What is the GCCA?
The GCCA is a not-for-profit, educational organization, chartered in the state of Illinois, dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of information relating to the biology of the fishes in the family Cichlidae, with particular emphasis on maintenance and breeding in captivity.
We are a bunch of hobbyist who love cichlids and want to help you get more out of the cichlid-keeping hobby.
What is a water change? Why is it important?
A water change is the partial replacement of dirty aquarium water with clean, fresh water. Changing the water is part of regular maintenance that helps keep a cichlid tank clean for its inhabitants.
Performing partial water changes on a regular basis is the most important thing an aquarist can do to keep cichlids healthy. It is important because removing part of the water helps to eliminate dissolved substances, such as nitrates and phosphates before they buildup to harmful levels. In other words, it serves as a type of preventative maintenance. Unlike land based animals, cichlids are swimming in their own waste so you can see why such changes are necessary.
What kind of filter should I use on my cichlid tank?
That really depends on what kind of cichlids you will be keeping and the type of setup. If you are looking to set up a nice decorative tank for the family room, I would suggest either a power filter that hangs over the side of the aquarium or a canister filter. Filters such as these can perform large amounts of filtration and keep tanks very clean.
One thing to remember is to make sure you have an adequate amount of biological (bacterial) filtration for your tank. For example, a cannister filter will mechanically (remove loose debris) filter and chemically filter (i.e.. the use of carbon), but it will perform no significant amount of biological filtration by itself. This is because there is no real constant media for bacteria to colonize on this filter.
Most serious hobbyists who are breeders use in-tank sponge filters. These air-driven filters are inexpensive and reliable and are available in a number of sizes.
What kind of cichlid should I keep?
What do you like?
GCCA members argue about this endlessly! If you come to one of our meetings, someone will inevitably ask you whether you keep Old World (African) or New World (South and Central American) cichlids. With some cichlid enthusiasts, this becomes nearly a religious issue.
As someone who keeps and breeds both, here is a list of things you should consider:
One of the best ways to choose a fish is to see it swimming in the tank of one of our members. Fish don't behave normally in pet shops. Some fish which are timid in pet shops are great in aquariums.
So, come to a meeting and ask. You'll probably get invited over to someone's house!
What cichlids do you recommend for a beginner?
We'd recommend you start off with the less aggressive species of cichlids, especially if you have small tanks.
Here are some of our favorites which are:
1) Hardy2) Not very aggressive3) Do well in Chicago water4) Don't get too big for ten gallon tank5) Readily available
Bolivian Ram Microgeophagus altispinosaThe Bolivina Ram is a small substrate spawning cichlid from South America. These colorful, little fish are peaceful and can be kept in a community tank. Microgeophagus altispinosa can show very nice coloration— blue, yellow, gold, orange, bronze and black. Both male and female have a dot in the middle of the body. Most fins have a red border with the addition of blue on the pelvic and anal fins. A sand substrate is a good idea.
Kribensis Pelvicachromis pulcherThis dwarf cichlid may be kept in a community tank and only becomes aggressive when spawning. Both males and females are attractive; females have a beautiful cherry red belly. A substrate spawner which appreciates a cave or flowerpot to spawn in.
Multi Neolamprologus multifasciatusMulties are tiny, shelldwelling cichlids from Lake Tanganyika which only get up to about 1.5 inches. You'll need a sand substrate and several 1.5" snail shells. Four to six will do well in a ten-gallon tank. It's fun to watch the males move the shells around and compete for females.
Cockatoo Cichlid, Apistogramma cacatuoidesApistogramma cacatuoides is one of the most colorful of the Dwarf Cichlids. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most popular. It's easy to tell the males and females apart and when the female is ready to spawn, she turns bright yellow. There are a number of different color varieties available.
Can I mix different kinds of cichlids?
Cichlid-only community tanks-- usually with non-cichlid scavengers-- are very common in the cichlid hobby.
Experienced cichlid keepers often find unlikely combinations of cichlids which work well by chance (e.g. a shortage of tank space, or a fish jumping into another tank). Aquarists will commonly attempt to group fish of similar geographical origin, e.g. rock dwellers of lake Malawi, Africa, in one tank, as this is a nice way to attempt to simulate the fish's natural habitat (plants, rocks, and other decorations are usually chosen to match this habitat as well).
A common approach to creating a successful community tank of colorful, fast swimming African cichlids is to stock the tank as heavily as filtration will safely allow (thus distributing aggression between many fish so individual fish are less likely to be bullied and persecuted) and providing plenty of hiding places through elaborate use of rocks.
Key to establishing a successful community of mixed slower swimming, deliberate, territorial South American cichlids is to have a balance of power between individual fish and pairs, and to remove fish at the first sign of bullying. As with Africans, providing plenty of hiding places through rocks, plants, and driftwood is useful.
If you're not sure about species pairings, post a message in our forum or ask someone at one of our meetings.
Note: Even if another aquarist has successfully kept two species together, that doesn't you won't experience problems. Within a species, temperament can vary widely, just as it does in the wild.
For example, a few years ago I bought a group of eight, young juvenile Aulonocara stuartgranti "ngara flametail", one of the most desirable peacocks in the hobby. These fish are not generally considered very aggressive and very seldom do they do any damage to each other or tankmates.
Once in a while, however, a super aggressive male will develop and that is what I experienced. He terrorized the other fish in the tank killing his rivals, all his females and even doing damange to some mbuna which were sharing the tank. The exception proves the rule!
How do I tell if my cichlid is male or female?
Good question. Undoubtedly it will be one or the other!
First it is nearly impossible to tell the sex of fry. Some maturity is necessary to see the signs of gender indication, in species that have gender indication. For instance you know you have a boy and girl angelfish only when you see hatched fry. Other than that, angels can be very difficult to tell.
In general the following can be used as markers in helping determine gender. However, as with the English language, for every rule, there are exceptions. Further consulting of a good reference book is recommended.
When should you feed newborn fry?
Fry are born with yolk sacs that give them all the nutrition they need for the first part of their lives. How long the yolk sacs last differs from species to species. They can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Keep a close eye on the fry and when the yolk sac is gone, start feeding.
For the first couple of meals, underfeed. You want the fry to recognize it as food. Too heavy and you will foul the tank. After you see that the fry are eating-- round bellies-- increase the amount daily. Be careful not to overfeed. If you feed something like newly hatched brine shrimp, there should be no free swimming shrimp an hour after you feed. If there are, ease up next time. Pretty soon you'll be able to judge how much is right.
What member benefits are there?
Firstly, GCCA members are part of a friendly community of local cichlid hobbyists. There is no better way to learn about the hobby than in the company of dedicated, knowledgeable folks who are currently in the club.
That said, there are lots of reasons to join!
What kinds of fish are available at meetings?
Generally, cichlid fry and juvenile fish are available at meetings. Participants in GCCA's Breeders Award Program must submit five fry for each species spawned, so there tend to be a lot of young fish.
However, often there are adult fish and even spawning pairs brought in by our members. Many of the fish are hard to find and not available in pet stores.
Our meetings are often when folks exchange fish, too.
How Does the Monthly Meeting's Fish Auction work? Do you have to be a member to bid?
Anybody attending the meeting may participate in the auction. The auctioneer will propose a starting bid. If you wish to bid, raise your hand. Bidding generally proceeds in one dollar increments.
GCCA also holds regular open auctions and swap meets where hundreds of bags of fish are available. These events are open to the public.
How do you do a water change?
There are several ways to successfully perform a water change. Some cichlid hobbyists use elaborate plumbing that constantly supplies fresh water to the aquarium. Others prefer a hose that attaches to the sink that utilizes gravity to siphon out the dirty water and add fresh water via the same tube.
Even more common is the useful device called a gravel vacuum. It is a type of siphon sold at most fish shops that consists of a length of clear flexible plastic tubing with a wider end made of rigid plastic. The advantage of using a gravel vacuum for changes is that it allows you to also remove the solid waste that collects in the substrate.
A popular water changing tool for 2-15 tanks is the Python Water Changer which attaches to your faucet to suck water from your tanks and can be reversed to fill them.
When should I use a sponge filter?
Sponge filters are great for filtering tanks containing baby fish. Not only can they easily handle the waste the baby fish produce, but sponge filters actually have many microorganisms growing on them that little fish graze upon between feedings. They also won't suck up your baby fish like a power filter will.
Sponge filters are also great if you own a large number of aquariums. While they are not great to look at and take up space in the tank, the charm of these filters is that there are no cartridges to buy when the old ones get dirty, and speaking of dirt, sponge filters are dirt cheap compared to powerfilters! These filters can handle adult cichlids as well, and since many are powered by air bubbles, you can run many sponge filters off a single air pump/blower.
If you have several tanks, you can run multiple tanks off of a single air pump/blower. Sponge filters are capable of handling a whole tank of adult fish , however the use of multiple sponge filters will most likely be necessary for larger tanks. Since sponge filters aren't very good at mechanically filtering the water, it is a good idea to do water changes and substrate cleanings a bit more frequently. I do water changes about once every 2 weeks on tanks I use sponge filters in. If the tank is lightly stocked, you can probably get away with doing a water change once a month.
What size tank do I need?
The general rule of thumb in aquarium keeping is to have no more that one inch of fish per gallon of water. Thus, if you had a twenty gallon tank (with no substrate or rocks to diminish the total water volume), you could have five 4-inch fish. This formula also assumes you will change 25% of the tank volume each week. See What is a water change? Why is it important? for more details.
Realistically, however, you will need to consider the following factors when choosing what size tank to purchase:
What is a dither/target fish?
Aggression is a natural component of cichlid behavior, as it is useful in protecting territory and young. Occasionally, this protective aggression will overflow if there is no appropriate target, and a cichlid will attack its mate (can you say "cabin fever"?).
Experienced cichlid hobbyists and breeders will often add other fish --"dither fish"-- in these cases to offer an appropriate target, thus enabling a less abusive relationship within the cichlid pair. Smaller schooling fish such as barbs or rainbows or immature cichlids work well as dither fish, provided they are either fast swimming for quick escape, or are fairly expendable -- should they become lunch.
Dither fish are also used to draw out shy fish, such as discus and angelfish, which will tend to hide and be apprehensive and skittish in a quiet, sparsely populated aquarium.
How do I breed my African Cichlid?
Although many books cover cichlid breeding, a lot of knowledge about how to breed cichlids is "in the village", spread throughout the hobbyist community. I've learned way more about breeding cichlids from other hobbyists than books and the internet combined!
GCCA has many Cichlid Profiles on our website which include detailed information about how to spawn cichlids. Each fish featured has been spawned by one of our members and we tell you how.
Here are some general guidelines:
How do I hatch baby brine shrimp?
Hatching baby brine is relatively easy. You can go the your local pet store and buy a hatching kit which includes brine shrimp eggs and a hatcher and follow the included instructions. Purchase a brine shrimp net if one is not included in the kit.
You can also build a hatcher of your own out of a one-gallon jar with an airstone or as I do, use an inverted 3-liter bottle with air feeding from the narrow neck. I cut the bottom out of the bottle and save as a cover. To hatch brine shrimp in a homemade set-up, follow these steps:
Jehmco offers a variety of brine shrimp hatchers that work very well. I add a small heater to keep the temperature at 82F and the eggs hatch in about 17 hours.
Can I come to a meeting or auction as a guest?
Yes, guests are always welcome and there is no charge to attend. If you attend a subsequent meeting, you will be asked to join the group.
Our large community-related events such as auctions and swap meets are always open to the public.
What kind of filtration should be used for big tanks with big cicllids?
Large Central American cichlid pose some specific filtration problems. They eat a lot and therefore poop a lot. They like to uproot plants and redecorate the aquarium. Sometimes they eat sponge filters and attach filter tubes.
Large power filters or cannister filters are a good choice. I use wet/dry filters on my large tanks or a powerhead which pumps to large pond filter which uses gravity to return water to the tank.
What cichlids are easy to breed for the beginner?
Many cichlid species are easy to breed for the beginners. If you do water changes and feed them, most cichlids will readily breed.
Most cichlids do best in a species tank, as virtually all cichlids can get aggressive during spawning. Here are two examples of cichlids that are fairly easy to breed, but there are many others.
Convict Cichlid, Archocentrus nigrofasciatumThis substrate spawning fish spawns readily and at a young age. We've seen them spawning in pet shop tanks! The traditional striped and a pink variety are available. Provide a flat piece of rock for spawning. Males are larger and have more pointed fins. Pet shop stock of Convicts is zillions of generation from the wild, so if you are more discerning, find a wild-type with a location noted. Certain locations in the wild produce more colorful fish. As around at a GCCA meeting.
Yellow Labs, Labidochromis caeruleusThis mouthbrooding cichlid is has different color varieties. Make sure you ask for "Yellow Labs" and not just the latin name as there are white and striped variants of the species. This fish is not too hard to spawn. Males have longer, pointed fins. Provide a flat rock for spawning and plenty of cover for the mouthbrooding female or remove her to a quiet, planted tank when you see her buccal sack (throat area) full of eggs. Females will hold the eggs for 16 to 21 days before releasing the fry. A 20-gallon or larger tank is needed.
What is a wet/dry filter?
A wet/dry filter is sometimes called a trickle filter. You place the wet/dry filter which has a large sump underneath the aquarium. A pump in the sump returns water to the tank.
Wet/dry filters require an overflow box or drilled tank to move surface water from the tank down to the sump.
How much do cichlids cost?
Cichlids are available in a wide range of prices.
Many common cichlid species are only a dollar or two per fish and are very affordable, while some rare, show-quality fish can be thousands of dollars.
A number of factors affect the cost of the fish:
Why do some aquarists "strip" mouthbrooding cichlids? How do you strip a mouthbrooding cichlid?
Most mouthbrooding cichlid females will hold fry for 14 to 28 days. During this time, they may become ematiated because they don't eat while holding fry. There are several reasons to strip mouthbrooding cichlids:
How to strip a female:
When you strip the fish, you may find that the eggs may be in one of three states of development:
Why are my cichlid fry dying?
If you do weekly water changes and feed quality foods, this question shouldn't come up. It is inevitable that sometimes fry die. Is it 1 or 2 out of 100s? Or is it 5 or 6 out of 20? If it's the former, I wouldn't sweat it. A few dead fry is not out of the realm of normal. Especially with some inbred strains, genetics plays a large part. If inbreeding causes mutations such as curved spines, bent lips, etc. then it only stands to reason that some fry will be born with conditions that will not allow them a long life.
However, if you are finding an inordinate amount of dead fry, something is wrong!
How do I hatch mircoworms? What are they?
Microworms are a nematode Panagrellus redivivus. Another name for Microworms is "Sour paste nematode" which should give you an indicator about how to raise them.
Here's what you'll need:
The worms will multiply rapidly and after about 7-10 days the worms come out of the culture mediaum and crawl up the sides of the container. When they do, you just wipe them off with your finger and stir them into the top water of your aquarium.
A good, active culture can yield about 1/4 teaspoon of worms to feed daily.
The culture will likely be viable for about three more weeks. When the culture starts to turn dark or smell really bad (OK, they don't smell that good to begin with), start a new culture.
I like to start new culture every two weeks and I usually keep four total going which provides backup.
Note: There are many different ways to raise microworms and there are different culture mediums which can work. I like to use Baby Oatmeal because it is vitamin fortified. My thinking is that the worms cultured in this medium are more nutritious.
What happens at a GCCA meeting?
A typical meeting has a short business session, including reports from the various committees, e.g., bowl show, audit and budget, show/auction and publication.
An interesting and informative program is presented at each meeting by either a member or, more often than not, by a qualfied, professional speaker.
There is a mini-auction and a raffle with such prizes as tanks, fish foods, power filters, etc.
A bowl show is where members bring in their best fish according to a schedule of species.
Why are my cichlids digging?
Just like humans, cichlids will promptly begin to personalize their territory once chosen. To the cichlid, there are several considerations:
Of course, cichlids are not constantly breeding, but, intelligent as they are, they are always planning ahead!
Can I use plants in my cichlid tank? What plants work well in a cichlid tank?
Yes, but it depends on the type of cichlids you keep and you may have to keep your expectations low.
Since many cichlids dig in the gravel, it is quite possible that your fish will uproot your plants. Some predominantly herbivorous cichlids may eat your plants. Other cichlids will tear up plants "for fun" and are efficient aquatic lawn mowers. If your cichlids chew up your plants, bits of leaves and roots can clog filters.
Some plants require lots of light and some cichlids may not be comfortable with a lot of illumination.
Angelfish, discus, Rams and many dwarf cichlids look great and do great in planted tanks.
I have had considerable success growing Cryptocoryne wendtii and Aponegeton in most of my tanks even with cichlids that dig. Cryptocoryne is tough, requires little light, and spreads quickly. Young fry and overstressed fish will use the thick "forests" as a refuge. Most smaller Malawian mouthbrooders are OK with plants. Some cichlids, however will defy your best attempts to keep a planted tank.
Another tactic is to put plants into terracotta pots. That makes them easy to move later if your cichlids decide that your prized Amazon Sword is breakfast instead of a decoration!
My advice is to give it a try with a few inexpensive plants and proceed cautiously.
What water change procedure should I use if I only have tank or two?
One of the easiest methods to change water involves using an inexpensive gravel vacuum and bucket. Follow these steps:
One oft-quoted rule of thumb in aquarium keeping is to have no more that one inch of fish per gallon of water.
This works fine if you keep little livebearing fish, but most cichlids are bigger, more robust and aggressive.
You will need to consider the following factors when choosing what size tank to purchase:
How do I join GCCA?
Joining GCCA is easy. Simply go to the Join Link on our website and you can apply online and pay with Paypal or a credit card. We have individual, family and corresponsing memberships available.
How do I bag my fish for meetings?
GCCA recommends that all fish are double-bagged. Cichlids often have sharp spines on their dorsal fins that can puncture single bags easily. Fish bags of various sizes may be purchased from pet shops. Bags are often available at GCCA meetings, too. Very large fish may be brought in five gallon buckets.
To bag your fish follow these steps:
How often should I do a water change?
How often and also how much water gets changed in at one time varies among cichlid hobbyists. A typical regime involves changing 25% of the tank volume weekly. Other aquarists may change a greater amount of water only biweekly. But, exactly how much needs to be changed also depends on the number and type of cichlids kept. A tank that is heavily stocked with fish requires more frequent water changes of larger volume than one with few inhabitants. Certain large cichlids are messy (they poop a lot!) and these fish require a lot more maintenacne.
Certain cichlid species that are less tolerant of disruptions in their environment may fare better if only 10% is changed weekly.
Regardless of how often and how much is changed, being consistent with these water changes is the important thing to learn when keeping cichlids.
Is there a faster way to change water than using a bucket and siphon hose?
If you have more than a couple of tanks, especially if they are large tanks, it makes sense to buy a water changing system that makes use of a faucet-based water pump such as a Python Water Changer.
The Python and similar systems attach to your faucet. A water-powered pump uses the water running from your faucet to suck water from your tank. When finished removing water, you adjust your water temperature, flick a switch, and fresh water flows back into your tank. Prior to refilling, add water conditioners directly to your tank water.
If you have more than ten tanks to change -- and over 200 gallons of water -- it will save time to use an auxilliary utility pump from manufacturers such as Simer and Blue Angel. These pumps have garden hose threads and can pump up to 1600 gallons per minute. Using one of these pumps can save you over half the time you would spend changing water.
If you have twenty tanks or more, it makes sense to plan ahead and build water changing into your fishroom plans. Tanks may be drilled and drain lines run to floor drains. Once plumbed for discharge, options include continuous drip systems which introduce new water constantly or higher volume systems triggered by timers.
What substrate (gravel) will work well with my cichlids?
An attractive substrate makes the tank look nice, can trap some dirt or hide it, and provides anchor for roots of plants. Some cichlids use the gravel (spawning pits, etc.) and gravel can help to buffer the water and, in some cases, provide a substrate for nitrate cycle bacteria.
Can I keep other fish with my cichlids?
Before they are old enough to court and breed, most cichlids will coexist peacefully with other fish of different types. Due to their playfulness and appetite, fish with long, trailing fins and fish small enough to fit in the cichlid's mouth should be avoided.
Young cichlids will establish a pecking order among them, and are generally less interested in other species. Once cichlids begin to approach maturity, they will become territorial and aggressive, and are less compatible with other species and other types of fish.
Unless the tank is very large, breeding cichlids should not be kept in the same tank as other fish, since they will do whatever is necessary (sometimes with fatal results) to protect their young. Exceptions include some peaceful South Americans and smaller West African River cichlids, given enough space, plants, and rocks to offer hiding places for other fish.
The most common non-cichlids coexisting in the cichlid aquarium are scavengers, such as plecostomus which are protected by their bony armor as well as their nocturnal habits.
Some large barbs-- such as Tinfoil Barbs-- are fast enough to avoid cichlids. We've also seen species common in the same habitat (an example would be Thoricthys species and Swordtails) kept together successfully in the aquarium.
What is a sponge filter?
A sponge filter is one of the simplest and efficient filters ever designed. Sponge filters use a piece of foam as media to trap loose debris and host a large amount of beneficial bacteria. Sponge filters sit inside the aquarium and usually have a tube attached to them that you can attach an airline, and some allow you to hook up a circulating pump to them. Sponge filters perform about 75% biological filtration, and only 25% mechanical. Sponge filters are typically used to add extra biological filtration to an aquarium, or to filter a tank of small fish that produce little debris.
With regular water changes, many breeders use sponge filter exclusively for filtration.
Can I use an Undergravel filter (UGF) with cichlids?
Yes and No. This depends on the type of cichlid you're keeping. Many cichlids will move gravel to all parts of the aquarium and uncover the UGF plate, which renders the UGF useless. For this reason, UGFs are bad ideas for MOST cichlids. However, for fish like the Cyprichromis that like fairly still water and do not dig, an UGF would be a perfect filter choice. UGFs are also good for raising baby cichlids in as well. Fry and juveniles don't dig all that much, so it is safe to use an UGF to filter a tank full of these guys.
UGFs are definitely out of the question for nearly all South American cichlids. These cichlids dig more than any other group of cichlids. The only adult South American cichlids that won't re-arrange gravel to the point of making an UGF useless are: Discus, angelfish, and the dwarf cichlids such as the Apistogrammas . The only adult African cichlids that really won't disturb UGFs are the Cyprichromis species. The Aulonocara ("peacocks") from Lake Malawi tend to not disturb UGFs if flat surfaces for breeding are available. Other than the mentioned fish, the majority of adult cichlids will move enough gravel around to not make it worth using an undergravel filter.
Where do I buy cichlids?
Most pet stores carry cichlids and a few specialize in rare and hard to find species. Unfortunately, there are far fewer really good pet stores these days.
You can also buy cichlids on the internet, generally from individuals who sell them, or via AquaBid, an online auction for fish. GCCA also offers an online Classifieds system.
I prefer to buy fish from someone I know and trust.
One of the best places to buy fish is at GCCA meetings where members bring in fish to sell each month.
GCCA also hosts large public auctions and swap meets. You can talk to knowledgeable vendors at our swap meets and see the fish before you buy them.
Should I buy young fish or adult fish?
If you are interested in breeding your fish, you should consider young fish. Our members generally prefer to buy five or six juvenile fish and grow them up together so that natural pair bonds will develop. If you buy five or six fish, the odds are strongly in your favor that you will have at least one male or female.
Virtually all juvenile fish found for sale at GCCA's monthly meeting mini-auction are tank raised by our members. Each bag is marked with the member's name; you can talk to the "parents" of the fish to find out more about the species and its requirements.
If you have a mixed adult cichlid tank and want to add fish, it might be better to stick to larger, adult fish who can handle the territorial tendencies of the existing inhabitants.
Why is only one of my cichlids colorful?
There may be several reasons that your cichlids haven't "colored up."
Why are my cichlids fighting? What can I do to stop it?
Fighting in cichlids can either signify a struggle for territory, dominance, an element of courtship, or all of the above. In many cichlids, fighting will have a theatrical, ritualistic quality, with spectacular displays of color and finnage, posturing, and lots of gill flaring Gill flaring, in particular, is an overtly aggressive gesture as it makes the head and thus the whole fish appear larger.
In others, the fight will get down to the nitty gritty very quickly and torn finnage, missing scales and sometimes a seriously injured fish will result. During courtship, some high-bodied South Americans will actually lock lips and attempt to pull each other backward through the aquarium. The purpose of aggressive behavior during courtship is to help each mate evaluate the strength/ferociousness of the other, thus determining his/her worth as a mate and as a worthy partner in defense of offspring and territory.
Research has shown that increased intensity of lighting can actually help reduce aggression in some cichlids. Occasionally an established breeding pair of cichlids will fight with each other-- in these cases, a tank divider through which the fish can still see each other and even breed is often the solution of choice.
Commonly employed methods of managing fighting and aggression include use of dither fish, heavily stocking an aquarium to distribute aggression between many fish vs. one or few targets, providing plenty of space and hiding places, reducing temperature somewhat, removing bullying or bullied fishes, and removing breeding fish from the community tank.
I think my cichlid is sick. What do I do?
Generally, cichlids do well if the water is changed regularly and tank and water conditions are kept clean and similar to their natural requirements. However, if there are factors stressing your cichlids (which can include overcrowding, high nitrates, nitrites, measurable ammonia, aggression, insufficient dark time, incorrect pH, incorrect temperature, poor foods, too much or too little food, etc.), their immune system will be compromised and they may become prone to disease or injury.
While we can't cure your fish on-line, here are a few things to consider:
General signs of a sick cichlid can include:
Sometimes, a cichlid will appear to be sick when the problem is aggression or poor conditions. If the fish is a female mouthbrooder, look to see if the throat is bulging slightly, which can indicate that the fish has spawned and is carrying eggs (thus not eating and tending to hide). Or, another fish may be come extremely aggressive during a breeding period, which may make other fish cower. Fish can be injured from attacks from aggressive other fish, and this can result in missing scales, torn fins, and when an eye is hurt, a cloudy appearing eye. Most of these problems will heal given time and safety for the fish,
The most frequent pathogens for fish include parasites and bacteria. It is not a good idea to medicate a fish without having some idea of the cause of the problem. Doing so with the wrong medication can increase stress and cause unintended harm for the fish. Consult a book or one of the websites listed below to determine the likely cause based upon symptoms.
Some people will isolate a sick fish in a "hospital tank", which allows you to treat that fish without affecting the other fish in the original tank as well as providing some safety for the sick individual during a time of weakness. This can also save money, as you will usually need less of the medication to treat a smaller hospital tank than you would the original larger tank.
Common treatments include adding aquarium salt, antibiotics, antibacterial agents, antifungal agents (such as malachite green), and antiparasitic agents (such as copper based compounds). Care must be taken with each. With antibiotics, as with people, the dose must be given over a period of time-- often 5 to 7 days-- rather than a shorter period, because a shorter treatment can result in not killing all of the infectious bacteria and allowing a resistant strain to develop and making your next treatment all that much more difficult. Follow the directions on the container, and consult the resources below.
This is one of the advantages of belonging to a fish club such as GCCA, where you have the combined experience of many people to consult for diagnostic help.
It is important to keep watch over the tank so that you can observe any behavioral and obvious physical changes. Also, if any individual fish die, you must remove them immediately or ammonia will build up in the water, which will further stress any remaining fish. Keeping the water clean, and doing regular water changes is essential to help nurture the fish back to health as well as to dispose of pathogens in the water column and dispose of any residual or decomposing medications. If you have multiple tanks, be sure not to use the same materials (such as nets, rocks, etc.) in another tank without at least washing (if not otherwise sterilizing) these materials, otherwise you may spread the pathogens to other tanks and other fish.
Useful books on fish disease/health: Andrews, C., Exell, A., & Carrington, N. (1988). The Manual of Fish Health. New Jersey: Tetra. Untergasser, D. (1989). Handbook of Fish Diseases . Neptune City, NJ: TFH.
Other general books on cichlids usually contain a chapter on fish health and disease and a few that you might consider include Enjoying Cichlids by Ad Konings, or The Cichlid Aquarium by Paul Loiselle.
How do I breed my Cichlid?
First, knowledge is power. If you are trying to breed a particular fish, consult a good reference book, a knowledgeable pet shop or a local aquarium society-- like GCCA!. Many fish have very specific requirements; others will breed at the drop of a hat, under the most adverse conditions.
Generally, the following are required for breeding to occur:
Again, knowledge is power. If you have fish that grow ten inches, make sure you have tank space. If the fish needs sand substrate or breeds in caves, make sure you provide them.
How do I breed South American (New World) Cichlids?
There are so many different species of New World cichlids that no one answer can suffice. Follow these general guidelines should work well with most cichlids that breed in pairs.
What do you feed newborn fry?
Feeding newborn fry isn't difficult. Keep this simple rule in mind-- The smaller the fry, the smaller their mouths, the smaller the food. Some cichlid fry are so small that the first food should be infusoria (green water) which essentially paramecium-sized. Other larger fry can go directly to baby brine shrimp (newly hatched or frozen) or a brine shrimp replacement such as Cyclop-Eeze. Another alternative is to feed microworms.
Any alternatives to hatching baby brine shrimp?
Although I personally feel that there is nothing better than newly hatched brine shrimp to get your fry off on the right foot, there is no shortage of great foods out there that can substitute for newly hatched brine shrimp. The first is frozen baby brine shrimp. You can also feed microworms, whiteworms, infusoria, Cyclop-eze, flakes, liquids, etc. Whatever fits in their mouths, they will eat.
Some care must be given to some fish, such as Tropheus, that should be weaned to an all-vegetable diet ASAP. There are several vegetable or spirulina flakes that can be ground within your fingers and pulverized for fry.
How do I raise baby cichlids?
There are many methods that work, here is mine! Most important is quality food. I feed twice a day during the week (flake food in the morning and baby brine in the evening) and 3 times a day on weekends (one extra feeding of flakes). Never feed more than they can eat.
Keep the temperature and the water quality constant. For very young fry which are still in small tanks or containers under five gallons, a daily 50% water change (same temp and makeup) is a good idea.
For fry in growout tanks of give gallons and up, I follow the same schedule as for my adult tanks (25-50% weekly).
Special care is needed for raising very large spawns. Some Central American cichlids lay hundreds of eggs. I raise these in a ten-gallon tank and do 50% daily water changes since there are so many fry. They need to be moved to bigger tanks quickly or their growth will be stunted.
My fry tanks have only one sponge filter, but I do use a sand substrate.
How do I wean fry off of one food onto another?
Transitioning fish from one food to another stays basically the same for fry or for adults, although adults are easier. If you withhold food from adults and then present them with something new, they will eat. Adults can go days without food.
Fry are more vulnerable. They don't have any real amount of stored body fats to speak of so starving them isn't the best plan. If you are weaning fry from baby brine to flake food, I find that the best way is to feed the new food first and then feed the baby brine. They will eventually get the idea and vigorously eat both.
One technique that has worked for me is to start the fry off on baby brine shrimp, then switch to brine shrimp flakes. I assume that the flavor is similar.
Once your fish are no longer fry, I find it best to change what you feed them often. They tend to be less finicky as adults. I feed all my fish three or four kinds of food weekly. Foods range from earthworms to adult brine shrimp to several different flake foods. The flake food range from spirulina flakes to growth flakes to brine shrimp or earthworm flakes. Sometimes I mix 3 or 4 flakes together and feed that. Variety is the way to go. Would you want to eat the same thing at every meal?