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Cichlid Care
~Pooja Chakrabarty

Proper Cichlid Care

Owning cichlids is not a cakewalk. You need to be able to take care of them properly. Cichlid care comes under a number of heads all of which must be taken care of effectively.  Water quality, tank conditions, and diet, among other things have to be seen to regularly.

Cichlid care begins with the aquarium. You need to be able to maintain the aquarium in such a way as to replicate the conditions in the original habitat of the cichlids. The ideal range of temperature would be between 74 F and 82 F, the optimum temperature being 78 F. For a tank of fry you could raise the temperature to between 80 F and 82 F. The higher temperature increases metabolism, leading the fry to eat more, and therefore grow more rapidly. Lowering the temperature helps in lowering the aggression levels of aggressive fish, by lowering their metabolism. Care should be taken to see that the cichlid tank is not kept in a sunny area or near an appliance that generates a lot of heat. It would be advisable to invest in a heater to maintain the temperature, and bear up against temperature fluctuations.

One of the most important aspects of cichlid care is maintaining the pH level

pH Level
One of the most important aspects of cichlid care is maintaining the pH level. The water in the original habitat of the cichlids is high on the pH scale (alkaline). Do not make any sudden changes to the pH level of the aquarium water as this would adversely affect the health of your cichlids. A 7.5 to 8.5 range on the pH scale would be ideal for the cichlid aquarium water. Acidic water can be tackled by using substances like the common soda which is both inexpensive, and effective. 

Filtration is essential, as this is what keeps the environment of your cichlids clean. There are several types of filters that are available today. Sponge filters work very well especially for smaller tanks. These are inexpensive, and if cleaned regularly, can work effectively for years. Undergravel filters are not as effective, as they have to be well-covered by the substrate so that they can work effectively, and the cichlids are always trying to dig them out. Outside power filters are also effective. Get one, whose flow rate is suited to your tank size. All filters must be cleaned regularly for best results. 

A variety of foods must be fed to your cichlids. Cichlid flakes and pellets, frozen, and even live food. Feed them smaller quantities frequently, rather than a large amount at one go. If you are unable to feed them often enough, you could provide them with rocks which have a lot of algal growth on them.  Inappropriate kinds of food might make cause bloating, sickness, and may even be fatal. Cichlid care involves being aware of the specific needs of your cichlids, so do some research about them and their diets first. 

Water Changes
As I mentioned earlier, cichlid care begins with the aquarium. The aquarium being a closed environment, gets unclean quickly especially in case of overcrowding, excessive feeding, and ineffective filters. Hence you need to change the water regularly, and in small quantities. At least 10% of the aquarium water should be changed every week. Some species, such as the Malawi Cichlids which are prone to aggressiveness may become gentler with water changes of up to 30% every two weeks. Water changes if made more often during the breeding period, and during the time of raising the fry, is beneficial. If water changes are made regularly, then the level of substances that are potentially harmful will be reduced.  

Substrates are used so that the alkalinity in the water may be maintained at its most optimum level. Substrates like gravel, crushed coral, and limestone help buffer the pH and maintain the alkalinity. Get a gravel siphon to clean the gravel. For tanks with undergravel filters, vacuuming is a good option to remove the dust and debris from the substrate. Tanks with plants however do not necessarily require vacuuming, as the roots themselves play a part in keeping the substrate clean. For African Cichlids, a 2" to 3" substrate works well as they dig a lot. For some cichlids, as little as a quarter inch of gravel works better.

Aggression Control
Cichlids in general are territorial creatures, and hence they tend towards aggression in the lakes. The aquarium with its smaller area would naturally increase their aggression. It may not be possible to completely control cichlid aggression, but there are ways of reducing it. By employing methods such as reducing the temperatures in the aquarium, having a low male population, keeping species that are compatible with each other, isolating pairs that are breeding, a cichlid tank owner can control the aggression among his cichlids.

Lighting is also important for the aquarium. You need the appropriate lights to view your aquarium in the best possible way. Fluorescent lighting is the best as it reproduces the natural spectrum of light of the original habitat of the cichlids. Also, keep the lights subtle, as bright lights only disturb the fish, and also make them appear less colorful. Preferably, light your tank only towards evening. Leaving your aquarium lit throughout the day might lead to algae problems.

There are many other aspects to cichlid care such as adding salts to the water to help the cichlids combat pathogens and taking care of diseased fish, to decorating the aquarium itself.

[Permission for using the above picture in this article has been given by Mike Guerin of The Jump.]

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