Fish Keeping 101

Fish Keeping 101: Cichlids - Diverse and Fascinating

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Cichlids are a popular choice with aquarists and cover a wide range of fish, including the freshwater angelfish.

Cichlid breeding and parenting behavior is one of the reasons for their appeal, but many types of cichlids become aggressive both when ready for spawning and about the territory where they have decided to house their fry. For this reason it is often generalised about cichlids that they are poor fish for housing in a community aquarium. This is true of some types but there are exceptions. One could also choose to house only specific types of cichlid together, though research would be required. One could even demonstrate a friendly cichlid behavior by choosing to keep, for example, green and orange chromides together, in which the small orange chromide will be seen to clean its much larger neighbour.

Some of the less common types of cichlid have interesting behaviors but often do not do well in home aquariums because basic requirements are overlooked, particularly space and water suitability. This demonstrates the need for research before deciding to include cichlids in your aquarium or create a new one in which they may be the only inhabitant.

Cichlid Fish Varieties

Cichlids can broadly be divided by the geography from which they originate:

- American cichlids originate primarily from Central and South America but can also be found in the southern United States. They are generally larger types and also amongst the most aggressive cichlid fish, especially the males at spawning time. Within this geography there is great diversity. They include the freshwater angelfish of all types, e.g. silver, black, marbled, etc. The firemouth cichlid is one of the more popular types, which is smaller and more peaceful than many. Many of the Central American varieties do not mix at all well with other fish. The South American cichlids include the popular dwarf cichlids, which only grow to about four inches long.

- African cichlids are amongst the most popular by geography, as they include many of the mouthbrooders. Here again, a good deal of research will pay dividends because matching types from the different lakes, for example, Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria or Lake Tanganyika requires a good deal of expertise. There are many different species within these huge lakes. Popular ones include different types of peacock cichlid, as the male is one of the most richly coloured types of aquarium fish.

- Asian cichlids are the chromides which as a norm require a brackish type of water but can also stand some variation in water conditions because this would be akin to their natural habitat of lagoons and estuaries.

Cichlid Behavior

The attraction of many types of cichlid to most keepers is that the breeding and parenting behavior is carried out within easy view of any observer. Cichlid breeding behaviors include:

-Substrate brooding, in which some cichlids lay their eggs on rocks while others dig pits in which to lay their eggs so that they can more easily protect the fry.

- Mouthbrooding, in which the eggs and fry are retained in the mouth of the parent, usually the female, but in some types the male participates as well.

Other notable behaviors exhibited by different types of cichlid include:

- Cichlid parents herding their fry into the spawning pits is not uncommon, including the Jack Dempsey cichlid, so-called because of its otherwise aggressive tendencies.

- Some types secrete nutrients from their bodies for their fry to feed on, the most notable being the discus fish, which led to the nutrient being termed discus milk.

- Not all cichlids are mid-swimmers in relation to the depth of the water. Some are bottom-swimmers, including some dwarf cichlids that will lay their eggs on the ceiling of any cave-like structure they can find.

It has been said that any aquatic food resource will at some point have had a cichlid exploiting it. Such is the diversity of these fascinating and versatile fish.
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