Annual ACA convention

In less than 6 months, the American Cichlid Association will have its annual convention. Hosted by the Greater Cincinnati Aquarium Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, this year’s version will be at the Marriott Cincinnati RiverCenter July 7-10.

I would encourage any and all cichlidophiles to register and attend. It’s a truly awesome experience on multiple fronts. You will get to hear world renowned cichlid experts speak, you will get to engage with hundreds of fellow aquarists, you will see some absolutely amazing cichlids, and you’ll have opportunities to purchase fish right at the hotel. If you’ve never been, many attendees will have tanks set up right in their hotel room specifically to sell fish. It is a sight to see! In addition, there will be many vendors in attendance displaying and selling some of the latest and greatest aquarium supplies (filters, filter media, driftwood, lights, fish food, etc.).

Visit the convention website for more information. I plan to be there, so stop and introduce yourself if you see me.

Even the experienced make fatal mistakes

Fish keeping is not an exact science, and sometimes you lose fish for no apparent reason. On the other hand, many of the decisions you make can have catastrophic consequences. Sadly, a poor decision on my part during the repositioning of rock work in my 75g resulted in just that, a catastrophe. This is a Tanganyikan tank containing river rock, clay pots, ceramic caves, and various snail shells. Yesterday, during routine maintenance, I decided to add some holey rock that I picked up from my LFS. I removed about 75% of the objects and vacuumed the sand substrate. Among the objects removed was several snail shells. I looked into each shell and emptied them of water individually, at which point I proceeded with the rescaping. I intentionally left about four shells out of the tank.

Fast forward more than 24 hours and, as I’m feeding the tank, I did a head count. The only fish missing was a single Telmatochromis vittatus. The tank housed two of them, and one was out and about as usual. I sat and watched, thinking the other one would make an appearance shortly. It didn’t. After about 15 minutes, I began looking around the tank. Experience has shown me that dead fish will rarely be stuck inside rock work. They usually float out or will be on the tank periphery somewhere. Not seeing the missing vittatus and knowing that, if it was not dead or sick, it would be feeding with the others, I realized I had a problem. Then it hit me! I looked over at the four shells that I had removed the day before and thought to myself, “surely not.” I picked up each one and, sadly, there it was, curled up just inside the 2nd shell I picked up.

I truly care about my fish, and losing one is hard enough under any circumstance. When it’s my fault, I get a real hollow feeling in my stomach. I should have put all four shells back into the tank and then, if I didn’t want to keep them in, I should have removed them again once everyone was accounted for. I made a grave mistake, and a fish paid for it. I’m not afraid to say it. It hurts!

New fish arrived!

PicturePhoto courtesy of the author.

23The cichlids for the 55g arrived today. I ordered them from Alan Bliven of Cichlid Lovers in Arizona and had them shipped same day. The shipment included P. demasoni, L. caeruleus, and M. estherae. Also in the shipment were some J. marlieri, but they’re for another tank.

I went with some Lake Malawi Mbuna cichlids for a few reasons. One, I wanted some really nice color varieties for this tank. Two, I already have a Tanganyikan tank and thought it would be good to mix things up. Three, I haven’t kept three Mbuna species together in the past, so there was the intrigue aspect of it. Finally, availability and price were factors.

They’re all juveniles, so they’re quite small (~1-2″). After acclimating for a bit, all of them were released into the tank at the same time and they all look great, eagerly swimming around upon entry. Also, their colors are very vibrant, even without the tank lights on.

​As I expected, the “Electric Yellows” (caeruleus) are the more timid of the three species. The “Cherry Red Zebras” (estherae) are much more gregarious, more so than the demasonis. There is plenty of rock work from end-to-end in the tank, as there should be for mbuna, so the Yellows should settle in pretty well and get more active soon.

I’ll take some photos and update this blog entry soon.

The quest for new bio media

As a DIYer cichlidophile, I’m always on the lookout for aquarium resources beyond the typical pet store and LFS fare. Because I like to tinker with new methods of filtration, I keep my eyes open for new and different bio media.
While looking for some small, floating plastic bio media for a small fluid bed filter that I’m working on, I came across a company in East Tennessee called Smoky Mountain Bio Media. They do business primarily with  industrial customers, however they offer media on a much smaller scale for the aquarium hobby. I ordered a gallon of their BioFLO 9 white floater media, which was promptly delivered. Two pieces of the BioFLO 9 are pictured below (far left) with some other bio media for size comparison. I’ll write an update once I get the filter up and running.


Photo courtesy of the author.


Photo courtesy of the author.

A new 55g


New 55g Malawi tank. Photo courtesy of the author.

Over the Christmas holidays, I got the new 55g set up. As I’ve mentioned, it’s going to house some dwarf species that have yet to be purchased. I used about 40 pounds of sand. I opted for sand because 1) it’s more natural for the fish I’m considering, 2) I think it looks better than gravel, crushed coral, etc., and 3) it’s easier for the fish to displace if they won’t to do some rearranging. I chose white, simply because it’s easier to spot detritus in light colored sand and it also provides better contrast for fish of color.

Before I put the sand in, I added a cut sheet of light diffuser (egg crate most cichlidophiles call it) that spans the entire tank floor. This adds a bit of protection to the glass if too much sand gets displaced under stacked rocks, causing them to topple.

I’m generally not a huge fan of artificial plants, but I wanted some additional cover without stacking rock really high. Also, plants add some nice color highlights and can look quite good if not overdone. I have kept live plants in the past, but I personally find them more hassle than they’re worth.

I’m using a 300W Fluval E digital heater to keep the tank temperature steady. It’s a bit overkill for the size of the tank, but the tank resides on an outside wall that, while well insulated, can still get a little cooler when outside temperatures reach the 20s. I’ve used other heater brands (Hydor, Eheim Jager, etc) but find the digital Fluvals to be the most accurate and dependable. I believe the Jager’s ruled the day years ago, but the quality has declined.

Filtration is currently handled by a single Sicce Whale 500, loaded with several different types of media – course/dense sponges, Eheim SUBSTRATpro, and plastic, cylinder shaped bio-rings. Some of the sponge and most of the plastic bio-rings were pre-seeded from another tank. Just prior to the arrival of the new cichlids, I’ll add some chemical media in the form of poly filter, Chemi-Pure, Purigen, or some combination of the three, which will also add some water polishing capability.

At present, the tank’s occupants are five small black skirt tetras and three giant danios. I normally wouldn’t put SA/CA tetras in an African tank. However, I’ve had good luck with black skirts in my water (in fact, I have six in a 75g that I bought as juveniles and are now almost three years old).

I’ll post an update once the new cichlids arrive. What am I getting, you ask? I honestly don’t know. I’m thinking of a few different directions – a mix of small Victorians, a mix of dwarf Tanganyikans, a mix of small Malawi Mbuna, or a Tanganyikan species only.


Happy belated New Year!


Image from

I meant to post this entry on January 1st, at least that was my plan. However, I clearly didn’t. No bother, though. It is still very early in the year.

I wanted to take just a second to thank all of those who follow the blog and let you know that there are lots of new and exciting things happening this year. I’m planning lots more interviews, so stay tuned. There will be interviews with fellow cichlidophiles that many of you will know and probably some interviews introducing you to some folks you might not know much about. There might even be a few surprises along the way.

I’ve never had a goal of X number of followers and, to be quite honest, I really don’t know how many of you there are. My main goal is to simply share what knowledge I have of this wonderful hobby and hopefully provide some useful information in the process. 2016 promises to be a great year, and I’m excited to continue sharing my cichlid stage with you.

Happy New Year!!!

A good leak indicator

As I set up the new 55g tank, I thought it might be worth mentioning one of the potential hazards of filters – a leak. If you keep fish long enough, you will inevitably have a filter leak of some kind, regardless of the brand and regardless of the filter type. Large leaks are easy to spot and are rather infrequent. Small leaks on HOB filters are often discovered by a drip from the power cord at the base of the loop, if you have a drip loop. And because HOBs aren’t very large filters, it usually doesn’t take much effort to identify the location of the leak. It’s usually occurs in one of two places: the seal where the pump housing connects to the filter body or a crack in the plastic filter body itself.

In canisters, a large leak on the input end will typically allow too much air into the system, slowing or stopping the flow of water. It’s the small to really small leaks that typically go unnoticed for a while. However, small leaks in canisters can come from several different connection points. One easy way to quickly spot a small leak, especially one that originates from the hose connections at the canister tap or the pump head seal, is to place a piece of newspaper under the canister. Newspaper will turn dark with just a little moisture, making it a great indicator of water. Newspaper is even better when used in black or really dark wood cabinets where non-pooling water is difficult to see. This works well for sumps also, but sumps can be pretty large and difficult to get newspaper under without some help.


Photo courtesy of the author.

Every fish is different

Fresh from the “every cichlid has its own personality” department is the news that I just added five new juvenile cichlids to the 75g – two Neolamprologus leleupis, two Telmatochromis vittatus, and a single Callochromis macrops. I picked them up last week from my LFS (I special ordered the vittatus).

I checked on the new additions once after a couple of hours to make sure they survived the initial introduction and weren’t getting harassed by the other three cichlid occupants, Altolamprologus calvus. Everything seemed in order. Photos of all but one of the leleupis are below. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos. I was in a bit of a hurry to get some shots, so wasn’t as patient as usual.


Photo of two juvenile Telmatochromis vittatus by author.


Photo of juvenile Neolamprologus leleupi and juvenile Telmatochromis vittatus by author.


Photo of juvenile Callochromis macrops by author.
I left the lights off the tank and stayed away to give everyone time to settle. The next day I checked in on them to see how they were doing with the three calvus. As usual, the tank decor (rocks, shells, etc.) was completely rearranged just prior to releasing the new additions into the tank. This was to upset the territorial areas established by the calvus and put everyone on equal footing. Unsurprisingly, cichlids have once again proven my initial expectations wrong.The leleupis were quite gregarious, moving about seemingly unencumbered by an inhibitions, which was a bit of a surprise. They’re quite small and, along with several large dithers and the larger calvus, I thought they might be a bit timid. I also expected the macrops to be a little shy at first. Wrong. The little guy (or gal) is all over the  place, even spending quite a bit of time up in the water column swimming around enthusiastically.

Also surprising me were the vittatus. I sat quietly for about 20 minutes before I saw the first one, and it was another 10 minutes before I saw the second one. Neither came out in the open, preferring to remain near the rocks and hug the substrate. I expected to them to be more outgoing right off the bat, however they behave a lot like my experience with newly introduced Julidichromis transcriptus….cautious and shy.

Fast forward a week and the new additions continue to surprise me. I suspect the leleupis are the same gender because they don’t tolerate the same space very well. They both still stay in the open and are quite active. The macrops seems much more comfortable playing in the sand where he/she does a lot of sifting and jets about from tank end to end, seemingly without a care in the world. The vittatus are still a bit skittish and, like the leleupis, don’t seem to care much for each other. They don’t share the same space very well either. Furthermore, one of the leleupis is a bit aggressive toward the vittatus, chasing them around when they cross paths. The vittatus still stay close to the sand and still hug the rocks pretty closely.

Fortunately, the calvus don’t seem to pay much attention to the new additions. Of course, the new cichlids are juveniles, so the situation may change as the newbies grow and mature.

I got the new 55g tank set up today, but it is currently empty. It too will house some dwarf Tanganyikans, which I’ll have shipped to me direct in the next few weeks. That’s a post for another day, so stay tuned. UPDATE 1/13/16: I elected to go with Mbuna cichlids from Malawi instead of Tanganyikans in the 55g. Read more about that here.

Setting up a cichlid aquarium

Rather than a “what to do” checklist, this post is going to focus more on what not to do. Keeping cichlids is different than keeping a goldfish or betta fish in a bowl. Sure, you can buy a single cichlid and keep it in a small tank. But most cichlid keepers don’t operate that way. Even if you’re an experienced cichlid keeper, these recommendations still apply. Of course, you have the freedom to do what you want, but please put your fish before yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about the fish. Here are a few “don’ts” that are guaranteed to save you time, money, and headache.

  • Don’t be in a hurry – mistakes happen when you get in too big of a hurry and, very often, your fish pay the price.
  • Didn’t research what kind of fish are compatible with Oscars? Don’t worry. Your Oscars will solve that problem for you – they’ll eat it if it fits in their mouth. Same goes for other large carnivore cichlids. Don’t expect one species to be compatible with another. Though many are, all bets are off if you have a breeding pair and they spawn.
  • Don’t be haphazard in your plan. Make sure you’ve thought about what species of cichlids you’ll be housing in that tank. Or, better yet, your tank size should dictate what you keep. Cichlids come in all sizes, shapes, colors, temperaments, environment needs, etc. Tanks come in all shapes and sizes too. Make sure the tank and the fish match.
  • Don’t buy in to “water is water.” Not all water chemistry is the same, regardless of the fact that the water looks clear. Soft and slightly acidic water looks exactly the same as hard and slightly alkaline water. Municipal water looks just like well water but you’re foolish to think the chemistry is the same. Cichlids come from all different water parameters and yours may suffer if kept in water they haven’t evolved for.
  • Don’t think about you, think about your fish. For example, thinking that gravel looks really cool, buying it, then covering your tank bottom with it before buying the fish that will live it can be a big mistake.

Dilemma of acquiring new cichlids

Purchasing cichlids for you aquarium generally isn’t a complicated task…but it can be. If your source for new fish is local then, depending on where you live, limitations on selection may be high. If your LFSs always have what you want at a price you’re willing to pay, then everything is good. However, let’s be honest, most of us cichlidophiles don’t have the luxury of having half a dozen LFSs nearby, each of which carries dozens of cichlid species.

Then there is the matter of purchasing fish replacements (new cichlids to replace some that have died or that you’ve sold, traded away, etc.) versus purchasing for stocking a brand new tank that you’ve set up. The former may be easier to do, especially if you only keep a couple of species and your LFSs always have them in stock. The latter is more difficult, especially when you’re wanting some species you’ve never kept, wanting some species that are hard to get, or both.

If you follow my blog, you’ve seen several posts that mention my intent to set up a new tank. In fact, that day is nearly here. Of the two scenarios described in the previous paragraph, my situation is obviously the second.

There are numerous online cichlid retailers available, many of which are highly reputable.  My LFS has some nice fish, but not everything I’m looking for. It appears that I’ll be able to get some species locally and then have to order the rest online. This introduces a dilemma, especially if your conscientious about supporting your LFS, which I very much am.

Ordering online is most cost effective when you order a higher quantity of fish. This reduces the total cost you pay per fish. Consider an overnight shipping expense of $60, which is probably close to the average for most online buyers. If you buy four fish at ~$10 each for a total fish cost of $40, adding the $60 shipping and dividing that by each fish raises your overall cost for each fish to $25. $100 total divided by 4 = $25. Order 10 fish at $10 each, you’re total fish cost with shipping now becomes $16.

​Here’s the dilemma(s). If you only have room for four new fish, then buying them online might be less cost effective than getting all four from your LFS. Splitting the purchase between your LFS and online doesn’t offer much financial relief either. The solution to the dilemma(s) is to decide what you’re willing to pay, how badly you want the fish, and whether you’re willing to leave your LFS out of the equation.