My cichlid portfolio

I haven’t created a post in a while, which lists the cichlids that I keep, so I thought I would provide an update. At present, I keep the following:



  • 6x Lamprologus ocellatus
  • 2x Lamprologus signatus
  • 3x Altolamprologus calvus
  • 3x Altolamprologus compressiceps
  • 2x Lamprolgus leleupi
  • 2x Neolamprologus tretocephalus
  • 5x Julidochromis ornatus
  • 2x Julidochromis marlieri
  • 1x Telmatochromis vittatus
  • 6x Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell”
  • 1x Callochromis macrops
  • 1x Eretmodus cyanostictus
  • 2x Metriaclima estherae
  • 1x Pseudotropheus elongatus ‘Chailosi’
  • 3x Labidochromis caeruleus
  • 1x Labidochromis sp. ‘Red top Hongi’


Decorate to clean

Setting up a new cichlid tank is always exciting, especially when you get to pick up all new components for the tank AND the fish for it. The endless combinations available for filtration, lighting, heating, and water flow make the whole planning process fun. Furthermore, the unlimited decorating options just add to the creative possibilities. This is how it should be. However, don’t overlook tank maintenance in your planning process. What does that mean?

Before you go planning to put 200 rocks in the 150g tank you’re in the process of setting up, remember you still have to clean the tank regularly. How do you plan to remove detritus and other waste from underneath those rocks? Sure, you can arrange a water movement system such that most waste gets “blown” to a certain part of the tank. Still yet, if you have a substrate of any kind, you’re going to have to move those rocks, wood, pots, pvc, decorations, and any other movable objects in order to vacuum underneath them. Waste WILL collect under such items.

Planted tanks, especially those heavily planted, don’t present quite as many problems from the detritus that doesn’t get vacuumed up during cleaning. Therefore, this advice applies more to typical African set-ups where live plants aren’t a featured item.

So make your maintenance routine part of your set up planning. The excitement of the tank turning out to look just how you envisioned it is awesome until that excitement is tempered by the realization that those 200 rocks make cleaning a nightmare. If you don’t mind spending a lot of time cleaning, then 200 rocks isn’t a problem. But if you want to minimize the maintenance effort while making the tank look how you want, decorate it to clean it.

No need to be complex

Image by the author.

If you’re new to fish keeping, especially cichlids, don’t be fooled by all the photos you see of people’s tanks and filtration systems with lots of complicated looking equipment and plumbing. None of that is necessary to be a successful hobbyist. Nor do you need the latest and greatest equipment. I’m not disparaging those who utilize them. However, complex or even sophisticated equipment won’t make you any more successful keeping fish if success is measured by the quality of the environment that you maintain. You can have great water quality and be quite successful using very basic equipment.

The hobby isn’t really that complicated, and newbies shouldn’t feel compelled to have complex set-ups to succeed. Most of the time, all you really need is a sponge filter and a heater. Much of what you should use depends on what you want to accomplish. It’s the same as buying a car. At the end of the day, every car will get you from point A to point B. If your only goal is transportation to and from, then don’t worry about the sophistication level of the car. Assuming you’re following the law, the exotic sports car won’t accomplish anything more than the baseline minivan or four door sedan. All of them will get you where you want to go. Sure, not all brands are equally reliable, efficient, comfortable, fun, etc. However, that’s a post for another day.

It’s okay to keep it simple. In fact, more often than not simple is better.

Wigglers got dumped!

Wigglers with yolk sac attached to front glass. Photo by author.

Note to self: Always check the ceramic tubes closely before removing them to vacuum the substrate. Yep, I did it. During my routine maintenance, I lifted a ceramic tube, turned it down toward the bottom of the tank to empty any fish out of it and, instead of adult fish, out comes a couple dozen wigglers with yolk sacs attached. Ugh!!

Of course they attempted to swim but were too small and too weighted. A few of them latched onto to the front glass of the tank but the rest spiraled down to the sand. And the sand is the same color they are. See the photo above (Pardon the poor image quality. My iPhone isn’t very good at macro photography).

Unfortunately, my timing couldn’t have been worse. During all of my previous maintenance, I’ve never dumped wigglers with yolk sacs. I’ve dumped some free swimmers before, but never at this stage. I decided against vacuuming the whole area where they ended up. I doubt they’ll make it, but I’m giving them a fighting chance.

I have to say I was quite surprised because, if they were the brood of my Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell,” they were at the wrong end of the tank. It’s a 75g Tanganyikan community, but the breeding pair are always on the other end. It could be another species. Though I’ve never seen any fry, I do have a breeding pair of Julidichromis marlieri in the same tank, who tend to reside right where the wigglers were. I also have a breeding pair of Neolamprologus tretocephalus and Altolamprologus calvus. I’ve never seen any fry from them either. Could any of those three spawned? Sure, but my money is on the temporalis; my pair are prolific breeders.

Anyway, it’s always a good idea to inspect your tubes, caves, shells, and rock undersides before you remove them to the clean the tank. If you don’t, you might end up doing what I did and compromise a brood of offspring.

The Fairy cichlid

Biotoecus opercularis “Rio Uaicurapá”. Photo by Reef to Rainforest.

Biotoecus opercularis, or the fairy cichlid as it’s often referred to because of its very small size, is a South American species from Brazil. Maxing out at about 1.5 inches, this tiny cichlid is not very common in the hobby nor is it overly colorful. However, like many other dwarf species, its attraction is in its behavior, especially when spawning.

Reef to Rainforest just released a short piece about the species along with a fantastic video. Check it out!

Interview follow-up

Back in early May, I posted a follow-up about getting an interview with Dr. Henrique Varella of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. If you’re not familiar with him, you should Google him. He’s a prolific cichlid researcher who has formally described several new South American species.

Anyway, I communicated with Dr. Varella at the end of March and thought the interview was forthcoming. However, I have not heard from him since then, despite several attempts to reach him. Therefore, I’m guessing the interview is not going to happen. I’m disappointed because I was optimistic and really hoping to bring you a great interview about his work and his latest species discoveries.

If something changes, I will provide an update.

Filter media bags

Filter media bags. Photo by author.

If you’re running a power filter, do you use filter media bags? If not, maybe you should. There are more reasons to use a media bag than there are not to. I’ll give you a few.

Flexibility: If you want to experiment with different media or you have several favorite brands/types you want to try in combination, using bags allows you to explore nearly any kind of loose media (biological, chemical, and mechanical). Yes, you can use sponges to “secure” loose media such as plastic bio balls, ceramic rings, and others within the filter baskets. However, if you use products such as loose carbon, zeolite, polymer resins, peat, or even crushed coral in your filters, you’ll learn quickly why you need media bags.

Time: If you often exchange the media in you filter, preloading a bag can be a big time saver. When it’s time to clean your filter, swapping bags takes seconds. I’m obviously not suggesting you remove all of you colonized media and replace with fresh. However, you can remove some of it and replace with new. It will colonize quickly. Furthermore, if you’ve ever tried wrangling loose mechanical or bio media, it can get irritating. If you have a canister and you drop a tray of loose media, you’ll wish you had been using a bag. Same goes with loose media in the basket of a HOB or other power filter.

Cleaning: It can be much easier to clean media in a bag than it is to clean them loose. Whether you use tank water or tap water to rinse your media and whether you rinse under running water or in a bucket, manipulating the contents of a bag is much easier. Grab the bag, shake or knead it under the water, and you’re ready to go.

Seeding media: If you have a tank with an overflow reservoir and you don’t want to rob your existing filter of colonized bio media, drop some bio media in a bag and put the bag in the overflow. You will have seeded media whenever you need it. See my post from last year on seeding media in an overflow.

Your LFS should carry a variety of filter bags. If not, you can find nearly any size online at Amazon or other retailers. Some people use pantyhose, and there are other DIY options. Whatever you choose, consider using bags in the future. I think you’ll be glad when you do.

Deciding whether to buy juveniles or adults

When purchasing fish, deciding whether to buy adults or juveniles might seem simple at first thought. However, you should probably think about it a little bit. Why? Because the answer should really depend on why you want the species and what its value is to you.

Unless you’re infinitely familiar with the species you’re buying, how do you even know if it’s an adult or a juvenile? For example, Neolamprologus brevis are very small cichlids, or dwarf species as we call them. A full grown adult brevis at ~2.5 inches is smaller than juveniles of many other species.

You should also consider the species lifespan. Some species live much longer than others. Furthermore, many species aren’t sexually dimorphic until they’re adults. In other words, you might not know for a while what gender you have.

Using the brevis example, if you go online and purchase a full grown adult, you really have no idea whether that fish is a year old or three years old (unless you’re an expert on brevis). So in terms of value, unless you can determine the age of that full grown adult, how do you know whether you’re buying a fish that, assuming it’s healthy and will live its normal life span, will live for four months or three years? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay $15-20 for a fish that might well die of old age in four months versus paying the same price for one that is only a year old and has several more years to live. Thus, if I can’t really determine the age of the fish once it’s an adult, I’m better off buying what I know is a juvenile. So back to the brevis example. If I don’t know much about that species, but I know for, say $10, I can get either a 1/2″ fish (which would be a juvenile) or a 2″ fish (which would be an adult), what makes the most economic sense?

There are certainly exceptions to this. For example, if you’re wanting to breed a species immediately and it’s a species you don’t currently have, you’ll want to purchase adult fish. But even then, you have to be careful. A female cichlid’s fertility and even fecundity typically decrease as she ages. So knowing exactly how old the fish is might still matter even if you know it’s already reached breeding maturity.

These are just a few of the factors that you might consider when you decide to buy a fish.

Removing algae from rocks

I regularly encounter fellow cichlidophiles who are perplexed when it comes to cleaning algae off the rocks in their tanks, including holey rock. There are many different ways to rid your rocks of algae buildup, some more labor intensive than others. If you’re not in a hurry, the easiest and most tank friendly way (no chemicals used) is to simply sun bleach them. What does that mean? Just put them in the sun for a few days. Afterward, they’ll look as good as the day you got them. How many days depends on the volume and type of algae covering the rock.

The photos below show two holey rocks covered in green algae and the same rocks after three days in the sun.

Algae covered holey rock. Photo by the author.


Sun bleached holey rock. Photo by the author.