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
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.
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.
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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