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Cichlids: A Knowledge Base .: Beginner's Basics .: Stocking Your Cichlid Aquarium

Stocking Your Cichlid Aquarium

by Angela Harris

The time has come to stock your tank, but you haven’t yet decided what exactly to stock it with, or how to go about stocking it with a reliable mix of fish that will have a good chance of living together in relative peace. Fortunately, there are some things you can do at this stage that will help you succeed. In this article, I will outline some things you can do to help yourself stock your newly cycled aquarium with a viable mix of fish.

Step 1: Know Your Environment 

The first thing to do is to know what sort of an environment you can provide for your fish. It will do no one any good if you were to purchase a fish only to discover that you could not provide for one or more of its basic needs at some point. Realizing before you even begin to look at the fish themselves what you can and can’t provide can prevent a lot of trouble.

The most important thing to consider is the size of your tank. You want to consider tank in terms of not just water volume, but also in terms of the tank’s footprint, or the area of the tank’s floor. Cichlids are territorial fish, and very often, they will measure their homes in terms of a tank’s floor space, so a larger footprint very often means that you can accommodate more fish. Overall water volume also plays a role as it can sometimes help you determine just how many fish you can handle, but it will still take a backseat to footprint.

Tank dimensions can also be important when you consider whether or not you can house a particular fish. It would seem that a 55g tank would have plenty of space for one 14” fish until you consider that the tank itself is roughly 12” wide. The fish in question wouldn’t be able to turn around without hitting the front and back of the tank. Clearly, that tank would be inadequate for that fish in terms of dimensions.

Along with the tank, you should also know what your water parameters are going to be. Check the pH and KH of you local water supply, and check the pH and KH of the water in your cycled tank. This gives you an idea of the conditions it will be easiest for you to provide for your fish.

There are always ways to alter the basic pH and KH of your aquarium if the local conditions don’t match what you will need for your fish, but altering the water you will be adding to your aquarium introduces the extra potential for instability through your mixing efforts. The healthiest fish are those with the most stable conditions. I find it easier and more cost effective to match my fish to the water I can provide from the tap, but you may opt to do otherwise.

For the sake of providing an example of the process I am describing here, I am going to create a hypothetical fish tank. My tank that I am stocking will be a 55g show tank and my tap water is a steady 7.5.

Step 2: “Window Shopping”

One of the most common problems for any new cichlid owner is finding the right fish. There are so many different kinds of cichlids that it is easy to get over-whelmed by them all. This is the ideal time to just take a deep breath and look around to admire the variety and thoroughly explore your options.

Now that you know the environment you can provide in terms of tank size and water condition, you can go to the internet armed with those two things and start to look for possible residents. There are many different basic cichlid sites out there that list numerous species with pictures of many of them. Often, online retail sites will have pictures of their stock linked to the name of the fish. Just going to an online search engine and using the term “cichlid” will get you a healthy list of good sites. The Cichlid Room Companion has an excellent catalog of named linked to photos and descriptions from all continents for example.

At this point, you are mainly looking for fish that you like. When you find one that you think you might like to investigate further for a potential resident, take a few seconds and jot down its scientific name. Later on, when you feel you have a good list of candidates picked out, you go back to the search engine and begin looking for more detailed information for the fish on your list.

For my list of fish that I really like, I have chosen the following: Nannacara anomala, Apistogramma borelli, Chuco micropthalmus, and Stomatepia pindu.

Step 3: Finding the Best Choice

Now that you have a list of possible residents that you like the look of, it’s time to narrow that list down to the one fish you absolutely must have in your tank. During this process, there will likely be disappointments as you will likely discover either that some of your choices won’t work in your tank or that some of your choices are not easily available for purchase. It is entirely possible that you may have to go back to Step 2, and get a new list of candidates to work through.

At this point, we are ready to begin more in-depth research into our possible choices. This is why you copied down their scientific names. Most of the information you are looking for will be listed under this name rather than a common or trade name for the simple reason that each fish is guaranteed to have its own scientific name whereas a trade name could be used for several species of cichlid.

So, go back to your internet search engine and do a search using the scientific name of each fish. You may additionally choose to add the terms “keeping”, “breeding”, or “spawning” to your searches as these may pull to the top actual articles written by hobbyists who have successfully housed these fish. What you are looking for is the conditions under which these fish are kept most successfully.

What you’re looking for is ideally something like this: Nannacara anomala - Species Summary which I found thanks to Fish Base (you can find this site by simply using the terms “fish base” in a search engine). As you can see, this page gives you a pH range, between 6.0-8.0, a dH range (which I will assume to be similar to KH), a max size for the fish, 6.5 cm, and a minimum aquarium size of 80 cm. At this point, the question is whether or not this species would be a good fit to the environment you know you can provide.

We know the pH range seems to work as our sample tank is a steady 7.5. Now it might be a little more problematic to determine the size and tank size because most Americans are not well acquainted with the metric system and this page gives as measurements in centimeters. This is another thing that can be easily gotten around. A good scientific calculator will often do conversions. There are also sites on the internet that will do conversions for you, and finally, if all else fails, you can simply take a ruler or yardstick and they often have metric measurements on one side and imperial measurements on the other.

Step 4: Finding Your Choice

Once you have done the initial legwork for your list of candidates, it’s time to settle on one favorite that will live in your tank for its entire lifespan. Once you have picked your favorite, the next question to answer is how you will obtain it. Nothing is more frustrating than to do your research and find a beautiful fish that you can easily keep in the space you have available only to discover that none of your local pet stores have ever heard of it. Again, it’s time to consider your options.

During the process of trying to find a certain fish, you will likely become well acquainted with all of the aquarium stores in your area: everything from the local PetSmart to the mom and pop store on the corner. It never hurts to find one you feel takes good care of their stock and to establish a relationship there. Sometimes, the owner may be willing to order in fish or supplies for you he might not otherwise purchase because you are a valuable customer.

However, sometimes, special orders are not an option and it becomes time to look for other options. Many larger cities have local aquarium clubs comprised of individuals who are dedicated to keeping and breeding aquarium fish of all sorts. Often, the local aquarium club may have the connections to obtain the fish you are looking for if you join and become a member. Often, local clubs also hold large auctions open to the public. You could easily find what you are looking for at one of these events as well.

Another option for finding the fish you are looking for is to shop for them online. There are many online retail fish stores. Often they offer more variety and lower prices than many local stores. However, what you save on the actual fish itself, you will likely spend in the cost of shipping making it about the same in the end to shop online as it would cost to shop at the local fish store. Another thing to know about online stores is that you will not get to personally see and select the actual fish you will receive. In effect, you are relying on the seller to select healthy stock for you. Most of the best online stores have built their reputations on selling healthy, good-looking stock to their customers, but it can still be a bit scary to know you are stuck with what they send to you.

Once you have determined whether or not you can procure the fish you want, you then need to decide how you will get them. Are you going to shop down the road, or will they come via the local airport? Will you need to arrange a day home from work to make sure they are received in the mail? Do you need to take a trip to the aquarium club auction with enough cash on hand to ensure you can purchase what you’re after?

Step 5: Making a Tank a Home

You know what fish you’re getting. You know that you can get them. Now you need to read, read, read about them. It won’t do to drop them into a bald tank and hope for the best. You need to know how best to set them up to succeed in their new home.
This is again where your internet search engine will help you. You are this time specifically looking for the experiences of other hobbyists keeping the fish you will be getting. At this stage in the game, internet forums can also be a big help provided you find one with people who have specific experience with your fish. Now you need to know what to feed your fish, what sort of breeding and social behavior your fish has, what kinds of aqua-scaping you need in your tank to form a comfortable environment for you fish, and lastly if you can have tankmated and what sort.

Generally, most commonly kept cichlid species like the Nannocara anomala that I’ve been using as my example will have a wealth of information available on the internet.

Notes - I had a couple of hyperlinks in the original that apprently do not copy/paste. The Nannocara anomala - Species Summary is a hyperlink linking to the Fish Base species summary page in my original document and the hyperlink works. If I actually wind up posting this article, I'll have to fix them so the links work.

And yes, the stopping point is abrupt. I have some bugs with my Internet Exporer that are getting annoying, so I stopped there to try tog et them worked out, but I figured I had enough to give everyone an idea of how things are progressing.


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