African Cichlids -- Colors with Attitude III
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LA Pic
Burtonis were too easy, so they disappeared for awhile.  They're back.

LA Pic
Electric blue johanis and red zebras.

Compare with Saltwater.  Marine fishes pack more color per pound than Africans but not per dollar.  Africans cost only a fraction of the price of saltwater species.  They also cost considerably less to set up and maintain.

Escape from Saltwater.  Tired of beating your head against an expensive saltwater wall?  Tired of replacing your fish on a monthly basis?  Pour out your saltwater, refill your tank with fresh water, and restock it with Africans.  Total elapsed time: 24 hours.  You needn’t experience the ammonia/nitrite problems compared to cycling a saltwater tank.

Africans Live Longer.  Africans – with some exceptions -- live considerably longer than marines.  You can raise them to adults, watch them pair off, and successfully rear their young.  Try that with saltwater fish.

LA Pic
Adult (2.5 inches) leleupis look fantastic.

Africans Sport Great Colors.  When you see a tank of adult African cichlids, their colors always impress you first -- bright yellows, iridescent blues, deep oranges, pearly whites, and all manner of spots, bars, stripes and mottled patterns.

Always Moving.  Like an aquatic kaleidoscope, they present an ever-changing mosaic of fantastic colors as they chase each other about, nipping and sparring over territories.

LA Pic
Young red empress (Protomelas) are not impressive.  Adults knock you out.

Most Juveniles Look Plain.  Many juveniles – the “bite-size” young African cichlids – like most other eating-size cichlids sport camouflage colors.  These tasty morsels of mobile bait try to blend into the rockwork.  Some manage to survive in African community tanks.

LA Pic
Lots of species.  Lots of colors.

Some Young Are Colorful.  Certain select species – kennyis, auratus, cobalts, reds, albinos, and the julies – look good even in their junior sizes.  Many of the others take several months to develop their striking colors.  The results are definitely worth the wait.

 

LA Pic
Male chipokae.  Very similar to male auratus.  Female chipokaes are also colorful.

Males More Colorful.  Males, of course, take top honors in the color category.  Some females (peacocks especially) maintain their drab juvenile colors.  Many smaller males stay drab to avoid the attention of the dominant male in the tank.  If you take out the top guy, they all move up on the ladder.

LA Pix
Those little electric blue Johannis upper (right) keep on growing ...

LA Pic
Why would you want all one species?

Pick a Wide Variety.  How do you get the most color in your tank?  Simple.  Just pick one from as many species as possible.  Think of your tank as an artist’s palette.  Fill it with the rainbow of colors and hues from the Rift Lakes of Africa.

Food & Water.  Foods and water quality affect the colors of many species.  Africans can endure a very wide range of both.  However, when you provide optimum living conditions, you get much more colorful specimens. 

Give Them Room.  African cichlids need elbow room – and they take it (by eliminating the competition, if necessary.)

LA Pic
Nine-inch male chipoke and male albino zebra still growing.

They Grow.  Most African cichlids grow 6 to 10 inches long in a couple of years.  Think of a 30-gallon tank as a minimum or “starter tank.”  A 30 gets you going, but you really need a 55.  Your Africans deserve more room.

More Places to Hide.  Not every African cichlid exhibits the same degree of feistiness.  And even those super-aggressors need a breather once in awhile.  Roomy tanks provide more places for weak and small fish to escape from bullies.

Increases Spawning Sites.  Large tanks also give them more room to spawn.  They will spawn in too-small tanks, but they spawn more often in tanks with plenty of room.

Crowd Them.  It sounds contradictory but African cichlids act less aggressive when you crowd them.  Bullies in a crowded tank spread their bullying around instead of picking on one weak tank mate.  Crowding also adds more color, because you add more varieties. 

Requires Some Extra Effort.  Crowding means more food, more filtration, and more water changes – in other words, more work for you.  But you’ll enjoy the results of the slightly extra effort.

LA Pic
Electric yellows rank low on the aggression ladder.  Some others are also passive.

African Cichlids Constantly Bicker

Africans Like to Argue.  Some people describe African cichlids as aggressive.  Others refer to them as “killers.”  Nearly all possess a “me-first” attitude – especially at feeding time.  African cichlids are pushy, argumentative, and eager eaters.

Africans Eat Fish.  Some African cichlids are predators.  They eat any other fish that fits in their mouths.  Not a real surprise there.  Most fish eat other fishes.  No one traipses through the rain forests of the world sprinkling flake food into the various bodies of water.  Big fish eat smaller fish.

LA Pix

Some Dominate Others.  African cichlids establish a “pecking order” like you see in a flock of chickens.  The top gun and the bottom dog are usually obvious.  The middle hierarchy tends to blur and even changes on a daily basis.

Add New Ones Carefully.  New additions nearly always spark confrontations.  Change your decor when you add new fish to an established community.  Throwing in a ration of food at the same time helps the newcomer slip in unobserved.  Sometimes they consider the new guy food.

 

Raspy Lips.  Most Africans like to “kiss” their tank mates.  That so-called kiss equals a punch in the arm.  Raspy, algae-eating lips make certain species nasty little kissers.  Their tank mates soon learn to stay out of their way.  At least the survivors do.

LA Pix
He just looks meaner than her.  She's also skinned in several places.

Males Fight More.  Males argue more than the females.  Of course, you can find nasty females also.

Bad Mix
Two males and one female.
Good Mix
One male and two females.
Better Mix
One male and three females.

Males argue more with their own kind than with other species.  Select several varieties to decrease the aggression level in your tank.

LA Pic Rift Lake cichlids will beat up this foot-long African mossambic (not from the lakes).

LA Pic
Non-melanistic mossambic often sold as a red African cichlid -- the edible tilapia -- called Mojarras in Mexican restaurants..

Avoid American Cichlids.  Avoid mixing African cichlids with Central and South American cichlids.  Some of the scrappier ones survive, e.g., Jack Dempseys and convicts.  But they only live if they turn dark and learn to stay out of everyone else’s way.

Dominance Patterns Differ.  Central and South American cichlids sort of “rare back” to avoid an aggressive tank mate.  That evidently means “let’s rumble” to former Rift Lake inhabitants.

LA Pic
Everyone loves frontosas.

LA Pic
Frontosas mix well with most other African cichlids.

Remove Victims Fast.  If you’re lucky, you find your non-Africans turned on their sides at the surface of the water.  Get them out while they still possess enough fins and scales to survive.  LA.

More on Mbunas?  Go to AFIV

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or AFII

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