I think that Cichlids can be an extremely fun fish to watch. They interact with each other and other fish in interesting ways and they have their own set of habits that can be really entertaining from building shelters to courting and breeding. I live on a budget, fresh out of college, so to set up a cheap cichlid tank, I decided to do a single species that stays small so I can use a smaller tank and less expensive equipment. Cichlids usually need a larger tank to accomodate their size and territoriality. I really wanted to try African Cichlids of some type, even though most of the South American dwarves are more colorful. Most African Cichlids grow to at least 4-6 inches, but I did find one group of cichlids, the Shell-dwellers from Lake Tanganyika, that would be just the right fit for my set-up. Many of these cichlids stay under 2 inches even as adults, so the 15 gallon tank that I have will provide plenty of space for several. They use the empty shells of aquatic snails as sites for breeding and shelter, and this behavior alone is very interesting to watch.
Shell-dwellers prefer to have a fine sand bed to hold their shells stable and so they can dig around the shells. I used three 5 pound bags of Natural Tan Sand, a 5 pound bag of Black Sand and a 10 pound bag of Aragonite. I rinsed and mixed all the sand together in a five gallon bucket before adding it to the tank. Next, I added the water, which I buffered with Seachem Tanganyika Buffer to ensure the proper pH needed to keep the little guys happy. I attached an AquaClear 20 as my filtration, and also added an Aqueon Pro 100 watt heater. I let the tank run for the first 24 hours to make sure everything was working correctly and to let the temperature get to 78 degrees.
The decoration I chose for the tank is minimal. I like my tanks to look natural, so I added a few live plants to the tank: spiralis, ciliata and African Water Fern. I also collected some empty shells, 20 or 30 turbo snail shells and a few margarita shells for any juveniles that might eventually occupy the tank. I stayed away from rocks, wood and other heavier ornamentation so that my view of the cichlids won’t be hindered.
On day two, I added some starter fish, 12 white cloud mountain minnows, to start the cycle in the tank. I also added half of a bottle of Nite Out II (Nite Out II contains live bacteria that help to seed the biological in your tank and speed up the cycle). When I added the fish. After the first week, I had 6 minnows left alive, so I added another bottle of Nite Out II. By the end of the second week I had 1 white cloud left, the rest had become casualties of new tank syndrome. I tested my water at least 5 times during the first two weeks the tank was running. In that time the ammonia spiked and the nitrite spiked, too. I added three Sailfin mollies at the end of the second week to help finish the cycle. On the 16th day, the tank had no ammonia , but still showed a nitrite level of 1.0 ppm. The sailfin mollies and the White Cloud minnow will remain in the tank to keep the bacteria going. I want to be sure that the cycle is finished before adding my shellies. Once the nitrite has dropped down to zero I’ll be able to add my permanent fish. Next time I’ll tell you about the fish I chose and why!