There is hardly any freshwater fish that is as colorful as the African cichilds. This has made them one of the most popular aquarium fish. These fish that are found in the lakes of Eastern Africa, are known to be quite hardy once the pH level and mineral requirements of their environment are met. However, this doesn't make African cichilds care easy, at least definitely not for a beginner aquarist. The environment in these lakes is quite unique. These fish are used to a rocky environment where the water is alkaline. Other than the environmental needs, their aggressive behavior requires an experienced aquarium hobbyist to care for them.
Tips on Care
These tropical fish can come from any of the three big lakes of Eastern Africa - Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, and Lake Malawi. The environment in these lakes is alkaline and rocky, and though many aquarists say that these freshwater fish do adapt to a large variation of pH, it is best to meet the specific requirements of these creatures, which depends greatly upon the lake from which they come.
The requirements of African cichlids gives scope to set up a fish tank that could rival a large number of saltwater aquariums in color and decoration. These fish are very territorial. Hence, the first concern while deciding upon the fish tank is to ensure that it is a large one with an efficient filtration system. Consider a 55 gallon tank as the minimal size.
Include lots of rocks in the aquarium, as they form a part of the natural habitat of the cichlids. Live plants can also be included. However, ensure that the plant can survive the high pH levels of the water in the fish tank. One can also opt for false plants for aquarium decoration. However, take care that these have porcelain bases so that they do not float in water, as African cichlids seem to be keen to dig out the plants placed in aquariums. However, if it is a Malawi cichlid that you have brought home, then you can rule out having any plant in the aquarium altogether. These fish come from rocky parts of the lake that have a few plants, and hence won't mind the absence of flora in the aquarium.
As far as substrate is concerned, it isn't that any special material needs to be used. However, crushed coral or dolomite are good options, as they help to maintain a healthy pH level of the water in the tank. By now, you must have realized that these cichlids are avid diggers. Hence, ensure that the substrate is at least 2-3" deep.
African cichlids require alkaline pH, which should range between 7.4 to 8.4. Special cichild buffers are available in the market, that must be used to regulate the pH of the aquarium water. Purchase a high range test kit and check the pH of water every month. These fish also require a high mineral content in the tank water. For this, cichlids salts can be added to the aquarium. However, before meeting these requirements, it is best to know which African lake your fish comes from, as the water characteristics of each lake differ from the other.
Maintain the temperature of the water at 74-82°F. Since aquariums are a closed environment, the water quality in them tends to deteriorate quickly. Hence, frequent water change is a must. However, never change more than 10% of the aquarium water at a time. Frequency of water change depends upon the extent of stocking and the amount of feeding that is done. In case of a heavily-stocked aquarium, change 10% of the water every week.
These fish have long intestinal tracts. Hence, it is important to feed them the right kind of food. Spirulina is good for all varieties. However, knowing whether they are carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, or micro-predators that eat small invertebrates, is one of the most important tips on caring for African cichlids. Whatever be the food habit, it always helps to include a variety in their diet. Include some vegetables in the diet of carnivorous fish and feed the herbivores some meat. Cichild flakes that are commercially available are a good option. Many opt for frozen foods as well as live foods.
Aggression in African Cichlids
An understanding about aggression in African cichlids is important for those who want to know how to care for them. They are aggressive towards their own kind. This aggression increases between two cichlids that are of the same size. This is because one perceives the other as its competitor with respect to food, territory, and mate. Hence, if you want to have more than one African cichlid, then ensure that they vary in size.
African cichlids care requires an experienced aquarist. Proper care of these fish can be done only after one knows what variety of fish he has, and what are its specific requirements.