AFRICAN CICHLIDS BASICS - PART 1
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One of the most frequent questions I hear in the store is "Do you have any; freshwater fish that have colour?" While I have nothing against a neon or i rummynose tetra, or a brightly attired male guppy or sailfin molly, it seems that many people find such community fish "common" and boring, and are looking for something more interesting. Another frequently heard comment in front of the African Cichlid display tank or section is "too bad they're saltwater." Yes, there E really is an alternative to the more passive, drab, well-established "community" fish . i Allow me to introduce you to the fascinating, unique, lively, hardy and beautiful grouping of fish known as "Rift Lake Cichlids (or Africans)".
The Cichlid (pronounced "sick-lid") family is found in tropical and neotropical zones all around the world except Australia. l Its closest living relatives in our waters (but not cichlids themselves) are bass, sunfish, and perch. There are probably at least 1000 species known to date, with many new ones being discovered every year. While there are many other species of cichlids living in other areas of Africa (including the popular Kribensis jewels and buffaloheads), the ones we are concerned with are found in three. large lakes along the Rift Valley of Eastern Africa: Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika. Out of these three lakes alone come nearly half the known species of cichlids, most of which are endemic (meaning that they are found there and nowhere else on this planet).
Of all the different types of fish which had access to the lakes, cichlid ancestors best exploited these huge environments filling every conceivable biological niche - often with different species utilizing the same resource in different ways (i.e. on the same rocky area, you may find one species which tears algae off in pieces, another which scrapes it, and another which combs the microorganisms living in it out with fine comb-like teeth). African cichlid adult sizes vary from 1 1/2 inches (several species which live and breed inside empty snail shells) to nearly three feet (the largest cichlid in the world, a predatory There are species which live in the surf zones on rocky beaches, which hop along.on their bottom fins and have a nearly functionless swimbladder to keep it from being dashed to pieces; species which mimic a dead fish in order to prey on those coming in to feed on it, species with exceedingly thin bodies in order to hunt for baby fish living in the rock crevasses, and species which live and even spawn right out in the open water column - the diversity is simply incredible. In these lakes, cichlids have covered nearly every conceivable niche, a role normally taken by several different families of fish.
AFRICAN CICHLIDS BASICS - PART 2
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In the following article, I'd like to impart some of my knowledge of cichlids to those of you with an inclination to try keeping them. I will be dealing with the fish by grouping; it is not my intention to write a book detailing the hundreds of species and their requirements in aquariums, but rather to give you a general overview and enough knowledge to avoid the more common problems that plague every novice " cichlidiot" (an old term - perhaps I should rephrase to "cichlidophile?!"). I have '"found out the hard way" many times, and have seen and heard of countless others through my years of working at Big Al's Aquarium Services Warehouse Outlets.
First and foremost, tank size is critical. Cichlids are, by nature, exceedingly territorial creatures and, as such, need plenty of room. The absolute minimum size of tank for a community of Africans would be 35 gallons, but I really hesitate to suggest it, as I would give about a 50/50 chance of things working out (after a year or so when your fish have matured and are about 10 times as aggressive as when you purchased them as little 1 1/2 inch fry). A far better starter size would be about 50 to 60 gallons, although one could start juvenile fish off in a smaller tank, provided they were prepared to move "up" within six to nine months. You cannot keep just a few fish in a smaller aquarium (i.e. three or four in a 20 gallon); sooner or later you will end up with one adult fish that has hounded the others to death. Scientists have proven that instincts are passed on in genetic code, so a tank-raised cichlid still wants to behave as if it was competing for food and space in the wild, regardless of the amount of space available to it. This is why space is so important.
Also, not all cichlids are equally aggressive, so, match similar natured fish to each other and to the size of your tank (i.e. more passive and smaller species will have a much better chance of forming a stable community in a smallish tank such as 35 to 50 gallons than highly aggressive fish for larger tanks).
That's about all for now as this was just an introduction; hopefully, it has got you interested in the fascinating and beautiful realm of Rift Lake Cichlids. Part two will cover filtration, maintenance, and also get into the characteristics and requirements of specific groups of cichlids.