Cichlids can live in rivers, lakes, or swamps. They can be carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. With 1,500 species living across Africa, Asia and the Americas, the cichlidae is one of the world's most diverse family of fish.
Old World Cichlids
The old world cichlids originate from the huge Rift Valley lakes of East Africa. These lakes include Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. In these lakes you will finds species such as the brevis, white-spotted cichlid, krib and jewel cichlid. They all originate from marine fish, allowing their Amazonian relations to adapt to brackish waters.
These lakes contain 1,500 species of cichlids, though it can be hard to tell some apart. For example, the altolian prologous species from Lake Tanganyika can only be distinguished from the neolan prologous by its slightly greater body width. A better way to tell them apart is through their personalities, as neolans are far more sociable.
New World Cichlids
New World cichlids live in the brackish waters of West Africa, Central America and South America. They include the Jack Dempsey, red devil and discus. They are known to be easier to look after than Old World fish, as they adapt better to conditions alien to their natural environment. Author David Alderton attributes this to the fact that their ancestors survived all types of waters to reach their present habitats. In comparison to the Old World carnivores and herbivores, the New World cichlids are generally omnivorous.
Because of their adaptability, the habits of different cichlids can differ vastly. Some cichlids are herbivores, some are omnivores and some carnivores. This can make a big difference to the set-up of your tank. If you own an herbivore cichlid, you will need to make sure the aquarium has enough plants for him to feed on. The combination of lighting and the right temperature can create algae, which is also an important source of food. While you may be able to keep herbivores with other fish, most likely you will have to keep a carnivore by himself.
Where your cichlid originates from will dictate the water conditions of your tank. Most Old World cichlids will prefer the hard alkaline waters of the Rift Valley lakes. Even the conditions between these lakes can vary significantly. For example, the pH levels of Lake Tanganyika are 8-8.5 while the pH levels of Lake Victoria are 7. In comparison, the New World cichlids will generally prefer saltier, more acidic waters.
In addition, the lakes are huge -- Lake Tanganyika is the size of the state of Maine -- so conditions can vary from one side to the other. A fish in the deeper parts of the lake may have to contend with more aggressive fish, making him more aggressive himself. By understanding where your cichlid comes from, you can determine the right conditions for your tank.
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