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Re: Advice on a new cichlid tank


First of all you have to think about what cichlids you are going to
keep. A cichlid is not just a cichlid - depending on where they come
from they may have GREATLY varying requirements. 

South American cichlids (discus, severum, rams etc) need neutral to acid
pH and about 100-150ppm carbonate hardness (much lower for discus). Well
planted tanks often suit *small* (important, small! Not Severum etc!)
south American cichlids, and if you were going to try planted cichlid
tank then I'd say this would be the best option. Breeding in a planted
tank situation is probably going to be not even worth trying unless the
tank is a fair bit larger than a 30g... I'd consider 60-70g minimum for
serious attempt at breeding in a planted situation.

The rift lake cichlids (Africa) vary depending on which lake. These fish
are often considered the 'marine fish of the freshwater world' due to
their care requirements and for some, behaviour. Also some species are
known to be able to survive in full saltwater environments (not
recommended though). For the most part, if keeping these in their
specific environments, keeping plants will be difficult. Lake Tangyanika
has hardness upwards of 250ppm and about the same carbonate hardness, as
well as other salts and a pH upwards of 9. Some algae's like this
environment but most general aquatic plants I'd say don't. Lake Malawi /
Victoria is slightly less hardness' values and pH between 6-8 depending
on the lake. I personally would NOT recommend these for planted tanks at
all. Some of these fish have very serious requirements, and if you don't
give them exactly what they need in terms of food and environment, they
can just up and die overnight (i.e. Tropheus morii and their varieties).

Central American Cichlids usually like about neutral pH and around
average hardness. Middle of the range generally speaking... They can do
ok with a few very tough plants (anubias) but I would not consider it a
'planted tank' at all. A mature pair of firemouth cichlids may do well
with a few plants in a 30g and should breed readily with the right
conditions(to get a pair buy 5-6 from different locations and raise them
together, remove the rest once a pair forms before they give the others
a hard time). IMO I'd prefer a slightly larger tank, but they can be
kept and bred in a 30g.

Some have had success with some dwarf cichlids (from varying locations)
in planted tanks, and some riverine Africans can be good for bare
planted tanks - kribensis, apistos, acara's. Again, you wouldn't
consider it a 'planted tank' though, more a 'tank with a few plants'.
30g would be a bit small to be classified as a good size for these fish
imho... slightly larger would be better..

If you are looking at breeding then you seriously need to look at the
particular species in question and give that individual fish all its
requirements. Having a planted community cichlid tank is generally folly
when thinking about breeding unless you keep to smaller south Americans
- best to have relatively bare tank or (for rock dwellers), plenty of
rockery for caves etc and give the fish what it needs. 

The rift lakes cichlids need special attention in this manner, and, if
you are wanting to breed, may have to go through a process of buying
many (10-15, depending on the species) of young fish for a 70g+ tank and
slowly remove the not so attractive ones as they mature, until you have
a breeding colony consisting of 2-3 males and about 3 times that many
females (Julidichromis and Tropheus are examples most easily bred this
way). Some other species work better as single pairs in each tank
though, and this can be achieved by buying 5-6 juveniles across
different places (to avoid in-breeding) and then remove all of the rest
once mature and a pair has formed. If you are looking at 'planted
cichlid tank' though the rift lakes cichlids are not the good idea

30g is quite small for a lot of cichlids and, generally speaking, few
cichlid species would be happy in that size tank. Smaller South Am. and
Dwarf cichlids should do ok though.

You may get away with 4-6 of the smaller varieties of Julidichromis spp
in a 30g, however these are rift lake fish so have special requirements
and would not be recommended for a planted tank anyway (hmm am I going
round in circles here?)

I'd say that if you want cichlid planted tank for Africans (rift lakes)
you are limited to almost nothing - perhaps anubias and maybe some
java... Others may have had success with other species but imo these
would be about it, due to water chemistry. Riverine Africans have around
the same plant requirements but the plants will be easier to keep since
the water will not be so extreme in chemistry.

Re: substrate; Rift lakes fish generally medium sand (2-3mm) or crushed
marble. Some have used well-washed beach sand but not my personal
choice. Also, addition of crushed shell to the filter chambers are a
good, cheap way to keep hardness etc high. Sometimes using this as an
integral substrate can be useful too instead of putting it in the filter
chamber. Careful when acclimatizing rift lakes fish to their home, some
lfs's have no idea and keep them at pH's near neutral and wonder why
they lose half their stock over time. May require 24-48 hours to
properly acclimatize them to their new environment.

Central American and South American similar but no shells.... medium
sand will also do fine, as will most other aquarium gravels - Seachem's
onyx or fluorite would do quite nicely if you wanted to spend a few
extra $$. You could try laterite if you wished below the sand / gravels

Answering your questions specifically;

Adding stuff to the water: Seachem has a good range of cichlid products.
Visit their site if you want to see... The cichlid rift lake salts and
buffers are good products. If you want to try the diy method though just
the crushed shells will do probably as long as the pH is around the
right value that the fish needs, and the hardness is up there. I'd say
this is probably the most common method used for breeders since it is
cheap. Some add hydrated lime etc and other commonly found compounds.
Central American are relatively easy... if you want to do the cheap way
then very little needs to be added if the water is around neutral etc -
but Seachem also has a new central American range. South.Am cichlids
vary on species and location where they originate from....

To get them to breed:
Provide them with the correct water conditions, correct food according
to their dietary needs (some, namely some of the rift lakes fish i.e.
Tropheus, are VERY STRICTLY vegetable diet only and high protein meaty
foods can kill them within a few days from bloat, whereas generally
SouthAm etc prefer meaty foods...). Also correct stocking levels and
forms of stocking are needed - i.e. some species pairs only, some
species with colony. Size the tank to the intended breeding method
needed for the fish themselves. If you provide their correct environment
they will often do it on their own with time...

Cichlids are generally messy fish. If the tank is not densely planted
then you will need good bio filtration and oversized filters (whether
that be wet/dry, fbf, or a lot of careful rotation of sponge filters).
UGF has worked with cichlids too, though a lot of species like to
rearrange the tank, particularly the substrate, so this may be a
problem. I'm not going to enter the ugf in planted situation debate,
that's a separate issue ;) Like I said a lot earlier though, a well
planted tank can suit small south american cichlids so the filtration
could be backed off a bit in that situation.

I highly recommend you visit www.cichlidae.com or www.sydneycichlid.com
for info on cichlids themselves and their requirements. The Sydney
Cichlid page has a great forum in which plenty of very experienced
cichlid keepers and breeders are found. Just post a question and someone
will get back to it. Search the past posts and the forum faq sections to
see if your query has come up in past discussions...

The bottom line here is..... If you want fully planted tank (swords,
anubias, rotala, hygrophila and stuff like that) then smaller South Am
cichlids would suit - though breeding will be tricky, and imho probably
not viable unless the tank is a lot larger than a 30g. Discus planted
tanks are not uncommon and I have seen some stunning examples (also
discus can be bred in large planted tanks). I have a discus planted tank
myself actually. Rams do lovely in planted tanks as well if the water is
well-kept. Some small Central American may do alright with a few plants
but these will be destroyed. Some *small* species of riverine Africans
will do ok with a few plants as well. I'd forget the concept of a
planted tank at all for African rift lakes fish.

If you have any more questions feel free to contact me off post. I have
barely even skimmed the HUGE topic of cichlids here. I have also written
it in a hurry so sorry if some paragraphs do not make complete sense,
and if I repeated myself, I did not have time to proof it all (being a
large post)... E-mail me and I'll clear up anything if needed.


Adam Shaw

Date: Sat, 1 Mar 2003 06:39:14 -0800 (PST)
From: beaker <pweifan at yahoo_com>
Subject: Advice on a New Cichlid Tank


If anyone on-list has experience with a cichlid tank, I have several

What substrate do you recommend?
What do you add to the water to keep the cichlids happy?
Are you able to grow _any_ plants that the cichlids don't eat or
Are you able to get them to breed?
What do you recommend in order to get them to breed?

We're about to move and I thought it was a good excuse to setup an old
tank.  It's a 30 gallon tank 1.5 watts/gallon.  I'll need to buy
substrate for it but I do have some lava rocks for stacking.  I was
thinking of wrapping java moss, java fern and/or anubias on the rocks
in the crevices.  I realize it's a small tank, but from what I've read
controlled over-population might work.  I've got a Penguin 250 BioWheel
for filtration.  I was thinking I'd put a sponge over the intake to
save fry.

aka beaker