With over a thousand species of cichlids it can be difficult choosing which will be best for your aquarium. Before heading out and buying however, it is important realise the cichlids are often aggressive, territorial fish and as such as not particularly suited to community tanks.
There are two main classifications of cichlids, those from Lake Malawi and those from Lake Tanganyika, both of which are explored below.
Lake Malawi Cichlids
Cichlids from Lake Malawi are highly popular as they can be visually striking and grow to relatively large sizes. It is generally agreed that there are more sub-species of Malawi cichlids than those in Lake Tanganyika, despite Lake Malawi’s smaller size. This greater diversification however takes place in the same subfamily line, meaning that whilst there is variety in appearance, there is less diversity in behavioural and habitual traits for the different subspecies.
The result of this is that Lake Malawi cichlids can be highly territorial and aggressive. In the wild, resources are limited causing cichlids to become extremely competitive for the best spots within their rocky habitat. Unfortunately, within a home tank the limited space can result in this territoriality becoming a problem.
Lake Tanganyika Cichlids
The situation in Lake Tanganyika is slightly different from that in Malawi because diversification is from multiple lineages. This means that the different species of cichlid from Tanganyika each have a niche, leading to less competition and subsequently less aggression.
These niches are frequently described as biotypes and can range from phytoplankton pickers to scale rippers and even sand sifters. It is by carefully selecting cichlids along the lines of behaviour that it is possible to build a community in a large enough tank, although this should only really be done after seeking the advice of an expert.
What if I want to create a community?
Choose young fish
Most fish keepers advise that cichlids be kept in a single species set up but even as a single species aggression can cause problems. It has been suggested that the best way to create a community of cichlids is to purchase numerous juvenile fish simultaneously. This approach ensures that the fish have time to get used to their tank mates as they grows, allowing them to sort a balance of power and territory over time.
This option is arguably the best way to create a harmonious community of cichlids although it is worth bearing in mind that juvenile cichlids are not always the brightest and most aesthetically pleasing fish, as typically it is the adults which are brighter and more colourful.
Choose different fish
Another tip for picking cichlids is to choose single fish from a different genus or if you are going to have many fish from the same genus, pick ones that are different colours. Ultimately cichlids are most aggressive towards similar fish as these pose the greatest threat and competition. Subsequently as an owner it worth considering different shapes, sizes and colours of cichlid if trying to achieve a community as these will not necessarily be seen as direct competition.
Follow the size of mouth rule
Despite their aggressive and territorial nature there are some other species of fish that can cohabitate with cichlids. These include Synodontis catfish, labeo sharks and botia loaches. This will largely depend upon the individual levels of aggression for each of your cichlids and also to ensure that you never add a fish that is smaller than the mouth of your largest fish.
Keeping cichlids can be extremely rewarding, particularly when you have established a balance of personalities within the tank and have a healthy collection of full size fish. To achieve this, care needs to be taken from the outset when choosing your fish and an understanding of how some fish may upset this balance needs to be gained. If you are interested in keeping Lake Malawi or Tanganyika cichlids why not pop into one of our stores or find us on Facebook to discuss keeping a single species aquarium?