Cichlids work and play

Ceramic breeding cave in 20g long with breeding pair of T. temporalis. Image by author.

Everyone probably agrees that part of the allure of keeping cichlids is the diversity of their behavior.

I have a breeding pair of Telmatochromis temporalis in a 20g long. The tank contains several ceramic tubes and a single ceramic cave. The female spends most of her time in the cave.

If you didn’t already know, females of this species are significantly smaller than males at adulthood. In fact, the cave entrance is just large enough for her to enter and exit without effort. Not so for the male. He has to wiggle a lot to get in and out. If you’re familiar with these temporalis, adult males are bulldogs. They have a nice nuchal hump and are very thick-bodied for no longer than they get ~4.5″. I imagine they are quite strong compared to other cichlids of similar length.

Though I haven’t witnessed it yet, he somehow turns the cave…on purpose. I like to keep the cave entrance pointed toward the back of the tank so I don’t spook the female when I enter the room or approach the tank. If he’s not inside the cave with her, he spends his time inside one of the ceramic tubes. Both are timid when someone is visible to them…her more than him.

So how do I know he’s turning the cave? Two reasons. First of all, she’s not large enough to do it. The cave is thick-walled, heavy, and not easy to rotate. Secondly, every time I notice that it’s been turned, it’s rotated in one direction. This behavior is consistent too. Also, he doesn’t like the cave entrance facing the direction I try to keep it.  I don’t know why but he moves it back in less than 24 hours. I think he does it overnight.

The cave is located on the right side of the tank pretty much equidistant from the front and back glass. I typically turn the cave so the entrance is facing the back of the tank. Sometimes I’ll turn it so the entrance is facing the left side of the tank (as you look at the tank from the front). I do this because the tank is on a rack that is right inside the door of my fish workshop. The door is on the right if you’re facing the tank. If the cave entrance faces the doorway, it it easy for me to frighten the female as I walk in the room. If the cave entrance is facing away from the door or facing the back of the tank, it’s less likely me entering the room or moving around in the room will spook her.

As you face the tank, the male turns the cave to the right or clockwise. It never moves to the left. If I have the cave entrance facing the left side of the tank, I will sometimes find it turned toward the right back corner of the tank the next morning. That means he’s moved the cave at least 45 degrees overnight.

As further proof that he’s trying to rearrange the tank decor, there’s this little nugget. A few nights ago, I added an emergency air pump with airstone to the tank. Because the 55g blew a seal a few weeks ago, the emergency air pump for that tank was no longer being used. It’s a combo electrical and battery powered version that only comes on when there is a power outage. I put the airstone in the 20g long and situated it at the rear of the tank. A couple of mornings ago when I came down to check all the tanks, the airstone was sitting up against the front glass of the tank. No big deal, right? You could say he pushed it there. However, he physically couldn’t do that because there isn’t a clear path from where it was to the front of the tank. In between the front and rear of the tank are the ceramic tubes I described earlier. He had to have CARRIED it in his mouth to get it where it is.

Was he playing? Was he working (e.g., irritated by the airstone and trying to move it somewhere)? It’s hard to tell, but I now have two pieces of evidence that he does move objects.


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