for more information on being prepared for power outages.
If you're looking to set up a Lank Tanganyika biotope tank, complete with flora, your plant options may be a bit limited. While the lake is home to numerous plants, the availability of most is pretty sparse within the hobby. Below you will find a short list (in alpabetic order) of what is probably the most easily accessible plant species for your tank.
I bet when you're reading about conservation issues within the context of the aquarium hobby, you probably think habitat and species conservation. Looks like you might want to add sand to that list. That's right, unbeknownst to most hobbyists (I'm betting) is that, by weight, sand and gravel are the most extracted natural resources on the planet, even surpassing fossil fuels. Per this article from The Conversation, the demand for sand is at an all time high. Though based on current sand prices, it doesn't appear that the basic supply for consumers is dwindling. However, it is a bit disconcerting, especially given many of the problems outlined in the article. Lots of cichlidophiles have tanks with sand substrates. All my tanks do.
I don't believe that the hobby demand for sand is currently contributing to the issue. However, it is something that is worth noting based on the information from the article, which I would encourage you to read. I bet you didn't realize all of the things that require sand to produce and/or build.
While there are plenty of videos about cichlids on YouTube, it's often difficult to find many that are both well produced and include commentary about the fish, etc. Furthermore, there aren't a large number of YouTube channels dedicated exclusively to the aquarium hobby, specifically the livestock. However, one that I found which is well done is Fincasters.
Created and run by John Carlin, the Fincaster content is great quality and quite informative. John offers a variety of videos that focus on individual cichlid species that any cichlidophile should find very interesting. In fact, I interviewed John back in 2016, where he talked about his videos, their production, etc. I encourage you to visit his YouTube channel or his website of the same name.
If you've kept cichlids for any length of time, then you can quickly differentiate them from other species of freshwater aquarium fish. It's primarily their behavior that sets them apart. The more species that you keep, the more behavioral differences you'll experience. However, you'll only learn about their behavior, both as a species and as individuals, if you pay attention to them.
I'm not going to tell you how to enjoy your fish because that's not my place. On the other hand, I can't encourage you enough to spend time watching your fish and caring for them. If you don't, you're guaranteed not to understand why something happens to them when it does, whether it's fin/body damage from aggression, illness, or some other issue. It's an unrealistic expectation for novice cichlid keepers to recognize and understand the cause of a problem when they first encounter one - not so for the experienced. Not everyone is an expert, but you don't have to be an expert to be cognizant of behavior that is typical of the species you keep or of your specific fish. Just simply pay attention to your fish, know what's going on in your tanks, and change your water frequently.
If you're a New Life Spectrum (NLS) fan, then you'll be interested to know that they're about to release a new line of foods containing healthy doses of probiotics, cleverly called Probiotix. Apparently unveiled last month at MACNA '17, the new line isn't available to the public just yet. In fact, as of this post, the NLS website doesn't even have any information about it. However, you can see a photo of the packaging above and read a bit more about the product thanks to this piece by Reef to Rainforest.
I'm on travel again. As such it occurred to me how many aquarists fret about feeding their fish while their away or, upon their return, lament how something has gone awry with their tank because of overfeeding, etc. So this reminds me of my post almost a year ago to the day about feeding my fish while I'm away.
There are many ways to ensure your fish are fed while you're gone. On the other hand, your fish can go several days without food and suffer no ill effects. However, if you're going to be gone for an extended period (e.g., a week or longer), I would recommend that you have a plan for making sure they get fed.
For the Gymnogeophagus lovers out there, a species previously never found in Argentina has been discovered in the río Uruguay basin in Misiones. This beautiful little eartheater, G. lipokarenos, possesses some striking yellow color on the ventral half that complements a brilliant blue on the body and red/orange on the caudal and dorsal fins. For some great photos, see the short paper "First record of Gymnogeophagus lipokarenos Malabarba, Malabarba & Reis, 2015 (Teleostei: Cichliformes) from Argentina".
All cichlidophiles know how amazing the cichlidae family of fish is just from the incredible diversity of behavioral displays - from aggression to breeding to brood care. There are even studies that suggest quite a range of cognitive abilities, including the one I posted on nearly a year ago that concluded cichlids have the capacity for long term memory. Adding to the cognitive function discoveries of cichlids is another recent study that found male Pelvicachromis taeniatus demonstrate olfactory self recognition. Basically the study found that, given two caves to choose from, one pre-scented with their own chemical odor and one pre-scented with the odor of another male, P. taeniatus gravitated toward their "own" cave versus the cave of a non-family member or even a sibling.
Most of you have probably heard of Greg Steeves, as he is no stranger to the cichlid hobby. A life-time aquarist, Greg has written three books, authored many articles in a dozen languages, and speaks on cichlids internationally. He is the founding member of the Hill Country Cichlid Club, president of the Federation of Texas Aquarium Societies, and coordinator of the Lake Victorian cichlid species for the CARES Preservation Program. In addition, he is a fellow of the Haplochromis Society based in France and has contributed to the Cichlidroom Companion nearly since its inception.
If you're setting up a new tank or redoing an existing one and you've decided to use egg crate under your substrate, here's a tip to save you some hassle down the road; for medium to large tanks, don't use a single piece. Consider cutting your crate into sections, depending on the length of the tank. Why? If you decide to change your substrate, but you want to see how it will look before you do the whole tank OR you want to change the substrate in only part of the tank, having a single piece of egg crate will require you to remove everything from the tank. If you cut your crate into two sections or more, you only need to take out the section(s) that you want to redo.
Whether you prefer large or small cichlids, I've found that knowing what behavior you're looking for in new fish doesn't confine you to one category or the other. In other words, cichlid personalities don't differ a whole lot based on the maximum size of the fish. Some dwarf species are just as aggressive and pugnacious as their larger cousins, such as the largest Cichla (peacock bass) or Crenicichla (pikes) species. There are also some very large but reasonably docile species.
Your first decision on what to keep shouldn't center around what behavior you're looking for. What cichlids you keep should be based primarily on one criteria - the size of the tank rather than the personality or behavior of the fish. Large cichlids, aggressive or not, don't belong in small tanks and neither do a handful of small, aggressive cichlids. Even if you want to employ the density method to mitigate aggression among medium sized cichlids, the size of the tank should still dictate how many fish you put in it. Also, if you buy juveniles, know their maximum size so you can factor that in. Therefore, based on your available space and your budget, decide on the size of your tank(s) and then determine what you can put in them. Knowledgeable, experienced, and conscientious cichlid keepers will tell you the same thing.
Normal thought about cichlid fry are that they are cared for by the mother, sometimes the father, or both parents. And such thought would be accurate, but that's not necessarily the complete story.
Did you know an aunt, a cousin, or a next door neighbor might also be involved? Such "parenting" is called alloparental care, or more specifically "any form of parental care, which is directed towards non-descendent young." The phenomena is not unique to cichlids, or even fish, and may not be easily observed. Nor is it restricted to conspecifics. So why does it occur? In his article titled "Allparental care in fishes" from Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, Brian Wisenden provides six scenarios (as summarized below by Hyuk Je Lee, Valentin Helm, and Axel Meyer in this article from Ecology and Evolution):
(1) brood farming out (Yanagisawa 1985) where parents ‘deliberately’ transfer their offspring to be cared for by other parents; (2) kidnapping (McKaye and McKaye 1977) where foster parents kidnap free‐swimming young of other parents; (3) independent offspring inclusion (Taborsky 1994) where deserted or stray juveniles join neighboring broods; (4) brood amalgamation (Eadie et al. 1988) where adjacent broods merge for cooperative care by more than one set of biological parents; (5) philopatric offspring (Taborsky and Limberger 1981) where offspring from previous breeding events stay at their natal territory and help their parents to nurse subsequent broods and (6) extension of alloparental care of eggs (Taborsky 1994). Still, the ultimate evolutionary origins and explanations as to the adaptive or nonadaptive, or maladaptive, natures as well as proximate mechanisms of alloparental care appear to vary at inter and, sometimes, even intraspecific levels (Sefc et al. 2009; Coleman and Jones 2011).
So if you ever notice something weird happening in your tank involving the non-parent cichlids of your fry (besides predation), you could be witnessing some form of alloparental care.
I've posted about this before but I'm going to mention it again. Feed your cichlids a variety of foods. I am convinced that one of the most significant factors contributing to the health and color of my cichlids is the variety of high quality foods that I provide. In nature, cichlids are opportunistic eaters, just like most fish. They feed on what is available, and that can vary. However, only provide foods that are suited to the species that you keep. Mbuna, for example, should be fed a primarily vegetable diet.
There are myriad commercial foods for cichlids, and you can even make your own. You can feed flakes, pellets, frozen, etc. In fact, I would encourage you to try them all. Your fish will tell you what they like.
I never feed my fish the same thing on consecutive days. In fact, you can read more about my dry feeding strategy in the previous post I mentioned earlier. The point is to mix it up.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub