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Stock list review: Amwell Aquatics Epping
16 July 2016
Amwell Aquatics operates two superstores in the East of England, one in Soham, Cambridgeshire and the other in Thornwood Common, Essex. Both are large stores that regularly stock hundreds of species of tropical and marine fish, making them popular stores among beginners and experienced hobbyists alike.
This week we'll be reviewing some of the cichlid species that have just gone on sale. These include some unusual species from the Rift Valley lakes of East Africa as well as some South American dwarf cichlids that can make good additions to community tanks. As always though we recommend giving the store a call before setting out on a long journey if you're after a particular species. Even if you're just after a bit of a browse, Amwell Aquatics is a great place to visit with lots of interesting species in stock. Find it at Thornwood Common, 5 minutes off Junction 7 of the M11, on the B1393 (High Road) on the way to the village of Thornwood. Townlink Buses routes 20 and 21 between Harlow and Ongar serve the Uppland Road stop very nearby.
This is a big predatory cichlid from Lake Tanganyika, named after the legendary ichthyologist Humphry Greenwood. They are typically haplochromines in shape, pinkish-brown in colour with large blue-black eyespots on their gill covers. Adult specimens have rows of metallic blue speckles along their flanks and on their faces, and will modify their colours dramatically with mood, particularly when spawning. Maximum length is around 18 cm (about 7 inches) so a tank upwards of 250 litres is required for a breeding pair. Unfortunately there are no obvious sex differences beyond comparing the genital papillae, so the easiest way to obtain a pair is to rear a group and allow them to pair off naturally.
Greenwoodochromis bellcrossi naturally inhabits relatively deep water where its large eyes and big mouth enable it to ambush small fish hiding near the rocks. There's some speculation among hobbyists that it specialises in consuming juvenile cichlids. Certainly these fish have prodigious appetites and will consume large quantities of suitably small meaty foods, whether pieces of lancefish, krill, or even good quality cichlid pellets. Greenwoodochromis bellcrossi seems to be fairly peaceful when kept in a spacious tank alongside species of similar size and temperament. They are territorial though. In common with other haplochromines this species is a bi-parental mouthbrooder.
More cichlids from Lake Tanganyika in the form of trio of Petrochromis species, Petrochromis famula 'Kaiser ndwandwe', Petrochromis sp. 'texas bulu point', and Petrochromis orthognathus 'ikola'. Broadly speaking, Petrochromis occupy a similar sort of niche to the mbuna of Lake Malawi; certainly their temperaments are rather similar, Petrochromis being notoriously aggressive and territorial.
The best way to keep them therefore is in relatively large groups in big tanks. We're talking groups of a dozen or more, and given their adult size is up to 15 cm/6 inches, that means an aquarium upwards of 450 litres at minimum. Their tank should be decorated with plenty of rockwork that will provide both hiding places and the flat surfaces they like to explore while rasping for algae. Petrochromis cannot be kept with other Tanganyikans given their aggression, though different Petrochromis species do generally mix well. Another reason not to combine them with other Tanganyikans is diet: these fish are obligate herbivores that need to be fed primarily on Spirulina and other types of algae-based flake foods. While occasional offerings of more meaty fare is useful, excessive amounts will cause them health problems in the long term.
In other regards maintenance resembles that of Tanganyikan cichlids generally. Petrochromis are highly sensitive to old water, so frequent, substantial water changes are just as important as robust filtration.
Cyprichromis and Paracyprichromis species are collectively known as 'sardine cichlids' because they occupy a sardine-like niche in Lake Tanganyika, forming large schools that swim about in open water feeding on zooplankton. There are numerous species, many very colourful, with Paracyprichromis nigripinnis being traded as the Blue Neon Cichlid' on account of the iridescent blue stripes running along its flanks and fins. Although both sexes share this colouration, the male is usually a bit more brilliant in colour and often a little larger, making sexing relatively simple. That's useful because this highly social species needs to be kept in a group containing equal numbers of both sexes.
Paracyprichromis nigripinnis do best in groups of at least ten specimens, which isn't too hard to accommodate given their adult size is only 10 cm (4 inches). A school of these fish will provide a wonderful sight, constantly swimming about near the surface and become especially active when feeding on good quality flake foods and suitably small frozen or live foods such as brine shrimp and daphnia. They are completely peaceful, and can be used as dither fish for non-aggressive bottom-dwelling Tanganyikan cichlids of similar size, especially those, like Julidochromis, that tend to be rather shy. Amazingly for open-water fish they're mouthbrooders, and their courtship and spawning behaviours are very interesting to observe. Despite their delicate appearance these cichlids are not difficult to keep provided water quality is good and the water chemistry is appropriate.
Apistogramma are probably the most popular South American dwarf cichlids, and certainly the ones best suited to quiet community tanks alongside suitable surface-swimming dither fish, such as tetras and hatchetfish, and Amwell Aquatics regularly keeps a good variety of them in stock.
Apistogramma 'Pappagallo' (probably the same fish as Apistogramma 'Papagai') is an infrequently seen Apistogramma from Peru. They are one of the huge number of species, subspecies and geographical morphs attributed to the Apistogramma regani species group. Like other Apistogramma they are sexually dimorphic. Mature males are almost entirely covered with metallic blue markings on their flanks and fins, as well as having similarly coloured squiggles on their heads. Females are smaller and basically yellow with a few indistinct darker markings on their flanks. Apistogramma 'Pappagallo' appear to be strictly soft water fish, unlike some of the more adaptable Apistogramma species more widely traded, and consequently require quite specific conditions to do well. Fairly warm, soft, and slightly acidic conditions for a start; aim for around 25-28 degrees C, 1-5 degrees dH, pH 5.5-6.5.
Apistogramma borellii 'Paraguay' is an unusual dwarf cichlid in coming from a relatively cool area straddling southern Brazil, northern Argentina and parts of Paraguay. Consequently this species needs to be kept in a slightly cooler than usual aquarium maintained around 22-24 degrees C, and if any tankmates are kept alongside them this needs to be borne in mind. Some of the tetras will be perfectly happy in such conditions, notably things like Black Phantom Tetras. On the other hand this species is not particularly demanding in terms of water chemistry, and will live and even spawn in moderately hard and alkaline water, though slightly soft and acidic conditions are probably optimal. Like all Apistogramma these are harem-spawners, best kept in groups consisting of one male plus one or more females. Females can be surprisingly territorial, tending to exclude the male while rearing the fry alone, so a selection of suitable caves is a must.
Blue Diamond Angelfish
Also known as the Blue Amazon Diamond Angelfish, this is an artificial variety of the common angelfish. As its trade name suggests, this variety is shiny metallic blue, showing any of the dark vertical markings seen on wild-type specimens. Maximum length is about 10 cm/4 inches, but its dorsal fin-tip to anal fin-tip depth can be quite a bit greater than this, closer to 15 cm/6 inches, so a reasonably deep aquarium is important. Certainly nothing smaller than 100 litres even for a singleton or mated pair, and there should be enough depth to the tank that your angels can swim about without dragging their fins on the gravel. If they can't swim easily their fins tend to get raggedy and prone to bacterial or fungal infections, which will also happen if they're kept with nippy tankmates such as Tiger Barbs.
Farmed angelfish are generally very hardy. They can do well across a broad water chemistry range, though softer water is necessary for breeding. Water quality needs to be good, with regular water changes being essential for keeping nitrate levels low, 25% water changes every week or two being recommended. Angelfish are easy to feed, taking all sorts of flake and frozen foods, but they will also eat very small tankmates given the chance, such as Neons. But they will otherwise get along well with peaceful community fish, with Corydoras and placid tetras such as X-ray Tetras and Penguin Tetras being especially good companions.
Endemic to the Rio Pindare in Brazil, this is one of the less frequently seen Geophagus species. It has the typical laterally compressed body and large head seen among Geophagus generally, but can be distinguished by its large eyes and the rows of red and metallic blue spots arranged along its flanks. Midway along the body is an eyespot that becomes more or less apparent depending on mood. As with other Geophagus this species is difficult to sex; males and females look very similar, but with care differences can be noted in the shape of the genital papillae when the fish get ready to spawn. Maximum length is around 14 cm.
Basic care as for other Geophagus. Best kept in an odd-numbered group in a spacious tank; 5 or more specimens recommended, in an aquarium upwards of 350 litres. Decor should be limited to a soft, sandy substrate and a few rocks and sturdy plants around the edges for shade. Robust filtration and frequent water changes are important because Geophagus are sensitive to water quality problems including high nitrate levels. Water chemistry is of secondary importance, though very hard and alkaline conditions should be avoided. Like other Geophagus these fish naturally sift the sand for algae and tiny invertebrates; in aquaria they are fairly adaptable and will take good quality sinking foods as well as frozen invertebrates.