What does it take to succeed keeping cichlids?
Whoa! That’s a big question, so let’s start from the beginning – defining success. Success is subjective and thus can be defined in many ways…and usually is. For the sake of this post, let’s presume success, in the context of fishkeeping, simply means achieving the goal of keeping your fish alive. What does it take to accomplish that task?
I’m going to use the process of elimination to answer the question. Here is what it doesn’t take:
- an expensive tank.
- an elaborate filter.
- the latest and greatest technology.
- expensive lights.
For some strange reason, many hobbyists seem to think that many, if not all, of those items are required. Plain and simple…they’re not. Let me repeat that. It doesn’t take any of what I listed above to be successful keeping your cichlids alive.
A $200 bicycle will get me to work…. so will a $100,000 car. With the bike, I won’t get to work as quickly or as comfortably, but I’ll still get there. Same principal applies to keeping cichlids.
So now let’s break down each item in the bulleted list above, in order.
- You don’t need an expensive tank. In fact, you don’t really need an aquarium at all. You can keep fish alive in a glass bowl, some kind of bin, or a plastic bucket.
- You actually don’t need a filter either. If you’re determined to have some kind of filtration, you don’t have to spend $400 on a canister filter or sump set-up. A small air pump, some air line, and a sponge will do just fine. As long as you keep water moving at the surface and you change some amount of water regularly, you don’t need any kind of filter.
- You can spend thousands on the most sophisticated equipment or a few dollars and still achieve success. A $2000 fish tank with $800 of lights, $600 of filtration, and $200 on heaters and heat controllers won’t make you any more successful than spending $50 total on a do-it-yourself set-up.
- You don’t need lights at all actually. Ambient light from house lights or windows will do just fine.
So what does it take?
- A little effort,
- good clean water,
- some mechanism to move the water surface, and
- some way to keep the water temperature stable.
If you can do/provide those four things, that’s all you need.
Now, before you run off shaking your head thinking I’ve lost my mind, let’s be realistic. What fun would keeping fish in a bin or bucket be if no one sees them, including you? You want your only view of the fish to be their dorsal side (looking down on them from above)? Of course not. So having a bonafide fisk tank makes more sense than keeping them in something you can’t see through.
Keeping a fish alive and having a fish that displays awesome colors and behavior aren’t mutually inclusive. Most of us in the hobby keep fish for our own enjoyment and for others to see. To maximize that experience, spending a little more is usually necessary. Nothing beats a nice, clear tank on an attractive stand that is well lit, with maybe a wave maker or two. But you don’t need all of that to be successful.
It all depends on how you define success. Don’t let someone tell you that you have to spend a lot to be a successful fish keeper. It’s just simply not true.