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FAQs on Neotropical Cichlid Behavior

Related Articles: Neotropical Cichlids, Central American Cichlids by Neale Monks, African Cichlids, Dwarf South American Cichlids, Cichlid Fishes in General

Related FAQs: Neotropical Cichlids 1, Neotropical Cichlids 2, Neotropical Cichlids 3, Neotropical Cichlid Identification, Neotropical Cichlid Compatibility, Neotropical Cichlid Selection, Neotropical Cichlid Systems, Neotropical Cichlid Feeding, Neotropical Cichlid Disease, Neotropical Cichlid Reproduction, Convicts, Oscars, Firemouths, Texas Cichlids, Severums, Triangle Cichlids, & Cichlids of the World, Cichlid Systems, Cichlid Identification, Cichlid Behavior, Cichlid Compatibility, Cichlid Selection, Cichlid Feeding, Cichlid Disease Cichlid Reproduction,

Re: Fighting or courting?    6/16/12
Neale -
As usual your advice is great. Thanks so much. I still wonder what I did wrong in mixing the Dempsey with an Acara. I guess more training is in order.
<Glad to help.>
I removed the Severum to another tank on its own until my new 110 comes in.
The other fish are getting on fine right now with occasional territorial behavior.
There is a new event I thought you might find interesting and I am asking if I am correct in my assumptions. I went to clean up and reset the plants in the Severum's new tank and the fish hit me...hard. Blew me away. After calling the fish a few names, I started looking a little more closely at the area in which I was starting to dig around and saw the rock that you see in the first picture. Holy Smokes we have eggs. The parent has been fanning them constantly. (now that I am closely watching, I see it.) I think I have a decent shot of the genital papilla and was hoping that you would fix something that is boggling my brain. Your earlier statement said that the male's is usually visible at all times and that the female's is hardly seen until just before spawning.
<This is usually the case with most cichlids. Certainly, if you have two members of the same species, what you normally see is that the male's papilla is longer and more pointed, and the females shorter, wider and blunter. It's pretty much what you'd expect -- the male's is for squirting a jet of sperm, the female's for releasing eggs one at a time.>
Since this is a couple days after I have seen the eggs, is it safe to presume that the female papilla will stay visible (as I *think* I see in the second picture) after spawning?
<Quite possibly, but usually not for long.>
This is the only fish in the tank so I am pretty sure there can't be any fertilization here.  I am blown away that there are eggs. If it is a male (based on visible papilla) I would be thoroughly confused. Has to be a girl.
<It's not uncommon for female cichlids to spawn in the absence of males of their species, occasionally with other females, but more often with male cichlids of some other species. Severums can be further sexed by colouration -- usually, males have blue squiggles on their face that the females lack.>
Thanks for all your help over there.
<Most welcome. Neale.>
Re: Fighting or courting?    6/16/12

Thanks much. I am going to go with a female that has a crazy hope of her prince appearing.
<Something like that.>
I guess the eggs will just die into the water and I will need to clean the tank?
<Up to you. Unfertilised eggs decay pretty quickly, and invariably attract fungus (though this is normally harmless to adult fish). But in community tanks, catfish, including Plecs, will usually eat them before that happens!>
Appreciate you much,
<Welcome, Neale.>

Shy Central American Cichlids     5/24/12
Thank you for all the time and effort you put into making Wet Web Media the wonderful resource that it is. 
<Thanks for the kind words.>
For the past 5 years I have had a female Dovii living by herself in a 125 gallon.  For the first 4 years I never even saw her.  She has only begun getting over her shyness in the past year or so.  Still, she is very timid.
<Is often the case with these "Guapote" cichlids, despite their size and aggression. They do need overhead shade and dim lighting, and will be less than happy in a bare, open tank with bright lights and no cover. Given their tendency to dig up plants, providing the right amount of shade can be difficult! Floating plants are useful.>
Even while caring for eggs, which is nearly non-stop, she doesn't show any aggression to the siphon or my hand while I am doing tank maintenance. 
I've accepted that is just the way she is, and I'm fine with that.  My concern is with the female Jack Dempsey I acquired ten months ago.  I picked her from the store tank because she was front and center, seemingly relaxed, and with an outgoing personality.  She remained that way at home--the only resident in a 75 gallon--for several months.  As much as I love my Dovii, I was relieved that the Dempsey did not have the same reclusive personality.
Three months ago I changed the Dempsey's substrate from gravel to a mix of gravel and play sand.  From that moment on she has been terrified.
<Is the sand pale? Is light reflecting upwards? Cichlids HATE bright, upwelling light. Dim the lights and see what happens. The sand is a boon, but in cichlid tanks it's a good idea to add floating plants or plastic lily pads to create shady areas underneath them. Plants that are in the sand may be less useful because the important thing is shade rather than shelter.>
The sand was, of course, pre-washed and I closely monitored the water parameters throughout the week following the substrate change for any ammonia spikes.  There were none.  The values then, as they are now, were consistently Ammonia-0/Nitrite-0/Nitrate-0/pH-7.4.  This is the same sand that I use in five of my other tanks without problem.  The tank is planted and heavily decorated with lots of hiding spots, and the layout is exactly the same as it was before I changed the substrate.  I tried adding more plants to see if that would help her feel more comfortable but it didn't work.
<I see.>
The substrate is lighter in color than before but not by much, as there is still quite a bit of the old gravel mixed in.  I thought she would settle down with time but that has not been the case.
She spends all day hiding under a pot in the corner and, if you get near the tank, she darts and bashes herself into the sides or top of the tank. 
My Dovii is shy; my Dempsey is spastic.
<Oh dear.>
I'm saddened that she's not the same outgoing fish she used to be (and that I now have two large tanks that look empty), but I'm more concerned that she is feeling constantly stressed.  So now I'm wondering if adding more fish to the tank would help her.
<Can do. See what Paul Loiselle has written about dither fish.>
This is where I need some advice. Would you recommend adding another cichlid of similar size (4-5 inches)?
<No. Cichlids aren't dither fish. Dither fish are specifically open water, surface swimming, schooling fish such as tetras, barbs, minnows, etc.
Choose according to the types of fish. In a big tank, Swordtails might work with Central American cichlids, or Mexican Tetras (Astyanax spp.) but there's always a risk of cichlids attacking them, so do keep a close eye.
Adding a bunch of dither fish to the tank first, moving the rocks about, and then adding the cichlid is the way to go. Add the dither fish to an established tank and the cichlids might view them as live food! If the dither fish are there first, the cichlids usually view them as part of the scenery.>
Which kind(s) might be a good option for this 75 gallon tank?
<Additional cichlids will be viewed as competition or predators, so you have to be careful here. Sometimes, a single big "target fish" like a Chinese Algae Eater or Red-Tail Shark works better because it elicits bold behaviour but is fast enough to avoid trouble, but these target fish are primarily used to strengthen pair bonds. Dither fish are different: they convey safety, and so calm down the cichlids.>
Or, should I try some sort of Dither Fish?  Again, what kind(s) would you recommend?  Giant Danios come to mind, but those don't exactly thrill me.
<But they are cheap, colourful, and very fast. Silver Dollars and Silver Tetras can be good, so can the bigger barbs such as Spanner Barbs.
Swordtails might work as well. Depends on how aggressive your JD is.>
I've been hesitant to add more fish to her tank out of fear that she will suddenly become very aggressive and I'll have to move the new fish out--or worse, the new fish is/are aggressive towards her.  I have eight tanks in total, but few back-up options for where I could put a new cichlid or school of dithers.  Setting up a new tank for "failed-experiment fish" is not really feasible so they would have to fit in somewhere, whether it be with the Dempsey, the Dovii, or with my 14" Oscar and two Synodontis cats. 
(Water parameters are the same as above for all my tanks.)  The Oscar is rather placid but, only being a 75 gallon, I feel that tank is already crowded.
<Could well be.>
Returning the new fish might be an option if the store allowed it, but I would like to avoid that, if possible.  I know there are no compatibility guarantees when it comes to fish.  I am just hoping you may have some suggestions that you feel fairly confident about.
<If the JD is mild, I'd risk it with a school of something large and bold, perhaps Silver Dollars if they appeal. Really anything robust, at least 4 inches/10 cm long, and tolerant of the same water chemistry could do.>
Thank you so much for your time.
<Good luck, Neale.> 

Fighting or courting?    5/6/12
Hey Crew!
<Hello David,>
First of all, thanks again for your great site and the incredible information you put out.
<Kind of you to say so.>
I did read through your site on this behaviour prior to writing, but of the two things that I have seen mentioned, I am not sure which is going on. Here's the story:
I have a Blue Acara and a Green Terror cichlid that have recently started a daily ritual which is a bit confusing to me.
<Uh, no. You have a Green Terror, yes, but also a Jack Dempsey.>
They have cohabitated in the same tank (37 Gallons) for almost a year along with a 6" Green Severum and have not done much more than the occasional chase behavior.
<And now they're sexually mature, so…>
Recently they have started a mouth locking that ends up in a spiral circling of each other after which they retreat to their separate places in the tank and ignore each other for either the rest of the night or a few hours.
It was my understanding (based on my research) that these are both female fish.
<Neither is easy to sex when young, so don't assume you're right on this. Yes, males tend to be bigger (impossible to know with juveniles or yearlings) and yes, males often have longer fins (but by no means always). Green Terror males sometimes develop a nuchal hump, but again, this isn't something you'll see on specimens a year or less in age, and some males never develop the hump anyway. Inspection of the genital papilla is usually the best route: on most male cichlids, this "spawning tube" is longer, narrower, and pointier than that of the female, and as well as this, the females hardly show their genital papilla until a few hours before egg-laying, while the male's is usually visible at all times.>
I was under the impression that since they are different breeds, even if they are different gender, they wouldn't spawn so I am leaning towards territorial behaviour.
<Oh, heavens no! Cichlids of different species frequently fight, especially if they occupy the same niche in the aquarium.>
They each have a hiding spot and both have been the size you see in the picture for some time. Could you help me determine what is going on? That will help me know how imperative that it is that I get a larger tank or what.
<Jack Dempseys and Green Terrors are both very aggressive, very territorial fish. Given a reasonably large aquarium, say, 100-200 gallons, they can coexist. But in your aquarium they won't, and even a singleton of either species isn't really viable purely on the grounds of water quality. You have 37 US gallons, and in thank tank you have a Jack Dempsey, a Green Terror, at least two Convicts that I can see in the photo, plus a Green Severum you mentioned earlier (and this is a peaceful, soft water cichlid which absolutely does not belong with these much nastier and hard water fish). That's far too many fish for your aquarium!>
Thanks much,
<Glad to help. You've certainly got some work to do! Cheers, Neale.>


Cichlid behaviour.   8/3/10
Recently my Jack Dempsey, Texas Cichlid and blood parrot have started hiding a lot and are very jumpy.
<A Blood Parrot doesn't belong in this mix, and eventually stands a good risk of being battered to death.>
They are scared to go to the top of the tank for food and will only eat if the food is dropped in front of them.
<Don't feed them until you've established what the problem is. For a start, grab your nitrite test kit and check water quality -- fish behave nervously when water quality isn't good.>
I have tried feeding them different foods like earth worms, Cichlid pellets, peas and meal worms which they eat but didn't have much affect.
<Don't feed them.>
The PH is 7 and the acidity is neutral.
<You do realise that pH and acidity are the same thing? Or rather, pH is a measurement that runs from the acidic through neutral to the basic. In any case, Central American cichlids need hard, basic water. The pH should be
around 7.5, but not because you've added some random pH-up potion -- a common beginner's mistake -- but because you've raised the carbonate hardness. Look at the Rift Valley salt mix given here:
Depending on how soft your water is, 50-100% the dose recommended for Rift Valley cichlids will work well.>
The tank is 40x16x16 (inches) which I am upgrading when they get bigger.
<That's 168 litres, or about 44 US gallons -- not nearly enough for this fish. Do please understand how aggressive JDs and Texas cichlids become.
Start here:
If you could give me any advise it would be highly appreciated.
<Could be a variety of things: though poor water quality and/or low pH and carbonate hardness are most likely. Other possibilities include social stress, excessively bright light, and certain parasitic infections.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Cichlid behaviour.  8/4/10

Hello again.
Thanks for your advise! >advice<
<Happy to help.>
My Blood Parrot is 5 inches, my Texas is 4 inches and my Jack Dempsey is 7 inches.
<The Texas is not even half grown. Just wait'¦>
I have had them since they were all 2 inches and they get along fine.
<For now. That you have females may well explain your luck. If these were males your luck could have been very different.>
I have tested the nitrites are at zero and nitrates are around 15 ppm. I have been doing 50% water changes all week to see if they would improve and there colour has came back but no change to there behaviour. What size tank would you recommend?
<Surface area matters for cichlids since they're territorial, so the biggest width and length you can accommodate is best.>
I cant have anything that is longer than 4ft due to space and I have been looking at a 4x2x2 foot tank. would that be suitable?
<Should be, yes. But really, no promises here -- male Texas cichlids especially are big, aggressive fish.>
Also before they started acting like this, my Blood Parrot and Texas used to pair and both have eggs. They are both females and would both guard the eggs but after a few days would eat them. Is this normal behaviour?
<Well, it's not "normal" but yes, it does happen. Nothing to worry about.>
Thank you again!
<Cheers, Neale.>  
Re: Cichlid behaviour.  8/4/10
Thanks again for your help!
<My pleasure.>
I have realised that my lights must be to bright because when I turn them off they come out of there hiding places and start acting how they used to!
So what could I do so I don't have to have the lights off all the time?
<Make friends with a clump of floating Indian Fern, Ceratopteris thalictroides. Does the job wonderfully! For some reason English pet shops rarely carry the stuff, but you can easily buy a clump online and it'll grow in no time at all. I've got the stuff in all my tanks. It is sometimes sold in pots but it doesn't really like to be grown that way. Uproot potted specimens and let them float. Do note that the floating form has broad leaves, while the out-of-water form has thinner leaves more like a fern.
Retailers often sell them the latter way because that's how they're grown at the nurseries; once left to float for a few weeks they will grow the different sort of leaves.>
Thanks again for your help it is very appreciated!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Female C. cutteri Acting Strange; C. Am. cichlid beh.  8/30/09
Hi guys hoping you can help! I've tried looking this up online but can't really find a conclusive answer. Right, I have a 900 litre tank I have in it 2 firemouths, 1 Thorichthys elliotti, 1 gold Severum (5inch),1 Geophagus
surinamensis, 1 large Pleco, 1 spotted Raphael and 2 C. cutteri. This is where I have my problem.. The female cutteri for the past 2 weeks appears to be "playing dead" by rolling on her side when any of the other fish come near, even smaller ones then her, She swims around normally all the time, otherwise feeds properly and seems to be quite happily paired with the male. The different answers I've found are ,she is spawning and showing off her belly, displaying submissive behavior as she doesn't want to fight or maybe some sort of bacterial infection. I don't personally believe that its anything to do with bacteria, as she generally displays normal behavior and all the other fish are fine. None of the other fish actually attack her just as soon as they get a bit close she does it. Its starting to get a bit worrying as she can sometimes be floating on her back while doing it. I hope you guys can put my mind at ease as she's a lovely fish and I would hate to lose her! Cheers! Dan
< If she acts normal all the rest of the time then I agree that it is not an internal infection. If she turns her dorsal fins towards the oncoming fish then this indeed is a submissive pose, offering the spiny dorsal fin
in case the fish attacks.-Chuck>

Re: female cutteri
C Cutteri Female Showing Off -- 09/03/09

Thank you for the speedy reply Chuck its helped put my mind at ease. Just have one further question though., She isn't actually turning her dorsal fins towards them its the opposite, she's turning her belly towards them does this make a difference? Dan
< If she is showing off her ventral region then it is a display that shows that she is ready to mate. Apparently the male C. cutteri hasn't come around yet.-Chuck>

problem with my FH
Skittish Cichlids  5/10/09

Hi, I recently bought a 3 inch Flowerhorn which I have kept along with a pair of 3 inch green terrors. They are doing quite fine together and do not seem to be fighting at all. I also have a pair of 1 1/2 inch blue morphs which seem to be dominating the 3 inch green terrors!!!!!!!
The problem I am having is that the terrors were always scared of me and used to go into hiding as soon as I came near the tank. Now the FH follows them every time they go hide and so I don't get to see any of them. What do you suggest I do?
< The fish are startled by sudden movements and seek refuge because they think you are a predator. Add some dither fish like barbs or Danios so they add some movement to the tank but won't be eaten by the cichlids.>
Secondly, I read in one of your threads that a FH gets its hump when it reaches 8 inches or so but recently I visited a shop where they were selling a 2 inch FH with an amazing hump and it was priced at 3000 Indian rupees!
How is this possible? Thanks, Samuel
<This is not a natural occurrence and could be a mutation thus the rather high price. Since this fish does not exist in nature it doesn't surprise me that hormones and chemicals can alter the morphology of young fish at any age. If someone pays the price then that will encourage more of these fish to be produced.-Chuck>

Cichlid Mystery... Neotrop., sys., hlth., fdg., beh.    8/6/08 Re: Cichlid Mystery Wild Florida Cichlid Problems (Chuck's Second Opinion) 8/6/08 Hello Crew, hope you have some insight for me, for I am mystified. I have a 20 gal tank with a single specimen Mayan Cichlid (False Red Terror). <Are we talking about Cichlasoma urophthalmus here? Obviously this species, getting to 40 cm in the wild, is far too large for a 20 gallon tank.> < This fish is commonly found in Florida,-Chuck> I've had it since it was the size of a penny; he (theoretical; only going from how bright salmon red he gets when showing off) was netted out of the actual Everglades (where they are an invasive species), and he is now about a year and a half old, and about 5-6 inches long. He is fed a variety of foods: Hikari Gold cichlid pellets, dried Gammarus shrimp, dried bloodworms, live Ramshorn snails and occasionally, live Gambusia and Mollies from a large 65 gal Everglades tank I have in the Florida room, also the source of the snails (and home to a 8-inch Orinoco Sailfin Catfish that I thought was a tadpole once.) ALL his live foods are grown by me, so I have no fear of contamination that way. <Still, I'm leery of using wild-caught fish as food because you're running the risk of introducing parasites that don't normally occur in aquaria and so end up being difficult to treat. As you may/may not know, many parasites pass through multiple hosts, for example a small fish, then a bigger fish, and then a predator bird, then out with the birds faeces into the pond and back to the small fish. Because this cycle can't occur in aquaria or fish farms, these parasites don't normally occur in tropical fish tanks. If you have a fish that happily eats prepared and frozen foods, why take the risk?> So far he is the textbook definition of a Mayan, charging the side of the tank anytime you walk by, and sometimes attacking his own reflection for hours at a time, unless he is hiding behind the huge water sprite planted in there. <OK. These are nice fish; kept one in a high-end brackish aquarium for a long time. They thrive in brackish/marine conditions, and are arguably more mangrove swamp cichlids than anything else.> I went away for 5 days for vacation, so I stuffed his tank with snails and food fish, and had someone feed him some of his pellets about two days before I came back so he wouldn't starve. <OK, here's the first problem. NEVER, EVER "stock up" a tank with food. A healthy small fish like a Neon can go a week without food NO PROBLEMS. A big healthy fish like a cichlid can go two weeks or more without food, and in the wild would have to periodically anyway. In other words: it is better to leave your fish hungry during vacations than the alternative, which is to risk overfeeding them (or having them overfed). Too much food = too much ammonia/nitrite, and that leads to stress.> I came back only to find him lying on the bottom of his tank, in a hole he'd cleared out, looking the palest I've ever seen... his eye-spot was white, and he was still for hours. He had re-arranged his pea gravel extensively, which makes me think he might have been looking for snails. <Hmm... more likely displacement activity. When animals can't do one thing, because of stress or some other factor, they will sometimes do some other, unrelated activity. Humans biting their nails is the classic example: nothing to do with being hungry for protein!> Much testing of water ensued, to no answers... pH is 7.2, ammonia 0, nitrites 0, nitrates under 20 ppm, tank temp is 78, water is general hard, absolutely nothing happening there. <Ah, but you misunderstand. The nitrite/ammonia spike could have easily occurred day 1 after you left, and by now the filter has removed them both from the water, but the fish remains stressed.> The tank is acrylic 20 gal, has an Eclipse 2 (capacity much higher than 20 gal) filter top with bio-wheel in perfect working order and seeded with my own bacteria from other tanks., and there's plenty of aeration in the tank. The tank water gets changed weekly along with all the other tanks. <Still too small. These novelty filters that fit the hood are maybe fine for small tropicals like Neons but have no place in the cichlid aquarium. Too much space is given over to compact cartridges contains junk you don't need like carbon and Zeolite. Not enough space is given over to mechanical media and especially high performance biological media (ceramic noodles). Complete waste of space if you ask me. You should be using a decent canister filter rated at 6x the volume of the tank in turnover per hour. For this species of cichlid a 20 gallon tank makes no sense at all, and long term you're going to find this fish increasingly difficult to keep healthy.> After testing and re-testing and finding nothing to correct, I went and fished out a few snails and threw them in, in hopes that he'd become more animated. <No, doesn't work this way. When fish are sick or off-colour, you don't feed them. You run the risk of making a bad situation worse. A healthy fish -- particularly a cichlid! -- will be begging for food once hungry.> After a few hours and his lights turned off (on a timer, mind you), I could hear the clicking of snail shells against the tank, so I knew he must be feeling better. The next day, after the snails had been eaten, I tossed a few Gambusia in there. It's been 2 days, and he is back to normal, charging the side of the tank every time someone walks by, attacking his food and patrolling his tank, flashing his stripes when he's aggressive or just turning brilliant salmon if I get near... What do you guys think happened? My theory is he might have knocked himself out charging his own reflection, but any and all advice is greatly welcomed. Maybe he missed me? <Suspect a water quality crisis in your absence.> Carol <Hope this helps. Have cc'ed Chuck, our cichlid guru, for a second opinion. Cheers, Neale.> < Sometimes in the dark, fish get spooked by shadows. In a small tank where there is no place to hide it could have damaged himself on an object or on the tank himself. As per Neale's recommendation a larger tank is in order for the best concerns of your Mayan Cichlid.-Chuck>

75 gallon Cichlid tank- Midas Question  05/30/08 Midas Cichlid Mayhem Hello. It has been a long time since I have had to ask a question because things have been maintaining quite nicely in my 75 gallon Cichlid tank. I have (all adult) Midas, Jack Dempsey, Black belt, hartwedgie and Convict in my tank. I also have three catfish to do a bit of clean up... My temp is 76F. My fish all did very well for a long time and now my Midas has decided to go on a killing spree. I bought him as a full grown adult and knew this could happen but am surprised that it went well and then changed after time.  He killed a (smaller juvie) Texas cichlid. I thought maybe it was size, etc... now the Midas is going after the Black belt. I have tried to change the tank scape, water changes more frequent feeding, etc... Is there anything else I can do besides find him a new home or the other fish new homes? I really love them all but am not enjoying the death... Thank you so much!! Christie < All of your Central American cichlids are aggressive. The midas cichlid is going to be the most aggressive of them all and unfortunately turn into one of the largest too. You have been lucky that they have gotten along so well for as long as they have. All of your fish except the convict get close to a foot long when they reach adulthood. Your midas cichlid will pick your fish off one by one until he is the last one left. If you remove him you may have the same problem with the Jack Dempsey.-Chuck>

Re: 75 gallon Cichlid tank- Midas Question Midas Cichlid Mayhem II - 05/31/08 Everything I read said if I paired them with equally aggressive fish it should work- I know there are no guarantees. So if I want more than one kind of fish I need to change fish all together? What about a pair of Dempsey's with the cat fish? Thank you for your knowledge and taking the time to share it! Christie < Once your midas cichlid took off after the others then they were no longer equally aggressive. The midas cichlid is now more aggressive. As these cichlids grow the males become very territorial and keep all other fish away. If the tank is too small then the entire tank becomes their territory and no fish is safe. The midas cichlid could easily go into a 40-50 gallon tank by himself at an adult size. If you still wanted to keep Central American cichlids then I would recommend species that don't get too large, like your convict, or at least get species that are less aggressive like H. nicaraguense. A spawning pair of Jack Dempseys can be very entertaining. They will guard the fry and eggs from anything including you. If the pair are not spawning then the male is constantly chasing the female and may kill her. A recommended book would be "Enjoying Cichlids" by Ad Konings. It has lots of great photos and very useful information you could use to set up a less aggressive tank with smaller cichlids.-Chuck>

Blue Acara. Neotrop. Cichlid beh.  12/25/07 Recently my Blue Acara has gone into hibernation inside a cave and very seldom comes out to eat or otherwise. No new fish have been added to the tank which presently has a good size Gold Severum, Medium size Gold Gourami, and 2 Silver dollars about 5" on diameter...any thoughts as to why he/she would just do that? thank you Eric <Hello Eric! Acaras -- and indeed cichlids generally -- do not hibernate. So if your fish is exhibiting a sudden change in behaviour, you have something else going on. Now, this needn't necessarily be a bad thing. Mature cichlids will often guard fixed territories and rarely stray from them. Alternately, a change in the "pecking order" may mean the Severum has free reign over the tank but the Acara has to hide away out of sight. Male Gold Gouramis also have a tendency to turn mean as they mature, so that's another wild card in your community. If behaviour isn't the issue, health could be a factor. Do check for things like constipation (very common in omnivorous cichlids) and hole-in-the-head (largely, but not exclusively, triggered by dissolved metabolites including nitrate). Cheers, Neale.>

Green terror, hlth./beh.  12/9/07 I have a 55 Gallon tank, 2 fairly large tin foil Silver dollars, 2 Bala Sharks good size, 1 Gold Gourami, 1 Blue Acara, 1 Gold Severum about 6 inches...Recently my Green Terror (who has not grown at all in 6 months) suddenly started spinning out erratically and would bang himself into the tank then look like he was dead and eventually died. This happened about 5 months with a Red Devil., and I was told it can happen and it is like an aneurism effect... Any ideas? and given the fish I have any thoughts as to what new fish I could add? Thank you Eric <Hello Eric. Well, an aneurism sounds a bit implausible. Normally when fish develop strange behavioural quirks out of thin air, it's more likely to be other factors, such as toxins in the water or sudden changes in temperature. Both of these things will make cichlids act "loopy", rolling over and losing balance. Now, Green terrors (Aequidens rivulatus) are incredibly aggressive fish, and so are Red Devils (Amphilophus labiatus). Neither should be sharing an aquarium as small as 55 gallons, and certainly not with fish as benign as Severums (Heros severus) and Blue Acaras (Aequidens pulcher). Keeping these four cichlids together is just risky on so many levels. So, assuming water quality and chemistry are acceptable (which for this mix of cichlids means neutral to slightly alkaline, moderately hard water) my gut feeling is that behaviour is the key. A Red Devil would probably take down a Green Terror if the two got to fighting, though that would depend on size and sex. I'm not convinced your collection of fish is a good one. While all the fish you have are nice, they're from different environments and have different temperaments. Silver Dollars and Bala Sharks are peaceful schooling fish that prefer soft/acid water conditions. Trichogaster trichopterus Gouramis are small fish (compared to the others anyway) that want similar conditions and could work well with the Silver Dollars and Bala Sharks. Blue Acaras and Severums also prefer soft/acid conditions though both are highly adaptable. Both are relatively peaceful outside of breeding. The Red Devil is the odd man out in your remaining stock: it's a hard, alkaline water fish with an incredibly high level of aggression (males especially, but breeding females as well). I've kept this species and it can easily dominate even a 200 gallon tank. Green Terrors want similar conditions to Blue Acara but are closer to Central American cichlids in terms of aggression. My advice would be to swap out the Red Devil and add something like a suitable soft water catfish, perhaps some type of Plec, Pimelodid (such as Pimelodus ornatus), or maybe a Doradid (e.g., Platydoras costatus). You could also add one of the smaller Snakeheads (if legal in your area). I used to keep Channa asiatica in a robust cichlid community tank and it worked great. Intelligent, personable fish provided not mixed with anything they can eat! Cheers, Neale.>

Cichlids Not Very Active  2/12/07 Hi! As suggested checked all the FAQs on your website for an answer but could not find one. < Thanks for checking anyway> I recently bought a Flowerhorn (four inches) and seeing that he/she was not very active and was not eating felt that he/she may be lonely bought a red devil (three inches).  Yes there was immediate activity of the Flowerhorn chasing the red devil.  However, the next day, it was the red devil who was eating the pellets but the Flowerhorn would feed a few which settled down on the bare bottom of the tank.  But what is strange, instead of eating the food, the Flowerhorn would attack the red devil and stop him/her from eating. Yesterday bought a driftwood so that the water quality might turn out to be better (just guessing) and now both the Flowerhorn and the red devil sit side by side under the driftwood and neither are eating.  What could be the problem? Many thanks and kind regards, < First check the water quality and the water temp. I would first do a 30% water change and make sure the water is around 78 F. Then try changing the diet to something with more meat in it.-Chuck>

Red Devils natural diet? And fat lips? Chuck's Take - 02/11/2007 I have a 7' Red Devil cichlid, his name is Marmalade. He currently is the only fish in his 55 gallon aquarium. <And likely to be the only fish tolerated...> The tank is filtered by two <Good> AquaClear 500s, with weekly 25 to 50 percent water changes. <Also> Water parameters: pH-8.2, ammonia-0, nitrite-0, nitrate-always under 10ppm, and temperature 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Marmalade's tank will be upgrading to a 150 gallon in May. He deserves more tank space to destroy. <Heeeee!>   I am wondering if anyone can tell me what would make up the majority of their natural diet. <Mmm, you can take a look on fishbase.org: http://fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=4786 here for the most commonly named Red Devil Cichlid (there are a few other species so-named). See the notes under "Biology"...> I can find gut analyses for many Amphilophus cichlids citrinellus, xiloaensis, Amarillo, '¦ but not labiatus. < http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=28238&genusname=Amphilophus&speciesname=labiatus> I want to raise live foods for treats. I currently raise cherry red shrimp (Neocaridina denticulata sinensis), snails, and swordtails (Xiphophorus Sp). In the summer I also raise red worm. <All accepted greedily> I also need to know if anyone has suggestions on fattening up Marmalade's lips. The only info I can find about their fat lips says it is callus buildup from their feeding practices in the wild. I want to replicate Marmalade's natural environment as well as possible. My plan is decorating the 150 with 100+ pounds of honeycomb limestone. My hope is that he will excavate the rock for his live treats and fatten up his lips. Any other suggestions? <Mmm, really just time going by... May "fatten up" or no...> I guess I need to mention that I don't know Marmalade is 100% red devil. I purchased him from a pet store, not an importer. I think he shows mostly labiatus characteristics. His nuchal hump is relatively small. When viewed from overhead his jaws come to a point, not rounded like Amphilophus citrinellus. <Am going to place this note in our resident Cichlid expert's in box as well... Chuck Rambo will likely have much more input here. Bob Fenner> <(Chuck's Take). In the wild these guys feed on all kinds of invertebrates like snails, crustaceans, insects as well as small fishes. These prey items are found in between the cracks of the rocks in their natural environment. The large lips on these cichlids are used like a gasket over the openings so they can suck out the prey out between the cracks. When these fish are brought into the aquarium they stop doing this technique and the lips soon go back to a normal size.  There are many Lake Malawi cichlids that have the same large lips in the wild. So far there has been no documentation of any captive cichlids developing these massive lip structures.-Chuck>

Re: Oscar brawl, Neotrop. Cichlid growth/beh.   12/28/06 Chuck (or whoever else might receive this): <Chuck's unfortunately "out" presently> Thank you for your response. I have cooled the temperature down to 74 degrees and, while there is still more belligerence and intimidation going on than is normal, I would not describe it as a brawl anymore. <Heeeeee! Just a minor street scuffle?> You do bring up a couple of interesting questions. First, as you believe overfeeding by an inexperienced aquarist may have contributed to the brawl, what would you consider a proper amount of food for these two four-year old Oscars? Each morning and each evening, they are fed four Tetra Cichlid Jumbo Sticks - an average of two each. Is this too much food? <Mmm, no, not IMO... but I would supplement this fine staple food with some live/fresh material... Earthworms, insect larvae ("meal worms" and such)... are some faves> Plus, how long does one remain an inexperienced aquarist? <Heeeeee! Good question... I am guessing that this entails a subjective evaluation mostly... And is likely till one feels experienced... "enough"> I have been at this for five years now and some day I hope to be considered experienced, even if not expert. <Good> Now, onto the green terror question: <Sounds like a TSA rating... When are the powers that be going to start examining at air-freight? Scam! Doh!> At about the same time that I got the Oscars, I got a green terror.   When they were babies, I had them all in the 90 gallon tank, but as he rapidly grew, the green terror lived up to his name and rained hell down upon the Oscars, whipping the whole tank. I soon bought him a 55 gallon tank of his own and moved him into it. I put a Pleco in there that I figured was big enough and armored enough to hold his own, but the terror never bothered the Pleco. I had a couple of adult clown loaches and decided to see how they would do with the terror and they did just fine. The terror did not bother them. <Lucky> He grew into a beautiful fish, with an abundance of personality.   Everybody loved him. Then, one day, I found him in a state of mysterious shock and he died within 24 hours. I suspected that he had swallowed a stone but I could not bear the thought of cutting him open to find out, so that is just a theory. <A plausible one> I then got another green terror, a baby, along with a Firemouth and I put them both in the 55 gallon tank with the Pleco and the two clown loaches. I have another 55 gallon tank that includes two Firemouths among its population and I figured that, if this terror proved as ferocious towards other cichlids as did the original, I would move the Firemouth into that tank once it became necessary to him. But an odd thing happened. The terror grew very slowly. I think it has been about two years now and this terror is only about 3.5 inches long. The Firemouth, however, grew into a true beauty, much more beautiful than his cohorts in the other 55 gallon tank. He can, and does, whomp the smaller terror at will. Although no real damage has been done, this is very humiliating for the terror, as it has a "tough guy" aura and just does not like to submit to the rule of a Firemouth. <This may be a real factor in the limitation of the Terror's growth... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/GrwLmtChems.htm and the linked files above> Why is the green terror staying so small? I feed the tank two jumbo sticks in the morning, two in the evening, plus a small pinch of flakes both times. Thanks again, Bill <As stated, likely behavioral components at play here... as well as metabolites... Bob Fenner> Convict Cichlid With Phantom Rival  9/18/06 Hey dudes. <Cowabunga! Surf's Up!> I have a male swordtail (3.8 cm) two male firemouths (both about 4 cm) a female (2.75 cm) and male (5.5 cm) convict in a 20 gallon long tank furnished with river rocks, about 2.5 cm gravel, and plastic plants. Obviously, with so many cichlids in such a small tank there is some competition for territory. The male convict seems to have claimed the whole tank as his territory, which he defends with two tactics I have never heard of for a convict cichlid: nosing up to a side of the tank and kicking as hard as he can with his tail fin, and flaring his gills like a Firemouth, throat inflation and all! There is also, of course the usual chasing of intruder fish. I was wondering if the other two techniques, especially the gill flaring, had anything to do with why the convicts haven't bred and why the male has recently developed some pale coloration near the anal fin, but not near the pectoral like what would happen if it was a female. Also, what can I do to get the convicts to breed and how big of a tank will I need for all four full-grown cichlids? -Jack < Your male convict is fighting his reflection in the glass. He thinks he is lip locking with another male convict as a test of strength. As long as he thinks their is a competing male in the tank that is as determined as he is they will probably not spawn. Cover that side of the tank with some paper and see if he stops. Males can get some color in the unpaired fins. females still tend to color up in the belly region. When all your fish are grown and breeding they will probably need a 40 gallon.-Chuck> A disease?  Mean cichlids...   8/16/06 I've been reading lots on your website, and it is just awesome! I've yet to find the info that I am looking for, as it is pretty specific... I have a 180 gallon tank, that I have had for 2 years. I have moved once since then, but it has been set up now for a year without anything changing drastically. In my tank I have a 6 year old Red Devil Cichlid (approximately 13 inches long), <Yikes! A big boy!> a 6 year old Pleco (about 15 inches long), a 2 year old Jaguar Cichlid (although, I don't know that I believe it really is, but that is what I was told) <Perhaps: http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=4684 what used to be called a "Managuense"> (he is about 9 inches), and I have an Oscar that I've only had for about 3-4 months (about 6 inches long). I wouldn't normally put these fish together this way, but I have inherited all but the two 6 year olds from friends who were getting rid of them. They all seemed to get along ok until the last month. Now the Oscar is getting picked on by the jag. <Oh yes...> At first I thought he would be killed, but they seemed to have calmed down a bit now. So, my first issue is that the Oscar still seems to have a lot of wounds that are not healing well. But they never seem to show any signs that they are infected by anything. He still eats well, he doesn't seem to have the common sense to hide, he is always near the top of the tank! Is there something I can do for his wounds to make them heal better? <Yes... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/neotropcichdisfaqs.htm and here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/oscardisfaqs.htm and the linked files above.> My second issue is with my Red Devil. He keeps getting these things that resemble boils over his eye. <Water quality issue very likely... probably measurable as too-high nitrates> They aren't very big, and it is always only one eye or the other and they go away in a week or two. But they have some sort of white puss leaking from them sometimes. He doesn't seem otherwise affected. He eats normally he doesn't seem to hide out or act sick in any way. Then they just go away. I have done a lot of water quality tests, and they come out in the normal ranges. <Non-informational... need numbers> But these are just strip tests and I am thinking I need to invest in some real, more accurate testing equipment. <A good idea> For filtration I have 2 Fluval 404 canisters and 2 Fluval 2 pluses with only biological filtration. I fluctuate gravel sweeping, water changes and filter cleaning regularly. <Good> I generally do one of these every weekend, or sometimes I will wait 2 weeks. <I would do the gravel vacuuming, water changes weekly. Check for alkalinity/reserve... pH> Any advice? Thanks so much for all of your help!!! Kendra <I do hope all these neotropicals learn to get along... do keep your eyes open for too-much over aggression toward the Oscar, be ready to move it. Bob Fenner> Red Terror Cichlid repro., beh.   8/11/06 Hi,       I have a festae Cichlid, around 6-8 inches long, in a 120 gallon long tank. My question is; is there any way to tell if it is a male or female? <Mmm, maybe... like classic neotropical cichlids of all sorts, the unpaired fins on the males are a bit longer, more pointed/attenuated at the tips... Hard to tell w/o a female/comparison though> It is living (relatively peacefully with 2 juvenile cichlids, a Green Terror, and a Salvini, and 2 baby cichlids, a Firemouth, and a Convict, and has not really been overall aggressive (any more an any other average American cichlid) to any of the other fish. The fish is colorful, but not overly so, and constantly "digs" pots, as though getting ready to spawn, but has no mate, nor any other unrelated cichlid in the tank of breeding age/size. In light of the relatively peaceful temperament, and the digging, do you think I have a male or a female, also, can this arrangement work long-term? What about if I add an Oscar? Thanks in advance, <Good question... Not able to say though... could be either from the behavior, looks described. It isn't impossible to "mate" with other cichlids... Bob Fenner> Laetacara curviceps - split tail fin   7/25/06 Hello Crew <Tim> I recently bought a pair of Laetacara curviceps (actually suggested by Chuck), <Wish he'd get back from the ACA, American Cichlid Association get-together> currently in a tank with a pair of Blue Rams and a pair of Apistogramma cacatuoides, and other fish. They both have split tails - the tail is almost split in half, all the way to the flesh. They both are very shy, although the male is eating better than the female. The female seems to only eat when food conveniently drops in front of it, though the male would actually slowly swim after morsels of brine shrimp or flakes. Do you think they are simply naturally shy or stressed/sick at the moment? <They're a bit of both> Ammonia is currently zero, nitrite zero and nitrate 20 - will do a water change shortly. <Good> The tail problem does not seem to be fin/tail rot. Would you be able to advise what possibly could be the cause of this? <Likely some bit of tussle> Would Melafix help? <Not worthwhile IMO> What would you suggest to help the tails heal given that it does not seem like fin/tail rot? <A bit of salt, patience, good maintenance and close observation. You may need to separate these new world cichlid species...> What are the chances of complete recovery? <Very good. The family has tremendous powers of regeneration> Thanks again! Tim <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Texas Cichlid Shedding His Skin 07/04/06 Hi. I am totally new to the whole experience of owning a fish and I started out with a Texas cichlid. Now he is around the size of a hand span from wrist to the second joint. I have him on a strict diet with a filter system and air bubbles and the whole show. He was doing fine and recently (today) he began to shed skin. Well that's what it looks like he is doing. He is not completely covered but almost halfway covered in  a white skin looking layer and is steadily loosing the layer.  The only problem is I can't tell if he is loosing it or gaining more decaying skin. He still eats good and swims around when am not looking right in front of the tank. He is even socialable with my other 3 convict cichlids. I guess am asking if you could tell me if he is really shedding scales do to stress or some other issue or if he will be ok   Thank you very much Amanda < Cichlids do not shed their skin like reptiles. Do a 50% water change, vacuum the gravel and clean the filter. Treat the bacterial infection with Nitrofuranace after the treatment the good bacteria will probably be affected and you will need to add Bio Spira to get the biological filtration going again.-Chuck>

My albino Oscar with stunned growth Hello, <Hi.  Sabrina here, today.> I have been reading your Q&A for some time now; I even have your web page on my favorites. <Wonderful, glad you enjoy it!> I have a single Albino Oscar in a 55 Gallon tank, He used to have a Tiger Oscar for a tank mate, but after separating them with a piece of Plexi glass because of aggression towards the Albino I gave the Tiger away and let the Albino have the whole tank to himself, <Good plan - a 55 is pretty small for two Oscars, in the long run.> his only other tank mates are these two bottom feeder fish with red fins (no clue what type of bottom feeder they are) <Though that description covers a *lot* of fish, check out http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/minnowshks.htm , might be rainbow "sharks"?> I used to have a Pleco in the tank, but one day my wife said she was looking in there and saw the tail sticking out of Burney's mouth (the albino Oscar) <Mmmm.... Pleco....> We quickly assessed he was mad that we hadn't fed him live feeders in a few days. <"Feeder" fish are a pretty risky food item, and there are lots of better feeding options.  Look into frozen meaty foods, like Ocean Nutrition's "Formula One", or frozen shrimp, prawns, scallops, etc., from the grocery store.  If he accepts dry foods, there are lots on the market that would do better for him than risking introducing illness from feeders.> According to the test kits we have, My PH is about 7.2, and Ammonia levels are at 0.  The tank is filtered with two Penguin 330 power filter; so I'm circulating the tank about 12 times an hour. <All good.> Burney appears to be extremely happy, he has been living in the 55 gallon tank sense we got him when he was about an inch long about 5 months ago,  he swims around from end to end and top to bottom; sometimes I look close to see if he has a smile on his face...he just seems so full of life.   <Sounds like a happy, healthy fish!> The only problem that I wonder about is that he looks like he hasn't grown anymore, he is about 7- 71/2  inches from mouth to end of rear fin.  I know that a 55 gallon tank is small for an Albino that can reach lengths of about 14 inches <And larger, occasionally!> but under financial circumstances that's the largest I can accommodate right now.  Is it possible that he has stunned growth because of the size of his present home; or is it possible that he could be a "runt of the litter"; <Both are entirely possible.  Might also be due in part to the abuse the tiger dealt to him earlier in life.> I have already ruled out water quality because of knowing how well I take care and change it, and his actions. Or do they just slow down growing? <They do, yes.  Healthier foods will probably help him out, here.  If he is a runt, consider yourself lucky - you may never have to upgrade tank size!  It sounds like he's very active and healthy; I would not worry about his small size too much, sounds like he's just fine.> have any ideas, thanks <Better foods is the only major suggestion I can give you.> I'm attaching a picture of Burney <And a cutey, indeed!  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Help Blood Red Parrot Fish Hi, I have two blood red parrot fish that I have had for about two years. Here recently one has faded from a bright red to a very pale pink while the other still maintains his color. I have changed the water several times and even tested the pH. I don't know what the problem could be and I was wondering if you could help me? Thanks.  < If everything else is fine and the fish is eating well and acting normal then the problem is probably genetics. Your blood red parrot fish is a hybrid between a couple different species of fish. One of them is a red devil that comes in many different colors. Sometimes as the fish grows these colors change. Red devils come in bright red, orange , pinkish white, white and grey. If all else is well then you can ask your local fish store for some color enhancing food. It may help but I think the pale pink color is hear to stay.-Chuck>

Green terror Cichlid Growth  8/30/05 Hi, I just recently got a green terror that is 2 inches long. Can you tell me how fast they will actually grow? < In a year it should be between 8 and 12 inches depending on the sex and environmental factors.-Chuck.> Midas Cichlid Darkening Up  10/6/05 Hi!  I just purchased an orange Midas fish about four days ago.  He seems to be fine, very bossy, chasing the two Oscars around.  I noticed today that his tail and fin tip are turning black and that he has some black spots underneath.  Is this normal and what is it? Thanks, Lori < Could simply be genetics or diet. Change the diet to see if it goes away. Probably not a disease.-Chuck>

Cichlid Digging Causing Problems 11/3/05 Hello Crew, I have a tank of 4 cichlids, and currently one of the South American Cichlids has burrowed under the rock formation in the tank. I assumed that the fish was going to be laying eggs. She has recently exhibited what looks like bruises on her side and then a day later red gills. I just wanted to know if this should be cause for alarm? < Depends on the species. Some spawning behavior does include some color changes that may be misinterpreted as a bruise.> ( is she being hurt through her digging process) Or if this is the norm. The behavior patterns are normal for a pregnant fish, she eats at feeding time and then goes back in her nest. < Find out the species name and we can help determine if there is really a problem.> I also wanted to take a minute out to say, "Thank You." your site has lots of useful information on it. < We appreciate your kind words.-Chuck>

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