Dwarf Cichlids: A Primer
Dwarf Cichlids are among the most popular fishes in the hobby as they mimic their larger brethren in fascinating behavior and in some cases, stunning colors, in an economy size. Their small stature means one doesn't need a truly massive aquarium to keep them, and though many have particular needs, all can thrive and breed in the care of dedicated hobbyists.
Above all, what dwarf Cichlids need is stability. None in this list are appropriate for tanks that are new or in flux, thus those with well-established aquariums with a stable pH, hardness level and temperature are best suited to attempt these species. None will do well in water that's highly alkaline or hard, and many unexplained deaths are due to keeping them in unsuitable waters. Research the needs of your chosen fishes before purchase to save yourself many woes.
Tanks should be set up with a particular species of dwarf cichlid in mind, rather than trying to add them to an established community tank. All come from small (sometimes quite shallow) creeks and in some cases, ponds, usually staying close to the substrate of their waters, which are usually covered by leaf litter. Thus all are quiet, retiring fishes and tankmates must be chosen with care.
By dwarf I mean mild Cichlids that have maximum sizes under six inches, though most in this list will be well under that total length. In this post I'll give an overview of several species commonly available, and their care. Questions, are, of course, welcome.
Called Golden Dwarf Cichlid in the trade is Nannacara anomela of leaf-strewn streams in western Guyana.
In those you find in shop, the adult males are a greenish gold color, with dark edging on the scales, and the eye is large and golden. When mature, the males have red on the rays and edge of the forepart of the dorsal, moving towards a green color further back. His dorsal, tail and anal fins sprout flowing extensions. He can have a blue or green cast to him as he moves through the tank. She's a washed-out version of him, and lacks the extensions. He tops out at 3.25 inches, she, about an inch less. When she's ready to breed she'll don a black lattice garb on her body.
Peacefulness itself, and commonly available in shops, N. anomela are the perfect Cichlid species for the larger planted aquarium, say a 75 gallon. A very passive fish and harmless to tank mates too large to eat, it's only when they breed that the tank size is necessary as they are quite protective of their spawn. They stay in a relatively small area with their fry, and in a good-sized tank, it's easy for tankmates to avoid that area.
Golden Dwarf Cichlids (GDCs) are most at home and secure in the well-planted tank, preferably with driftwood and stones. Their water requirements are that of the ideal planted tank, that is, fairly soft and slightly acid, say pH 6.8 and general hardness well under 10. Best temps are between 75 and 78, but a temperature three degrees either way are OK. A loose screen of floating plants over the main swimming area will mean your GDCs will be out foraging all day, and look very attractive moving through the areas of light and dark. This species prefers the lower third of the aquarium, and is most secure when several hiding places are available among driftwood, stones and plants.
Tankmates can include a dense school of tetras, Corydorus catfish and smaller, passive Loricariads. The tetras give these little Cichlids security, though GDCs aren't necessarily shy. They should, however, be the only Cichlid species in the tank, as they can be intimidated to their cost.
These little Cichlids really thrive when you give them live food three or four times a week. They are very partial to worms; white, California black, and Grindal are best, and they adore small shrimp, like Gammarius species, though frozen mysis are a good alternative. Live Crustaceans like Daphnia magna are deeply enjoyed. A frozen food designed for Herbivores will address their need for plant debris, and two or three quality pelleted foods of suitable size can be added to the menu. Properly kept and fed, you should get at least five years out of your charges.
Though relatively modest in coloration due to their decades of commercial breeding, it will be in the guise of their children that you can see how attractive these little fish can be. They are just-add-water breeders if kept in the soft and slightly acid planted tank. They are usually cave spawners, but can also spawn under overhanging driftwood, and occasionally under the leaves of large aquatic plants, and they are quite secretive about spawning. She does all the child rearing. Unless your tank is over 40 gallons, you'll have to remove the male or she'll kill him. A tank 75 gallons or better and you can leave the whole group in with her, as it's easy for them to stay out of line of sight. Eggs hatch within 3 days, and she moves the fry to a hidden pit. The fry are free swimming within a week, and can be fed Rotifers first, adding baby brine shrimp to the menu after three or four days, moving to small pelleted foods when they lose interest in the shrimp. The fry grow fairly rapidly, and will be over an inch long in six weeks.
When the fry mature, depending where their wild ancestors were collected, the males can be clothed in blue, red, or orange over the gold, or have attractive black mottling.
A good choice for a first dwarf Cichlid for someone just getting into the genre.
One of my all-time favorites of the Cichlid clan is Aequidens portalegrensis, the Port Acara of tributaries of the Amazon basin in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Occasionally called the Red or Black Port Acara, depending on where the original fish were from, portalegrensis qualifies as a dwarf Cichlid because it tops out just under six inches, though the norm in aquariums is four inches. One of the most attractive of the smaller Cichlids available, but if you're looking for bright colors, look elsewhere.
Not much to look at when young, when Ports mature, males sport a greenish-light grey to bluish body, and all scales are edged in black. Fin extensions sprout to more than an inch long from the dorsal and tail fin, and all his fins are attractively marked with waves of color; reds or blacks. She is clothed in red and brown, and both sexes have iridescent scales - the male particularly - that reflect blues and greens back at the viewer. Very charming in appearance; recommended. It's best to buy a group of six or more young fish to get a compatible pair. Males tend to push and shove a bit for dominance, but the defeated dims his colors and blends in with the other members of the group.
A perfect Cichlid for the calm planted tank, as they are quite passive. Tankmates can be similarly mild, like tetras and Cory cats. When they breed, which they commonly do in the aquarium, they are very protective of their spawn. The pair will defend the spawning area, which is rather small, fairly vigorously, but won't pursue interlopers. Other fish soon learn to avoid that area.
Plants should be well-established and rooted, as Ports do dig a bit looking for tidbits. Not excessively, though.
Ports always spawn on flat rocks, to my experience, and can start spawning when they are just three inches long. They spawn best in the soft and acid waters of the planted tank (pH 6.8, gH under 6), and are among the most excellent of parents. Usual spawns number around 200 to 300 eggs, and pairs, which mate for life, form nuclear families with their descendants.
When fry are free swimming, first foods are Rotifers and baby brine shrimp. They aren't difficult to raise, especially if you keep them with their folks. The parents will care for their youngsters for several months until the fry wander off on their own.
The parents adore live foods like California black worms, small shrimp, insect larvae and the like. They'll take the frozen equivalents of Crustaceans and insect larvae happily, though you'll get better spawns with occasional live food. In addition, two or three different kinds of pelleted foods will help keep your Ports in the pink.
Ports like their water cooler than most Cichlids, and should be kept at no more than 77 degrees, with 74 optimal. PH should be around neutral and fairly soft for their continued health. Given proper temps and water parameters, Ports are quite hardy; nearly bulletproof. Mine lived for more than 9 years in my care, which isn't bad for little Cichlids.
An excellent first fish for keepers just getting into dwarf Cichlids.
Part of the Apistogramma clan though much slimmer in appearance, is Taeniacara candidi of slow-moving, weed-choked, acidic waters of small streams in the upper Rio Negro basin.
Not the easiest species to find and needs particularly soft and acidic waters to thrive, candidi's looks are what makes it worth looking for. A long, slender body is an attractive silvery blue-white, and a broad black line runs nose to tail. All fins are edged in red and iridescent green, save for the pectoral fins, and the eye is deep blue. Ventral fins are long, highly colored, and feeler-like. Candidi males top out well under three inches and have a spade-shaped tail, the females around two inches and have a rounded tail. A VERY attractive dwarf Cichlid in health; no written description can do them justice. There are some color variations, depending on where they were collected, but my description is the most common form.
What it needs - what it HAS to have - is a planted tank of at least 40 gallons in size with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0 and very soft water, say a gH around 2. Peat filtration is extremely helpful, and one of the commercial black water extracts can also be used, as these are black-water fishes. Caves, driftwood, stones and plant thickets are necessary for their security. Floating plants or tropical water lilies can be used to screen the bright light of planted tanks over the main swimming area. A soft, dark substrate is best, and if you scatter sunken Oak leaves in the main swimming area, it will simulate natural waters and stimulate these fish. A dark blue or black background will set off these fish beautifully.
Tankmates must be mild. A large school of neon, cardinal tetras, or pencil fish and the like are perfect, and enjoy the same water conditions. Cory cats are fine. Stay away from barbs save for Cherry Barbs. Temps should be in the upper 70's to low 80's; for breeding it should be raised slowly to 82. Needless to say, it should be the only Cichlid species in the tank. The aquarium must have rock-solid stability, as these fish will not take any fluctuations in water quality, thus a quite well-established tank is necessary to attempt this very worthwhile species.
In a group of six or more one male will be dominant, and the most highly colored. It is inadvisable to buy just a pair, as one will always get the worst of it and die. If you can safely house more than six, by all means do so as they not only make a lovely display - you are virtually assured of getting a compatible pair out of the group. They will be the Alpha male and female, and do most all the breeding. The others will be more subdued in color, and defer to the Alpha pair when you feed them. This species will stay near the bottom of the tank, and always have an eye toward hiding places, even when feeding.
This a quite small species at just over two inches, thus feeding must be of suitable size. They much prefer live Daphnia, insect larvae and worms; frozen equivalents may work. It may take some time for them to learn to take quality pelleted foods, and you can forget about flakes, they won't eat them. They will nibble plants like Riccia, so a plant-based frozen food may prevent that.
If you have them, candidi spawns beneath the Oak leaves in a small pit the female digs. She does all the husbandry work, and it's best to keep this species in a large tank verses a smaller one or she'll batter him to death, and considering how difficult, not to mention expensive, it is to find these fish, you owe it to yourself to keep them in larger planted tanks. Without the leaves this species is reticent to spawn, to my experience.
The eggs take about a week to hatch and a further four or five days for the fry to become free swimming at an 80-degree temperature. They can take baby brine shrimp and microworms immediately, and halved white or Grindal worms added to the fry's menu a day or two after they are free swimming speeds growth. It'll take six weeks for the fry to get to an inch in length.
The fry will be larger, more colorful, and hardy than their parents, as those available in the hobby are almost all wild caught. You'll become very popular among the local aquarium keepers if you have a tank full of healthy tank-breds of this species, believe me.
One of the most stunning dwarf Cichlids you can buy is Herotilapia multispinosa, a fish found all over Central America in smaller, slow streams and small ponds strewn with leaf litter.
The common name 'Rainbow' Cichlid describes the fish almost perfectly. Reaching 4.5 inches, though more usually three inches in the aquarium, the males of this species can sport an orange to red body, and the long ventral, dorsal, ventral and anal fins are dusted with electric blue. A broken dark line runs from behind the light golden eye to the base of the tail, and there is a light, dark banding starting at the mid-body. The dorsal, tail and anal fins, which are usually orange under the glittering blue, sprout long extensions. The females are a somewhat duller version of the males, though when spawning both are very deeply colored. She is roughly an inch smaller than her mate.
Rainbow Cichlids are one of the few in this list that very much should have algae in their diet. They possess teeth designed to scrape algae off surfaces, thus one of the secrets to keeping these fish in top condition is to make sure they have real, green algae to gnaw on daily. Given algae as a major part of the diet will enable you to see just how beautiful and lively these fish can be. They prefer to stay the lower third of the aquarium.
In their natural environment the Rainbow Cichlids shelter among bog wood, and forage among the substrate leaves for food. Thus, in addition to the algae, food should be live and/or frozen insect larvae, small crustaceans and aquatic worms to mimic natural sources. High quality pelleted foods should be part of the menu for full nutrition. For best results the substrate should be dark and soft, like one of the aquatic soils, as large or sharp gravel can damage Rainbow Cichlids.
You can keep them in planted tanks with bog wood and stones and they won't bother any fish, preferring to keep to themselves. Aquatic mosses are usually eaten if you don't keep green algae available to them. A good school of tetras or smaller barbs (not Tigers), along with Corydoras catfish can be tankmates. They are very peaceful, and though they defend their spawning area, they do so without visible aggression, a rare feat.
It's best to keep these fish in larger aquariums, the larger the better, as they will almost always eat the eggs or fry in tanks under 40 gallons, to my experience. In a 75 gallon, a group of eight is a pleasant sight, and they work out politics without aggression. It's far better to buy a group to let them choose a mate then just a pair, as pairs usually don't get along, and it's difficult to determine sexes when they are small.
The more driftwood in a tank the happier Rainbow Cichlids are. Coupled with driftwood, stones and thickets of live plants and your Rainbow Cichlids will be right at home. They prefer bright, clean water about 75 to 80 degrees and around a neutral pH. Moderate hardness is OK with these fish, though if you filter through peat and cover the swimming area with sunken Oak leaves you'll see better color and a better likelihood of a breeding. They are flat rock spawners mostly, and the male does the majority of guarding. They occasionally spawn in some back corner of the tank or even at the base of large plants, like the big sword plants. The eggs hatch within three days, and the fry are moved from pit to pit by the parents. They are free swimming within a week, and can take baby brine shrimp the very day they come up in a cloud around the parents. The fry aren't difficult to raise, and easily transition to small pelleted foods with a vegetative component after losing interest in the shrimp. As many available in the hobby are commercially raised, the adult offspring will show just how gorgeous these fish really are.
A lovely, hardy little dwarf Cichlid, and one that beginners with well-established tanks can try.
First appearing in aquarium books in in the early 1950's is Dicrossus (neι Crenicara) filamentosa, the Checkerboard Cichlid of small black-water habitats in the Amazon basin.
Topping out at just 2.5 inches, D. filamentosa is part of a complex of several species of Checkerboard Cichlid, and many are unnamed by science. Others available in the hobby include D. maculatus, which has a rounded-spade shaped tail, while filamentosa has a lyre-shaped tail, and D. gladicauda, where the males sport a long, sword-like spike at the top of the tail.
As black-water fishes, filamentosa must have soft and acid conditions to thrive. Filtering through peat is very advisable, and the tank must be kept very clean, with 20 percent partial water changes weekly without fail. These fish are very sensitive to dissolved waste, like Nitrate. Given proper conditions, however, these are among the most charming, lovely fishes. If they are happy, both male and female will have fins smartly spread. Fins clamped close to the body means they are either kept in unsuitable conditions or with unsuitable tankmates, or both. Make sure to do your partial changes at night, as stress leads to death with these fishes. These fish stay in the lower third of the aquarium.
Filamentosa is found in small, leaf-strewn, fairly shallow streams (under a foot in depth). They shelter among the leaves and among submerged vegetation. In nature, the pH can be as low as 4.5 with zero hardness, so at the very least, they should be kept in tanks with under 7.0 pH and quite soft. Mine were kept at pH 6.5, GH 2 at 77 degrees.
In those streams are found several species of schooling tetras, so they are the very best tankmates for these fish. Other Cichlids are out, and considering the looks these fish possess, you won't miss those other Cichlids. Things like Corydoras catfish are OK, as are small Loricariads. Tankmates MUST be mild.
Adult males have a nearly green back and silver-white ventral region. A golden line edged by electric green ones runs from the gills to the caudal peduncle. Five black checks are spaced along the line, and five more are above it, earning the common name. The dorsal is gorgeous and flowing, with metallic green on top, and a mix of greens and reds below. Anal and ventral fins are edged in iridescent blue and have red rays, the lyre tail is spotted with red and green, and the top and bottom rays of the tail can be blue or green, depending how the light hits. Electric red and green stripes mark the head, and the eye is red and green as well. She's not quite as brilliant as her mate, and is about a half-inch smaller, but very attractive in her own way.
They are by far best kept in soft-water planted tanks with driftwood and stones, and one should buy at the very least six youngsters to have any hope of a compatible pair. If you are very lucky you may have them breed in those tanks. Both male and female clean a leaf, usually one low in the tank, but as soon as the eggs are laid and fertilized, she chases him off. In a 75 gallon tank he can easily escape, because as long as he can be more than a foot away, she won't chase him. Keep them in a 20 and she'll kill him. Once in a while they'll chose a clean piece of driftwood to spawn on, but to my experience, that's rare. Floating plants over the swimming area are necessary if you want to see these little Cichlids all day.
The eggs hatch within three days, and she places the fry under the leaf, where they hang by their heads. It will take them about 48 hours to consume their egg sacks and become free swimming. First food must be Rotifers, as baby brine shrimp will be too large for at least a week. The fry aren't difficult to raise once they reach the BBS stage, but steal the fry from her one evening and raise them in a seasoned tank with sponge filter for maximum yield. After her first breeding, her ventral and anal fins, and lower body, turn red. Youngsters, properly kept, are more hardy and colorful than their parents.
Key to keeping and breeding these fishes is live food at least four times a week. Daphnia, scuds, live worms (California black, white, Grindal, small red), insect larvae like that of mosquitos, and wingless Dropsilia species fruit flies should all be on the menu. Frozen freshwater Mysis will be taken, and they like frozen bloodworms, but live food is the only way to maximum health and breeding. Several kinds of suitably-sized pelleted food can be part of the menu, but make sure at least one is plant-based.
If fed live food several times a week, both sexes will have fins spread beautifully if the water parameters are correct. Small meals given often (three to five times a day) are needed, and Checkerboard Cichlids attack food in short dashes, sort of like puffer fish do. You can expect 3 to 5 years with this species.
One of my personal favorites and a very lovely, charming fish.
One of the standards in the hobby for many, many decades is the Keyhole Cichlid, Cleithracara maronii, of the Orinoco drainage and other small waterways in Guyana.
Topping out a shade over four inches, Keyholes are a sort of creamy yellow-brown, and a dark band bisects the eye. In males, the ventral, anal, dorsal and tail fin can be edged in bright blue. A rather oval-shaped fish, the 'key' below the dorsal fin that earns the common name is only partially visible. It's sometimes a pale outline, sometimes gone all together, sometimes an irregular black blotch. Only when breeding is it strong and dark and looks like a keyhole. She is of a similar size and color of her mate; it's only the colors (green and blue edging) and size of the male's fins that makes the sexes of adults easy to tell.
A totally peaceful fish, and won't bother any fish too large to eat. Do yourself a favor and buy a bunch, as a colony of these fish in a suitable-sized aquarium, say a 75 gallon and up, is a very attractive display. Get at least six, with eight being better, so they can pair up naturally. Buying just a pair is a crap shoot, as they often find one or the other unsuitable and bully it to death. But even when breeding, which they commonly do when mature, they are relatively mild. Both defend the spawn, which is usually placed on a flat rock, but rely on bulk and short chases to deter interlopers. In a good-sized tank, other fish usually just leave them alone. Keep them in tanks at least 75 gallons, or just for lack of space, all the fish will be pushed to one end of the tank by the male, and he'll keep them there. And considering the parents will care for their children for up to six months, you can see the difficulty of keeping them in smaller tanks.
They are at their best in the large planted tank with driftwood and stones. This is one Cichlid that is much more secure the more caves and hiding places you construct in their tank. They prefer their water neutral to slightly acid with under gH 10 in hardness. Temperatures are 75 to 80, with 77 optimal. Make sure they have enough front swimming room, as they like to forage in the open.
Tankmates should be equally mild. Tetras, Cory cats and other calm, mild fishes are the rule. As I like to stay in continents, I'd keep them with other South Americans from their region, but it's your choice, as long as they are passive fishes.
Keyholes will eat what you give them, but take my word for it and feed them live food three or four times a week. They'll eat flakes, but pelleted food is superior. They like the usual aquatic worm, small crustacean and insect larvae thing and frozen is fine, but spice things up with live food and Keyholes will reward you with stronger colors and lustier spawns. Small meals often is far better than one large a day.
Keyholes aren't as common in shops as they used to be, for some reason, so if you see them, grab as many as you can safely house. They are usually inexpensive, which is amazing considering how charming they are.
Called Flag Cichlid in shops is Laetacara curviceps, which hails from leaf-strewn forest streams and swampy areas off the Amazon River in Brazil.
One of the most charming of the dwarves, Flag Cichlids top out at 3 inches. They are very variable in coloration according to their mood, but usually a dark line trails behind the orange eye of the fish. Body color can be blue-green and white, with or without thin horizontal stripes, or can be orange with or without the stripes. Fins can be yellow, greens, reds or all three. When breeding, the males especially can be a mix of all those colors, and almost always with the stripes. He grows extensions on his dorsal, tail and anal fin with maturity.
In any guise, curviceps is always an attractive fish. Completely peaceful, but shy, and is likely to blush unseen in the soft water highly-lit planted tanks you should keep them in. Floating plants and a very dark, soft substrate and dark background will help a good deal with their security, and a good school of tetras will seal the deal and you'll see the little Cichlids all the time. Dark substrate and background really intensifies the colors of these fishes.
Filtering through peat moss tends to darken and soften the water, which these fish like. Curviceps does best in acidic, soft water, say pH 6.5 to 6.8, with a general hardness under 5, and live best in well-planted tanks. Covering the top of the substrate in the main swimming area with sunken Oak leaves is a very good idea, as that's their natural environment. A good deal of driftwood is essential, and rounded river cobbles strategically placed here and there will help males designate territories. Temperatures are 75 to 82 for this species.
In a decent-sized tank, say a 75 gallon, you can keep a group of these little charmers. Since they stay so small, a group of eight would not be too much, and they work out politics gently. It's only when breeding that aggression is shown, as the pair defends the perimeter of the spawning area ferociously. In a larger tank that's not a problem, as the mild tankmates you'll have to keep with them have no trouble staying out of their sphere.
Curviceps forms lifetime bonds with their mates. Slowly raising the water temperature to around 84 usually triggers spawning. You'll know spawning is imminent when both the male and female are deep and richly colored. If flat rocks are available they'll spawn on them, if not, they will select any solid surface, hence the river cobbles.
They clean the surface throughly, and she lays lines of amber eggs, moving aside after each for the male to fertilize them. She'll tend the eggs, and he'll dig shallow pits around the spawning site, then will patrol the perimeter, repelling any interloper.
Eggs hatch in three days at 82 degrees, and the fry are moved from pit to pit by the parents. The fry are free swimming in about a week, and since the species stays low in the tank, microworms (they can't swim and fall to the bottom) and Rotifers are the first foods, and it'll be another several days before they can take baby brine shrimp. When the fry have reached what the parents determine as an appropriate size, they will parade around the tank with them, shepherding them and guarding them at the same time. They are excellent parents, and will care for and protect them for months.
Buying just a pair is not a good idea, because if they don't get along, one will always die. Also, it's nearly impossible to sex young fish, so buying a group is the only chance you have of obtaining a compatible pair.
They are designed to forage among sunken leaves, so foods are obvious - aquatic worms, insect larvae and small crustaceans. Live food given several times a week will result in larger and healthier spawns. Frozen foods duplicating the natural diet are easily obtained, and culturing things like California black worms for them is easy and a very good idea. Two or three quality pellets, with at least one vegetation-based, should be part of the diet, with live and frozen the lion's share of the menu.
A fairly commonly available species, and a good one for neophyte fishkeepers with established planted tanks.
Called 'kribensis', a now defunct name, is Pelvicachromis pulcher, of the small up-water streams in Niger River delta.
'Pulcher' means pretty, and that they are. Males top out at four inches, females an inch less, and both are very attractive. He's a silvery white, with a dark line running nose to tail. The head has a golden cast, and finnage is extraordinary. Anal fin is blue, and ventrals blue and red. The top of the tail is yellow, usually with two or three ocellated spots. The dorsal appears to have hammered white gold on the top edge, and is large and flowing. She has the same body color, and though her fins aren't as highly colored and expansive, she has an attractive pink belly.
Though the Niger River delta has many different water parameters down it's length, ending in brackish and marine waters, 'kribs' are most commonly found in the soft and acidic small tributaries of that delta. Though most all available are commercially raised and thus adapted to various pH and hardness levels, to my experience they live and breed best, not to mention are the most colorful, in the soft water, acidic planted tank.
A planted tank with driftwood and stones and an open front swimming room is the best setup for kribs. Plants should be along the back and sides and suitably spaced for nooks and crannies for the fish to shelter in at night. Dark substrates and backgrounds really accentuate the colors of kribs.
Though they are peaceful, fish with flowing fins, like angelfish and goramies, will be nipped at. Kept with a school of decent-sized tetras, Cory cats and the like and Kribs are perfect citizens. They stay in the lower third of the tank, usually just a few inches above the substrate, that for best results, should be dark and soft, like one of the aquatic soils. Clean sunken leaves on the bottom are deeply enjoyed by these fish, as they like to pick up the edge and look under them for tidbits.
Easy to keep as the vast majority are captive bred, they prefer their temperatures between 75 and 77 degrees. Hardness shouldn't be over 10 degrees. Kept properly, life spans over five years aren't uncommon.
Kribs like to spawn in caves and under overhanging driftwood, so make sure they are the only cave-dwelling species in the tank, as they don't like to share, and can get darn right nasty against things like loaches and some Loricariads that prefer to shelter in caves. Both sexes do a sort of shimmying dance, with the female starting it. If the male matches the dance, they usually spawn within the hour. She guards the eggs and fry while the male patrols the perimeter. It's best to keep Kribs in larger tanks; over 55 gallons in size, as the pair is quite protective of their spawn, to their tankmates' cost. Larger the tank the less trouble a spawning pair of Kribs are. The more caves built-into the layout the happier your group of Kribs will be.
Eggs hatch within three days, and the fry are free swimming within a day and a half. They can take baby brine shrimp right off, and mated pairs are usually excellent parents. Youngsters grow up to be much more colorful than their parents, as those available in shops are commercially bred.
Kribs are one of the standards in the hobby and though albino morphs are available, the natural form is far more colorful. Kribs are recommended for established planted aquariums as a first dwarf Cichlid.
Endemic to the Mamorι and Guapore Rivers in Brazil and Bolivia is one of the most popular dwarf Cichlids in the hobby - Mikrogeophagus altispinosus, the Bolivian Ram.
A member of the Geophagan (Eartheater) family, Bolivian, sometimes called Blue, Rams, top out at 3 inches. The head of both sexes is yellow, and a dark line bisects the eye. The yellow gradually turns into a bluish-grey as you go down the body, and the fins. save for the clear pectorals, are edged in red, and are a nice, translucent green-blue. His dorsal, tail and anal fin develop long extensions in maturity. She has them too, just not as extensive. Ventrals are long and feeler like, and an attractive red and blue. Faint dark lines are usually visible on the back half of these fish. The 'blue' is when the male and female don their breeding colors. The yellow intensifies, and the blue-grey turns deep, iridescent blue.
Being part of the Eartheater clan, one should provide a soft, dark substrate, preferably one of the aquatic soils, as they tend to sift through the substrate for tidbits like all Geophagans do.
They do best in the soft, slightly acidic waters of the well-planted tank, equipped with driftwood and stones. PH should never exceed 7.2, with 6.5 to 6.8 best. The water must be soft, say gH 5 or less, for best results with these fishes. Floating plants should be used to filter the light over the main swimming area, as Bolivian Rams eschew bright lights. Temperatures are 75 to 80 degrees, and they must have stability. Though Blue Rams are generally hardy, they will not tolerate inappropriate water conditions like high Nitrate, so regular partial water changes and general maintenance are the rule. They are not fish for the new or in flux tank. Properly kept, it's not uncommon to get five years out of these Rams.
Blue Rams are true omnivores, and will take things like defrosted peas and live Daphnia magna with equal vigor. Thus, a diet including live foods like California black worms, and fresh vegetables like peeled and cored apples, mashed spinach leaves, and the like, and frozen aquatic worm, insect larvae and small crustaceans, should be the diet for these fishes. They will take pelleted foods happily, but make sure they are of the best quality. Prepared foods should be no more than half of the diet.
It's best to buy at the very least six young Rams, and let them choose their mate naturally. Buying just a pair is inadvisable, as they often don't get along, and one will almost always suddenly die. With such a small adult size, it isn't difficult to have a colony of these Rams in a larger tank. I once had a colony of over 30 Blue Rams in a planted 200 gallon, and the dynamic between them is fascinating to watch.
Blue Rams aren't shy, and occasionally appear aggressive, but it's all show. Kept with a large school of tetras, Blue Rams are very passive. They should be the only Cichlid species in the tank for best results. Tankmates must be mild, and a good school of tetras, like Cardinals, are perfect.
A compatible pair is mated for life, and kept in the proper aquarium, they commonly breed, and they are usually excellent parents. He dances for her favor with much shaking and fin-flaring when he detects she's ready, and they usually spawn on rounded or flat rocks. Both sexes clean the stone, and she lays a line of brown-amber eggs, and he follows to fertilize them. Usual spawns are around 250 to 300 eggs. For reasons known only to the female, she often puts substrate on the eggs. The male patrols the perimeter and will briefly chase off interlopers.
The eggs take about three days to hatch, and the parents move the larvae to pits they've dug, and move them from pit to pit every day. It usually takes about a week for the fry to become free swimming, and they surround their parents in a cloud. They can take Rotifers, which are about half the size of baby brine shrimp, right off, and you can start trying the BBS a day or two later. The parents will guard the fry for at least three months.
Native to the Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea is Benitochromis nigrodorsalis, one of the more unusual West Africans available in the hobby.
Found in small, clear-water creeks and smaller rivers in South Cameroon and E. Guinea, B. nigrodorsalis is one of the less common dwarf Cichlids in the hobby, and one of the most unique. Unlike all the other fish in the list, nigrodorsalis are mouthbrooders, and both sexes share the duty. And in this species, it is the female that is the more colorful, though when breeding the male develops a very attractive depth of color. Topping out at 4.75 inches, these fish are also quite peaceful once pairs are established.
The only aggressiveness this species possesses is to others of its kind. Thus, when purchasing these fish, it's advisable to purchase a group of around eight individuals, and it's impossible to determine sexes at that point. When small, nigrodorsalis get along fine, but when maturity starts, squabbles erupt until pairs are established. Those not in pairs should be removed. Pairs bond for life.
Mature examples are quite attractive. Both sexes are a sort of mossy green, lightening to a pinkish color towards the bottom of the fish. The dorsal fin is deep black between the rays, earning the species name (means black dorsal), and the top appears painted with bright white enamel. The tail fin is dusted with the white on the top. She has more of the white, a pinker belly than the male, and a pink edge above the white in the dorsal. She is much more deeply dark green colored than the male. Ventral fins on both are pink and green and quite long. Both sexes have the typical large mouths of the mouth brooders.
B. nigrodorsalis prefers moderately soft water, say gH 5 to 8, bright neutral to very slightly alkaline water, and temperatures in the mid-70s. I kept mine at pH 6.9, gH 6, and 77 degrees and they lived for nearly nine years.
They are very secretive about spawning, so if you wish to keep these fish, place a few flat and rounded rocks toward the back of their tank. You can, and should, keep them in planted tanks with driftwood as they like the security and cover they afford. The substrate and background should be dark, the darker the better, as this species washes out over light-colored gravel. Aquatic soils are perfect for this species, as it duplicates the soft creek bottoms they come from.
Tankmates can include a good school of larger tetras, like Lemon Tetra-size and other mild fishes, as these dwarf Cichlids keep to themselves and ignore other fishes.
When spawning, both the male and female clean the chosen spawning site. She lays a line of dark amber eggs, he follows to fertilize, and the process is repeated until roughly 100 eggs are laid. To my experience the female picks them up first and the male guards her, but if there are more than she can handle he picks up the rest. If not, they switch the eggs and fry back and forth nearly daily. The eggs hatched in three days, and the parents kept mouth brooding the fry for more than six weeks until the fry were too large to get in. I fed the fry baby brine shrimp and microworms when the parents let them out to eat, moving to larger foods as they grew. The parents hover right over the foraging fry. Parents form nuclear families with their youngsters.
Nigrodorsalis adores live worms, and they grow large enough to eat small red worms. Small live shrimp were a favorite, and they can crunch up things like mayfly larvae like nobody else. They are quite good eaters, and will take what you give them, but occasional live food will get you better colors and a stronger possibility of a spawn. They will happily take meaty and vegetative frozen foods. Prepared foods should be top quality for best results.
A lovely fish and one of my personal favorites. They aren't difficult to find if you look around, and usually run 8 to 12 dollars each retail in the US.
Called Red-Breasted Cichlid is Laetacara dorsigerus, our next dwarf, a native of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
Occasionally sold under the name as 'Smiling Acara' due to a marking near the mouth, dorsigerus hails from swampy areas near the Amazon and major tributaries. Vegetative decay means their native waters are dark, very soft, with near zero hardness, and acid - pH 6.0, thus the prospective keeper must provide conditions as close as possible to native conditions. Filtering through peat moss and using commercial black water extracts is all but essential. Dorsigerus isn't delicate, but does so much better and is so much more colorful in the soft and acidic conditions.They prefer temps in the mid 70's, though for breeding it should be raised to 79 or so. About 77 degrees is good for general maintenance.
Topping out at three inches for the males and perhaps a half-inch less for the females, dorsigerus has a cream colored body, starting out with a yellow near the head moving to a pinkish color. The fan-shaped tail usually has a red edge, and pink runs from the lower jaw to the anal fin. The ventrals are deep red with green first rays, the anal large, speckled green and edged with black and the dorsal is green and spotted green on it's back half. The dorsal is edged with pale yellow, but sometimes the yellow is quite intense. She's nearly the equal of her mate in looks.
A dark line trails from the large eye and the top of the fish is a very dark green. An all together lovely fish in health. When small they are relatively colorless, so are usually fairly inexpensive. It takes maturity to develop the colors these fish are known for.
A group of these little Cichlids are perfect for the planted 75 gallon equipped with driftwood and stones, as long as the hardness level isn't over 5 and the pH is at least slightly acidic. They are completely peaceful, and even quite mild for a Cichlid when breeding. A group of six or eight will give you a chance for a compatible pair, and if your tank is large enough (over 90 gallons) a colony of these fish will enable the keeper to see the dynamic of this species as they exist in nature. Take my word for it, a good-sized group of Red-Breasted Cichlids is almost hypnotizing to watch. Floating plants over the main swimming area are very helpful if you want to see these fish during the day.
They are easily fed, and adore live and and frozen worms. Small crustaceans like Daphnia are eagerly taken, and frozen black mosquito larvae went down a storm. They should be fed both meaty and vegetative pellets, but the live and frozen will enable you to see top color and vivacity.
When breeding they are nothing short of brilliant. Both the male and female develop a deep red-orange running from the lower jaw over the breast bone and narrows as it runs along the base of the fish. The male has much deeper red, and it spreads up to the pectoral fins, where it narrows and runs all the way to the tail. Both sexes sport a deep black line from the eye to the base of the tail, and above it a luminescent yellow. The flanks of both fishes have iridescent blue on each scale on a dark ground, and the fins of both the male and female are marked with green, orange and, in the case of the ventral fins, blue.
They are firm surface spawners, and are quite secretive about it, usually spawning on rounded rock in the back of the tank. Usually a keeper doesn't know a spawning has occurred until they see the fry around their parents. The fry are quite small, and Rotifers are the essential first foods. It'll be about a week before they can take baby brine shrimp. Excellent parents, the pair will guard and care for their fry until they grow enough to fend for themselves and wander off.
One of my favorite dwarf Cichlids.
Well-worth seeking out for those looking for something different is Thysochromis ansorgii, a native of the forest streams in Nigeria and southern Ghana.
Relatively colorless than young, ansorgii is perhaps the easiest dwarf Cichlid to sex, as she has a white-silver mark around her vent. Totally peaceful, it's when they grow up that colors present themselves. Called Five or Six-Spot Cichlid in the trade, males grow up to sport rich green on the top of the body, a silver-white middle, and a blue-green lower body. Six oblong black marks start on the gill plate, which is occelated with orange, and end at the base of the tale. All fins, including the pectorals, are turquoise blue with green spots. The eye is large and yellow-gold. Females have the same spots, but are a rather creamy color and her fins are very pale blue. This species grow to 4.5 inches.
T. ansorgii is native to small creeks and rivers, some clear water and some black water. Thus, it is somewhat adaptable as to pH and hardness. In black water habitats, the average pH is 6.5 and general hardness is in the 2s. Clear-water creeks are pH 7.4 and gH about 10. In either clime, they prefer temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees, with 77 optimal for general maintenance. In general, a quite easy species to keep.
In the years I kept this species, they seemed most at ease and colorful in the fairly soft and acidic planted tank. They really enjoyed sheltering under arched driftwood when they took their afternoon siesta. The only time they tear out plants is when they are too close to their chosen spawning area. Otherwise, they like to shelter among plants at night.
One should buy six or eight youngsters to have a chance for a compatible pair. Pairs mate for life, and this species can live for seven or eight years properly kept.
Tank mates can be schooling tetras. As this species likes to stay near the bottom, they will usually chase off benthic fishes like Corydoras. Tetras and the like are ignored.
They are both cave and open-area spawners. Sometimes they spawned in the cave, on it, under the leaf of large sword plants, on the back of driftwood and once in the very back corner of the tank. It always took between three and four days for the eggs to hatch, and the female cares for the eggs and fry as the male patrols the parameter. Only when breeding can this species be described as aggressive as they will defend the spawning area with vigor. Thus, a larger tank; 55 gallons and up, is the best idea with these fishes
The fry consume their egg sacs in about a day, and can take baby brine shrimp right off. They aren't difficult to raise.
Ansorgii are true omnivores, and will even gnaw at fresh green algae if it's in their tank. A diet with equal parts vegetable and meaty foods will result in best color and health of these fishes. They like small, bite-sized bits, so frozen Mysis, aquatic worms and mosquito larvae should be part of the diet. Smaller-grade high quality pelleted foods can be staple, with two out of three being vegetable-based. A frozen food designed for herbivores will help address the vegetable needs. They will even eat tiny bits of peeled apple or pear if given them.
Not at all difficult to keep and breed, and quite attractive to boot when mature.
A perfect dwarf Cichlid for someone who wants something a little different in their tank.
Gradually supplanting Rams as the Dwarf Cichlid to have, is Apistogramma cacatuoides, the Cockatoo Cichlid of small tributaries of the Amazon basin in Peru and Brazil.
Cockatoos are perhaps the easiest Apistogramma to keep, as it's been in the hobby long enough that the vast majority are captive bred. And that captive breeding has resulted in many attractive color morphs in finnage of the males. Common are double and triple-red, and double and triple orange. Naturally, they rather yellow-orange, and the ventrals are iridescent blue.
Topping out at 3.5 inches for the male, and two inches for the female, he can be one of the most stunning of the dwarfs. The first and back few rays of the long, high dorsal fin are extended nearly 3/4 of an inch, making the dorsal appear saddle-like. The top and bottom rays of the tail fin develop long extension, the anal fin is long and pointed and the ventrals are long and feeler-like. The colors of these fins depends greatly on the particular color morph. The body is usually a blue-ish beige, and a black line runs through the eye to the base of the tail. The female has the dark line, and her fins are much smaller. She is relatively colorless unless breeding, when she turns a bright, rich yellow.
Best tank for these fish is the soft-water, thickly planted aquarium with driftwood and stones. Though they will occasionally breed in moderately hard, slightly alkaline waters, they live and breed best in soft water with a general hardness under five and a pH 6.5 to 6.8. Temperatures in the mid to upper 70's suits them very well.
One of the most stunning display is a dozen of these fish in a well-planted 75 gallon. If caves are built into their layout, each male will claim one, and try to entice females to breed with them. Small squabbles exist between males for choice caves, so make sure there are two or three caves to each male fish. It's best to point the caves with the mouths in different directions, as that will minimize squabbles. In such a group the males will display incredible color as they constantly try to attract mates. You'll want at least three females to each male.
Sunken Oak leaves give the soft and tannin-stained water that these fish very much enjoy. The substrate should be soft, like aquatic soils, as they like to forage among, and sometimes bury under, the leaves. Filtering through peat moss is helpful, and with the leaves and the peat, the males will be almost luminescent in colors. The aquarium should be mature and well-established, as though Cockatoos are hardy, they often fail in tanks with more than a few ppm of Nitrate. Like all dwarf Cichlid in the list, stability is the name of the game.
Cockatoos are easily fed, but live and frozen foods of aquatic worms, crustaceans and insect larvae will garner best results. Two or three small pelleted foods, with at least one vegetative-based, can complete the diet. Live food especially, like white and Grindal worms, and Daphnia, will make your Cockatoos real showpieces. Properly kept and fed, it's not a all unusual for them to live over five years.
Tankmates can, and should be, a good school of tetras. A group of three dozen Cardinal tetras in a 75 with the Cockatoos haunting the bottom realm is a picture few will forget. Corydoras group is OK, as are smaller Loricariads.
Cockatoos breed both in a cave, and out of it. Mine liked to spawn under overhanging driftwood. Wherever the site, Cockatoos like privacy when spawning. The males do a fin and gill-flaring dance in front of a prospective female, and if she turns yellow, they usually mate within the hours. Eggs hatch in two days at 77 degrees, and are free swimming within a day. The fry will take Rotifers and soon BBS. You'll want to take the fry away from the parents after a month, as both the female and male will view the fry as rivals, and attack them. The fry are easily raised, but though the parents may be of the 'triple-red' variety, the fry probably won't. The males' fins can be all different colors, each as individual as a finger-print. Any color, Cockatoo males are quite attractive.
Only aggressiveness shown is in breeding, and since they tend to hide the spawn, in a decent-sized tank (75 gallon and up), the aggressiveness doesn't matter. Otherwise, a very peaceful fish.
Perhaps the first Apistogramma to reach the American hobby is Apistogramma agassizii Agassiz's Dwarf Cichlid of small, leaf-strewn creeks in of the Amazon region in Bolivia and Brazil.
First appearing in aquarium books in 1950, though perhaps not as flamboyant and varied as the above species, Agassiz's Dwarf Cichlid (ADC) is one of the most attractive gems of the Apistogramma clan. Males, which reach 3.5 inches, are naturally red; red on the upper body and usually red on the caudal fin, which narrows to a point. The forehead is yellow, and bellow the red on the back is a deep green, that borders a black line that runs from the nose of the fish to the base of the tail. The ventral area is usually a rich yellow. Ventral fins are blue, and the anal and dorsal fins are marked with green and blue. Males possess all the color. Females, which are about an inch smaller, have the dark line but are just a moderately deep yellow color overall. Her fins are basically colorless, and her tail fin is rounded.
There are different color varieties based on where the fish were caught. They are commercially bred, and there are some color variations by selective breeding, but as it's so stunning in it's natural self, it's a moot point.
ADCs exist in a harem form, that is, one male to a number of females. Obviously, the most colorful male gets the girls, so in a large tank, males can vie for the females' favors with deep displays of their colors. A male will mate with all females in his harem, and each of them can have a cloud of fry around them, and the females do all the husbandry work.
They are cave spawners, so a tank designed to keep them should have several of them, all pointed in different directions. Eggs hatch in three days, and are free swimming in about a week. Rotifers are the first food, as baby brine shrimp are too large for the fry for some days. Average spawns are about 150 eggs.
ADCs are perfect for the large planted aquarium with driftwood and stones. They basically must have acidic, soft water. A pH under 7.0 and a general hardness under 5 is the key to keeping these fish long term. They prefer temperatures around 77 to 82 degrees. In water not very soft and acidic, the eggs almost always fungus, so for best results, keep them in the soft and acid planted tanks. Stability is particularly important with this species, as they do not tolerate Nitrate over 5 ppm. As always, stability is the name of the game.
You can tell the sexes when small by the male's pointed tail, so get one male to four or five females. As they are a small fish, in a larger tank, you can have as many males with their harem as you can safely house, but keep in mind a male's harem occupies at least a square foot.
In feeding they are very eager toward live and frozen insect larvae, small crustaceans and aquatic worms. Pelleted foods are at first shyly, then avidly, eaten. More live and frozen nets best results.
A lovely little Cichlid, and although less common in shops than they once were, are well worth dedicating tank space to.
There are many kinds of dwarf Cichlid available to the hobbyist, and this list is just a small smattering of them. I encourage you to do your research on your prospective dwarf Cichlid.
Nice Write up Dave!!!!!!!!!
Should be a sticky.
That was amazing!! thanks for the write up!!
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