to the tiny cichlids of Lake Tanganyika—
although Tanganyika also contains a
species that is huge, the emperor cichlid
(Boulengerochromis microlepis). The wolf
cichlid has been known to reach 2½ feet
( 72 cm) in length and weigh 15 pounds ( 7
kg)—quite a sight, especially with their long,
pointed teeth! Both species are biparental
substrate spawners and ferocious parents. So
is the tiny ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi),
though it grows to a maximum of only 3
inches ( 7. 5 cm). Ram pairs will guard a small
territory, but with such tiny mouths, they are
not a threat to the other fish in a community
tank, in contrast to those big bruisers.
The so-called peacock cichlids of Lake
Malawi are particularly colorful, and they
are biologically interesting, too, as they
have special pores in their heads that can
sense vibrations from prey below the sand.
The peacocks hover silently over the sand
and then dive snout-first into the substrate
to retrieve their prey, usually small crabs
or insect larvae.
The New World cichlids are not to be
snubbed by fishkeepers either, as there are
many beautiful species in Mexico, Central
America, and South America. Not only are
they beautiful, but they have extremely
interesting behavior in regard to feeding
and caring for their young. As just one
example, the Emerald cichlid (Hypsophrys
nicaraguensis) digs tunnels by spinning
like a drill bit into riverbanks and then
lays nonadhesive golden eggs inside the
Of course, there are also the cichlids
that we all knew before the importation
of those from the Great Lakes of Africa.
These include Jack Dempseys (Rocio
octofasciata), firemouths (Thorichthys
meeki), and convicts (Amatitlania
nigrofasciata), among others. While they
are all excellent parents, the convicts are
perhaps the most dependable, as well as
being frequent spawners. The firemouth is
one of my favorites because it is colorful
and less aggressive than most of the others
in this category, relying instead on plenty
of bluff, bluster, and their fiery gill-flaring
displays to make their way in the world.
Even aquarists who don’t like big fish
can still find a bonanza in the cichlid
family. There are the julies, such as
the Julidochromis species from Lake
Tanganyika in Africa as just one example,
and the tiny Apistogramma species, aka
apistos, from the other side of the globe in
South America—and there are more than
100 species to choose from in the genus
Too Much of a Good
The only problem with cichlids is that
there are so many to choose from. Cichlids
have occupied all the niches in African
and American waters, and beyond, so
we can have beautiful cichlids that look
like blennies or even barracudas, believe
it or not. One researcher I know once
commented that cichlids not only fill
many niches, but they even seem to make
some of their own!
There are consequences to the great
parental care that cichlids demonstrate;
namely, it makes them bellicose parents.
Aggression in cichlids can be minimized
by aquascaping their aquarium with lots
of rocks, driftwood, and ornaments to
provide territories. Some of the tinier
cichlid species don’t need to have all of
those barriers, but they still require caves
and crevices for territories and security.
Rocks, flowerpots, and manufactured
ornaments can provide these.
The lordly cichlids have a big following
for a reason. They truly are a special
family of amazing fishes! D
The wolf cichlid (Parachromis dovii ).
Neolamprologus brichardi, one of the dwarf cichlids of Lake Tanganyika. Their
specialized teeth are thought to give cichlids a competitive advantage in the wild.