I am a breeder of Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika and Victoria cichlids.

For a while, in my early days of breeding these cichlids, I had a problem with what I thought was overfeeding the fry. I was losing far too many to what appeared to be Malawi bloat. I had an inkling then about the cause, for I knew in my heart that I was not over-feeding. I had observed on a daily, and frequently on an hourly basis that the fry were always feeding on the algae covered rocks and back and side panels.

So out came the microscope, took a scraping off the side panel of one of the tanks, and as I suspected it was teeming with life. Should you ask me to name what I saw then I would fail miserably, but there was one I did recognize and that was a paramecium. Another that stood out was fish-like in appearance, right down to its tail. It was fast moving, and feeding on what appeared to be smaller life forms on the algae. There was one other that drew my attention; it was ladybird-shaped, fast moving, and had what appeared to be two pairs of legs on the sides and what looked like antenna protruding from its head. I might, some would say, know a little about my fish but when it comes to some of their uninvited tank mates well I’ve given you a clue so perhaps you could tell me.

Tank maintenance:

Tank maintenance does not start with water changes, period!
Where to start?
You will actually start from day one, and continue for as long as you keep fish in it. What you are striving to do is keep the overall appearance of the tank pleasing to the onlooker, and more essentially a safe and healthy environment for your fish. You will find many reference books on setting up various bio-systems and of course you will choose the one that is applicable to you. One of the first things suggested is the adding of the substrate and that’s fine, but to make life easer for yourself in the future try the following. (You will find it a bit of a time-consuming project, but remember you do have four weeks in which to perfect it, and the end result will benefit your water quality and your fishes’ health). All of the following, although possible in the past, has now been made more practicable, thanks to the development of the digital camera.

  • 1: Don’t add your substrate yet. Take a piece of campers’ foam, preferably 12mm or ˝ inch thick. This type of foam is what might be called closed face (no surface bubbles). Cut it so that it makes a tight fit and place it at the bottom of the tank. It is important that it is a tight fit. The foam allows the décor to settle as it would on the substrate, thus filling in many of the smaller nooks and crannies that would be potential collectors of detritus and other unwanted debris. Should you have problems with the foam staying in place then several bits of double sided adhesive applied before filling will fix it.
  • 2: Mark, number your decor in a way that will not be affected by water. Add and place your heaviest and any other items that are your first level of décor. Once you are satisfied that all the big rocks, logs – what ever you’re using, are in situ, then continue with what else you wish to add. When you’re ready continue to step 3. Note: it would be a good idea to take pictures of your set-up, Hence the need to mark or number your items. This shouldn’t be a problem, digital cameras being the norm these days.
  • 3: Add water to the required level. Switch on filtration and aeration. No need to turn on heaters at this stage. Be aware that heaters do add to water movement but for the purpose of this exercise can be deemed insignificant.
  • 4: Tank full, flow rate adjusted for direction and turnover, all to your satisfaction? Check now for any debris that has entered the water by way of the décor. Very little debris good? – no, not good – add some more, and leave for 24 hours. Suggestion for debris – anything that sinks but can also be moved by the flow of water or the movement of fish. Important: don’t add anything that would or could be detrimental to your filter/s, or more importantly to your fish. One other point – make sure whatever you add can be easily seen against the foam. In fact it would be a good idea to add flake fish food. The benefits of this would be twofold – not only will it show where the grunge will collect, more importantly it can be left in the water as an aid to cycling your water in the first four weeks.
  • 5: Day 2. Check where all the muck has gathered. If it has gathered in easily accessible places, for example, the front of your décor, then that’s fine. Any big gaps, holes or crevasses, again fine. What you’re really looking for are those tight places where debris has gathered and no matter how hard you try cannot be fully extricated. Remedies; make gaps bigger or smaller; alter the direction of your flow. Take the latter first, for if you get this right the chances are you won’t need to move anything. By making all these fine adjustments you will be eliminating all sorts of horrible things that in the long and the short term can only be good for your fish.
  • 6: This is the hard bit and, if you haven’t used a camera then you might find it near impossible to do successfully. Providing you haven’t used anything that would or could be detrimental to your filter’s, or more importantly to your fish, then there will not be the need to empty the tank of water. Remove all décor and the foam mat and carry out your set-up as per normal using your photographs as a guide.

Regular tank maintenance

Daily checks.

Check the overall general health of the fish, not forgetting the health of an individual fish, such as one that does not show up at feeding times. Carry out ongoing treatments if required. Check temperature, filters functioning correctly, top up, and last but not least, siphon off any unsightly detritus, including any dead or dying plant matter.

Weekly checks.

Water change done with a power vac., or at the least a gravel cleaner. Just removing X percent of the water is simply not good enough. For the cichlids covered by A.R.L.C. I recommend 50% at all times. Remove of algae from the front glass – I recommend that algae growing on the other three glass surfaces be left intact.

Now back to the weekly chores:

Check for water quality, pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, they are the common ones to watch out for. Others, which are also important, are oxygen, phosphate and copper. Correct readings for all should be strictly observed to uphold the best for your fish. Don’t be tempted to clean your filters once a week unless you deem it a necessity. If you only have the one filter then only clean it out fortnightly. Should you have more than one filter, then do one a week. Yellow water I have only one thing to say about: “Improve your filtration”, for sure inadequate filters are the cause. Carbon should only be used for the removal of medication after a course of treatment is completed.

Climate Cycling

What a lot. no, I would go as far as saying what the majority of enthusiasts think and believe is that they should keep their tanks at a constant temperature all year round. Not true or correct for all species of tropical fish, Malawi cichlids being no exception. What is forgotten about is climate cycling – spring, summer, you know how it goes. Inducers, that’s what we tropical fish keepers are. Without going into all the inducements we offer our fish, bar one, breeding – something nearly all of us do in the hobby – encourage our fish to procreate. The best way of doing this is to increase the temperature, along with the other inducements. This would in all probability be correct for your species.

Now here are the results of your enticements:

One: Success, they bred, breeding and territorial aggression.
Two: They breed again; breeding and territorial aggression has got worse.
I could go on, but after the third production of fry you should now be thinking of turning the heater down. By the 12th week of doing so the temperature should be in the low seventies and your males should now be in their winter plumage. That’s the breeding season over. Three months of respite, time for the males to mellow out, and as a rule revert back to the non-aggressive types they are described as. Time for the females to recuperate and regain stamina. At the end of this three months you need to start bringing the temperature back up again, so by the end of the next twelve weeks it’s around the middle seventies. Breeding will take place around this temp., but not at the rate as in the high seventies. Aggression will be mainly territorial.

The next 6 months you have two choices, you can go for the full on breeding, higher aggression state – that’s back in the higher seventies, or keep to the middle seventies and still have the males in their best finery but less spawning activity and less bullying. For the community tank I seriously suggest the latter. This cycle should be maintained. It will bring the best out of your fish without overdoing it.

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