South American dwarf cichlids
If you want to keep dwarf cichlids from South America, you can have your pick from the genera Apistogramma, Apistogrammoides, Crenicara, Microgeophagus and Nannacara. Some aquarists also consider the smallest members of the genus Aequidens part of this group since they do not exceed 10 cm (4 inches) in length as adults.
Even though dwarf cichlids are small, a comparatively large aquarium is recommended since a bigger aquarium will make it easier for you to keep the water quality up. South American dwarf cichlids are very sensitive to organic waste, so if you go for a small aquarium you must install vigorous filtration and carry out water changes several times a week. A larger aquarium will also make it possible for each fish to stake out its own territory where it can feel at rest. A 60 cm x 60 cm aquarium is therefore recommended. If you have a single male and a few females wish to give them a separate breeding aquarium, 45 cm x 45 cm is large enough. If go for a big 60 cm x 90 cm aquarium you can keep three males and over a dozen females together without problem, and this will allow you to witness more interesting territorial rituals and displays. A female dwarf cichlid can for instance establish her own territory between two males and spawn with each of them as the other one is looking away.
It is important to provide your fish with plenty of borders and sheltered spots in the aquarium. You can for instance use driftwood, rocks, caves and plants. Dwarf cichlids kept in barren aquariums will become very shy, whilst dwarf cichlids housed in aquariums with plenty of hiding spots will end up spending very little time hiding. If you provide suitable hiding spots close to the bottom, in mid-water and near the top, you will have dwarf cichlids occupying all parts of the aquarium. Avoid materials that can make the water harder and less acidic. Heavy objects must be placed directly on the aquarium glass since these dwarf cichlids are fond of digging. Floated plants and plants anchored to rocks and wood are easier to keep than planted plants, due to the digging nature of the dwarf cichlids. Floating plants are also appreciated by the cichlids since they will dim the light.
The water should be as soft as possible and never allowed to go above 5 DH of General hardness (90 ppm GH) or 3 DH of Carbonate hardness (55 ppm KH). The pH-value should be kept in the pH 6.0-7.5 range and the recommended water temperature is around 26 degrees C. The levels of ammonia and nitrite should be non-detectable and the amount of nitrate must also be kept really low. Small and frequent water changes are better than large ones, since dwarf cichlids do not handle change well. Changing 5-10% of the water every other day is ideal.
Use a high-quality flake food as a base and supplement with brine shrimp, bloodworms and other types of meaty foods. Dwarf cichlids needs a certain amount of vegetable matter in their diet so regular feedings of vegetable based flake food and/or boiled peas are recommended.
Breeding South American dwarf cichlids
Preparations and coaxing
Keeping your cichlids in a suitable environment and making sure that they are healthy and well fed is essential if you want them to breed. If you need to coax them, you can increase the temperature by a few degrees and simultaneously carry out a water change.
If your dwarf cichlids still refrain from breeding, you can try to mimic a dry season and following wet season. Decrease the aquarium maintenance work down to a bare minimum and offer your fish food no more frequent than every two days for 6 weeks. After six weeks you should start feeding your fish plenty of food three times a day for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks you should perform a 50% water change and increase the water temperature by a few degrees. During the following week, 10% of the water should be changed every day. Keep feeding a lot and very frequent. At the end of the week, perform a 25% water change. This will trigger most South American dwarf cichlids to breed.
When you have eggs in your aquarium, you have to decide whether to leave them with the parents of move them to a separate aquarium. The parents will normally guard their offspring and do not eat their own eggs or fry, but large tank mates can be too much for them to handle. Removing big and hungry tank mates is naturally also an option in this situation. During the first few spawnings the mother might eat the eggs but she usually gets it right if she is allowed to continue spawning. Leaving the eggs with the parents is the easiest way of raising them since the eggs must be fanned with fresh water constantly to develop. The parents will also remove infertile eggs and dirt, and prevent fungi and bacteria from attacking the batch.
It is important to keep the pH-value low and the water really soft. Hard water that is not soft enough will prevent the eggs from developing and they will soon be covered in fungus. Most dwarf cichlid species produce eggs that need a pH-value of 5.5 to 6.5 and a water hardness below 2 KH.
Most species produce fry that are large enough to eat microworms and newly hatched brine shrimp as their first food. You have to devote your self to keeping the water quality up when raising fry, because they are extremely vulnerable to nitrogenous waste. Avoid large water changes, because fluctuations in water chemistry and/or temperature can harm the fry. When the fry are a few weeks old you can start feeding them powdered flake food, mosquito larvae, white worms, etcetera.
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