Now this is where it gets really interesting. To many fishkeepers, Cichlids are ugly brutes who think nothing of re-arranging the aquarium’s decorations when it suits them although, to be fair to the fish, they usually do it when breeding and, understandably, are only staking out their breeding territory.
Cichlids come in diverse shapes, sizes and colors originating in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Central American species are generally the tough guys; South America offers the highly-colored Apistogramma genus, the stately Discus and everyone’s favorite, the Angelfish. Not to be outdone, Africa holds its own with the dazzling colors of its Rift Valley fishes, many of which are endemic to each particular lake. For a region so normally blessed with fishes, Asia is a poor third with only two or three Cichlids native to its waters.
So there’s an ample choice to attract you, but the real attraction for most fishkeepers is that these fish are parents par excellence. All cichlids are egg-depositors, females laying their eggs on a firm surface for the male to fertilize, but there are variations on this basic premise. The majority are happy to prepare a spawning site in open water, then fertilize and defend their hatching eggs against all-comers. For the fishkeeper, this makes a very watchable process.
Taking parental care a little further, some species get very secretive about their breeding and prefer to do it in the privacy of a rocky cave, a flowerpot or even a vacant large shell, well away from their owner’s prying eyes.
Others, some African Lake species, only just make it into the egg-depositing category; in these cases, the female does lay eggs (usually in a depression in the substrate) but then as the male fertilizes them she picks up the eggs and incubates them in her throat cavity until the young fish are developed enough to swim free. Even then, her task is not over for, at the slightest threat, the fry all dash back into her mouth for safety.
Another feature of Cichlids, is that the fry of Discus is noted for finding its first food in the mucus covering of its parents’ skin. When one parent has had enough of being a feeding station the fry are flicked towards the other to continue their meal.
Caring for Cichlids is both straightforward and complicated, depending on which species you choose. Central American and African Lake species are hard water loving, whilst South American fish are better suited to soft water; Discus require more stringent water management than most.
Feeding is no problem as most are omnivorous although some African Lake species will need green matter in their diet as they normally graze on algae-covered rocks in their natural home.
As you can appreciate, tenancy of territory plays a strong role in these fishes’ life style, so any aquarium destined for Cichlid inhabitants (and they occupy all levels) must be large enough to give each fish their allotted space – or there will be constant skirmishes between rival house-hunters.