How to take care the snails in your tank

Snail Species

The most common variety of “pest” snail is the Ramshorn snail. Apple snails (Ampullaria sp), which can grow to the size of a small grapefruit, are often purposely introduced as part of the aquarium display, whilst Trumpet snails, with their characteristic “cornet” shaped shell, burrow through the gravel turning it over, introducing oxygen and preventing wastes from clogging it. Unlike their more common relatives the Ramshorn snail and Pond snail, the Trumpet snail does not harm plants and is often welcomed by the fish keeper as a sign of a healthy aquarium. The exception to this is the Wandering Snail (lymeaea ovata peregrai) which produces a poisonous substance that can cause convulsions in fish.

How do they get there?

Snails are usually accidentally introduced into aquariums when new plants are added; their jelly-like eggs are attached to the leaves of the aquatic plants.


Snails can be prevented from entering the tank on plants by bathing the plants in Potassium permanganate (available from pharmacists, use just enough crytals to turn the water pale pink), or a commercial snail killer for a few hours, although once introduced, snails can be removed from the aquarium by a number of means.

Note: Potassium permanganate is a strong oxidizer, and can cause burns to any area of contact. It is harmful if swallowed or inhaled.

Why do they stay?

Snails thrive in an aquarium environment because there is a regular food supply. Over-feeding is often a problem and if your snail population is increasing, you need to decrease the amount you feed. This will not harm your fish, as the increased snail population is a sign that you are already feeding more than necessary.

Are they beneficial?

Snails forage on left over food and graze on algae therefore a small colony should not be of concern. In fact, they are doing you a favour by eating excess food (and can be amusing to watch and even add to a more “natural” look in your aquarium!). Some species also help by burrowing through the substrate thus preventing compacting and dead spots and even to help dispose of dead fish. However, as with all living creatures, snails produce excreta and thus large colonies of snails can result in quickly deteriorating water quality. Some species do damage plants, and large numbers may look unsightly.

How to remove them

There are various methods of removing them, either ‘biologically’, physically or chemically.

If they are suited to the set-up, the best and most natural way is to add snail-eating fish. The best candidates are usually loaches. Clown loaches are one of the most popular snail eating fish, and usually do a good job. If your tank is not large enough for these (recommend 3ft minimum), the smaller Pakistan or Zebra loach may be more suitable. Certain catfish like ‘Dorids’ (talking catfish) or banjo catfish will also eat snails.

Even if physical removal daily can never completely wipe them out, this is a good way of keeping the population down. “Baiting” often works – if you place a slice of cucumber or lettuce in the tank at night (weighted down so that it stays on the substrate), the snails will congregate on it and then you can just pull them out of the tank with the cucumber slice. One way to avoid the fish eating the slice is to stick it inside a clean bottle, or beneath an inverted plate.

The use of any of the available chemical products is not generally recommended because anything that can kill a snail may also be harmful to your fish and plants. Adding chemicals to your tank is always a risky thing unless you know exactly what you are adding and exactly what the effects will be. Most of these snail-killing chemicals use high levels of copper. A result of this method is the massive die off of snails and the resulting decaying of their bodies. High ammonia levels are the most likely result of this method, so be sure to follow up the treatment with a partial water change. It may be wise to continue with at least 10% every other day for a week or more and make sure to check the filter often during this time – daily monitoring with an ammonia and nitrite test kit after such a treatment is also suggested.
Clearly it would be best to physically remove as many snails as possible before treating with a chemical killer. Order hotel in Manhattan online!

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Cichlids, for Dummies

If you have been following the “for Dummies” series the last few months you should now be pretty competent in keeping an assorted collection of common fishes alive and well in an attractively planted tank. Good for you. This is in itself a worthwhile endeavor, and you may well be happy to go no further in this hobby. But unfortunately, sooner or later you are going to come to the realization that your pretty little barbs are about as smart as a sack of hammers. That’s the problem with fish; they are colorful and interesting but they are too stupid to be real pets. Or at least your barbs are. Believe it or not, there is actually a group of fish that possess the basic intelligence required to recognize and respond to their owners. As well as the basic intelligence required to care for their young, rather than treat them as lunch, as do the lesser fishes. Furthermore, this group contains some of the most spectacularly colorful fish in the world. No wonder they are the most popular fish family in the aquarium hobby, with numerous local and international associations devoted to their care. These fish are, of course, the cichlids.

This article is intended to introduce the family Cichlidae to the novice, and (hopefully) spark enough interest that they will look into giving these fish a try. A good collection of cichlid books are in the CAS library and if you have Internet access, the Cichlid Home Page at provides a nice selection of color pictures and brief descriptions. I am sure you will find something you’ll like.

But first, the bad news. A lot of cichlids (pronounced SICK-lids) are pretty big as far as aquarium fish go, and they can be rough on each other and on your carefully tended plants. And not all of them possess their famous intelligence either (Lake Malawi cichlids are admittedly pretty dim). But remember, we are talking about a highly diverse family of hundreds of species distributed over much of Africa, South America, Central America, parts of Asia, and even parts of North America as well. So if one cichlid doesn’t strike your fancy, there are plenty that will.

For the purposes of aquarium culture, the cichlids can be broken up into several subgroups. The first group is the sissies. The most commonly kept cichlid, the angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare), is in this group. Then there are the dwarves; these include fish of the genus Apistogramma, the rams, and the kribs. Then there are the typical substrate-spawning cichlids, which include all the big bruisers from south of the border (and a lot of African species as well). Then there are the African rift lake cichlids. And the tilapias. And finally, the chromides, who are the oddballs of the group.

First the sissies. These have the great advantage that they will get along fine in a community aquarium and won’t even dig up your plants. I would highly recommend cutting your cichlid teeth on the angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare). Get at least six young specimens and watch them grow up into an elegant school. The other sissy I would recommend is the festivum (Mesonauta spp.). They get along well with angelfish, and are often found in their company in the wild. Both the angelfish and festivum are fairly hardy fish that will adapt well to any reasonable water chemistry. Keep these fish in tanks of at least 150 liters capacity. However, I am reluctant to recommend the other sissies, like the discus (Symphysodon aequifasciatus). Leave these fish for the experts; they are expensive, adapt slowly to local water conditions, and are very delicate.

The sissies, by definition, don’t really belong in a tank with most other cichlid species. However, the dwarves are an exception; they are too small to beat even the sissies up. The most commonly seen dwarf cichlid is the kribensis (or krib) (Pelvicachromis pulcher) of West Africa. It is also one of the most colorful and among the hardiest of all the cichlids. Don’t be fooled by the washed out juveniles in the store. Adult kribs in good condition are very colorful (especially the females) and great fun to watch.

Most of the other dwarf cichlid species you are likely to find for sale are from South America, and are mainly in the Apistogramma and Papiliochromis (= Mikrogeophagus) genera. You would be well advised (as a novice) to pass these fish over, at least for now. They are persnickety little critters. Tanks as small as 40 liters are fine for kribs and the other dwarf cichlids.

The group of typical substrate-spawning cichlids includes all of the more robust and active cichlids of South and Central America. Substrate-spawning cichlids lay and tend their eggs on rocks and other bottom surfaces. These fish have a tendency to dig up plants so if you want to keep plants with them, you will need to keep only well-rooted, tough plants; and protect their roots with a buried egg crate or screen.

This group includes the favorites of most cichlidiophiles. The reasons for this popularity are easy to understand: they are the most intelligent of the cichlids; they make the most devoted parents; many are very attractive; and not all of them are all that large or all that nasty either. Moderately sized, relatively peaceable cichlids include the smaller “acaras” (cichlids of the Laetacara genus). The “earth eaters” (cichlids in and related to the genera Geophagus and Satanoperca) are also quite calm fishes, and so they can be kept together without inevitable mayhem. The earth eaters include some of the loveliest South American cichlids as well, but they do get larger than the Laetacara species. Some other larger cichlids that are sedate enough that they can be kept with suitable tank mates are the severum (Heros severus) and the rainbow cichlid (Herotilapia multispinosa). The Laetacara species and the rainbow cichlid can be kept in 120-liter tanks, but the others really deserve much larger quarters.

One of the most popular cichlids is the oscar (Astronotus ocellatus). One couldn’t recommend keeping this fish with any other species unless it’s in a very large tank (more than 600 liters) and the other fish are just as large as they are. Oscars just get too big and boisterous for community living. Young oscars raised together will often get along fine as adults, but you really need to provide at least 150 liters of water per fish if you want to house oscars. Be that as it may, oscars are very smart, make great pets, and are well worth owning. The same can be said for any of the big South and Central American cichlids, such as those of the genus Nandopsis.

Most slightly smaller South and Central American species in the 15cm to 20cm range (such as the Cichlasoma species) can be kept together in largish tanks (200 liters or larger), perhaps with large characins or barbs for company. There will inevitably be some fights, especially if the fish decide to breed, but cichlids are resilient critters and can take care of themselves. Plants in a cichlid community tank have to be protected from digging and be generally pretty robust, like the Vallisneria species.

The African rift lake cichlids include fish from Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria (even though Lake Victoria is strictly speaking not a rift lake). Rift lake fish like alkaline water and are ideal for local conditions.

The 1000 species or more of Lake Malawi cichlids include some of the most beautiful fish in the world (fresh water or otherwise). All of them are maternal mouth brooders (that is, the mothers carry eggs and young in their mouths). But the problem with that is that mouth brooders lack the intelligence and personality that made cichlids famous. Its as if they don’t need brains because they don’t have to deal with the problems of keeping a school of growing fry together and safe in the open water. Oh well. Beauty and intelligence has always been a rare combination.

The Lake Malawi cichlids can be subdivided into three major groups; the mbuna (pronounced um-BOO-nuh), the open water non-piscivores, and the piscivores.

The mbuna are the rock-dwelling fish, and include the fish in the genera Pseudotropheus, Labeotropheus, Melanochromis, Labidochromis, Petrotilapia, and a few others. Some of the most colorful fish in the world are in this group. Both the female and the male mbuna may have brilliant colors, but the intensity of the color is always greatest in dominant males. As a group they are a pretty rowdy bunch and should really not be kept with fish that are not also in their group, the exception being some of the gentler Labidochromis who are comparatively quite passive. But some exceptionally aggressive mbuna (like Melanochromis auratus) are difficult to keep together at all.

Mbuna need a lot of vegetable matter in their diet (again with the exception of Labidochromis) and will eat soft-leafed plants. They also require lots of rockwork and caves in their tanks. It is well advised that you keep them fairly crowded because the weakest mbuna always gets killed if they are kept in very small groups. Most mbuna are only about 12cm long or so (Petrotilapia species are a bit bigger) so they can be kept in medium-sized tank. Twelve in a 150-liter tank or 18 in a 200-liter tank make a nice display. They are also ridiculously easy to breed; the only hard part is catching the egg-carrying mother in an aquarium full of rocks!

The open water non-predatory fishes eat mostly plankton or sand-living invertebrates in the wild, but will adapt quite well to regular aquarium foods. They are generally not as aggressive as the mbuna. They also include some very colorful fish, but in their case it is generally only the males that have any color. The genera Copadichromis and Cyrtocara are among the many in this group, and the peacocks (genus Aulonocara) can be considered along with them as well. Most of these fish can be kept together but the females of many species are impossible to tell apart, so its not a good idea to keep closely related fishes in the same tank. They also vary considerably in size (some are quite big) but 10 cm to 20 cm is a typical length for the commonly seen species. Most can be kept in 150-liter or larger tanks.

The Lake Malawi piscivores will make a meal of any fish that will fit in their mouths, and many will also bully the non-predatory fishes too large to be swallowed. Like the non-piscivores, the piscivores tend to have very drab females, but the males also have the drawback that most of them show their best colors only during spawning time. The glaring exception to this is the electric blue (Sciaenochromis fryeri), whose males maintain a dazzling royal blue throughout their adult lives. Most Malawi piscivores get too large (30 cm or so) for anything but a very big tank (> 400 liters), but the electric blue, at a length of 18cm, can be housed in smaller quarters.

Lake Tanganyika also has its rock dwellers. Most of the commonly-sold ones are smaller and more peaceable than Lake Malawi’s mbuna, but they also (unfortunately) are much more expensive and delicate. The Tanganyika rock dwellers include fishes in the Tropheus, Julidochromis, and Neolamprologus genera.

Most Lake Tanganyikan rock dwellers are substrate spawners (Tropheus, being aggressive mouth brooders, are an exception), and so they demonstrate the parental care and intelligence that make the South American cichlids so endearing. Neolamprologus brichardi is a particularly intriguing species because parent fish will raise new batches of young with the help of their earlier hatchlings, who hang around until they are old enough to find mates of their own. They can be kept in tanks as small as 40 liters, but can quickly overpopulate such a tank.

Other small Lake Tanganyika cichlids that are very suitable for small tanks are the shell dwellers. Most of these fish are also placed in the Neolamprologus genus along with N. brichardi, but the shell dwellers include mainly the smaller species of the genus, such as N. ocellatus. The shell dwellers are all wonderful little fish to keep. Set them up in a smallish tank with a fine sand bottom and lots of snail shells that are a couple of inches in diameter.

The kings of Lake Tanganyika are the fronts (Cyphotilapia frontosa); a big, lump-headed piscivore that has a surprisingly gentle disposition. They are highly sought after, and make very good community tank fish provided that their tank mates are too large to eat. They do however require big tanks (400 liters or greater).

The commonly encountered Lake Victoria cichlids are all medium sized, fast moving fish with colorful males and relatively drab females. Most are fairly aggressive. Almost all of them are gravely endangered because of the environmental degradation of Lake Victoria, and soon many of these cichlids will be found only in our aquaria. Maintaining these fish is therefore a worthy undertaking in species preservation. Their tanks should be 150 liters or greater in size. Single-species tanks are preferred with several females per male.

The tilapias form a large African group that generally doesn’t have much in the way of either smarts or colors (one exception being Tilapia buttikoferi). Most are pretty big and rather boring fish. You are more apt to see them for sale as table fare in Asian supermarkets than as pets.

Also from Africa are the African river-dwelling cichlids. The kribs are also among this group, but they were mentioned previously along with the dwarves. The two other African riverines that the novice is likely to encounter are the jewelfish (Hemichromis spp.) and the buffalo head (Steatocranus casuarius).

There are many species or subspecies of Hemichromis that are sold as jewel fish, and some of them are spectacularly colorful fish with metallic blue spangles on an orange-red background. All of them are however quite aggressive and require a large crowded aquarium to themselves.

Much more peaceable are the buffalo heads (Steatocranus casuarius). These fish are lacking in color (being a dirty grey/brown) but have endearing goby-like personalities and clown-like heads. They will stay near the bottom of the tank and can be kept in 80-liter or larger tanks if they have good filtration (buffalo heads like currents).

The oddballs of the cichlid world are the chromides. They are from India and are the only cichlids that come from East Asia, and the only commonly sold cichlids that are naturally found in brackish water. They are peaceable enough, and the orange chromide (Etroplus maculatus) is also quite colorful. Keep them with some salt in the water, perhaps along with scats, puffers, and archer fish. They are moderately sized, and can be kept in 80-liter or larger tanks.

So, that’s an introduction to pretty much all the cichlids that are commonly sold in local pet stores. The CAS has members with great expertise in cichlid care and many members breed them as well, so any novice with suitable tank space can easily get all the livestock and help required to set up a thriving display of these fascinating animals.


The World Wide Web provides a good place to identify fishes and keep you up to date on the latest scientific names and new discoveries. It is less good at providing information on the care of the fishes. Specific questions on cichlid care can be answered in the Usenet newsgroup rec.aquaria.freshwater.cichlids, but books and magazine articles provide much better coverage on issues of general aquarium maintenance.

But if you want help identifying a fish or want to see some pictures of what’s available, the following web sites are good places to start (both have links to other potentially useful sites).

The Cichlid Home Page by Eric Gracyalny provides a list of most cichlid genera and lots of species, many with color photographs. At

The Cichlid Room Companion by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas has articles, large listings of links to other cichlid related sites, and listings of cichlid clubs, and numerous other things. At

If you don’t have access to the Internet, the following three books provide much the same kind of pictorial introduction to common cichlids. All within the CAS library and all by Tetra Press are: A Fishkeeper’s Guide to Central American Cichlids by David Sands; A Fishkeeper’s Guide to South American Cichlids by Dr. Wayne Leibel; and A Fishkeeper’s Guide to African Cichlids by Dr. Paul Loiselle. These books are good, but are thin (about 80 pages each) and therefore not very comprehensive.

The Cichlid Aquarium provides a much more comprehensive discussion on cichlid culture. It is also by Dr. Paul Loiselle and the Tetra Press. A copy is in the CAS library. Although a very good book, I do disagree with some of its assertions. Dr. Loiselle advocates much lower fish densities than I do for mbuna and other aggressive fish. It is most peoples’ experience that these fishes should be kept relatively crowded and heavy water changes and filtration be used to compensate. Professional mobile game development services & solutions.

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Setup A Freshwater Aquarium

This is an 11 step guide to setting up a freshwater aquarium in your home.

Equipment you will need:

Aquarium gravel
Aquarium filter
Other decorations (such as plants)
Chemical test kits
Fish food
Aquarium vacuum
Fish net
Glass Scrubber
5-gallon bucket

1: Realize the responsibility involved.
A tropical fish tank is just like having a dog or a cat when it comes to the amount of effort on your part. In order to have a successful fish tank you will have to work at it. Once a week, or at most once every two weeks, you will need to perform some kind of maintenance on the tank. Most of the time you will be performing water changes. You will also have to feed your tropical fish at least once a day. If you are up to the challenge, please proceed!

2: Decide on an aquarium size.
It’s a good idea to have in mind what kind of tropical fish you want to keep before you purchase an aquarium. Some tropical fish only grow to be an inch or two, whereas other types of tropical fish can grow 12 or 13 inches in length! Knowing what kind of tropical fish you want will help you decide the size of the tank they will need. If this is your first time with an aquarium, I would recommend going with a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium for now.

3: Decide on the aquarium’s location.
Place your aquarium in an area where the light and temperature of the tank won’t be affected by external sources such as windows and heater vents. You will want to place your aquarium on a stand that will be able to hold its total weight. A good rule of thumb for determining the total weight of a full aquarium is 10 pounds per gallon of water. For example, a 55-gallon tank will weigh approximately 550 pounds when filled with water!

4: Buy your aquarium and equipment.
Now is the time to decide on the type of filtration you will want to use. You will also need to purchase a heater capable of heating the tank size you have. Buy the gravel, plants, a power strip and other decorations. A good rule of thumb for the amount of gravel that you will need is 1 to 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon of water.

5: Set up your aquarium and stand.
Wash out your tank with water only! Do not use soap or detergents. Soap residue left behind will be harmful for your tropical fish. If you are going to use an under gravel filter (not recommended) now would be the time to set it up as well.

6: Wash Gravel, plants and decorations.
Be sure to wash the gravel thoroughly before adding it to your tank. An easy way to do this is to put some of the rocks in a pasta strainer and wash them out in your bathtub. Then place the clean gravel in a clean 5-gallon bucket for transport to the aquarium. After adding the gravel you can place your plants and decorations.

7: Add water to the aquarium.
To avoid messing up your gravel and plants, you can place a plate or saucer in the middle of your aquarium and direct the water flow onto the plate. Use room temperature water when filling. To remove the chlorine and chloramine, use something like Tetra AquaSafe for Aquariums. Don’t completely fill up the aquarium until you are sure of the layout of your decorations. Otherwise, when you place your arm in to move stuff around water is going to spill over. Doh!

8: Set up equipment.
Install your heater but don’t plug it in until the thermostat in the heater has adjusted to the water temperature. This usually takes about 15 minutes or so. Hook up your filter and any other equipment you have, then top off the aquarium water to just under the hood lip. Place your hood and light on the aquarium and then check your power cords to be sure that they are free of water. I would also recommend using a drip loop on all of the power cords to be extra cautious. Plug all of the equipment into a power strip and then “turn on” the aquarium.

9. Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more.
I know, you want to add some tropical fish. But, in order to do this right you must wait until your aquarium has cycled before adding any fish. There are ways of speeding up this process. Check out the nitrogen cycle page to learn more. If you must use fish to cycle, try to get a hardier species like the zebra danio or cherry barb.

10. Add tropical fish.
Only add one or two fish at a time. Adding a couple tropical fish at a time gives your filtration system the time needed to take on the increased biological load that the new fish introduce. When you bring the fish home let the bag float in the tank for about 15 minutes so that the fish can become acclimated to the temperature and pH of the aquarium water. After 5 minutes of floating the bag you should add some of the aquarium water to the bag so that the fish can become acclimated to the pH level in the aquarium. This will help reduce the amount of stress imposed on the tropical fish. Stressed tropical fish often leads to dead tropical fish! Don’t feed your tropical fish on the first day. They probably wouldn’t eat any food on the first day anyway. Let them get acquainted with their new home.

11. Get ready for regular maintenance.
Be prepared to spend some time once every week or two to clean your tank. Performing regular water changes will reduce the nitrate levels and keep your tropical fish happy and healthy.

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What You Should Know About Feeding Your Tropical Fish

No matter what type of fish you have, whether it’s an anemone, coral or crustacean…they will fall into one of three types of feeder.

Carnivores. These types of feeders eat other fish. They are all either predators or scavengers. Predators like to hunt for their food, so they may be uninterested in what you’re feeding them, if they want to hunt instead. Once a predator has eaten, it may not feel the urge to eat again for a few days. Scavengers are more opportunistic, and usually prefer to eat the leftovers left by predators.

Herbivores. These types of feeders eat many marine plants and algae. To find their food, they spend their days moving around and grazing, picking up food whenever they can find it.

Omnivores. These types of fish are a mixture of the two above. They like to eat a combination of corals, crustaceans, invertebrates and also plants and algae.

It’s important to remember that when you put food in your tank, many of your fish will ignore it for a while first. Because they aren’t “fed” when they are in the ocean, they just aren’t accustomed to being served food. Some of your fish will eventually learn that you are giving them food, but many others won’t.

Herbivores and omnivores tend to adapt to being tank-fed quicker than other types of feeders. However, some breeds, Angels comes to mind, are used to finding their food on the ocean floor rather than free floating, so it will take a little long for them to understand.

How often should you feed your fish?

It’s a good idea to stick to feeding your fish just once a day, and to feed them no more than they can eat in one minute. To some people this may seem like not enough, but if your fish aren’t hurrying to eat up the food within a minute, they simply aren’t hungry enough to need feeding.

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Getting Started with Discus

You’ve been to every local fish store in your area. You’ve spent hours online looking at Discus galleries. You’ve started thinking of things you can sell to pay for the Discus fish and aquarium set up. You’ve put your couch in the garage to make room for the aquarium. It sounds like you’ve been bitten by the Discus bug. Now, how do you get started?

There are as many opinions on how to properly raise Discus as there are websites devoted to them. You will find debates over planted tank vs. bare bottom, tap water or RO, what to feed them, how often to change the water and how much, it goes on and on. These debates contribute to making Discus keeping fun or a real pain. It really depends on your likes and dislikes. If you enjoy the excitement and challenge of learning something new and are able to successfully translate many different opinions into “what works best for you”, then keeping Discus will be a fun rewarding undertaking which you can enjoy for years to come. With that being said, the following are some guidelines to what I’ve learned over the years and what works best for me in setting up a new Discus aquarium.

In choosing the tank, start with a minimum tank size of 50 gallons. Make sure you have a suitable place to set up your aquarium. You will want a very sturdy support for your tank which you will position in a location that doesn’t receive direct sunlight. The filtration system will be made up of two extra large sponge filters run by an air pump along with an external box filter such as an Aqua Clear properly rated for your tank size and containing a pre-filter sponge on the intake tube. You will need a heater with a ratio of 5watts/gallon, meaning a tank size of 50 gallons would require a 250 watt heater. The tank needs to be covered and there are hood options available when you purchase your tank. You will want one with a lighting strip as well as a cover for the tank. In a pinch you can always pick up a piece of Plexiglass from your local hardware store and cut it to fit. In order to keep the tank clean and maintained, you will need a siphon hose, a five gallon bucket and a clean utility sponge.

Preparing for Your Discus’ Arrival
You will want to have your aquarium cycled before adding your Discus. This means that the beneficial bacteria has been established in your filtration. There are many methods of cycling your tank so be sure to do your research and choose the option that fits for you. It is a very important step and is absolutely necessary. Putting your new Discus in a tank that hasn’t been cycled is a death sentence for the fish.

Buying Your Discus Fish
An absolute must is starting with healthy Discus. If you are lucky enough to have a reputable breeder in your area you are ahead of the game. If not, mail order is also an exciting option. There’s a real rush and excitement to having Discus delivered to your front door. Make sure to research any online vendor you may want to order from. There are some great breeders out there with a great selection. On the downside shipping usually runs from $50-$75 depending on the service. If mail order isn’t an option and you are left with your local fish store you’ll need to take some precautions and do your best to pick out healthy fish. If possible try to find a shop that specializes in higher end tropical fish and avoid chain stores. Find out what the shop’s quarantine and guarantee policies are. Ask them how long the Discus should be quarantined once you get them home. If their answer is “you don’t need to”, this is a major red flag. Ask questions to get a feel for how well they support and care for their product.

So, what does a healthy Discus look like? Here a some things to look for in the Discus you buy:
When you walk by the tank, the fish should be active and come up to greet you. Avoid fish that are dark, hiding or hanging behind uplift tubes. The water in the tank and the tank itself should look clear and clean. If there are dead fish in the tank keep walking. Now, (if you haven’t left the store) look at the fish, they should have a full body that doesn’t look sunken and is free of scrapes, bumps, visible injuries and or parasites. The body shape should have a nice round appearance void of bent, stubbed tails and flat foreheads. Check the skin and make sure it doesn’t have a dull, matte, or slimy look to it. The fins should look healthy and not have a cottony or milky appearance. The fins should be intact with no white specs or splits and not be clamped to the body. The Discus should be using both pectoral fins to move about. Watch for how the fish are breathing. An overly rapid gill rate or if the Discus looks to be gasping is a good sign of gill parasites. The fishes movement should be fluent and have no problem with balance. You don’t want to pick a fish that can’t hold itself level. The eyes of your Discus should have a healthy clean look to them. The eyes are a good indicator of how well it’s been taken care of. You will want a fish with small eyes compared to its body with a centered pupil. Big or bulging eyes are usually a sign of neglect. Ask to see the Discus eat. Be wary if they feed live blood worms or tubiflex worms. Watch to make sure the fish are able to easily get the food into their mouth. Avoid fish that continually miss the food that is right in front of them or don’t seem interested in eating. Most 2″-3″ Discus wont have full body color or pattern at this size.

Installing Your Discus
For the proposed 50 gallon setup you will want to purchase from six to ten, two – three inch juvenile Discus. Young Discus like the security of numbers. Make sure you follow standard acclimation procedures and that your tank is fully cycled as stated above. As your fish grow and mature a pecking order will develop. Eventually the smaller weaker Discus will need to be removed in order to keep a 10 gallon to 1 Discus rule. In order to provide an easy way to keep a clean environment for your new fish, use a bare aquarium. That means no gravel or plants. The bare bottom tank makes it easy to vacuum fish waste and wipe down the glass. If you’d like, you can add a ceramic pot or two to give your Discus an anchor to establish territories but the pots will need to be moved and wiped down with your water changes to ensure they aren’t trapping waste. Once a week you will want to clean your pre filter and every few weeks, your sponge and box filters, being careful to use de-chlorinated water as to not harm the beneficial bacteria. A good tip here is to syphon some tank water into your five gallon bucket and use that for your filter cleaning water.

Discus Water
Clean water is a crucial element in growing out your fish. You will want to match the water conditions as closely as possible to that of the source of your Discus. Daily changes of 50 to 60 percent is recommended and at least on an every other day schedule. You will want to provide new tap water that has been de-chlorinated and matches closely to the tank water in temperature at 84 degrees. Avoid using RO water for young Discus, they need the minerals of harder water to aid in there development. Once they have matured and if you’re interested in breeding them you can dabble with softening their water. If you have purchased Discus from different places you will need to keep them quarantined separately for 4 – 6 weeks. Don’t Cheat!

Feeding Your Discus
Your new Discus should greet you at the front of the tank with a voracious appetite. Happy healthy Discus are always hungry. You will want to break up their feedings over several times during the day adding up to six small feedings. Feed a variety of foods using quality brands of dry and frozen foods. A good tip is to feed dry foods which your fish may not like as much early when they’re hungry from their overnight fast. Feed messy or frozen foods later in the day closer to your water changes.

The Discus hobby is a great one. It has its ups and downs just like anything. If you enjoy not only the beauty of the fish but actually watching their behavior, growth and and interaction, Discus keeping will stick with you. There’s a lot to learn and this is just a small start. Make sure you do a lot of reading and ask lots of questions. Start with healthy Discus, keep their water and tank very clean, feed them well, and you’re sure to succeed! payday loans

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Tropical Fish And Aquariums

The hobby of aquarium keeping and tropic fish as pets is fairly recent in the Western World, and took a while to catch on. The keeping of fish in small indoor tanks was only seriously considered in the middle of the last century, when both in Britain and the rest of Europe a considerable interest in the subject developed…

At the beginning of the 1900’s aquarists around the world began to keep tropical fishes, and it was the “trend” of so doing that started a new wave of popular fish culture (keeping fish as pets)…

The older aquarists were obsessed with copying nature in their tanks—or rather with the attempt to try and copy nature—whereas the keepers of warm-water fishes had to experiment and create suitable environments for them…

Often they started only with the knowledge that the fish must be kept warm, and this in itself raised problems, including the death of favorite weeds and water snails at higher temperatures…

So the aquarium gradually came to be regarded as most of us
see it today, as a beautiful display, not a mirror held up to nature…

However, until the keeping of tropical fish, it seems that aquarists in general thought that the proper aim of an aquarium keeper was to reproduce a segment of nature…

They now realize that their task is the maintenance of a highly artificial and restricted community of animals and plants, with a balance that can easily topple with disastrous results to at least some of the members. At the same time, aquariums can generally be easily maintained as long as a few fundamental facts are recognized and applied with commonsense to the problems that arise…

So lets talk now about some of the characteristics of aquariums and tropical fish…

The old fashioned fish bowl has almost completely
replaced for serious fish-keeping by the rectangular glass tank, either made wholly of glass or with a metal frame and glass sides and a bottom of glass, slate, or other rigid material…

Except when used for spawning, for exhibition purposes, or as a hospital tank for the treatment of disease, the tank contains growing, rooted plants; these are set in a sand or gravel layer 1 or 2 inches thick. There may be decorative rocks, but the chief decoration is usually the plants themselves, which contribute more to the attractive appearance of a well set-up tank than do the fishes…

Rectangular tanks are usually between 5 and 25 gallons in capacity; a 15-gallon tank measures 24 X 12 X 12 inches and is a favorite size. Smaller tanks than these cannot house many fish or allow proper development of the plants…

Larger tanks are very attractive and give scope for beautiful planting arrangements and for fine growth of the fishes, but they are expensive and not likely to become generally popular. Most fish lovers therefore prefer a range of medium tanks rather than one or two very large ones, but it must be emphasized that fine fishes can be grown in large tanks…

In general, tropical fishes can be housed in smaller tanks than cold-water fishes. This is because they are usually smaller and are also better able to withstand a relative deficiency of oxygen in the water…

Size for size, most tropical fishes can be crowded a good deal more than the common goldfish and very much more than fancy varieties of goldfish. A 15-gallon tank might comfortably contain a dozen 3-inch rosy barbs, four or five 3-inch common goldfish at the most, and not more than a pair of Orandas of the same size…

Fish consume solid food and excrete solid faeces. They breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and therefore they tend to deplete their environment of oxygen and to pollute it with carbon dioxide and excrement…

Plants also breathe oxygen, but in sufficiently bright light they manufacture sugars, etc., from carbon dioxide taken from their surroundings, whether air or water, and they release oxygen. This is done in the green leaf…

Plants also absorb dissolved salts and use these together with carbon dioxide in building up complex organic compounds. Very few higher plants can utilize solid or very complex substances, and before animal excrement (usually known as “mulm” in the fish tank) is available to them it must be broken down by fungi or bacteria and made soluble…

So plants, in adequate light, tend to restore oxygen to the environment and to remove the waste products of animals. In poor light or in darkness they deplete the water or air of oxygen just as animals do. It is only in the daytime, or under bright artificial light, that they perform the complementary function to animals…

From these facts grew the concept of a balanced aquarium, with the waste products of the fishes absorbed by the plants, and the oxygen necessary for the fishes provided by the action of the plants in light…

The moral of the story? A well-planted tank with adequate illumination will usually stay clear and sweet for months or years with little attention…

Hopefully this article has given you a great insight into tropical fish as pets and the healthy keeping of aquariums.

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Proper Ways For Keeping Butterfly Koi by Burt Cotton

Are you wondering what a butterfly koi is? You try to ask the Japanese or Chinese people because they can surely give you an elaborate answer. Obviously, koi is unfamiliar term for most of you but if you will translate it into layman’s term, koi simply means carp.

Butterfly koi is a kind of fish. The features are closely related to the goldfish that you have in your aquarium. The style of breeding and ornamentation are almost the same as goldfish.

Butterfly koi originated from Japan and has been distributed worldwide. Many people became interested with butterfly koi because it features different colors that seem so attractive and appealing to the eyes. Colors vary from white, green, blue, black, and red.

Aside form butterfly koi, there are other varieties of koi that can be bought from pet shops and aquarium stores. These are distinguished by coloration, patterning and escalation. The breeders also develop distinct versions of koi. These are koi with large scales and some do not have scale at all.

Keeping a butterfly koi is not as complicated as you think. However, it is not the same as taking care of the typical fishes that swims in your ponds or in your aquariums. It takes a little effort from you if you want to sustain the growth of your Butterfly koi.

Like the common carps these are also known for being resilient. Butterfly koi can just be placed anywhere or in any types of containers. These can be kept from small container to larger ponds.

Here are some tips for you to consider for keeping Butterfly koi:

•Traditional indoor aquarium is not preferable.
Since it is a cold water fish, Butterfly koi desires water that is more than a meter in depth. During harsh winters, it can be placed in ponds but make sure that it is not to deep also because it can freeze underwater.

•Keep an open space.
It is a great idea that you should keep an open space to the area where you place Butterfly Koi so that they can have a proper place for breathing.

•Put a horse trough heater if possible.
This is helpful for considering the cold weather during winter season. Although Butterfly koi is a cold water fish, too much cold can be lethal for them.

•Consider the bright color of the fish. It can be disadvantageous for the predators.

•String nets above the surface of the pond can help.
This is an effective way of preventing the Butterfly Koi from being exposed to unnecessary particles that could fall to their habitat. Wires will do if you do not have string nets.

•The pond must have a pump and filtration system.
These are used to keep the pond clean and a safe place to live in for the Butterfly Koi. Clear water is also needed for their growth.

Some people believe that Butterfly Koi is a good luck for your business. This is also the reason why most of them keep it as their pet. Aside from the luck that it can bring you, it can also cause you peace of mind and therapeutic feeling by simply watching them swimming in ponds. Try having Butterfly Koi in your place.

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Maintaining Psammochromis riponianus by Brian Harrison

Original Description

Psammochromis riponianus was originally described as Pelmatochromis riponianus by Boulenger in 1911. The species was then listed as a junior synonym of Haplochromis cinereus by Regan (1922) but, on the basis of specimens in Vienna museum, Lohberger, 1929 decided that Regan’s views on the conspecificity of Pelmatochromis riponianus and Haplochromis cinereus could not be substantiated. Consequentially he removed the species from synonymy and placed it in the genus Haplochromis. In his revision, Greenwood, 1980 “Towards a phyletic classification of the ‘genus’ Haplochromis (Pisces, Cichlidae) and related taxa part 11 “, designated the species to its present genus.

The name Psammochromis is derived from the Greek ‘psammos’, sand + chromis, referring to the sandy substrata seemingly preferred by most members of the genus.


The species distribution is listed as Lake Victoria and possibly the Victoria Nile. The latter locality being surmised from the data given in the original description of the species. In his paper (Boulenger, 1911), the locality is given only as. Jinja, Ripen Falls, but in the introduction Boulenger implies that the entire collection of which riponianur formed part, was from the Victoria Nile. That is BELOW the Ripen falls, later (Cat.Afr.Fish .3,1914) the type locality is given more specifically as “Ripen Falls. Victoria Nile”. The H.E.S.T project also found P. riponianus in their research area of the Mwanza Gulf of Lake Victoria, this is the probable area from which the present Chester Zoo stock derive. I have been unable to attain exact collection points for the captive held populations.


The male has a base colour of metallic silver green. This is overlain with vertical black bars. These vary in darkness according to the mood of the fish, also a number of bars run through the eyes and across the head. The dorsal fin is light blue with a thin red edge. The caudal fin is red and the ventral fins are jet black, the anal fin is an emerald green with 3 to 5 yellow egg dummies. By contrast, the females are quite drab, being a dull olive type colour and may have one or two egg dummies on the anal fin. Females show the black barring only when stressed.


Males up to about four and a half inches Total Length and females are slightly smaller at about three and a half inches TL.


As my group of fish are part of the Chester Zoo Captive Breeding Programme I’ve had to follow a few guidelines in the way I that I keep these fish. It is recommended that you have a minimum of three tanks per species. To keep within the recommended guidelines the following tanks are what 1 use to maintain this species in: – The adult breeding colony are kept in a 54 x 12 x 15 “, with a 18 x 12 x 12″ for brooding females and a 36 x 12 x 12 ” for growing on fry.

General Aquarium Parameters: Temperature – 76-78″F (24-26″C); pH – 7.8; GH – 16″. Water changes of up to 40% are carried out on a weekly basis

Diet: This consists of bloodworm, brine shrimp, crab sticks (chopped), peas and broccoli.


I first received my P. riponianus on the 22nd of October 1994, when they measured about an inch long; they were initially housed in a tank measuring 36 x 12 x 15″. However this was only a temporary measure, as, due to the reported pugnacious nature of the species, a larger tank would eventually be needed. They were moved after about six weeks into their present tank of 54″ where they have grown rapidly. The first male coloured up at about one and a half inches and proceeded to dominate one end of the tank up until January this year. Then a second male coloured up and took over the other end of the tank. This remained the position for about four months or so with them continuing to grow, then another four males took on the full adult coloration. It was at this time that things got a little “hairy” with a lot of “skirmishing” going on between the males and there were a few casualties.

The group now consists of six males and twelve females with all the males managing to breed at one stage or another. Breeding follows the typical pattern for mouthbrooders, with the female laying one or two eggs at a time, then picking them up in her mouth. She then mouths at the male’s egg dummies to fertilise them; this is done in the T position. Prior to the actual spawning act the male quivers and poses for the female in all his finery, this is when the male looks really magnificent. Spawning actually takes place on a rock or inside some large flowerpots or some other flat surface, each male having his own preferred site. This can take anything up to one and half-hours because of the constant interference from the other fish, but the female stays with her chosen mate until they have finished. The female then seeks some quiet area within the tank (not an easy job).

Normally I leave females in the tank for about 12 to 14 days and then remove them to a brooding tank. Brooding continues for between 19-21 days, when the female starts to release the fry.

Maternal care continues for a further 4 or 5 days after which she shows no interest. I remove the fry at this stage to the growing on tank, giving the females a rest and several good feeds before returning them back to the main tank.

I have found that there are no problems in returning them like this, they seem to get accepted straight away. The broods were quite small to start with, averaging about 1 1-15, but now after a year the broods number 25-30, with 38 being the largest so far.

Also I have experimented with leaving the females in the main tank for the full term, but none of the fry have ever survived more than a few minutes after being released. They are preyed on immediately and the female is unable, or unwilling, to provide sanctuary. It seems as soon as one fish sees the female spit her fry out, then the rest of the colony zoom in on her and devour the fry. However I have not been witness to any of the females eat either eggs or fry through being stressed.


It’s not a good idea to mix broods that are over 3 months or so apart because the older ones tend to eat their younger cousins, this I have discovered to my cost. Growth rate is quite fast for the first 10 to 12 weeks, then seems to slow markedly. I don’t know whether this is down to some diet deficiency or some other unknown factor. Fry are fed on crushed flake microworms and Artemia nauplii if I can get it to hatch.

To date I have not had to cull any of the fry for deformities or being runts. This I think is due to having the six males breeding with all the females, giving a good gene pool and maintaining some sort of genetic integrity which is vital in the captive maintenance over a period of time.

One thing I have noticed with regards to breeding is the water temperature, during the summer with high temperatures we experienced; spawning was reduced to almost zero. The tank is on the top tier of a three tier rack and for a period of about three months the temperatures were in the region of about 80″ F to 85 “F. Having discussed this with fellow members of the Lake Victorian Cichlid Study Group, the general consensus is that they thrive best in the middle 70s.

All in all this species is proving to be a joy to keep and study, and 1 would urge anybody to give them a try. youtube downloader free

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Speciation in the Pelagic Zone by George F. Turner

Speciation is the process where new species are formed. For the last 60 years, most biologists have believed that speciation in animals took place when populations were split apart by some kind of geographic barrier. This would allow the genetic make-up of the isolated populations to change independently, either in response to the different conditions in their local environments, or by sheer chance. Later, when the barrier disappeared, and these populations met again, they might have diverged enough that they would no longer interbreed. If so, they would have become separate species. This kind of speciation is known as ‘allopatric’, meaning ‘other homeland’.

During the last 10 years or so, many people have begun to doubt that all speciation in animals had to be allopatric. Partly, this has come about because computer models have shown many circumstances in which speciation might take place without geographic isolation. But, also evidence from studies of the DNA of wild animal populations has come up with a few surprising results. The form of speciation without previous geographic isolation is known as ‘sympatric’, meaning ‘same homeland’.

Along with colleagues at the University of Hull, my research group has recently been working on this problem, investigating the pelagic cichlids of Lake Malawi. Some of our results have recently been published (Shaw et al. 2000).

The pelagic cichlids are not terribly well-known in the aquarium trade. Occasionally, small specimens of Rhamphochromis ferox are offered for sale, almost always wrongly labelled as Rhamphochromis macrophthalmus. The eight species of sleek silvery Rhamphochromis are active predators of fish or zooplankton. There are also at least 12 species of the genus Diplotaxodon, which are mostly zooplankton feeders or more sluggish predators. And there is the bug-eyed, huge-mouthed Pallidochromis tokolosh, which I described in 1994. So, there are at least 21 species of cichlid specialised for living, hunting and probably breeding in the open waters of Lake Malawi.

I first became interested in these fish when I was working on the fisheries of Lake Malawi in the early 1990s, and discovered that there were a great many species of these fish, and that they were very important in local fisheries. I was concerned that they were being heavily exploited for food, but yet virtually nothing was known about them. The UK Department for International Development agreed to fund a research project to investigate these fishes, so that we could assist the local fisheries departments in drawing up plans to help ensure that these fishes could be exploited on a sustainable basis. That can be the subject of a later article.

In the course of these studies, we collected many thousands of these fishes. All 21 species seemed to be found all around the lake, wherever there was suitable habitat for them. This is a complete contrast with the well-known mbuna, where many species are only found around a single island or area of rocky coastline.The mbuna hate to leave the rocky habitat, and rocky habitats are found in patches separated by areas of sand or deep water that mbuna rarely cross. So, it has always seemed likely that mbuna could have speciated by the usual allopatric mechanism. But what about the pelagic cichlids?

I can think of four possible ways they could have evolved by allopatric speciation. Rule these out and we are left with sympatric speciation.

First of all, we all know that water levels of the African Great Lakes have changed dramatically over the last few hundred thousand years. Lake Victoria was completely dry 12,500 years ago, and the level of Lake Tanganyika fell so far that it was split into 3 separate basins. Could something similar have happened in Lake Malawi, and isolated the pelagic cichlids into separate basins? A quick look at the contour map of the bottom of Lake Malawi shows this is very unlikely. It would have taken a drop of almost 500m to split the lake into separate water bodies. There is no evidence that this has ever happened. Even if it had, it would need to have happened at least 6 times times to allow 21 species to evolve from one, and even then we’d have to make some pretty implausible assumptions. Ever time the lake level fell, every species would have been split in two. And every time a species was split in two, it became 2 new species- this just doesn’t happen in the real world. Every species in the UK is isolated from every species on the European mainland and NONE of them have evolved into new species. Usually, this kind of speciation takes a long time, if it happens at all. Not only that, but this estimate of 6 isolation periods is assuming that none of these new species has ever gone extinct. So, realistically, we’d have to imagine many, many more massive water level falls. So, I think we can probably rule this one out.

What about lake level rises? Higher water levels could have flooded the surrounding area and as the floods retreated, small populations of cichlids in pools or small lakes could have been cut off from the main lake. These could then evolve into new species. This might seem more plausible, because many pools could be created with a single rise in water levels, so we might not have to imagine too many different floods. And the rises in water level could have been fairly small. Well, there are small pools and lagoons around the main lake at the moment, and I’ve visited some of them. Babies of two of the Rhamphochromis species occasionally turn up in shallow bays or even in lagoons which are still connected to the main lake. But, there are no signs of Diplotaxodon in any of these lagoons. Indeed, in all the hundreds of hours I have spent diving in the lake, I have never seen a single Diplotaxodon underwater, and I don’t know anyone else who has either. They just never come into shallow waters along the shores. So, the idea of them being repeatedly stuck in pools around the lake seems pretty far-fetched. Even more far-fetched is the idea that they would survive in these pools and evolve into new species. And even more bizarrely, we’d have to imagine that when they eventually got back into the main lake, they re-evolved into offshore living deep-water species that never go anywhere near swampy pools!

The third possibility is that these fish see habitat barriers that we don’t. Maybe, water currents keep them separated. We can test this, by looking at the the fish’s DNA. We have used bits of DNA called ‘microsatellites’, that mutate very quickly. If you look at a bunch of different microsatellites every individual has a different combination. This makes it a very useful tool for comparing species and populations. Take samples of a lot of individuals, say 50, from 2 different places in the lake. Look at a few different microsatellites, say 6-10. If the fish in the two places are regularly interbreeding with each other, there will be no statistical differences between the samples. What’s more, if they are interbreeding with other populations in between, which are in turn interbreeding with more distant populations, then there will still be no differences between them. When we collected samples of three Diplotaxodon species from all over the lake, that’s what we found- no differences. So the fish at the far north end of the lake are exchanging genes regularly with the fish at the far southern end. There are no habitat barriers to these Diplotaxodon.

The last possible option for allopatric speciation is that the pelagic cichlids are not really related to each other. Cichlids are famous for their convergent evolution. Petrochromis in Lake Tanganyika look like Petrotilapia from Lake Malawi. There is a Lake Victoria cichlid with big rubbery lips like the Malawian Cheilochromis euchilus or the Tanganyika Lobochilotes labiatus. These fish have evolved similar body structures because they have adopted similar ways of life. Could the same be true for the pelagic cichlids? If so, each one of the 21 species might have evolved from an ancestor living on the shore. We already know that inshore cichlids are split up into geographically isolated populations. It is easy to imagine allopatric speciation producing these species, which then each independentlybecame adapted to live offshore. We can test this by making a phylogeny of the Malawian cichlids. A phylogeny is a kind of ‘family tree’ of the evolutionary relationships of species. The difference is that in family tree, it takes two parents to make one (or more) offspring. In a phylogeny, one species splits into two ‘daugher’ species. If the convergent evolution theory is true, we should find that each pelagic cichlid species will have an inshore-living species as its ‘sister’, although we couldn’t rule out the occasional case where both sister species separately evolve from an inshore to an offshore lifestyle. If the sympatric theory is true, most pelagic species will have other pelagic species as their sisters. So, how do we build a phylogeny? Again, the answer is DNA. The best bit to use depends on how recently the species have evolved. In this case, we used two different bits of the mitochondrial DNA. The results were clear-cut. All of the pelagic cichlids have other pelagic cichlids as their sister species. All of them were descended from a single species, and all of the surviving descendents of that species are pelagic cichlids. The last allopatric option had been ruled out, and we are now pretty confident that these fishes must have evolved by sympatric speciation.

So, what’s the fuss all about? First of all, there are very few convincing examples of sympatric speciation in any kinds of animals. So, this result will be a surprise to a lot of biologists, who thought that sympatric speciation hardly ever happened, if it happened at all. Second, it means that we can rule out some kinds of processes that might have operated in allopatric speciation. As I said at the beginning of this article, geographically isolated populations might evolve into new species by chance. This can’t possibly happen in sympatric speciation. So we have to look to Darwin’s mechanisms of natural and sexual selection. This means we might get closer to finding out just exactly why there are so many species of cichlids in the African Great Lakes. Finally, if Malawi cichlid speciation was caused by some of the possible allopatric mechanisms, like dramatic rises and falls of water levels, then it all happened a long time ago, and we can only guess at how it all happened. But, if it is has been happening by sympatric speciation within the lake, then speciation is almost certainly still going on. This is a tremendously exciting idea, because it means we might just strike it lucky and see new species at the moment of their birth.


Shaw, P.W. Turner, G.F., Idid, M.R., Robinson, R.L. & Carvalho, G.R. (2000). Genetic population structure indicates sympatric speciation of Lake Malawi pelagic cichlids. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (Biological Sciences). 267, 2273-2280.

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Butterflies and Peacocks (The small Aulonocaras) by Anton Cass

Lake Malawi is renowned for its spectacular cichlids. Their vibrant colour, especially in males, has made them amongst the most sort after fishes in the modern aquarium. One genus which epitomises this, is the Aulonocaras or as they are sometimes known the Peacock Cichlids.

The group or genus falls into basically two recognised categories, the larger species i.e. Aulonocara rostratum with its open sand dwelling habit and the smaller species which tend to inhabit an area where the sand meets the rocky zone. This group comprises of species such as Auloncara stuartgranti, baenschi, jacobreibergi (including species known as walteri and lwanda), korneliae, ethelwynnae (and other chitande types) kandeensis, maylandi and saulosi. There are other variants, which have yet to be formerly identified but at least one species is to be found on every rocky costal region of the lake.

Characterised by what is probably best described as a natural sonar system, Aulonocara posses a greatly enhanced lateral line, a series of sensory pits that transverse the fishes’ body horizontally. This system is most developed in the lower head region where the sensory organs can be seen appearing to be pits below the eye and on the edge of the gills. These sensory organs are used to locate food and there are eye witness accounts of Aulonocaras appearing to remain motionless, apparently listening for any movement, just above the bottom and then diving head long into it and re-emerging with a mouthful of sand and also their meal. They then chew the contents separating what is edible, expelling the residue via the gills and mouth.

Ad Konings, Cichlids of Lake Malawi in their Natural Habitat (2nd Edition) actually uses the term ‘Malawi Butterflies’ for the members of the group that were formerly assigned to the genus Trematocranus. The reason for the ‘splitting’ was on the basis that the sensory pits common to Aulonocaras were smaller on this group and they appeared to primarily inhabitants of caves, the bottoms of which they scoured for food. Other species actually venture from the caves during the day and search for food in loose feeding areas. Later the Trematocranus or Butterflies were assigned them to the genus Aulonocara (Meyer et al 1987).

In the aquarium these smaller Aulonocara are by no means fussy feeders although care must be taken to ensure that they are not fed excessively. In their natural habitat the size of these fishes rarely exceeds 10cm, perhaps a little larger, but with the abundance of food both in actual amount and quantity of proteins, combined with the ease of digestion, their potential for growth is increased, some specimens being recorded at 20cm. Moreover the wild fishes tend to be less deep in their appearance than their aquarium bred relatives. The fish appear much more ‘square’ looking, the depth of the body from the top of the head to the underside being greater and further more this depth shows a much more gradual decline towards the caudal region than that found on the wild fishes.

In the lake these fishes breed in caves utilising the typical Malawi method of maternal mouthbrooding. Males can be found in breeding colour all year, as they do not appear to have any spawning season

With regard to an aquarium situation, Aulonocaras can be kept in a group with more than one male, as they are somewhat less aggressive than a lot of the members of the cichlids flock with which they cohabit. Despite this, however certain individuals, especially when attempting to spawn can be vindictive towards their tank mates. The group method of spawning offers a greater advantage for the aquarist in that the available DNA pool is greatly enlarged. Consequently there is a greater chance of each respective brood not being totally related as their parents will not always be the same. It is not yet known whether or not Aulonocara females actually utilise several males during spawning as has been proven with DNA analysis on a number of ‘mbuna’ species (females were found to be incubating fry which had obviously the same mother but up to seven different fathers). Due to the cave dwelling habits of the group it may be some time before the question is answered.

All the species in this assemblage are easily propagated in the aquarium in the usual Malawi manner. The pair locate a quiet(er) corner of the aquarium usually secured by the male who is at his most aggressive during this time. It is worthy noting that Aulonocaras are not the best combatants and as far as tank mates are concerned, smaller ‘haplochromines’ and the more peaceful mbuna i.e. labidochromis caeruleus and others of this group are ideal companions. A shallow depression is constructed or indeed just the tank bottom is utilised should there be no substrate and the male entices the female by quivering in front of her. She reciprocates and after a few dry runs the first eggs are then laid. One safely in her mouth she nudges the anal region of the male whereupon they are fertilised. After repeating process several time anything up to around thirty plus eggs can be laid although some specimens can produce more, one A jacobfreibergi actually managed eighty, an incredible amount although she was an experienced mother and indeed the capacity for rearing does seem to increase with age. An interesting comparison can (the variants of the A. stuartgranti were from ngara). be made with Tropheus species of Lake Tanganyika. The young aquarium bred fishes seem to produce two or three eggs/fry whilst the more experienced wild fishes can average around fifteen. Incubation lasts on average again 19-23 days, the young being capable of consuming frozen cyclops and crushed flake upon their release. There does appear to be some aftercare, the young being taken back by the female for anything up to a week but this does seem to vary with individual fishes and not just species.

One topic concerning Aulonocaras of this group, especially, is that of whether or not they will hybridise in the aquarium. Lake Victorian Cichlids are known to use colour recognition to determine their conspecifics as indeed are certain mbuna (see Cichlidae Dec 1999 Species recognition in the Rock dwelling cichlids of Lake Malawi.) My own experiences have proved that some species of Aulonocara may also and that if kept correctly females can recognise their own colour variants or in this case species. Many years ago, just as wild imports were beginning to arrive from Lake Malawi I actually kept and spawned A. jacobfreibergi and A.stuartgranti Chiloelo(then incorrectly known as Aulonocara nyassae and later A.hansbaenschi) and more recently A. stuartgranti Ngara with A baenschi. In these cases no hybridisation took place, but there are certain factors may prove to be of vital importance.

The first is the size of the aquarium and the actual set up. In each cases the capacity was around 100galls (450 litres) and there were numerous other ‘haplochromine’fishes resident. There were also places to seek refuge although these were not utilised to the full extent by any occupant. The main factor here was that the animals had room and they could avoid each other even though there were other species.

The second consideration was that is both cases there was an appreciable colour difference. The A.baenschi male was primarily yellow whilst the A.stuartgranti male was mostly blue. Also the A.stuart granti male was again predominately blue whilst the A.jacobfreibergi male has a golden brown dorsal area with purplish flanks. The fins are also very evident being a vivid white/light blue. (The variants of the A. stuartgranti were from ngara). The females again showed some differences both A.stuartgranti females being a plain brown with darker bands while that of the A.baenschi possesses a yellow sheen. The head of the A. jacobfreibergi is noticeably dissimilar, the eyes being larger (presumably due to the cave dwelling habits of this species) the number of and development of the ‘pits’ and she was also a lighter shade of brown.

One final factor which may be the of the utmost importance was that in both cases the animals were all wild imports, adult fishes which had spent their time growing up in a wild environment. There is evidence that strongly suggests that aquarium bred fishes are ‘weaker’ than there wild cousins with a lot of genetic material being lost through each spawning. Certainly the domestic fishes do not seem to have the same sparkle or intensity of colour and they do not appear to be as lively or hungry for survival. Aquarium bred Peacocks are probably not as discerning over their choice of partner as are their wild counterparts.

A final conclusion cannot be reached without much further study being carried out, with fishes that are of the same species/group and indeed species, which are known to be distinctly separate, being confined in the same aquarium. Careful monitoring and possible some form of identification system for those females, which are hard to discern to aquarists would be required. inversiones en bolsa

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