In memoriam – Don ‘Z-man’ Zilliox

Don Zilliox.

Just before the awards ceremony at the OCA Extravaganza this past weekend, two members from the Tropical Fish Club of Erie County (TFCEC) made a short presentation.  They presented a $100 check to the Jim Smith Fund in memory of long time TFCEC member, Don Zilliox, who passed away last month.

The cichlid keeping community has lost a great treasure, and I am very saddened. Though I never had the privilege of meeting Don in person, I know he was an outstanding fish keeper and a great guy. How do I know? Keep reading.

His name may not be familiar to a lot of people outside that fish club, but you may have known him from his nickname, Z-man. His e-mail address was

My fish keeping journey began years ago by canvassing online fish forums in an effort to learn as much as I could from knowledgeable fish keepers.  It was on one of those forums that I came across Z-man. Over time, I realized that he knew what he was doing and was someone I could depend on to dish out solid advice. That led to me to making e-mail contact with him.

That personal correspondence began with him way back in 2001. As a new cichlidophile, I would regularly query him, seeking answers to questions that he  probably thought were quite mundane. In fact, I can not count the number of e-mails I sent him.

My first foray into cichlids was with Apistogramma species, and Don had considerable experience with these fish. From our numerous email exchanges, I could tell he was not the conventional fish keeper. He had been doing his thing long enough to know what worked and what didn’t. And he did it his way. For example, as I recall, he wasn’t a big believer in the traditional nitrogen cycle of fish keeping. Nonetheless, he was an expert. The number of species he worked with and bred speaks for itself.

As the years rolled by, I learned a little more about him. He attended his first ACA convention in 1990, which was in Chicago. For that convention, he took a pair of Dicrossus filamentosus with him, specifically for the fish show. He ended up winning a first place award and three trophies total.  In addition to sharing with me his knowledge and providing advice, he encouraged me to attend cichlid conferences and events when I could. He believed strongly in local fish clubs. In fact, he was a founding member of the TFCEC. He also often mentioned other cichlid keepers by name and told me if I saw them at the events to introduce myself. He spoke often about his fondness for the OCA’s annual Extravaganza.

Eventually, my cichlid keeping knowledge grew, and my correspondence with Don subsided. Over time, I became confident enough in my fish keeping prowess to start this blog. While laying out the type of content I wanted for the blog, I decided that interviews with people connected to the hobby might be interesting to readers. As a result, one of the first people I knew I needed to interview was Don.  After having no contact with him for many years, I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in an interview. He enthusiastically agreed. That was in 2015, and you can read the interview with him here. If you have seen the list of interviews I’ve conducted, you’ll see his was the second one I did.

Don was a mentor to me, and calling him an inspiration would be an understatement. During our years of correspondence, he responded to EVERY question I ever sent him. I think we all can, and should, take something away from having known Don…..and pay it forward.

Thank you, Z-man!

Leave a Comment