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Astronotus ocellatus "Oscar"

There are a broad range of techniques for keeping and breeding cichlids, so it's probably best to break the family down by genera and tribes to discuss the differences, and how to take care of them.

THE GENUS ASTRONOTUS

This genus basically consists of only one species, Ocelatus--The Oscars.  A very popular breed with aquarists worldwide, the Oscar is naturally predominately found mostly in South America in countries such as Brazil to Paraguay.  These fish get large, boasting an adult girth of up to 2 feet, so the aquarist who keeps an Oscar need a larger aquarium of 100 gallons or more to ensure life longevity and health.  In their natural habitat, Oscars are found in slow-moving rivers that are heavily vegetated, and often stay around the banks for breeding, and nesting.  They grow very quickly and will eat a variety of foods including goldfish, tuffies, crayfish, frogs, shrimp, pelleted foods and others.  They can withstand a fairly broad pH and temp range, but it's best to keep them from 78 to 83 F and a pH from 6.5 to 7.5.  Oscars are not a schooling fish, and other than the females being slightly heavier than the male, they are difficult to sex.  As with other cichlids, do not keep with anything that can be dug up.  With a large tank, live plants such as Amazon Swords can be kept with Oscars, but not recommended for smaller tanks.  Frequent partial water changes can be necessary, due to the amount of food that these fish can consume as adults.  They are notorious for being a "dirty" fish, so regular aquarium maintenance is a must.  Oscars can be kept with other fish in larger aquariums, but at a whim can beat up on a fellow aquarium member with seemingly little effort, so it's usually best to keep them with one another or alone.

 

THE GENUS CICHLASOMA

A large genus of cichlids that range from Texas to Argentina.  Different natural habitat includes slow-moving creeks, natural springs, and even brackish water.  There are over 100 species of cichlids in this genus, and most range from about 100 to 300 mm in size.  Most do well in larger aquariums, with natural gravel beds, rock, driftwood, and even a few synthetic plants.  Most species in this genus will dig up gravel and plants, so routine "re-aquascaping" is often helpful.  Most are easy to sex, with the males having a more protruded, longer anal and dorsal fin, and get very colorful during spawning.  Most in this genus can withstand a temperature range of 76 to 83 F and a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5.  Some do well with a small amount of aquarium salt in the water, and a pair should be kept in an aquarium no smaller than 55 gallons.  The tank should be covered, as with many types of cichlids, as they will jump out, or have the ability to knock off unsupported aquarium tops. Regular partial water changes are very helpful to reduce stress and disease, as with most breeds.

Cichlasoma trimaculatum

Cichlasoma labiatum "Red Devil"

 

Aequidens awani

THE GENUS AEQUIDENS

This is a large genus of the cichlid family that's well distributed over a broad range over Central and South America.  From Panama to Argentina to Guyana, these fishes are mostly small, under 100 mm and have a timid temperament, although territorial, especially during spawning.  They are a colorful fish, although this genus' color variations from fish to fish are not as diverse as other genii in the Cichlid family.  Most are egg layers and will lay from 100 to 400 eggs at a time, which usually hatch in about 4 days.  Feeding this genus is simple, as they will eat everything from live to frozen to freeze-dried foods, among other things.  They do well in temperature ranges from 23-28 C and slightly acidic water with a pH of 6.4 to 7.0.

 

THE GENUS APISTOGRAMMA

This is a fairly large genus, boasting over 65 species of smaller cichlids that are rather localized in their natural distribution.  More commonly known as "dwarf cichlids", this popular genus spawn in the same manner as most of their larger cichlid family members.  The adults are easy to sex, as the males are much more brightly colored, and have extended dorsal and anal fins.  Although the juveniles look very alike, and are often sold as "mixed dwarf cichlids", as it's difficult to determine which species the young fish actually are, and if they are males or females.  This trait has been seized by cichlid breeders, and some interesting hybrids of Apistogramma (and other cichlid genera) have arisen over the past few decades.  Most eggs are ovid in shape, and are laid on the sides of rock, plants, and substrate rather than on top.  The egg colors range from a brownish-tan color to a white or clear color, and hatch in 2 to 5 days.  Most in this genus do well in 22 to 28 C and a pH range an acidic 6.2 to neutral 7.0.  Use light aeration, and don't keep this genus in an active room, as they get "spooked" easily.  They have a broad diet, but when ill, often require live foods to regain normal eating habits.

Apistogramma cacatuoides

THE TRIBE CRENICARINI

This tribe contains three genera that are of interest to aquarists.  These are Crenicara, Batrachops, and Crenicichla (Pike cichlids).  Pike cichlids got their name because they are long, and slender.  These fish attack and devour their prey, and in its natural habitat, hunts in packs upon certain breeds such as characins.  They have a streamlined, sleek body profile and are extremely fast swimmers.  They are a difficult breed to keep in the aquarium unless the tank is large, well maintained, and the fish are supplied with a copious amount of live food on a regular basis.  Baratraps are similar to the pike cichlids, but they are slightly more rounded and have a deeper body.  Crenicara, however, are small, peaceful, and fairly easy to breed.  This genus is best keep in a temperature range of 23-28 C and in a pH of 6.2 to7.0.

THE GEOPHAGUS  (THE EARTHEATERS)

Another interesting genus of cichlids including species such as balzani, jurupari, and surinamensis.  This breed has one of the most unique mating rituals of any fish in the world.  It mates and lays eggs normally as most egglayers do, on a rock or flat surface.  Then things get weird.  The pair then covers the rock with sand and substrate, and keep it buried for two days.  Then they scoop the eggs up into their mouths until they eggs hatch.  After hatching the fry will often continue to seek refuge in the female's mouth.  The mother will take care of the fry for about a month, spitting them out only when she eats.  This genus is seemingly always curiously sifting and digging through the substrate in an attempt to find something or aquascape.  They are mainly distributed in South America from Rio Negro to Brazil, and do best in larger aquaria with a pH from 6.0 to 6.8, and a temp range from 24-28 C.

Geophagus jurupari

 

 

THE GENUS UARU

This is a small South American 3-species genius with three differing color varieties (although there is dispute among ichthyologists that there is only 1 species with 3 color variations.)  The juveniles all look different, and most have a shy gentle temperament.  They are also rare to find, and difficult to keep.  Most feed on beef heart and white worms.

 

THE GENUS PTEROPHYLLUM  (ANGELS)

Since the beginning of the aquarium trade, the angelfish have provided aquarists generations of intrigue and study.  This popular cichlid relative is a South American native, and the two agreed upon subspecies in the genus are Pterophyllum dumerilii, and Pterophyllum scalare scalare.  Angelfish are great for first time aquarists, as they are hardy, active, and are compatible with a broad range of fishes.  There are two basic fin types, which are regular and long fin (veil tails), and the color varieties are all a derivative of black, silver, with the popular albino (yellow) and lutino (yellow with black eyes).  There are solid, striped, marbled, zebra and a variety of genetic mutations available in color patterns.   These "phenotypes"  utimately trickle down through generations of genes, and provide (for the aquarist who is lucky enough to breed angelfish) an interesting study in genetics.  Angelfish are egglayers, and are fairly easy to keep in the aquarium.  They are also docile and do well in most community aquariums, but some can be too timid, and others fight amongst one another.  They do not require a large tank, and are often found in lush aquariums with natural sand/gravel, driftwood,  lush plant growth, and other community fish.  Breeders need to keep very good water quality and provide flat deco rock or ceramic breeding cones for the fish to lay eggs on. They thrive in a temperature range of 77-84 F, and prefer a pH range of 6.2 to 7.0.

 

Pterophyllum scalare

Pterophyllum scalare

Symphysodon aequifasciata

 

 

Symphysodon aequifasciata aequifasciata

THE GENUS SYMPHYSODON  (DISCUS)

With the earned reputation as the king of the cichlids, the discus have provided aquarists with intrigue, challenge, study, and breath taking beauty. Probably the most respected and desired of all aquarium fish, the discus is also one of the most expensive and delicate freshwater fishes.  There are two main species of Discus; the common discus (Symphysodon aequifasciata) and the Heckel discus (Symphysodon discus).  Both species are restricted to the Amazon River and it's primary tributaries.  There are a total of 5 subspecies of the two species of discus.  Although these are a generalization of the huge amount of hybrids that are out there now, due mainly to cross breeding.  Symphysodon aequifasciata has nine equally dark bands on the body and has three recognized subspecies: S. aequifasciata aequifasciata-the green discus from the central amazon.  S. a. aexlrodi-the brown discus from the lower Amazon; and S. a. haraldi-the blue discus from the upper Amazon.  S. discus only has three distinct dark bands on the body has two recognized subspecies: S. discus discus-the Heckel or red discus and S. discus willischwartzi-the pineapple discus.   It's best to keep them alone or in groups with other discus as they are very shy and docile by nature.  The water temp should be warm for most 78-85 F and a very acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5, and even lower for breeding.  Discus thrive in an Amazonian environment, and do best in soft water.  Live plants will help with this, and to keep co2 and oxygen levels in check.  Bogwood and other river wood is also helpful.


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