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  • Source: Copyright

    Species: Kribensis

  • Source: Copyright

    Species: Steatocranus casuarius

Easily kept cichlids

Family fish – (relatively) easily kept cichlids

Sooner or later, any successful tank will be visited by the swish of little fins. A first spawning (or birth, as for many aquarists the first arrivals are livebearers) is an event that will be remembered with pride for a long time, even if it is a species that is easily spawned that you go on to spawn again hundreds of times. My first spawning was the fathead minnow, Pimephales promelas, an endearing little fish whose charm was enhanced, in my opinion, by the diligent and selfless care that the father put into his new family. Until the eggs hatched, he did not leave his position, spending night and day carefully fanning clean oxygenated water over his charges. Sadly, his paternal affection did not recognise his offspring once they had hatched, and he was as enthusiastic as all the other tank inhabitants in hunting them down and eating them.

For the cichlid family, the parental duties extend long beyond hatching. Usually both parents take part in the care, in many species as a mated pair for life, and their careful guardianship of their little family is an endless source of pleasure. Unfortunately it can also be a source of headaches for the aquarist, as normally placid fish, who rightly recognise that their tankmates are no threat to them, suddenly realise that said tankmates pose a deadly danger to the tiny fry. New arrivals can cause a peaceful and established tank to break out into bloody mayhem.

As with all groups of fish, some are more aggressive than others, and this article will look at some of those species that can reasonably be kept in a community tank, and bred there with a little bit of planning and forethought.

My first cichlids to join a community were lionheads, Steatocranus casuarius. This is a middle sized, middle tempered cichlid, growing to about 10cm long. They are patterned, not unattractively but not that excitingly either, in vertical stripes of light and dark brown. The male has a distinct prominent lump on the front of his head, giving rise to their common name. Their most striking feature is their eyes, which are bright blue. Although slightly inclined to arguments, these settled in well once provided with a range of upside-down plantpots and caves to choose from, and with a vigorous planting scheme that ensured any fish that incurred their wrath could disappear from their line of sight within a few inches. They arrived as four cantankerous youngsters, still tussling for their place in the order of things, but within a few months had sorted themselves out into a pair, firmly ensconced in a plant pot together, and two outsiders who never really settled anywhere. The outsiders were given to a friend, and the pair settled down to a life of marital bliss. Within a few months they started to show a decided lack of tolerance, and all the other fish in the tank decided to move to the other end, where they were screened from view by plants. With this arrangement, all was peaceful when the new family made its first appearance a week later, as the fry poked around in the algae and rocks under the watchful eye of their parents. After a little while they were all shepherded back home into the plant pot again. This regime persisted with longer and longer outings, until it became clear that the family was rather getting on its parents nerves, and minor disagreements began to break out. At this point the offspring were found new homes, and the other fish repopulated the tank until the next happy event.

The next cichlids to make an appearance in my tanks were a pair of Kribensis. I had always considered these rather nondescript, and in no way living up to their Latin name of Pelvicachromis pulcher, which means ‘beautiful’. This was until I encountered a batch of wild caught fish, grown to full size and shimmering with colours in a way never seen in the over bred pale fishes that usually showed up in the shop. A pair of these moved in immediately, and settled down without incident. And there they stayed – equally without incident. The female was always fat, and always showing the purple belly that indicates she is receptive to spawning, and the male spent at least half his time showing off and displaying, but that was as far as it went. The plantpots and caves were all inspected and found wanting in some way. Consulting the literature revealed that these fish would supposedly spawn on the slightest pretext, but mine were determined not to. The change of heart came during one of my rare spring cleaning moments. I had been given an ashtray in the shape of a small house – the front was open, with two grooves where one supposedly rested the cigarettes, and the smoke went up inside and out of the little chimney. This proved more charming than useful as an ashtray, so after a good scrubbing I decided to offer it as a cave for the fish. The kribs were delighted. Over the next week they succeeded in removing all the ground in ash that had resisted the pot scourer, and then set up home with one fish resting in each of the cigarette grooves, surveying the world from their perches. After three weeks the other fish were all squashed up at the end of the tank again, and rather than occupying his groove the male was performing sentry duty, patrolling in front of the entrance. A little over a week later the family emerged for the first time – a batch of about six tiny fry, shepherded by their extremely nervous parents. At first they strayed only a few inches, but as they got more confident and strayed farther afield, the parents got more and more panic-stricken – not without cause, as one foolhardy youngster strayed a little too far and was seen to be snatched by an opportunistic tetra. The other five grew well, and by the time the next family came along were of a size large enough to avoid being eaten by everything. The first family stayed in the general vicinity, and appeared to pose no threat to the new brood. On the other hand, they weren’t interested in guard duty either, and their father eventually came to find them an irritant. By the third generation all was not love and affection in the krib world, and many had to be given away or moved on while still relatively small. From not spawning at all, they had now taken to it with such enthusiasm that the only way to keep them under control proved to be removing their little house periodically until the last batch had all left home.

Either of these species can be heartily recommended for a beginner, being fairly easy to keep and tolerant, both of conditions and tankmates. As relatively small fish it is not too hard to find room for a pair. Of course many people go on to specialise in cichlids particularly, and once you have decided to start setting up species tanks there are a wide range of fascinating fish in all shapes and sizes just waiting to start families in your tanks.

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