It doesn’t have to be crystal clear

Underwater video of Lake Malawi (note the particulate matter in the water).
Video from

Have you ever seen video of the natural environment from which your cichlids originate? If so, how similar does the water in that environment appear compared to the water in the tank that your cichlids are in?

With what seems to be a preoccupation with crystal clear tank water, take a look at underwater videos of the lakes and rivers where cichlids reside. Sure, sometimes the water is very clear, but look closer. You’ll typically still see particulate matter and sometimes lots of it. So the question is, who are you making the tank so clear for – you, your guests, or your fish?

A crystal clear tank full of colorful fish is indeed a beautiful sight. In fact, if your objective is to have a tank full of water that you can’t see, nothing wrong with that. However, the notion that your cichlids are suffering if the tank water isn’t crystal clear is a myth.

Good, healthy aquarium water doesn’t have to look like your fish are floating in air, and a little particulate matter isn’t necessarily indicative of poor tank conditions. Little bits and particles in the water from wood, sand, mud, and plants can be perfectly normal…and the fish do just fine.

Spirulina vs fishmeal

Image from

Most experienced cichlidophiles know the optimal food ingredients for the species they keep, especially differentiating between herbivores and omnivores. The digestive system of all cichlids isn’t the same.

For example, mbuna enthusiasts are aware that these very active fish require high concentrations of algae and limited animal protein. In fact, spirulina is often the algae of choice for prepared aquarium foods (e.g., flakes, pellets) made for these rock dwelling species.

Read moreSpirulina vs fishmeal

Check that tube or cave


Adult Altolamprolgus calvus rescued from a rock filled bucket. Photo by the author.

As part of my regular maintenance, I remove all rocks and caves in each half of every tank once every month. I do this to all of my tanks. I change water and vacuum my sand weekly. I remove the rocks and caves so I can get any detritus that accumulates underneath them…and believe me, it does.

As part of this maintenance routine, I place all the components that I remove into a bucket. Because I have some rectangular, ceramic tubes with one end closed, I have to remove them open side down inside the tank so the water drains out. I also have to check them because my fish will seek refuge in them, especially when I’m cleaning.

Read moreCheck that tube or cave

Interested in Discus?

Discus cichlids. Photo from

I must confess that I have always been intrigued by discus. They are stunningly beautiful fish. In my opinion, the two biggest knocks against them are 1) they’re notoriously difficult to keep and 2) they aren’t very active like most other cichlids. Both might be true, to some extent, but they are cichlids nonetheless and they appeal to a lot of cichlidophiles.

Because I’ve have no experience with them, I can’t really offer anything substantive about them. However, I can offer a resource that both sells them and provides lots of information about them. I don’t know anything about the site’s owner, so I can’t speak to his reputation or his fishes’ quality. The site is called Discus Guy. In an effort to find out more about the business, I reached out to the site in hopes of doing an interview with the owner. Unfortunately, I received no response. As a consolation, I will offer up an article from Practical Fishkeeping to give you something to whet your inquisitive appetite about these fish.

If you know of an expert who breeds and sells discus, drop my a line with their information and I’ll try to get an interview. I would certainly like to find out more about these fish and would love to share that with you.

Can fewer water changes be better?

Pterophyllum scalare. Photo from Arizona Aquatic Gardens.

Frequent water changes are widely hailed as a key variable in the well being of aquarium fish, especially cichlids. However, for at least one species of angelfish, fewer water changes may actually be beneficial, especially if your angelfish population is somewhat dense.

According to an article published in the January 2018 issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, frequent or large water changes in aquariums housing Pterophyllum scalare may actually increase con-specific aggression in this species. The authors posit that water changes modify cortisol and other chemical levels that these angelfish use to establish social status. Frequent and/or large water changes dilute these chemicals, which effectively disturbs the baselines that set the statuses thus requiring that the angelfish re-establish them.

Less water renewal reduces effects on social aggression of the cichlid Pterophyllum scalare. Gauy, Ana Carolina dos Santos et al. Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2018). Volume 198, pp. 121 – 126.

ACA’s Buntbarsche Bulletin

June 2018 Buntbarsche Bulletin cover.

The Buntbarsche Bulletin (BB) is the journal of the American Cichlid Association (ACA). First published in 1966, the BB is, in my opinion, a must have for any cichlidophile. Each issue contains several articles profiling cichlids, often species that are not frequently seen in the hobby. Being a member of the ACA  gets you four issues per year.  You can also order individual back issues.

Just this year, however, the ACA released all issues up to May 2018 on a single USB flash drive. The best part….it’s only $24.95 US (shipping included if in the US). So if you don’t want to join the ACA, you can still get past issues of the Bulletin at an unbelievable price.

Read moreACA’s Buntbarsche Bulletin

Hey, that’s my shrimp!

Neolamprologus furcifer. Photo from

As cichlid keepers, we’re all aware of aggression and the typical behavioral scenarios that promote it. Breeding, offspring defense, territory defense, and food competition are the main ones. And though we naturally associate these behaviors with adult or adolescent fish, fry exhibit aggression too.

A recent study published in the latest issue of Hydrobiologia shows aggression can begin very early in a cichlid’s life. In an experiment involving fry of Neolamprologus furcifer from Lake Tanganyika, it was discovered that early-stage fry (as young as ~2 weeks old) demonstrate sibling aggression. The study focused on the fry as they fed on small atyid shrimp. Most (frequency) aggression was observed among the fry between the ages of 4 and 6 weeks. While the severity of the aggression was not specifically tested, it was noted that the sibling aggression was non-lethal.

The study was performed in situ (meaning in Lake Tanganyika itself rather than in a laboratory) using several N. furcifer nests. The details of the study are pretty fascinating, if you’re interested. See the citation below for a link to the paper. It is a scholarly paper, so it may not be easily accessible.

Dynamics of sibling aggression of a cichlid fish in Lake Tanganyika. Satoh, S., Ota, K., Awata, S. et al. Hydrobiologia (2018).

Tanganyikan shell options

Two and half years ago, I posted about shell varieties for shell dwelling cichlids. I revisited that post today because many new cichlid keepers are unaware of what shells to use.

In addition to the shells pictured in that previous post, there is another shell that I’ve had good experience with –  Muffin land snail (pictured below). Compared to other shell options, these are quite large and dense (notice the thickness of the lip).

I have had both N. ocellatus and L. signatus select these shells when several other options were available.

Muffin land snail shell (Ryssota ovum). Photo by the author.

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.