Practical Information About Keeping, Breeding and Buying Dwarf Cichlids

Fish Profiles & Photos
South American  
    sp. "Abacaxis"
    sp. "Putumayo"
    sp. "Steel Blue"

West African 

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Dwarf Cichlid Aquarium Care

       Most dwarf cichlids species are quite hardy and can usually make excellent aquarium fish. For a beginner there are a number of great starter species that will provide a good introduction to keeping these beauties. Once you have been successful with a couple of different species you will have developed the basic skills needed to handle more difficult species.

      The information that follows is highly biased. It is nothing but my opinion and may not be worth what you are paying for it (nothing!). However, I have been keeping and commercially breeding dwarf cichlids for more than 20 years and these are the techniques I use to keep my fish healthy and (hopefully) happy. I do not want anyone to ever think that I am saying these are the only or even the best way of doing things. I believe that there are a lot of successful ways to keep dwarfs what I offer is my way. I hope that you can find something of use. I present here a very basic primer for keeping and breeding Apistogrammas and other dwarf cichlids.

Good Water

     Dwarf cichlids have an established reputation for demanding extreme water conditions. While some species may require very soft acid water, most will do nicely in water that is moderately soft and only slightly acid, or even neutral. These conditions can be found in some areas in the tap water but most of us are not so lucky. I use reverse osmosis (most commonly referred to as RO) water in all of my tanks and have for more than 20 years.

Shop for RO filters here
     RO filters have become quite common and the bottled water dispensed in most grocery store machines is RO filtered. RO water is very pure and of the highest quality. It should contain virtually no hardness and be of neutral pH. While it is certainly possible to fill your tank(s) with water purchased from the store, this is not a viable long term situation for most hobbyists.

    It is possible to keep and possibly breed many species of dwarf cichlids in hard alkaline water. However, there are few that will thrive in these conditions. Most commonly the fish will not grow as well or be as colorful as those raised in softer water. Many hard water spawnings fail because the eggs do not become fertilized in hard water. These infertile eggs are quickly eaten by the parent. Attempts at artificial hatching will result in fungused eggs.

    Whatever type of water you have, frequent water changes make the difference between fish that do well and fish that excel! In the wild most of these fish are exposed to a constant flow of clean fresh water. Few hobbyists are equipped with constant flow systems so we must try to provide for our fish the best we can. This means changing the water often. Many general aquarium books recommend changing 20% of the water every two to three weeks. I believe that 50% once a week is the absolute minimum for keeping healthy dwarfs.

     I must emphasize that I consider this to be a minimum for maintenance. If you are spawning adults or growing out youngsters I recommend 40% every other day or more frequent. It is not unusual for some of my tanks to get 70% changes daily. However, this is not the norm. I usually shoot for 40 - 50% four or five days a week.

     I don't condition my water in any way before putting it in the tanks. I actually run the output from my RO directly into the tank after I have siphoned out water. I know how long it takes to run certain amounts of water and I know when I need to check to output. I do not buffer the RO, I do not add back tap water and I do not heat the water. All of this is contrary to what most will tell you. I am not disputing them in any way but am telling you what works for me.

     If you are new to keeping dwarf cichlids I recommend that you purchase water testing tools (strips, color kits or meters) and learn to use them and under stand what the results mean. This will really teach you a lot about fish keeping. I recommend that you keep a log or journal that documents your fish keeping experiences. In this log you can keep track of the water quality readings overtime and learn to relate them to what you observe happening in our tank(s). After some period of time you will begin to find that you can tell if something is "off" with your water. This seems to happen with most hobbiests as we begin to intuitively understand when our fish are at their best and when something is not right. Frequent water testing is a great way to start to hone your intuitions.

    One of the problems that often comes with water testing is the desire to modify the natural conditions of the water. For most dwarf cichlid hobbiests this means trying to soften the water or lower the pH without using RO. While it is possible to do both of these to some degree, I don't recommend it. While I have no problem with those who wish to use peat to try and modify their water, I strongly encourage you not to try to use chemicals to change your water chemistry. Chemical additives can produce temporary changes, especially in pH. However, these are generally of short duration and the water quickly returns to its original state. It is almost impossible to maintain a stable pH by using chemical adjustments.

    There you have it. Use good clean water, do large frequent water changes, test your water and don't tinker too much and you will be well on your way to having success with dwarfs!

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