Feeding Lake Tanganyika cichlids
Throughout millions of years, the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika has evolved and adapted themselves to the myriad of different feeding niches that exists throughout the lake. A majority of the species displays a high level of specialization and perfectly fits a certain niche. This is important to consider when you keep Tanganyika cichlids in captivity.
If you encounter a problem in the aquarium, e.g. premature fish death, unwillingness to spawn or an unusually slow growth rate, it may be because you do not allow your fish to carry out their normal feeding behaviours and stick to a diet to which their bodies are adapted. Always research the species you are keeping to find out how you can accommodate them and which type of diet that will keep them happy and healthy in the long run. The fact that a fish accepts a certain diet does not mean that it is healthy for it. There are many humans throughout the world who accept a diet consisting solely of greasy food, cookies and sodas.
In this article, we will describe some of the feeding niches to which Lake Tanganyika cichlids can belong.
Macro-carnivores primarily attack other fishes. It is common for macro-carnivore Tanganyika cichlids to eat virtually any fish small enough to fit into their mouth. This must naturally be kept in mind when you select their tank mates.
Scale rippers are a highly specialized type of carnivore Tanganyika cichlids that will never attempt to swallow a fish whole. They feed by ripping scales from other fishes and digest skin, flesh and mucus from it. Scale rippers can also stay close to open wounds and feed from them. Due to this particular feeding habit, scale ripping cichlids can cause problems for other fish in the aquarium.
Carnivorous biocover peckers can be confused with algae eating species since they will spend most of their time browsing through the thick algal carpet found in Lake Tanganyika. The truth is however that they feed on tiny crustaceans and other types of “bugs” that they find among the algae. They are therefore carnivores, not algae eaters, and must be provided with a carnivore diet in the aquarium.
Carnivorous zoobiocover peckers are similar to carnivorous biocover peckers, but instead of searching for food in the algal carpet, carnivorous biocover peckers will seek out crustaceans and larvae from the tiny crannies found on the surface of rocks.
Carnivorous zooplankton pickers feed on zooplankton that they find at ground level or in mid-water.
Bivalve shell crushers have specialized jaws that allow them to crush the shells of small bivalve molluscs.
Sand shifters feed by scooping up mouthfuls of sand and sifting it through the gills. Crustaceans and other small animals hiding in the sand will get trapped and devoured. You can recognize sand shifters on their forward slanted teeth.
Diatom feeders seek out decaying organic matter, since such organic matter attracts diatoms and shrimps. Diatom feeders are commonly found at the lake floor and can dive deep down, provided of course that there is enough oxygen for fish to survive.
Insectivorous fishes are a type of carnivores, but they are commonly placed in their own category. In Lake Tanganyika, insectivore fish can be seen close to the waters edge where they feed on insects and insect larvae. Some eat only on insects that have fallen into the water, while others are vigorous jumpers and can catch insects far above the surface. Many insect species place their eggs in the water and the larvae will therefore be aquatic; an easy snack for insectivore cichlids.
Aquatic plant browsers feed on the plants of Lake Tanganyika.
Herbivore rock grazers feed on the vegetal carpet of biocover that grows on the rocks in Lake Tanganyika. Providing them with a 100% herbivore diet in the aquarium is however not a good idea. In the wild, herbivore rock grazers will always ingest small amounts of tiny animals that hide inside the carpet. In an aquarium without such animals, they can therefore develop nutritional deficiencies (especially protein deficiency) unless the aquarist makes sure that they are given occasional treats in the form of meaty food.
Phytoplankton pickers feed chiefly on drifting phytoplankton that they find in mid-water. Since phytoplankton carries out photosynthesis, phytoplankton pickers are in fact a type of herbivores, but planktivores are normally placed in their own category.
Scavengers can help you keep the aquarium clean by eating dead and decomposing matter. The scavenging cichlids of Lake Tanganyika feed mainly on dead or disabled fish. They can therefore be considered a type of carnivores, somewhat similar to the scale rippers, but scavengers will never attack a living fish unless it is already seriously injured or diseased and can therefore be combined with most fish species in the aquarium.
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