Authoritative information sources

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Image from https://molbiohut.wordpress.com/.

Educating yourself about cichlids (e.g., their morphology, taxonomy, ecology) is not overly complicated. Plenty of resources are available, including books, magazines, websites, and even social media. The key to good information is the source. Don’t underestimate this. With an abundance of inaccurate/bad information easily available, it can be difficult to distinguish the good from the bad.

If you really want to dig into the authoritative information about cichlids, consider primary sources such as scholarly publications. Simply go to Google Scholar and enter a search term or terms. Sure, there are other online search tools, but Google Scholar is better than most, especially if you learn how to use it.

Many scholarly research papers are freely available online. Yes, most of these are heavily laden with scientific terms because that’s what they are, science publications. However, you don’t have to read the whole paper. Skip to the results/discussion/conclusion sections. Typically, the results of the research are understandable by the lay person. Furthermore, the results have been vetted by other researchers, generally ensuring that what you read is accurate. ​If you want to take it a step farther, dictate the context by contacting the author(s) directly. The affiliations of scholarly article authors are nearly always included on the title page of the article. If the affiliation is an academic institution, which it is most of the time, visit the institution’s website and search for the author’s name in the directory. E-mail addresses for professors and researchers are typically accessible.  If you have a specific question, especially related to their published research, ask them.  In fact, many scholars love to communicate with the public, and you would be surprised how many will respond to your inquiry.

Repurposing again

Want to get that fry food directly to the bottom of the tank without it going over all over the place? Want to be more precise filling those test tubes from the API test kits? Need to get a small blast of water in that crevice of your filter that you can’t reach with a brush when doing your routine maintenance?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, pictured below is something that will accomplish the task.

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5 ml liquid dispensing syringe photo courtesy of the author.
Liquid dispensing syringes like this are easy to find and serve multiple purposes. You can pick them up at your local pharmacy, medical supply store, or purchase online. I have more than a dozen of them and use them all of the time. I’m sure you can find ways to use them too.

Diet variety

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Photo courtesy of the author.

It should go without saying that the health of your fish is a product of multiple variables – genetics, physical environment, diet, age, etc. As an aquarist, you have control over some of these. One of the variables that’s easiest to control is the fishes’ diet. After all, the aquarium is a closed environment, and food must be introduced into it – unless your fish feed on each other or something else that grows in the tank.

There are plenty of food options available. Providing a laundry list of what cichlid foods are best isn’t the point of this post.  What I will say is that variety is beneficial.

My Tanganyikan food pantry consists of 15 different dry foods, from which I generally feed them a three food combination each day. Mathematically, this means I could feed them a different combination once a day for 455 consecutive days before they eat the same three foods together.

Send me a line…..or two

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Animated GIF from http://gifs-for-the-masses.tumblr.com/post/33530681886.
Just a quick note to the readers out there. If you like the blog, tell your friends and tell me too. Let me know what you think. I’m always interested in hearing from fellow cichlidophiles. Don’t be shy! Just go to my Contact page and send me a line or two. Tell me what you like, or don’t like, about the blog. I’m always interested in hearing from others. I’ve met a lot of great aquarists, and many who share my passion for cichlids, simply through e-mail.

Sam Garcia, Jr. interview

PicturePhoto of Sam Garcia, Jr.

As a collector of fine art, I have always appreciated the skill of individuals who can paint or draw an image that closely emulates the real thing. The interviewee for this post is one of those people. In fact, that may be one of the few talents that equals his expertise as a cichlid keeper. Let me introduce Sam Garcia, Jr. Sam is an artist by vocation, where he owns and operates Scalz Fine Art and Illustration art studio. As the company name suggests, Sam specializes in fish illustrations and art. I own a couple of Sam’s prints, and they are simply gorgeous. Sam also serves as an administrator for Cichlid Keepers, a Facebook group for cichlidophiles. Without further ado, let’s get started.

The Cichlid Stage: How did you get started keeping cichlids?  

Although my first cichlids were a Texas cichlid (Herichthys cyanoguttatus) and a White-spotted Pike (Crenicichla saxitilis) when I was only 9, I did not become serious about them until I started helping take care of a Rift Lake cichlid fish room at age 14. I was enthralled by all of the variety and colors available, and was intrigued by the natural history and speciation of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. I started my book collection at around that time and never looked back.

TCS: What are some of your favorite species to keep and why?

I enjoy keeping all species of cichlids but, for the unique adaptations and amazing diversity, I am very fond of Tanganyikan species, particularly sand dwellers. ​

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Image courtesy of Sam Garcia, Jr.

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Image courtesy of Sam Garcia, Jr.

TCS: In addition to being an artist and aquarist, you’re also a naturalist and conservationist. Please share some of your thoughts on the importation of wild cichlids for the hobby, even though many species are now successfully bred domestically.

I actually am a strong supporter of wild caught fish. Wild collection allows new genetics to constantly enter the hobby, allowing genetic diversity as well as keeping the trade open when new species are discovered. It also allows local fishermen to have a sustainable income without having to clearcut land for farming, overharvest fish for food, or mine the land for gold and diamonds, which all lead to more damage than tropical fish collection ever could. The key is management of the resources without causing environmental destruction. A balance of domestically bred and wild caught fishes will keep the hobby healthy and growing. Such a balance can also benefit conservation by preserving species that are losing their natural habitat due to pollution, dams, and other issues caused by human interference, as well as losing ground due to competition with introduced exotics. Project Piaba is a sustainable collection program in South America.

TCS: As a cichlid group administrator on Facebook, what are some of your pet peeves with respect to posts made by group members? 

What some people on social media fail to realize is that the aquarium community needs to be united rather than segregated by cliques or elitist groups. Being behind a keyboard means that someone can speak their mind without regard to immediate consequences. Some young and immature group members often use vulgar text or profanity to state their positions, and it leads to arguments rather than educated discussions. That is where being an admin helps to control the type of people on the groups. There also tends to be some misinformation being perpetuated regarding veterinary treatment of fish and species identification. Overall, I believe the groups, particularly on Facebook, are a very positive way for novice aquarists to mingle with more advanced keepers to learn, share, and have a great time.

TCS: If you had a 250 gallon tank and an unlimited budget, what would you stock it with?

In a 250 gallon aquarium, I would likely recreate my favorite tank of all time; a Tanganyikan biotope with Cyathopharynx foai, Enantipous melanogenys and a Callochromis species. Perhaps I would include a school of Cyprichromis leptosoma ‘Kituta’.

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Image courtesy of Sam Garcia, Jr.
TCS: What are you some of your favorite cichlid species to draw and why?

While I tend to draw and paint a lot of South and Central Americans and Malawi species, this is more because of demand than my personal obsessions. Although I love to paint colorful species, I also like to focus on rare species and those that may have more subtle hues and reflective colors. The species I may have painted and drawn the most are the Butterfly Dwarf Cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) and the Alenquer Discus (Symphysodon aequifasciata).

TCS: When I invited you to be interviewed for the blog, you mentioned some of your art work would be appearing in a major publication soon. Tell us a bit about that and some of your upcoming plans.

I have several shows and a few articles in 2016 and 2017 that will feature my work, but the articles will be announced just prior to publication. To see my work and keep up to date on upcoming shows and projects, anyone can follow me on Instagram @samscalz or like my Facebook art page Scalz Nature Artist.

TCS: If you could give cichlid keepers (novice or expert) one piece of advice, what would it be?

Aquarists should learn about the natural history of each cichlid they plan to keep. I strongly advise getting familiar with biotope aquariums that replicate the natural habitat of each species. So many new aquarists are content with keeping the few domestic line-bred and hybrid species commonly available at chain stores. There are close to 3000 species of cichlids with over 1200 available to hobbyists. Independent fish stores will often carry many rare and uncommon species and will even special order some for you. If you plan to breed fish, don’t try to experiment with unnatural crosses. Focus on species that are in need of help. Overall, try to enjoy fish keeping and mentor others rather than isolating yourself. We all need to cooperate to keep the aquarium hobby going strong!

TCS: You mentioned above that cichlid keepers should focus on species that are in need of help. Can you elaborate on that and let the readers know how they can become more aware of which species are actually in need of help?

Certain species in the hobby have been compromised by unscrupulous cross-breeding. Fishes from Lake Victoria and Central America are commonly seen as hybrids, and pure strains of some species are becoming increasingly rare. Also, some species are bred by farms in massive quantities. There is no need for hobbyists to focus on these species when many others are rarely bred in captivity. In addition to the fine work of the American Cichlid Association with The Cichlid Room Companion, there is a program called CARES (Conservation, Awareness, Research, Encouragement and Support), which lists species that are threatened and in need of greater distribution to aquarists worldwide. These are the species that breeders should concentrate their efforts on.

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Image courtesy of Sam Garcia, Jr.

TCS: Perhaps also share some general strategies for becoming more “conservation minded” with respect to the cichlidae family of fish.

Being aware of the natural biotopes where cichlids are found gives us a better understanding of how we should keep them in captivity. Learning about the sympatric fishes and other fauna, as well as the plants and natural makeup of their environment allows us to better comprehend their behavior. This is just a part of becoming conservation minded. Supporting properly managed wild-caught sources of fish helps to fund conservation as well.

Canister filter review

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Photo of two canister filters in the Sicce Whale line – model 120 (left) and 500 (right). Courtesy of Sicce USA.

As I was planning out the set-up of the new 55g tank, one of the first items I thought about was filtration. While there are numerous ways to effectively filter a 55g, I knew I was going to use a canister or two. I have used sumps, HOBs, internal and external canisters, but for this tank I wanted to use a large canister.

Quite serendipitously, I was offered a Sicce Whale 500 canister filter by the Aquarium in exchange for a review of it. Manufactured in Italy, the Sicce Whale line of canister filters comes in four models – 120, 200, 350, and 500. The 500 has a maximum flow rating of 390 gph and a recommended tank capacity of 80-135 gallons, which is more than enough for the 55g I’m setting up. You can see my review of the Whale 500 here.

I must say that this filter does a really nice job. In the past, the Whale canisters had problems with leaks around the pump head seal (where the pump head connects to the canister) due to users incorrectly aligning the media trays or overpacking them. However, Sicce quickly responded to this problem and resolved it by redesigning the trays and the underside of the pump head. Ribs were added to both the trays and the bottom of the pump head assembly to prevent incorrect alignment. See the video showing the improvements. The filter does supply a significant output flow. Also, it is really quiet.

Update 5/16/18: Sicce has changed the model names of the Whale line. There are still four models, but they are now just simply numbered (in order of size) beginning with 1 (e.g., Whale 1, Whale 2).

Make that new tank ready to go from day one

The easiest, most effective way (biologically speaking) to quickly make a new tank ready for fish,  is to use pre-seeded bio-media. There are bacteria-laden products available to emulate seeded media, but they aren’t the same as seeding your own. For quick results, remove some of the mature media from your existing filter and place it in a media bag along with some new media. If you have a tank with an overflow box or you use a sump, consider placing this media bag full of your favorite bio-media in it to hasten the media’s growth. There are three advantages for utilizing this type of placement of your bag: 1) it’s easier to access than putting it inside a filter, 2) it’s hidden from view, and 3) in theory, the bacteria in the bag will benefit more quickly from the continuous, natural flow of the water. In a very short time, you’ll be able to remove the media from the bag (or leave it in the bag) and place it in the filter(s) of your new tank.

Yes, you could take some mature media from a running filter, add it straight to the new filter without adding any new media, and then add fish immediately. However, depending on the number and size of the fish you add, the little bit of mature media that you robbed from the existing filter may not be enough to support the bio load generated by the new fish. You could easily overwhelm the media’s ability to consume the ammonia and nitrite produced.

Below is an 8″ x 12″ media bag full of floating plastic bio-media. It’s inside the corner overflow of a 75g tank. The floating media keeps the bag above the intake pipe. You’ll notice the intake pipe utilizes a prefilter sponge. In this case, I could also use sinking media in the bag, if I chose, because the prefilter sponge would prevent the bag from being sucked into the intake tube opening, which would slow or even halt the water intake.

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Large media bag containing plastic bio-media floating inside corner overflow of 75g tank. Photo courtesy of the author.

Update to New Fish Arrived post!

I said I would update the New Fish Arrived post from 1/13/16 with photos once I had time to take a few. Below are two of the better ones. One of the Electric Yellows is the top photo and the next photo is one of the Cherry Red Zebras. The Zebra appears more orange than red in the photo, which I would say it is. However, part of that is due to the LED lights I’m using on the aquarium. The three Zebras were a little larger (~1/4″) than the Labs when they arrived. The Zebras are more full-bodied too.

The Labs and the Zebras are easy to distinguish inside the tank from a distance, even though they appear similarly colored in these photos. I’ll get a photo of one of the demasonis soon. I couldn’t get any of them to cooperate during this first photo shoot.

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Labidochromis caeruleus “Electric Yellow”. Photo courtesy of the author.

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Metriaclima estherae “Cherry Red Zebra”. Photo courtesy of the author.

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!