Cichlids can display a variety of fascinating physical and personality traits. Their long bodies can develop deep, bright colors. They can lavish as much attention on their offspring as mammals. If you create the right environment, your cichlids will grow to become the most interesting, individual fish in your tank.
Types of Cichlid Fish
Estimates vary, but according to animal expert David Alderton there are over 1,500 species of cichlids, and they live in the waters of every continent except Australia and Europe. The type of conditions your cichlid prefers will depend on his original habitat. Cichlids from Amazonian waters will prefer soft, acidic water, while cichlids from the Great Rift Valley lakes in East Africa will prefer harder, alkaline waters. To keep your cichlids happy and healthy you will need to create conditions as close to those of their natural habitat as possible.
The Aquarium Floor
Experts recommend gravel as the best covering for the aquarium floor of your cichlid tank. You should avoid buying artificial gravel. Cichlids are used to swimming in murky waters and will react badly to light, artificial colors. Red gravel in particular can deaden similar colors on the fish. Worse still, the coating on these rocks is known to wear off, affecting the tank's water chemistry. Remember, any sudden change in a ciclid's environment will cause stress, leaving it vulnerable to disease. Your best option is to buy natural coarse gravel, which will stay intact no matter how often or how roughly your cichlids dig it up.
Some cichlids raised in Rift Valley lakes will prefer a sand covering. If this is the case, experts recommend the darker sand found in sand pits. A lighter sand, such as coral sand, will again have an adverse effect on any brightly colored cichlid.
If you are looking to decorate your aquarium with rocks, it is important to choose those suited to the tank’s water conditions. For example, if you put limestone rocks into alkaline water they are likely to dissolve and change the water’s chemistry. Your best option is to buy insoluble rock, such as slate or granite. Slate is particularly recommended, as it provides the flat surface that some female cichlids need to spawn.
It is important to remember not to pile rocks on top of each other. Cichlids are strong fish and like to dig. If they dig under a pile of rocks, the rocks can easily topple and smash into the side of the tank. In the same vein, experts also suggest that you don't use loose rocks to make the caves some cichlids will need as hiding or resting places. Instead, buy such a cave from the store or break an unpainted, unglazed clay pot in half, placing the halves at opposite ends of the tank.
Living plants are an essential part of most fish tanks, ridding the water of the potentially harmful chemical nitrate. For a cichlid they also darken the water and provide spawning sites, hiding places and food.
Floating plants such as Java moss and duckweed are the best plants to use to subdue any strong light that shines through the water. For female cichlids who like to spawn on plant leaves you should use plants with upright leaves, such as the straight vallis. If you are keeping a female and male cichlid together, make sure you include even more plant life than you would if you were keeping them on their own. If the male becomes aggressive the female will need a place to hide.
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