You've set up your tank, researched when to stock it, and now you're wondering what foods your African cichlids can have. Whether it’s safe to occasionally treat them to brine shrimp, the tiny crustaceans also known as "sea monkeys," depends on the species of African cichlids you will keep.
Know Your Cichlids
If you bought your cichlids through a reputable cichlid breeder, you should know exactly what you have. However, if you bought your African cichlids from a local pet store, it may be difficult to determine exactly what species they are. African Cichlids can be divided into four groups: carnivorous, herbivorous, omnivorous, and micro-predators.
Spirulina vs. Brine Shrimp
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Knowing which group your cichlids belong to will help you to safely feed them and keep a healthy and thriving tank. Herbivorous fish like the Tropheus, for instance, are best fed a diet of spirulina, an algae plant that is rich in vegetable protein. Tropheus will not be able to tolerate high-protein foods such as brine shrimp. Cichlids that are carnivorous, omnivorous, or micro-predators need protein to thrive. You can treat them with brine shrimp on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Feeding Brine Shrimp
If you plan to feed your African cichlids frozen brine shrimp, defrost the chunks completely first. This will prevent a greedy fish from eating too much and getting bloat, a dangerous and common fish disease. A fish with bloat will stop eating, develop an abnormal swelling of the abdomen, and sink to the bottom of the tank. Break up the brine shrimp chunk with your finger, and feed only what your fish can consume in a few seconds.
Keep It Clean
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If you do decide to feed your omnivorous, carnivorous, or micro-predator cichlids the occasional treat of brine shrimp, maintain your tank well, and conduct weekly water changes. Protein-rich foods can add to the waste in the tank and stress out your fish.
Alissa McElreath is a writer and educator based in Raleigh, N.C. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Binghamton and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Rochester. McElreath's work has been published in "Literary Mama" magazine, on the Family Education Network website and in the anthology "Mama, Ph.D.," published by Rutgers University Press.