Dwarf cichlids – A blaze of colour in the aquarium

If you don’t have the space for a large aquarium but love the idea of having colourful cichlids, take a look at the dwarf variety.

Most cichlids need a spacious tank. However, even if you have a small 80 litre aquarium, you don’t have to miss out on these vibrantly coloured fish. Dwarf cichlids only measure about five to eight cm when they are fully grown and are happy in smaller tanks too. In fact some species even feel more at home there.

That said, they need their small tanks to be “just so”. A large part of the aquarium must have dense planting. Choose low-growing plants with large leaves for the front area, and fast-growing, tall plants for the back to create a dense “jungle”. This will give your little cichlids somewhere to shelter and hide. The more foliage you install in the aquarium, the more your fish will dare to venture out from the undergrowth to display their fascinating courtship and breeding behaviour. Most cichlids are cave spawners and they lay their eggs very secretively.

When you design your aquarium, be sure to include items like a coconut shell with a walnut-sized opening, a cichlid nesting hole made of ceramic or clay, or tree roots and stone structures that form a cave. Spread them out across the floor and fill them with generous amounts of sand and fine-grained gravel. Many dwarf cichlids such as the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid or the Butterfly Cichlid love to burrow in the ground, creating space under a stone or a tree root.

Coexisting with other breeds
In an 80 litre aquarium, you should not keep more than one pair of the same species. This is because all cichlids create territories which they will defend against their rivals. If you were to keep two males in such a small space, they would split the aquarium into zones and neither would dare come out of their corners, i.e. their own territory. Either that or they would fight. Clearly you’ll want to avoid both of these scenarios. If you have apistogramma breeds you can keep several females together with one male, as they create harems. Other species form monogamous pairs, such as the purple cichlid.

If you wish to populate a large aquarium with dwarf cichlids, they will coexist with other breeds such as the docile and peaceful tooth carp. Ideally you should select species that will settle in other parts of the tank, such as guppies, who mainly stay at the top, or small characids, who prefer to keep to the middle layers of water.

Incidentally, these little predators adore live food – it’s their favourite delicacy. Other than that they’re not too fussy and will also eat flakes (there are special varieties for cichlids) and frozen food.

Depending on their place of origin, these tropical fish need water temperatures of 20 to 28 degrees Celsius for them to be fully active. Their water quality requirements are also based on their origin. South American species mostly prefer soft water with a low pH value between 5.5 and 7. West African fish and some species from Central America can live in medium hard water with a pH value of 7 to 7.5.

Lighting should be kept to a minimum as most of these species feel better in dimmer conditions. Apistogramma even like it when the water turns slightly brown from natural products such as roots, leaves and alder pine cones. And it is in this somewhat dingy environment that their true colours shine through.

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