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.
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).
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.
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 been keeping fish for a long time and you have used online resources since the late 1990s, then you'll remember The Krib. I post about this because I can't begin to explain how much this site meant to my early development as a cichlid keeper. Chock full of all kinds of information about the hobby, but specializing in plants and dwarf cichlids, this resource was a mainstay in my library of information.
While the site is no longer active and much of the content is quite dated (the last update was in 2002!), there are still nuggets of gold to be found there. I would encourage you to visit the site for two reasons - 1) you may well find something useful and interesting that you haven't seen before and 2) you can get a good feel for how the hobby has evolved over the years, from aquarium products to processes.
Not without perhaps a bit of controversy, there are (possibly) some new mbuna species from the Labeotropheus genus according to this article posted on the Reef2Rainforest website (they're the folks who bring you the Amazonas magazine). Taxonomic changes aren't taken lightly by scientists, as this article bears out.
Even though there isn't an overwhelming number of good online resources for information about the Apistogramma genus, there are a few. Apisto Sites is one of them. Maintained by a couple of aquarists out of Norway, the site contains loads of great photos and several good articles. The site has a profile page with a quite comprehensive list of species, but the profile metadata is rather sparse. Nonetheless, there is some good information to be found here. Though apparently not updated very frequently, be careful not to mistake quantity for quality.
Images from http://www.cichlid-forum.com/
Most long time cichlidophiles can identify cichlid species quite easily. Just like true gearheads can quickly identify cars without the benefit of seeing the make's logo, experienced cichlidophiles can tell what species they're looking at by just the shape of the body and/or tail.
If you're new to cichlid keeping and need a bit of a primer to help you identify an African species, check out the Cichlid-Forum.com's nicely assembled chart. It's neither comprehensive nor exhaustive but it does provide a nice color pictorial of the more popular African's in the hobby.
Interested in setting up a SA biotope? If so, then you should find this Step-by-Step Rio Negro Aquarium article very informative. Complete with numerous photos, the article outlines everything from the substrate to the aquascape to the fish that the author used, which includes Dicrossus maculatus.
Yes the maculatus is dwarf species (because the author's set-up is a nano biotope - only 15g), but there is no reason you couldn't simply increase everything proportionally to create a much larger set-up for your larger species. Many SA cichlid keepers emulate SA biotopes, including blackwater environments. In fact, there are many products available to facilitate such set-ups.
If you're intrigued by this and want even more information, visit Tannin Aquatics, a website that focuses on such aquatic biotopes. The site also sells products specifically to create SA environments in the hobby.
Yeah, so the title of this post is a cheesy reference to 80's music. Nonetheless, if you plan to breed cichlids on a regular basis, especially mouth brooders, you should probably understand the ins and outs of egg tumbling. Tumblers are available via retail. There are also plenty of articles and videos detailing how to build one yourself.
One of the better descriptions of the egg tumbling process is in Marc Elieson's excellent article. Marc is an expert cichlidophile who has kept and bred dozens of Victorian and Malawi cichlids. He's also written numerous articles about all aspects of cichlid keeping, many of which can be found at cichlid-forum.com. Some of the articles are dated, but much of the content is still accurate and applicable. Marc is now a medical doctor, which might explain why he's no longer prolific with his cichlid articles.
Every once in a while as I'm looking for something cichlid related, I'll stumble upon a YouTube channel with some interesting cichlid content. Check out Steve Poland's channel. He focuses on African cichlids, and his channel contains myriad content. From tips and DIY ideas to videos on setting up a cichlid tank, there should be something for every cichlidophile.
This is an interesting question. The short answer is yes, no, and maybe. Since anthropomorphizing is generally frowned upon by the scientific community, the subjectivity of the word "play" becomes more acute. If we assume that behavior we observe in other species occurs under the same motivation as our own, then applying our own term for it is less problematic. However, now the word "motivation" becomes an issue. So just think of the terms "stimulus and reward," and let's move on.
Do you own Tropheus duboisi? If so, you might be interested to know that a team of researchers has recently concluded that the species does play. If you can get your hands on a copy of the article "Highly Repetitive Object Play in a Cichlid Fish (Tropheus duboisi)," give it a read. It's pretty fascinating.
In fact, one of the co-authors, Gordon Burghardt, has outlined in the article his five criteria for defining play:
1. The behavior is incompletely functional in the behavioral context in which it is expressed
Interestingly enough, according to the authors, at the time of the article T. duboisi was the only cichlid species to have been studied and display behavior that met the "play" criteria above.
Burghardt, G. M. 2011: Defining and recognizing play. In: Oxford Handbook of the Development of Play (Pellegrini, A. D., ed.). Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 9-18.
Burghardt, G. M., Dinets, V. and Murphy, J. B. (2015), Highly Repetitive Object Play in a Cichlid Fish (Tropheus duboisi). Ethology, 121: 38–44. doi:10.1111/eth.12312.
Would you like to have information about fish keeping, including nice articles about cichlids, delivered to your computer and your home? Consider subscribing to Amazonas magazine, one of the best freshwater aquarium magazines available. While not specific to cichlids, nearly every issue has information of some utility for any cichlidophile (e.g., articles, new product information and ads, species snapshots). Furthermore, the photographs are awesome!
Don't let the magazine title fool you, though. Content does not focus solely on the fish from the Americas (Central and South America). There is often plenty of information about cichlids from around the world.
Published bi-monthly, a one year subscription costs $29 (US). Even better, consider a three year subscription (18 issues) for $69, which is a bargain. That's $3.83 per issue. And if you're wondering how much magazine you get each month, the Jan/Feb issue was 100 pages!
This is a great resource, even for the expert cichlid keeper. In my opinion, you can always learn new things about fish keeping, tank maintenance, etc.
Where do you go when you're looking for profile information about a particular species? Most people head online. That can be a slippery slope, however.
One of the best, most comprehensive online sites for cichlid information is the Cichlid-forum. It contains profiles of more than 1600 species. The profiles page provides a very nice search interface where you can enter what you already know about the cichlid you're looking for. It also offers a variety of ways to search based on certain species characteristics (e.g., breeding type, temperament), if you're looking for a new species to consider for your tank.
The search interface does lack a few useful search categories, such as substrate type, recommended tank size, and maximum species size. Recommended tank size can be subjective, but no more so than temperament and difficulty (how hard the species is to keep), two search parameters that are provided.
Though designed for a more knowledgeable cichlid keeper, there are enough search options for even the most novice cichlidophile to narrow down a list of potential species suitable for his or her tank(s).
Once you find the species that you're looking for, a simple click on the link will provide you with a nice list of profile data. Don't expect much narrative. The profiles are meant to be short and succinct. As an example, here is the profile for Altolamprologus calvus. This is about as much information as you should expect for any species in their database. If you're looking for long text descriptions, you'll need to search for articles on the species you're interested in.
I posted once before about the Cichlid-forum, but that post was short and was meant to simply point out its online forum value. All in all, the site is a tremendous resource for any cichlid keeper, and I encourage you to sign up. It's free!
While I consistently encourage aquarists to shop at their local fish store (LFS) whenever possible, I also recognize that patronizing a brick and mortar store isn't always feasible. I'm sure many of you shop at Amazon.com, as do I. If you do and you are the charitably type, please consider bookmarking smile.amazon.com and make it your default Amazon.com address. Then consider selecting the American Cichlid Association (ACA) as your charity. Amazon will donate .5% of the cost of each eligible purchase to the ACA, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. It's a great way to benefit the ACA, without doing anything different than you normally do when you order from Amazon. To learn more about the Amazon Smile program, visit their about page.
I have posted many times about great websites and online resources for cichlids. One that I think I may have forgotten about is Cichlid-Forum.com. This is a fantastic site and one that any cichlidophile should visit frequently and bookmark. In addition to a very active set of discussion forums, the site hosts volumes of information about cichlids including species profiles and product reviews.
If you haven't visited the site, please do. In fact, if you're a novice in the hobby and need advice or if you're highly experienced and want to give advice, consider becoming an active participant in the forums.
I've posted many times about various online resources for information about cichlids. Here's another one. Check out Steve Poland's YouTube channel.
Launched a couple of years ago, Steve's channel provides videos on a variety of subjects relevant to African cichlids. Steve interviews folks, provides product reviews, covers DIY projects, and much more.
I haven't watched all of the content on the channel, but what I've seen is pretty good. Spend a little time browsing his videos. I'm sure you'll find something of interest.
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.
Hot off the press. Eheim has released news of a new partnership with Cobalt International. Rather than tell you about it, below is the official press release:
EHEIM and COBALT INTERNATIONAL announce an agreement for cooperation in North America."
So what do you do when your LFS doesn't have the fish you want? You can see if your store will order them for you, you can check with your friends and colleagues who also keep cichlids, you can find an online cichlid retailer, or.....check out the ACA Trading Post online.
Hobbyists, some just like yourself, have an opportunity to sell fish via the Trading Post (TP). At any given time, you are likely to find 50 or more species listed for sale with most at very reasonable prices. However, it goes beyond that. You can also use the TP to let other cichlidophiles know that you're in the market by posting species that you're looking for. No one knows better how to locate hard to find cichlids than fellow hobbyists and breeders.
I have used the Trading Post in the past to not only find some species I've been looking for but also to contact the seller with specific questions. Most of the sellers are also breeders, so they often can answer species specific questions that you might have.
Ad Konings, co-founder of the Stuart M. Grant Cichlid Conservation Fund, prominent expert on Old World cichlids, and regular speaker at ACA conventions, often provides updates on African cichlid conservation efforts. Unfortunately, one of the many problems with efforts to protect cichlid species in Lake Malawi is clashes with local fishermen. See this recent update from Ad on the activities funded by the Conservation Fund. A shout out to the Cichlid Room Companion Facebook page. I encourage you to join the ACA and participate in their many conservation efforts.
This month's issue of the Cichlid News contains an interesting article by Dr. Tim Hovanec about the effects of grains and gluten in a fish's diet. Titled "Grain-free, gluten-free are important to your fishes' health," the article is an indictment on the large quantity of grains found in flake and pellet foods, which Dr. Hovanec says are detrimental to your cichlids' health over the long term. He stresses that because carbohydrates are largely an unnatural part of a cichlids diet, their digestive system is ill-equipped to deal with grains, etc.
The Cichlid News is a subscription-only serial and a great resource for cichlidophiles. See my February post about the magazine. For more information about Dr. Hovanec, visit his webiste - Dr. Tim's Aquatics.
When you hear the term "bower builder," maybe your first thought is a bird - the bowerbird. You may then ask, what is a bower? Simply put, it's a dwelling, often elaborate and leafy in construction. So what's this have to do with cichlids?
If you keep African cichlids, especially from Lake Malawi, and you have a sand or mini-gravel substrate, you may end up with a bower in your tank. Within the context of fish, a bower is a typically well-defined depression, often on a raised mound. Cichlids aren't the only Perciformes to exhibit bower building, which is primarily a social behavior exhibited by males for mate attraction. Bass, perch, and bluegill are other common freshwater fish that perform this ritual.
If you're interested in the nuts and bolts of bower building by Lake Malawi cichlids, check out this outstanding scholarly article from the journal Frontiers in Ecology an Evolution. Yes, it's a research article, but it's readability is rather high for the lay public, in my opinion.
Though Jonathan Balcombe's new book What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins isn't cichlid specific, it does contain cichlid content. Many of you out there might want to consider giving it a read.
I wrote a short post over a year ago about being a conscientious fish keeper. I don't know how much of Balcombe's book is fact and how much is hypotheses, but fish may well be sentient creatures as he describes them. Why fish behave the way they do and how much of that behavior is instinctual versus learned are probably impossible to fully understand or know. We don't even fully understand human behavior. However, I suspect that the book will provide a perspective that most people, much less fish keepers, have never considered. It may also change how some view and care for their own aquarium fish.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub