Those Beautiful but Mean African Cichlids
Some comments on fishes from the Rift Lakes

 
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LA
Named after Dr. Livingston, I presume.  These guy's sport a bluer face as they mature.

LA
Sometimes they get the snot beat out of them.  Not a pretty picture.  Quarantine him.

Maybe mean isn’t the best word to describe African cichlids.  They’re not really bullies – just aggressive little snots.  Put an African cichlid in an average community tank and he’ll be in charge by the next day.  Nothing can stop him -- except another African cichlid.

Lippy Little Rascals.  Rather than long fangs, most Africans sport raspy teeth on their lips.  They kiss their tank mates like a sheet of sandpaper.  They give everyone a lot of lip – especially South and Central American cichlids.  When the new world cichlids try to give up, their submission behaviors don’t work.  They’re turning colors that say, “Uncle” in Brazil but their colors and actions mean “Let’s go at least one more round” in the Rift Lakes of Africa.

LA
About a Five-incher.  Variegated species add to the rainbow of African cichlid colors.

Keep with Other Africans.  And that’s why most Africans are kept in African cichlid communities.  Since they’re all little toughies, they get along only with each other – just like hockey players.

LA
Actually, African cichlids survive in nearly any water "type."

They Like Hard Water.  You say you have hard, alkaline water that makes your discus turn up their toes and croak off.  Well, put some African cichlids in there.  They love hard water – even extra salt.  But if you prefer not to go to the trouble to prepare special water, most Africans couldn’t care less.  They need elbow room more than they need any special chemicals.

LA
Male Kennyi.  Mature females keep their blue color.

LA
Full belly.  Full fins.  Ready to rock and roll.

 

They Love Rocks.  Most African cichlids enjoy a rocky habitat.  Where they come from, the locals call them mbunas – rock dwellers. And so do we.   Mbunas like the caves and all the crevices that exist in rocky areas.  They like to graze on the algae covered surfaces – for algae and for any assorted bugs that are foolish enough to wander within their range.  The small openings in and among the rocks provide the security blankets the various Africans need.  The more crevices you provide the better behaved and the better colored your Africans will be.

Good Eaters.  Like any cichlid, African cichlids enjoy a meaty diet.  They’ll wolf down any live food and relish frozen brine shrimp.  But they also need vegetable matter – lots of it.  Any flake or food will help meet these needs, but the vegetable or conditioning foods are better.  They also appreciate occasional spinach or algae snacks.  They love the frozen algae diets originally designed for saltwater fishes.

LA
Young red zebras come in many shades of "red."

LA
Little demasonis color up very young.  Mean little snots.

LA
Young venustus look interesting now but really color up later.

Very Colorful.  Young and juvenile Africans tend toward the drab side.  “You seen one little African cichlid, you seen ‘em all,” is what some people say.  Right, John?  But, put some size on those little juvies, and you’ve got fish that rival saltwater fishes for coloration – without their delicate habitat and diet requirements.  African cichlids are tough, long-lived, and very attractive.

LA
Males (egg spots on anal fin) displaying to females flash even more attractive colors.

Reliable Spawners.  African cichlids are also fun.  They’re easy to breed, because they do all the work and spawn right in their community tank.  If there’s a willing female in the tank, the dominant male will find her.  After a little coaxing, a little rock cleaning, and maybe a bit of dancing and digging, they’ll lay their eggs right there in front of everybody.  African cichlids have no shame.

 

Fertilization of Eggs.  After spawning takes place, the female gathers the eggs in her mouth.  As she gathers the eggs, she also tries to pick up the “egg spots” on the male’s anal fin.  This process puts his sperm in proximity to the eggs and assures their fertilization. 

Oral Incubation.  She’ll carry her eggs for about three weeks.  She won’t eat or fight much during this gestation period.  She withdraws as much as possible from the daily hustle and bustle of every African cichlid community.  She mouths and tumbles her eggs to assure proper incubation.  During this time the eggs hatch and develop into baby fishes.  When she finally releases them, they are perfectly capable of fending for themselves. 

LA
Not all the Africans carry their eggs in their mouth.  Some spawn in crevices.

Small Spawns.  Since most Africans are mouthbrooders, they have much smaller spawns than South American cichlids – some of which lay more than a thousand eggs.  Naturally, bigger fishes will eat baby African cichlids.  But the fry experience no difficulty finding food and are much larger than baby livebearers (tougher too).

Artificial Rearing.  Since their owners want to rear as many fry as possible, they often resort to artificial incubation.  They start by “coaxing” the eggs from the female’s mouth with a ballpoint pen or similar scientific instrument.  They gently tumble the eggs in a net agitated by a stream of air bubbles from below to simulate the “chewing/agitating/aerating action” of the female.  At three weeks of age most African cichlid fry eagerly accept fine-sized prepared foods.

LA
As they grow older, African cichlids develop richer and deeper colors.

Commercial Rearing.  Large scale breeders keep the different species in large vats or pools.  Every three weeks they harvest eggs from all the females at once.  They then rear the fry artificially.

Another Method.  Other commercial breeders cage their spawning adults in cages made of ¼-inch mesh.  When the fry emerge from their mother’s mouth, they swim out of the cage into the comparative safety of the algae-filled rearing pond.

LA
One of the earliest Africans to appear and still popular.  Males turn blue/black later.

LA
So how do you sex albino Melanochromis auratus?

Last Words.  African cichlids are colorful and active fishes.  Meet their specialized needs and you’ll enjoy these fishes for years.  LA.

More on Mbunas?  Go to AFII

or AFIII

or AFIV

© 1980, © 2003, © 2004, © 2005 LA Productions

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Corner of Sixth & Euclid Avenues

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