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  • Source: Actual Stock

    Species: Aphyocharax rathbuni

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    Species: Calloplesiops altivelis

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    Species: Chela dadiburjori

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    Species: Epinephelus flavocaeruleus

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    Species: Melichthys vidua

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    Species: Mikrogeophagus altispinosus

  • Species: Placidochromis electra

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    Species: Taeniura lymna

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    Species: Thorichthys ellioti

  • Species: Shop Floor

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    Species: Aulonocara sp.

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    Species: Pseudotropheus elongatus

  • Source: Actual Stock

    Species: Pseudotropheus sp.Elongatus Mpanga

Visiting Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath

Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath is a fairly large store with a very wide selection of freshwater fish alongside smaller sections devoted to coldwater fish, marine fish and invertebrates, and outdoor fish and plants. As with other Maidenhead Aquatics stores this branch has its strengths, in this case the variety of cichlids on sale, mostly Malawian species but also good numbers of Tanganyikan, Central American and South American species.

The store is located within the Wyevale Garden Centre at Harlestone Heath, less than three miles from the centre of Northampton, on the Harlestone Road running northwest towards Althorp. There is plenty of parking space in front of the garden centre. Visitors travelling by public transport will find Northampton railway station the most convenient, bus routes 9 and 9A running between the station and Harlestone Road or Quarry Road respectively, in the nearby village of New Duston. Both bus stops are 5-10 minute walks away from the garden centre, making the overall travelling time from the train station no more than 20 minutes.

Community fish

On our visit to Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath we were pleased to see that the community fish had been divided up into those that do well in the local hard, alkaline water and those that prefer softer conditions. Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath sells RO water to those who want to soften their tap water supplies. The soft water fish are maintained in a roughly 50/50 mix of tap water and RO water, about pH 7.5, 10 degrees dH. Alongside the row of software tanks were two rows of tanks for community species maintained in the local hard water. These contained such fish as livebearers, rainbowfish, catfish and hardy barbs.

Among the soft water community species that caught the eye was Green Bloodfin Tetra (Aphyocharax rathbuni). It isn’t quite as hardy as its close relative the Bloodfin Tetra (Aphyocharax anisitsi) this is still a very peaceful, easy-to-keep species very suitable for use in soft water community tanks. Colouration is subtle but attractive, metallic green with red patches across the tail and anal fins. As with other tetras, this species needs to be kept in groups of at least six specimens. For best results keep this species in a large, densely-planted aquarium with plenty of swimming space. Overhead shade and a dark substrate in particular will improve the look of the fish. Take care not to keep this species too warm; 20-24 C is fine, making them eminently suitable for low-temperature systems containing species such as neons and Corydoras catfish.

Another good community fish is the Dadio (Chela dadiburjori) from southern India. This species used to be quite common in the trade, but in recent decades has been much less often seen. It is a lively but otherwise peaceful schooling fish that only gets to about 3 cm in length. This species is basically transparent with yellow fins and orange and purple bands running along the midline of the body from the gill covers to the base of the tail. Although a member of the danio group, its smaller size and gentler personality makes it a good choice for systems where Zebra or Pearl Danios wouldn’t be appropriate. Maintenance is similar to other danionins, with relatively cool water (around 22-24 C) and a brisk current being important for long-term success. Won’t harm plants or tankmates, but does like to jump! Highly recommended for community tanks with tight-fitting hoods.

Malawian cichlids

Malawian cichlids can be crudely divided into the mbuna and the non-mbuna. The mbuna live in rocky areas and tend to be highly aggressive, in part because the males especially have to fight hard to secure territories in a very crowded habitat. Anyone who wants to keep mbuna has to plan their tank very carefully or they’ll end up with problems. It is sadly all too common for the males of the biggest and/or most aggressive species systematically killing off anything weaker in the tank. The less aggressive non-mbuna include things like the utaka, the peacock cichlids (Aulonocara), and the mouthbrooding haplochromines, often called “haps”. These fish tend to feed in midwater or across the substrate, and they are normally far less territorial and aggressive. These non-mbuna mix well with each other assuming size and temperaments are matched, but they mix poorly with mbuna, except the most peaceful species, in particular Labidochromis and Iodotropheus spp. We were pleased to see a very wide range of Malawian cichlids at Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath, making it possible for aquarists interested in these colourful fish to choose appropriate species for their tanks.

The mbuna generally referred to by aquarists as Pseudotropheus include some of the most aggressive fish in the hobby. Great care should be taken when selecting species from this genus (including those species known as Maylandia or Metriaclima, depending on your point of view). Among the species we saw at Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath was Pseudotropheus elongatus “neon spot”, a striking species with a slender body and marked sexual dimorphism. Females and juveniles are basically blue with a few vertical bands, but dominant males turn very dark blue, almost black, with a few blue wedges along the dorsal surface. Despite a modest adult size of about 12 cm or so, these fish are very aggressive and can only be combined with equally robust mbuna. As with all mbuna, it’s best to keep a single male and two or more females; except in extremely large aquaria, any surplus males will eventually be battered and then killed by the dominant male. A good choice for large mbuna systems upwards of 350 litres.

Another belligerent mbuna on sale was Another variety of this species on sale was Pseudotropheus sp. “elongatus Mpanga”. Despite being similar to Pseudotropheus elongatus in terms of size and behaviour, Pseudotropheus sp. “elongatus Mpanga” is thought to be a distinct species. Females and young males like the ones we saw on sale are pale blue to blue with dark bands, but sexually mature males become much darker blue and develop yellow areas on the dorsal, anal and tail fins. Good specimens are very striking indeed. Maximum length is about 12 cm.

Unlike the aggressive mbuna, the cichlids of the genus Aulonocara are generally much more peaceful, though the males remain territorial. We saw several species on our visit to Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath including Aulonocara kandeensis and Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, but our particular favourite was Aulonocara sp “Rubin Red”, a hybrid variety sometimes called the Ruby Red Peacock Cichlid. The specimens on sale were still quite young, but sexually mature males have blue heads and bright red bodies. Females are similar but their colours are much more muted, As with all Aulonocara, these fish are best kept as harems consisting of one male and two or more females.

While less often kept than Aulonocara, the Deep Water Hap (Placidochromis electra) is another relatively unaggressive Malawian cichlid. This species isn’t only found in deep water habitats despite its common name, but unlike the mbuna this species, like other Placidochromis is found in sandy rather than rocky areas. In fact the Deep Water Hap is a gregarious (i.e., non-territorial) fish that swarms around disturbed areas where it can feast on invertebrates dislodged from the substrate. In the aquarium the species is quite hardy and easy to keep, but obviously its aquarium needs to be predominantly one with open sandy areas rather than rocks. As such, it’s a poor choice for the usual mbuna tank, though it might be kept perfectly well with those Aulonocara that occupy similar niches. Some rocks along the edge of the tank could provide shelter for the Aulonocara, but the rest of the tank would need to be open sand. The haplochromines would feed from the bottom of the tank, while the Aulonocara would snack on plankton in midwater. The juvenile specimens on sale at Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath were mostly silvery, but adults turn blue, especially the males. Maximum length is about 20 cm for males, 15 cm for females.

Other cichlids

No fewer than three types of Severum were on sale, Heros efasciatus, Heros notatus and the hybrid known as the Gold Severum, Heros “Gold”. Maintenance of all Severums is basically the same, the main differences coming down to colouration. All are quite large fish, up to 20 cm long, and strongly herbivorous. They are not too fussy about water chemistry but will do best in soft to moderately hard, acidic to neutral conditions; aim for 5-15 degrees dH, pH 6.0-7.5. Their diet can be based around algae flakes and pellets similar to those used for livebearers and mbuna, but they will also enjoy green foods from the kitchen: lettuce, tinned peas, cooked spinach, etc. All but the sturdiest aquarium plants will be damaged or eaten. Standard flake food can be used, but in moderation. The same holds for meaty treats like bloodworms. If they aren’t given enough greens Severums are prone to constipation. When they aren’t breeding Severums are quite peaceful and mix well with medium-sized schooling fish that won’t harass or nip them. A singleton will work fine in a tank upwards of 250 litres and will get along fine with non-aggressive South American cichlids such as blue acara and festivums. Pairs tend to become too territorial for community settings. Because they will hybridise with one another, different Severum species should not be kept together.

We were very pleased to see plenty of Bolivian Rams (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) on sale instead of the more usually traded Common Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi). The latter species may be a bit smaller and prettier, but it’s also very difficult to keep alive unless provided with very warm, very soft water. The Bolivian Ram is a much hardier species that should fit into most community tanks with ease. Water chemistry is not critical; 5-15 degrees dH, pH 6.5-7.5 works well. Unlike the Common Ram, the Bolivian Ram is happy at middling water temperatures around 23-25 C. Males and females look very similar, though the male is a bit bigger and may have slightly longer fins and marginally brighter colours. They are omnivorous, sand-sifting cichlids that do best in planted tanks with a silica sand substrate. This is one of the very best community tank cichlids, and highly recommended for aquarists after a straightforward, adaptable little cichlid that won’t harass its tankmates or present any major healthcare problems.

From Central America comes the medium-sized Elliot Cichlid (Thorichthys ellioti), a close relative of the more widely traded Firemouth Cichlid. Like the Firemouth, this cichlid is a sand-sifting species that feeds on invertebrates and detritus. Also like the Firemouth it’s territorial but relatively unaggressive outside of spawning. Mostly the species uses bluff rather than violence when defending its territory, and for that reason it mixes poorly with other, more aggressive cichlids. On the other hand it gets along very well with fast midwater fish that enjoy moderately hard, basic water, for example swordtails and rainbowfish. Mature Elliot Cichlids are very pretty, with silver-speckled grey bodies, red breasts, and extensive blue patches on the back half of their flanks. They also have a horizontal band and a black patch midway along the body that come and go with mood. Sexual dimorphism is slight, though males may be a bit more brightly coloured and tend to have longer fins.


One of the most striking marine fish is the Marine Betta (Calloplesiops altivelis). The specimen we saw on sale at Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath was nearly full size and would look spectacular in the right community tank. It should be borne in mind that these fish are predators though, so small shrimps and fish are likely to be eaten. Feeding can be tricky because of their preference for live shrimp. If shrimps are used they should be boosted with a suitable marine fish vitamin supplement. With care this species can be weaned onto chunky fish fillet and seafood; tilapia and cockles are ideal in terms of being thiaminase-free, while shrimp and mussel, because they contain thiaminase, should used only in moderation. Marine Bettas are shy and need an aquarium with lots of caves. Because they are mostly nocturnal, their activity level can be underestimated. So despite being sluggish during the day, Marine Bettas should only be kept in tanks upwards of 350 litres.

Triggerfish are fun and hardy, but they aren’t for everyone! Potential problems include their size, territoriality, and tendency to view corals, crustaceans and other invertebrates as food. One of the more benign species is the Pink-Tailed Trigger (Melichthys vidua). At up to 30 cm in length this is still a very big fish that will require an aquarium at least 500 litres in size. It is fairly peaceful and unlike the majority of triggerfish it feeds on plankton in the wild rather than corals or mobile invertebrates. Nonetheless it isn’t completely reef-safe despite sometimes being sold as such, and small fish and shrimps may be consumed.

Like the other Maidenhead Aquatics stores, Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath has jumbo tanks at ground level underneath the smaller retail tanks. These usually hold large fish mostly of interest to expert fishkeepers, in some cases ‘rescued’ fish the store manager has accepted from hobbyists no longer able to keep them. One such fish we saw was Blue and Yellow Grouper (Epinephelus flavocaeruleus) about 50 cm in length. It goes without saying that this fish needs a big tank measuring in the thousands rather than hundreds of gallons. Robust filtration is also essential. But groupers aren’t otherwise difficult to keep, and they are famously personable fish that soon become tame and can work well in large home aquaria, zoos, and public aquaria. The staff at Maidenhead Aquatics at Harlestone Heath are anxious to see this chap find a good home; if you can help, let them know!

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