Dr. Alan DeAngelo interview

Dr. Alan DeAngelo
Today’s interviewee is one of those cichlid keepers who’s forgotten more about cichlids than most of us will ever know. How many of you bought your first aquarium at 6 years old? If you did, are you still going strong in the hobby after more than 50 years? How many of you helped your dad build a 130g aquarium using stainless steel, especially one that has lasted over 50 years (albeit resealed a few times), which has seen countless offspring from tropheus, discus, convicts, mbuna, and more?

If the name Alan DeAngelo seems familiar, yes, it is the same Alan DeAngelo who is editor of the official newsletter of the American Cichlid Association, ACA News. Some of you may know him as Dr. DeAngelo, the dentist, although, in hobbyist circles, he prefers to just be known as another fish guy. When he’s not taking care of patients, he spends time taking care of numerous fish.

As alluded to above, his cichlid keeping experience is eclectic and vast. Having kept and bred species from all over the world, Dr. DeAngelo is always willing to talk fish. In fact, he has done so numerous times in the Buntbarsche Bulletin, the journal of the ACA. See issue numbers 286, 287, 288, 290, 291, and 292 to learn more about his lengthy cichlid keeping journey. I must say that I am really, really late getting an interview with him, which is simply because I never asked him until recently. Thankfully, he was more than happy to accept my request, so let’s get started.

You’ve kept cichlids for a long time. Besides the availability of more species, what are three noteworthy changes you’ve seen in the cichlid hobby since you began your journey?

I would have to say that the most important change is in the delivery of information about cichlids and their husbandry. The Internet, with all of its flaws, has been a boon to getting information out to hobbyists. Whether its on-line forums, social media, digital e-magazines, or the Cichlid Room Companion, anyone can find out about nearly any species available and how to successfully care for it. I mention the flaws of the internet also because there are too many so-called experts giving bad information. Really bad info. It seems like the guy who has time to sit on the net and get “known” somehow is catapulted into the lime light as an expert. They are then in a position to lead hobbyists down the wrong path. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
Running a close second are the books now available to the hobbyist. If you keep African cichlids, from Lake Malawi or Tanganyika, and do not have Ad Konings books, you are doing yourself a great injustice. You will not find a better reference anywhere. Period. Not even on the net with sources like the Cichlid Room Companion (CRC). There is nothing like peer reviewed information. I would be remiss if I did not mention the best all around cichlid book ever published, “The Cichlid Aquarium” by Dr. Paul V. Loiselle. If you are keeping cichlids, you definitely want to get this book and read it from cover to cover. It is full of great, useful, timeless information.
The third thing would have to be the Python gravel washer attachment. Simple, I know, but genius. That attachment can be placed on a garden hose and you can clean your gravel without taking it out of the tank. Before this, we would scoop the gravel into a bucket, wash it by hand in the sink, stir up the entire tank and generally make a great big mess. It was also time consuming. With the Python, I could wash the gravel in my 200 gallon tank, drain the water, and refill it in under an hour’s time. All I needed was a garden hose with the gravel washing attachment, that ran down a flight of stairs into the basement floor drain. Filling the tank just meant connecting the hose to the faucet on the basement sink and letting it rip. Easy.

You’ve probably visited more fish stores than most people. What are some of the biggest differences you see in fish stores now compared to 30 years ago, other than there are probably fewer of them?

First and foremost, I would never buy a fish from a chain or superstore unless they specialized in only fish. Even then, I would be very careful of buying any livestock from them. That being said, it’s hard to find a good Mom and Pop or privately owned pet shop. Even some of the private shops are poorly run with questionable livestock. When you find a great store, patronize it so it stays in business.
As far as thirty years ago, hell, I’ll go back 50 years,  I’ve been keeping fish since 1961. There was a department store called E.J. Korvette’s where I got my first aquarium, at age six. While they were a chain store, the place was impeccably kept, had healthy fish and knowledgable sales staff. How did I know that they were all of the above? My Mom always kept goldfish and she shopped there, too.  I actually bought my first cichlids there, a pair of Kribs – Pelvicachromis pulcher. I also bred them in that first tank, a 15 gallon, metal framed, slate bottomed tank with multi-colored gravel. I still have some of that gravel today. So, years ago, you could find a good chain store for fish. My two favorite pet shops which are long gone were a little shop on 26th St. in Chicago. This older man, of course, at my young age, a 40 year old would’ve seemed like an old guy to me, kept the most wonderfully planted tanks and I still remember to this day, the big, gorgeous, green sailfin mollies that he had.  Outstanding fish!  The other was Rudack’s House of Tropicals on Archer Ave. and Long St. a few miles from my house in Chicago. John Rudack was an employee where my Dad worked as a foreman and one day, John quit, and set out to follow his dream. He raised fancy guppies and was the Chicago areas largest supplier of angelfish. He knew fish and anything from that store was healthy.
How do I tell a good fish store?  You walk in and you just kind of know. The sights and sounds make you feel at home. The fish are healthy. The tanks are a little dirty and not kept sterile looking. Plants help, and a tell-tale sign of a good shop is that they will have tanks marked ‘Do Not Sell” due to some ailment and they are upfront about it. Many stores will have fish shimmying away, covered with ich and they are for sale. Terrible. That tells you that the store doesn’t care about you, their livestock or about anything else except getting your money. I also listen to the staff.  If they try to help people, that is a plus. If they need to be sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on, that’s a bad sign and I walk out.

You’ve written about your cichlid pursuits in the Buntbarsche Bulletin (BB), which includes a deep dive into Apistogrammas. Let’s talk a little about them. With so many Apisto species available, what advice would you give new cichlidophiles who want to start working with them?

Start with an easy Apisto like A. cacatuoides or A. alacrina (the Rotpunkt Apisto.). Do not expect to breed A. uapesi or elizabethae right out of the gates.  Some Apistogramma keepers never keep anything beyond A. cacatuoides. They love the orange colors and are sold for life. I always loved the challenge of breeding different species. I have bred 37 species of Apistogramma in my career. What a blast!
I would recommend breeding Apisto’s in a 15 gallon tank. Give your Apistos plenty of cover in the form of rock work and caves. Having planted and floating plants present also give these fish a sense of security and they will feel more at home. If you have moderately hard to hard water, invest in an RO unit. My advice is to get the largest R/O that you can afford as Apistos get under your skin and become habit forming. You will want more and more tanks. I would go though about 60 gallons of R/O a day. Buy a pH and a TDS Hardness meter, they will come in handy. I bought al of my supplies from Ron Harlan of Back to Nature Filtration in California. If you call or email Ron, tell him I sent you. We go way back to the Apistogramma Study Group days.

There are some good on-line and social media Apistogramma groups that give out great information. Learn as much as you can before setting out on your journey.
Do not feed tubifex or blood worms. I do not like black worms either. They will cause your Apistogramma to bloat and die. There is some disagreement about this but if you ask me, these worms are not good. Brine shrimp, white worms, frozen glass worms even, are all good, along with a high quality flake or small pellet. I do prefer flakes. Oh, and learn how to hatch out your own baby brine shrimp, it’s a great food for fry and adults alike.

Which Apisto species did you find the most difficult to spawn and what do you believe made it difficult?

Black water Apisto’s are usually the harder ones. But, one fish that has stymied me was A. bitaeniata. It is a very common fish on the import lists and are very common in the wild. I never could get them to pop for me. Go figure.

You’ve kept cichlid species from all over the world. What species would you like to work with now that you’ve never kept and why?

Probably albino Acarichthys heckelli. They are basically big beautiful Apistogramma.

Let’s switch to Angels. You have extensive experience working with these beautiful fish, which many people probably don’t realize are actually cichlids. Perhaps you can dispel some of the popular myths about keeping and breeding them.

They are not community fish and, truth be told, a pair should be kept by themselves unless you can provide a group of them with a very large tank of at least 150 gallons. Break up the sight lines with tall plants and wood and keep the water very clean and you should be good. I am pleased to see that many people are allowing the parents to raise the fry. For years, people pulled the spawns and hatched them artificially.
Angels will also eat smaller fish. Neon Tetras make great snacks for them as do any other fish that will fit in their mouths. Again, they are not community fish.
Lastly, you can line breed Angelfish, or any other fish for that matter, for generations. If you are careful in your selection and cull any of the bad genes. Yes, cull means kill. Have an Oscar or Dovii on hand if you wish to be a serious breeder of any fish.  Cull heavily to keep the strain strong and healthy.

You mentioned in one of your BB articles a conversation with Mike Schadle about how it seems more seasoned cichlid keepers seem to spend less time with younger generations of hobbyists than they did years ago. What are some ways you believe veterans of the hobby could help youngsters embrace it and grow with it?

Times are different.  When we were kids, we visited several adults fish rooms and thought nothing of it.  Nowadays, people are leary of that.  The evening news is full of stories about innocent things being misconstrued or worse.  Make sure an adult accompanies any kids that visit your fishroom.
At club meetings, in public, by all means help out the younger hobbyists. Give them all the time it needs to teach them good husbandry skills. If you are helping them out on-line, be very careful how you word things. It’s a shame that you have to worry about this stuff. What you, as an adult, may think is a joke, may be taken the wrong way. Again, it’s a sign of the times.

As a long time member of the American Cichlid Association (ACA) and an ambassador to the organization, here’s a good opportunity for you to convince people to join. You want to give it your best promo here?

The ACA is a venerable organization. I joined it back in 1971, 50 years ago this fall, and was made to feel welcome and included from day one. It’s a great organization to get involved with. I have served on the Board of Trustees for four terms, served as Chair for a year, worked as Publicity Chair for their convention in Chicago years ago, am the current Co-Chair of the Election Committee, an Admin of the ACA’s two FB sites, the most published author in the ACA and I write the ACA News newsletter for the past 7 years. You might say that I am active in the organization. LOL!
Why join? Many years ago, I coined the phrase “Fish, Friends and Fun!” That sums it up. The ACA is a great place to meet many serious hobbyists that are just great people. They will go out of their way to help you in any way they can and are always willing to discuss fish with you. Attend an ACA Convention, this year’s will be in St. Louis, and you will have a great time, see some great fish, have a chance to buy high quality and often rare fishes, and learn a lot from the other attendees. The numerous talks are always informative and, if you attend by yourself, the Hospitality Room is always open and full of other cichlid hobbyists who will welcome you with open arms. Just sit down at a table and introduce yourself.
Membership includes a years’s subscription to our now digital magazine Buntbarsche Bulletin (BB), the ACA News newsletter (written by this really cool guy), a membership to the Cichlid Room Companion which is the most complete on-line resource dedicated to cichlids and our Trading Post which offers buyers and sellers a place to hook up. The ACA also offers special publications for sale, too. Oh, and if you join the ACA, you have on-line access to over 50 years of BB’s to read. That’s a ton of solid information by many of the cichlid hobby’s best and brightest. Go to www.cichlid.org.

Anything else you would like to share with the readers about your cichlid journey, cichlids in general, the hobby, etc.?

I started keeping cichlids at age six, remember that pair of kribs I bought? They spawned and ever since I saw that female leading her fry around the tank, I was hooked on cichlids. For almost 60 years, cichlids have captivated my interest. From a 15 gallon tank in my parents living room to a 5,000 gallon fishroom, the journey has been an adventure. Going places, meeting people, keeping some of the rarest and most sought after cichlids in the world and having an enormous amount fun. And, with over 3,000 cichlids species to choose from, there is always another experience to have. Fish, Friends and Fun? Definitely. Enjoy the hobby, it brings great rewards. And get involved, once you do, you’ll never sit on the sidelines again. 

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