A couple of fish

I had a little spare time the other day and realized I hadn’t taken any photos of my fish in a while. So I dragged out the camera and decided to get a few shots of one of the 75g Tang tanks. The two photos below show one of my three A. calvus and one of my breeding pair of J. marlieri. The Julie is my adult male (note the slight nuchal hump). The calvus is one of two males (the dominant one). Yes, that is an adult Neolamprologus tretocephalus (five bar cichlid for those wanting the common name) in the background of the calvus photo. That’s the female of my pair.

Adult male Altolamprologus calvus.


Adult male Julidochromis marlieri.

Have an objective

No matter what type(s) of cichlids you keep, you do so for a reason. In fact, whether you’ve given it much thought or not, you probably have an objective for the decisions you make with respect to your fishes’ environment. From the fish you keep, to the equipment you use, to the water parameters you try to maintain, it all points to an objective on your part.

Read moreHave an objective

How can I tell?

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself that question with respect to whether you have a female cichlid that is gravid, guarding eggs, or guarding fry. You don’t have to worry about her being gravid or having any fry if she’s in a tank by herself. She’ll need a male to fertilize any eggs she’s about to unload. Otherwise, the eggs will never develop.

If she shares a tank with a male of the same species (I’m not going to consider hybrids here), just watch her and see if she stays close to any objects in the tank, e.g., rocks, plants, ornaments. So what if your tank is heavily decorated and she’s simply disappeared? That usually either means she’s hiding from aggression, she’s sick, or she is in fact guarding eggs or fry.

Read moreHow can I tell?

Got a fish that’s shell bound?

Breeding pair of Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell”. Female is in the shell; male is partially obscured behind the shell.

If you keep shellies and you have one that’s shell bound, there are several possible reasons. Fish use shells normally for two primary purposes – shelter and egg laying. If you have a fish that stays confined to a shell and it’s not a mature fish, you can rule out the latter.

Shelter seeking comes in two varieties – shelter from aggression and shelter for illness. A shellie being harassed will naturally seek an empty shell to avoid the aggression, but a sick or injured fish will also utilize a shell and will often go there to die.

If you have a fish that stays just inside the shell but faces outward, it’s most likely protecting eggs or fry. If there are fry, you’ll usually see them. You may also see the eggs. Many shellie species lay their eggs just inside the aperture.

Watch your shell bound fish and see how it behaves in or near the shell. If aggression is the cause, it will typically make regular attempts to back out to see if the aggressor or threat has disappeared. If the fish remains in the shell for long periods when no other fish are nearby and you’re certain it’s not protecting fry or eggs, there’s a high probability it’s sick or injured.

Learning and understanding the behavior of your fish is the best way to determine when your intervention is needed.

Join the American Cichlid Association!

Every so often, I write a post encouraging cichlid keepers to join the American Cichlid Association (ACA). It’s been a while since I wrote something about the association, so I thought I would take a minute to do so.

What is the ACA? It is the OFFICIAL cichlid-focused organization in the Unites States. It promotes and encourages cichlid keeping and conservation, activities that apply both to the hobby and to science.

Membership benefits are numerous and come with a nominal, annual fee. If you enjoy being a part of the wonderful world of cichlids, become a member. I’ve been one for years, and it has provided me the opportunity to meet some of the most committed and knowledgeable cichlidophiles in the hobby. In fact, the annual convention, a four day event, is the perfect place to meet fellow hobbyists, cichlid breeders, and other cichlid experts from around the world. Furthermore, the convention is the place to be to see hundreds of species of cichlids in one place. You even have the opportunity to purchase fish, either from other attendees or via the auction.

Visit the ACA website and see for yourself all that membership has to offer. I can’t encourage you enough to join. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Josh Cunningham interview

Josh Cunningham


After you’ve been in the hobby for a while, you will become familiar with some of the cichlid breeders who supply the hobby with fish. My interviewee this time is no stranger to the cichlid community. As an award-winning breeder of quality cichlids, a former president of Michigan Cichlid Association, and current board member of the American Cichlid Association (ACA), Josh Cunningham, of Cunningham Cichlids, also runs on an online retail business.

Though I have never ordered fish from Josh, I’ve known about him for some time. I have seen some of his fish, and they are simply awesome. He is just beginning to give talks all over the country and will be speaking at his first convention, the Keystone Clash in Pennsylvania, September 14-16 on “The Evolution of my Fishroom and Breeding Setups for African Cichlids.” As part of my interview portfolio, I’m trying to increase the number of breeder interviews. I contacted Josh a few months ago and invited him to do an interview for the blog. Thankfully, he didn’t need any convincing. He graciously agreed and here we are.

Let’s get started.

Read moreJosh Cunningham interview

Multiple species spawning in a community tank?

Yes, it happens all of the time, but sometimes it’s not very easy to accomplish without some forethought and effort. If you want to try and get multiple species to spawn in a community tank, here are three things that I’ve learned that will facilitate the phenomena.

  • The right species

Closed environments introduce stressors that fish don’t experience in the wild or stressors they don’t experience as frequently. Many species don’t share the same body of water or the same area within a body of water. Furthermore, certain noises, confined space, the presence of people, and less than ideal water parameters are additional stressors. Cumulatively, these stressors can have a significant impact on the physiology of the fish, not the least of which is its willingness to breed. Even a female’s fecundity may be impacted by such stressors.

Read moreMultiple species spawning in a community tank?

Dr. Todd Streelman interview

 Dr. Todd Streelman

Several months ago, I came across some studies on African cichlids that I thought were intriguing and I thought you, the reader, might also be interested. I reached out to the man behind this research and asked him if he would be willing to do an interview for the blog. Thankfully, he agreed.

Dr. Todd Streelman is Professor and Chair of the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech as it’s more commonly known). With degrees from Bucknell and University of South Florida, Dr. Streelman did his post-doc work at the University of New Hampshire. His research focuses on the relationship between genotype and phenotype in wild vertebrates, using African cichlids as a research model. 

For more information, visit the Streelman lab website.

Can you describe your lab’s fish room for the readers?

Our fish room was redesigned as part of a new building on Georgia Tech’s campus in 2015. The room currently consists of ~70 40-gallon tanks and 6 20-gallon tanks (all on a recirculating system) and a separate brood rack. Custom design by Tecniplast. The cichlid room sits within a larger animal facility.

Read moreDr. Todd Streelman interview

A survival success story

Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell”. Photo by the author.

Experience is the best teacher. I don’t lose as many fish now as I did when I first started in the hobby. Personally, losing a single fish, no matter the reason, hurts.

Keeping cichlids can be a risky proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. I won’t get preachy and extol the importance of learning about the fish you keep before you keep them. Nonetheless, you will experience losing fish whether you’re an expert or not.

When I’ve encountered a sick or beaten fish, I’ve always made an effort to save them. However, more often than not, I’ve been unsuccessful. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve done something wrong, the fish was too far gone, or maybe both. Regardless, I feel I have a responsibility to try.

This post is about one of those successes.

Read moreA survival success story

A fish timeout

Image from https://wallpaperstock.net/.

I increasingly encounter social media posts where fellow hobbyists have moved an aggressive fish to a separate holding tank or “pen” within a tank. These hobbyists then claim that the “***hole” fish has been moved into “timeout” because he is beating up on other fish.


Unfortunately, what the hobbyist is unknowingly accomplishing is 1)potentially inducing greater stress on that isolated fish and 2) “punishing” that fish for something it’s instinctually predisposed to do.

Cichlids, as a rule, are territorial and protective fish. As such, they exhibit behaviors that are construed as aggression when they’re largely defensive in nature. Yes, and some species are much more bellicose than others.

The notion of “punishing” a fish for something it’s naturally born to do is silly, frankly. Good fish keepers shouldn’t introduce fish into an environment that is going to exacerbate natural aggression.

When hobbyists take on the responsibility of keeping fish, they need to understand the innate behaviors of the species they keep and what the risks are. Doing otherwise disrespects both the hobby and the fish themselves.