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Setting up a South American Cichlid Aquarium

Peacock BassHey folks, it’s been a while! Today I’m going to give you some suggestions on creating a habitat for small South American Cichlids, but first let me tell you about some new additions to my finny friend collection. I recently bought a 4 inch Geophagus altifrons and two 5 inch Ocellaris Peacock Bass. They ended up going into my 40 breeder with my 2 to 2.5 inch Cuban Cichlid pair. After acclimating for an hour or so, they were placed into the tank.  I observed their behaviour towards the Cubans for a while, just to be sure there weren’t giong to be any problems. The bass showed no interest in attacking or devouring my little Cubans, actually it was the opposite, as the Cubans actually displayed threatening behaviour towards the bass by flaring their gills and charging at them. This went on for at least 2 days, and then I noticed that the bass would not eat any of the prepared foods that I put into the tank. I offered some trout worms and still no luck. I decided to break down and get a few small feeders, a last resort.

As the days went by I noticed that the Cubans would hide a lot and only came out for feeding, so I decided to watch them with the room lights off. The bass were hunting the Cubans! We were getting ready to move to another apartment, so I had to think fast. The wheels in my head started spinning. I moved the pair of Cubans into the 10 gallon that was holding my Largemouth Bass, and he went into the 40. He quickly assumed dominance over the Peacock Bass. I thought that maybe if the Peacocks saw the Largemouth eat that they would catch on. Again, no luck…now they’re stuck on feeders, so I’ll be hoping to trade them in one day soon.

Now on to the subject at hand, a set-up for South Americans. A tank for South Americans can range from a 10 gallon to an aquarium over a couple hundred gallons, depending on the fish you want to keep. If you’re hoping to keep fish like Peacock Bass to maturity, you’re going to need a BIG tank, but for this blog installment, I am going to talk about a 15 gallon set-up for some Dicrossus filamentosus. Known as the Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlid, males top out at 3 inches and females at 2.5 inches. This species is found along muddy shorelines with scattered leaf litter, so the decor I suggest will make them feel at home. You can furnish the tank with driftwood and maybe some small clay pots and flat stones for when the fish are ready to spawn. If you want, you can even try to add some leaves you may find in a river, stream or lake; just make sure you rinse them off really well. The last thing you want is to unleash a hellgramite or some other unwanted invader into your aquarium (yuck). I would recommend some low light plants, like java fern and anubias species tied to the driftwood, and a dark, fine sustrate for the bottom. Low light will complement the fish, too. Under bright light the blues, greens and reds on this species practically disappear. Low light plants, driftwood (which often leaches tannins) and the addition of products like Amazon Extract (blackwater) keeps this particular species looking sharp.

Checkerboard CichlidOnce you fill the tank, check out your pH and hardness. You should aim to maintain a stable pH of 6.5 for wild fish and 7.0-7.4 for captive bred fish, with a low general hardness. The driftwood and Amazon Extract or a similar additive will help to keep the water soft. These little guys like the water warm and stable at about 80 to 82 degrees, so you’ll need a fully submersible heater for the tank.  For a 15 gallon, one in the 75 watt range with a external thermometer should do the trick. Lighting should be chosen with the plants in mind more than the fish. A small power filter pushing 75 to 100 gallons an hour should keep the environment healthy, as long as you don’t overcrowd. Stay on top of weekly water changes, about 10 percent each week. Diet for these fish can consist of any foods from flakes to frozen to live foods, like blackworms and bloodworms. I would add 4 to 5 small 1 inch fish to the tank to try to get a pair, moving the rest once a male and female pair up. Then I would add 5 rummy nose tetras and 5 neons or cardinal tetras to keep the middle of the tank active since the cichlids spend most of their time on the bottom.

I hope this was an enjoyable read for people and I hope I piqued someone’s interest in these little gems from South America. Let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to share your own ideas for a South American set-up.

Until next time,

Jose

Peacock bass image referenced from wikipedia

3 comments

  1. avatar

    Hallo Jose

    Good to see you back!
    As I am keeping Tanganyica cichlids as well as piranha, I have following question:
    Our dams are little polluted but I got the idea to catch some fish, freeze the meat and then use it for feeding my fish. The question is are parasites and bacteria actually killed when the meat is frozen?

    Thanxzzz for your so passionate topics which ad quite a bit new inspiration to my aquarium hobby!

  2. avatar

    Hey gert its nice to hear that blogs can inspire, as for your question about freezing most parasites and bacteria should die off but what would worry me more would be any toxins that have soaked into the flesh, there would be a good chance that the piranha would then be infected. hope this helped Jose

  3. avatar

    Thanxzzz Jose

    It did help! I am always trying to use as much as possible natural resources but thinking of the afford I would have to make to test for various toxins…hmmmm?! I think it then to be easier to buy the meat from the shops!
    But, at least you have answered me well! Thanxzzz again
    Gert

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About Jose Mendes

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That Fish Place’s resident “Cichlid Pro.” In addition to working at TFP for 13 years, Jose’s been breeding Cichlids for over 14 years and has produced over 200 different species. Jose is the man to question for everything cichlid. Check out Jose’s work in the article: Keeping and Breeding African Cichlids in Small Aquariums, and his many other contributions on cichlid husbandry, behavior, and his personal experiences with keeping cichlids from across the globe.