Top 10 tips on African Cichlids

crowded malawis

Top 10 tips for a successful African cichlid tank

African cichlids on youtubeTip number one. Watch a lot of cichlid videos on youtube. With many expert hobbyists giving first hand experience of setting up a cichlid aquarium, which species to buy, maintenance of a cichlid aquarium through to breeding the various, mbunas, peacocks, haps, Tanganyikans and other topics. Always be prepared to learn more because there’s tons of information in video format.

Tip number two. Over filtrate. Always buy a filter that is twice as powerful as the recommended size. Your tank has to be super clean the reason is because most Malawi tanks are overcrowded. Malawi aquariums are over stocked to spread aggression. Malawis are big eaters and cichlids are constantly producing waste you need to over filtrate. Running two filters simultaneously in the same tank is also a great idea. Canister filters are a must. You need to stuff them full of good filter material to do both mechanical and biological filtration.

Tip number three. Overstock your tank. Overstocking will crowded malawishelp spread the aggression between the fish so that no individual fish gets singled out. Even then you will still see aggression, where one fish will want to eliminate another particular tank mate. It is something that you have to expect when keeping Africans. But do all you can to keep that kind of behaviour down. To reduce it to a minimum. over stocking your tank, rearrange the rock scape every two weeks, and be quick to act when you see one fish getting constantly bullied by another. If it looks like one fish has picked out another fish for destruction remove the aggressor or the victim immediately.

Tip number four. Act quickly when you see a fish getting beaten up or looking ill. If you see mouth locking, tattered fins or hit marks on the side of the body. Immediately remove the weak or injured fish. If you leave it too late and remove a harassed fish you will often find that the fish will still end up dying either the same day or a few days later.

yellow bags in bagTip number five. Always add 4 or more fish to an aquarium at a time. Adding just one or two fish to an established aquarium results in the new fish entering other fishes already established territories and so will get beaten up.

Tip number six. Spend less on the filter canister and use the money saved to buy good quality filter media. And again having two canisters will enable you to service one canister while the other keeps running doing its job of filtering the impurities from the water and avoiding ammonia and nitrite spikes. And if
one filter fails you will still have one filter running until you can fix the broken filter or buy another one.

Tip number seven. If you skip one day a week of feeding the fish or possibly two days a week you will notice that your fish are more healthy and active. Also they will be less prone to getting Malawi bloat which is common in Malawis which are always eating. They are supposed to be eating mostly algae. So when they eat dried foods which are a more concentrated food than they find in the wild, you are actually overfeeding them. Also the water will be cleaner because less eating results in less fish waste.

Aquarium water changeTip number eight. Change 40-50% water changes every week. Try and set up an automatic top up system. Use a long hose system of some sort. When you add tap water use a water conditioner. It is wise to overdose rather than underdose on water conditioner. The easier this task is the less likely you are to skip it. Carrying buckets of water up and down in your living room every time you do a water change is likely to cause an accident at some time.

Tip number nine. Research on YouTube on the particular species of African that you intend to buy. You need to find out whether your particular fish is overly aggressive or passive or even a carnivore. Or the fish may grow much bigger than you can cope with. Always be prepared to move on a fish that is not suitable for your aquarium. Some fish that are beautiful and small when young can become nasty monsters that quickly outgrow your aqurium.

sulphur head peacockTip number ten. Don’t be too obsessive over getting everything exactly right. This is a hobby that is meant to be enjoyed so relax and don’t be too worry if the tank is not too perfect. You don’t have to be overly precise. Remember Malawis are strong fish that are mostly immune to things like ich.

Lastly an overall tip is to always chat with other hobbyists on the forums. Ask questions. Answer other people’s questions. Share your experiences with other hobbyists.

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers make and how to avoid them

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank
Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

New aquarium hobbyists are generally an excitable bunch—they are quick to purchase all the tools necessary and eager to begin their first foray into the colorful and rewarding world of fish keeping. That excitement, however, can lead to some important oversights when it comes to maintaining a successful tank. If you are new to the aquarium hobby and would like to ensure success, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls:

Number one: lack of patience

In order to ensure the success of your aquarium, you must be able to provide your fish with a stable environment that is carefully and patiently attended to. The desire to get everything done right now and enjoy a colorful display of fish may be overwhelming, but if you do not take the time to address the water conditions of your tank first, you run the risk of killing fish.

Examples of impatient behavior that threatens fish include placing fish into your tank before it is cycled, placing multiple fish in your tank on the same day, and overfeeding. It is important that each of these steps is taken carefully and with respect towards appropriate timing.

Make sure you treat tap water to remove chlorine or allow a bucket of tap water to rest for 36 hours before adding to the aquarium.
When adding new fish they should ideally be quarantined first and when putting a fish into an aquarium put the bag into the aquarium first for 15 minutes before emptying the fish into the aquarium.

Don’t overfeed your fish. Any uneaten food should be removed within five minutes. Use a siphon to hover out uneaten food. The amount of food a fish can eat is minute. Most beginners overestimate what their fish can eat.

Don’t feed just for entertainment, to get the fish to actively swim for food is not a good idea.

Don’t buy sick or unhealthy fish. Keep your money in your pocket and find a shop where they sell healthy fish.

Wait until your fish tank is ready before buying fish.

Number two: not understanding the nitrogen cycle

All about cycling here

Make sure you have a good filter. The more powerful, the better. Not buying a filter is the surest way to fish death.

This mistake links heavily with mistake number one, since an unsuccessful tank cycling is often the result of impatience. Getting bacteria in your tank to reliably convert toxic ammonia into nitrite and nitrate is of critical importance to the health of your fish, and it takes time. If you rush this important step, your fish will have a very hard time surviving.

Thankfully, there are numerous guides on this website and others dedicated to helping newcomers understand the nitrogen cycle. By following those guidelines to the letter and giving your tank time to become the ideal environment in which the necessary bacteria can grow on your filter medium, you will ensure that your first fish thrive.

Buy a filter with a lot of surface area such as a sponge and make sure it is well powered. The bigger the aquarium the more powerful a filter you need. The filter is not there to just filter ‘bits’ out of the water but more importantly it is there to allow bacteria to break down fish waste into harmless substances.

Do not clean everything in the tank. You will remove the healthy bacteria. Washing the gravel is a big no-no. But you should hover the gravel to remove any debris or fish waste.

Do not wash the filter’s sponge in tap water as you will kill the healthy bacteria.

Also do not use soap or detergents or any other chemicals to clean the aquarium or any equipment. Most are poisonous to fish.

Number three: buying a small tank

Often, newcomers to the aquarium hobby will look at large tanks and think they require expert-level care due to their size when in fact, the opposite is true. Large tanks offer a far more forgiving environment for your fish when it comes to water quality—one of the most challenging areas for newcomers.

If you choose a small tank, you run the risk of upsetting the balance of water acidity, hardness, or ammonia levels very easily. In a large tank, even significant mistakes can be remedied with relative simplicity, owing to the greater volume of water present. You are much less likely to accidentally kill your fish in a large tank, so it is worth it to invest in the biggest one you can afford!

Goldfish bowl – this is a big no-no.

Number four: overstocking your tank

If you succeed in properly cycling your tank and setting up the right conditions for your fish to thrive in, you still run the risk of overstocking your tank with fish. Experienced aquarists can run highly populated tanks, but a newcomer would invite disaster by the attempt.

There are many rules to combining the ratio of fish to tank volume, but one of the most common is through measuring the total length of your fish and comparing that to the volume of tank. One safe option is to measure 1 cm of fish for every 2 liters of water. Thus, a 60 liter tank (16 gallons) could reliably support 30 cm (12 inches) of fish.

Stop buying every fish that takes your fancy. If you buy more fish, you must first buy another aquarium.
Also check the adult size of the young fish you buy. When your fish start to grow they can become overcrowded.

Number five: choosing incompatible fish

Suggested compatible fish

Appropriate research into the needs and behaviors of your fish is key to maintaining a safe and pleasant environment for them. Certain species require very different water conditions, and others will behave aggressively. It helps to have the advice of an experienced aquarist on hand when choosing your fish so that you can enjoy a colorful, rewarding selection of fish.

While there are numerous guides available for choosing your first group of fish, and many helpful suggestions can be found online, even the most studied of newcomers can make mistakes. Taking fish behavior, ideal water conditions, and favorite position in the tank (bottom-dwellers, surface feeders, etc.) into consideration is best done with the help of a mentor.

Number six: overfeeding

Easily the most common mistake made by new fish owners, overfeeding can have disastrous consequences on the condition of your tank. Fish are opportunistic eaters that will generally consume whatever food is present—just because they eat does not mean they needed to be fed.

When starting out, feed your fish once per day, taking care to test the water before feeding and, if necessary, withhold their food for a day or two. You are not starving your fish, but making sure that their waste is effectively processed before you introduce more food. Give them only enough food for them to finish in five minutes, and they should be fine.

Number seven: infrequent water changes

Many new aquarium owners, having learned about the nitrogen cycle and taken the time to set up their tank properly, make the mistake of believing that this chemical cycle will take care of all waste in the tank. While it does convert harmful ammonia into nitrate, it does not protect against high levels of nitrate which can irritate fish—you still need to perform water changes and hover your substrate every week.

Also do not change more than 25% of the water at any one time.

Number eight: insufficient filtration

Your filter could be the single most important piece of equipment in your tank. Not only does it separate debris from your water, but most of the beneficial bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle inhabit the filter medium. For this reason, you should err on the side of over-sizing your filter.

For the best results, purchase a filter that can turn the volume of your aquarium 4 or 5 times per hour. This is slightly more than commonly recommended, and ensures that you have enough power to keep your water in prime condition. Remember, too much filtration is never a problem, but insufficient filtration is a constant frustration.

Number nine: not adhering to a maintenance schedule

Suggested maintenance schedule

This mistake is often the root cause of mistake number seven. Fish keeping is not a set-and-forget hobby—you need to apply yourself to keeping your fish healthy on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you will need to dedicate between one and three hours per week to cleaning the tank, testing the water, and performing your water changes.

Doing this effectively requires that you introduce this into your weekly schedule. Newcomers to the hobby who attempt to rely on their intuition will suffer disastrous consequences eventually. Keeping track of your maintenance schedule is key to success, and easy to organize: simply set up a reminder program in a calendar application on your computer or smart phone for reliable reminders.

Change 10% of the water every week should be fine for most fish. Rinse the filter out in aquarium water when the flow starts to slow down.

Number ten: not including live plants

Suggested beginners plants

While newcomers to the aquarium hobby often like the look of live plants, they frequently omit these important and helpful aquarium guests, thinking that they require too much maintenance. In reality, live plants reduce maintenance needs by passively out-competing algae for nutrients in the tank and oxygenating the water efficiently.

If you want to ensure the greatest conditions possible for your first aquarium, invest in some hardy live plants and let them perform some of the work for you. You will be glad you did!

Even if you have a good filter removing the fishes waste products. Over time nitrates will build up. When you do water changes you dilute the nitrate however you do not remove it entirely. Plants remove nitrate so helping to remove the low level waste of nitrates.

Plants also help to remove some toxins from the water. Plants help prevent algae by absorbing fertiliser from the water before algae can absorb it.

Don’t buy snails to clean algae, they will just eat your plants and poop everywhere.
Also, don’t leave your aquarium by a sunny window. You will just get a tank full of green water, even with plants. And don’t leave your aquarium light on all the time. 8-10 hours a day is sufficient.

Conclusion

The decision to keep your first aquarium can be an exciting one, and it is easy to rush into things, but the best results come to the aquarists who focus patiently on providing the best environment for their fish. Address these ten common mistakes to enjoy the best chance of success for your first fish tank.

 

Why do my fish keep dying?

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

Why do my fish keep dying?

Mistakes beginner fishkeepers make

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium
two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

There can be several reasons for the death of your fish; however for beginners the main reason is new tank syndrome. This is a situation where you have bought new fish and placed them in a newly set up aquarium. Your fish start dying and you are unable to explain the cause. This syndrome is usually experienced by new fish owners who have yet to master keeping fish safe, healthy and alive. Here are some things that you should look out for and avoid to explain and prevent new tank deaths

  • Uncycled aquarium & filter
  • Water chemistry problems
  • Diseases
  • Poor diet and overfeeding
  • Over population
  • Wrong type of fish
  • Buying sick fish

Uncycled aquarium & filter

dead catfish on the tank floor
dead catfish on the tank floor

 
Most fish owners will be buying their new pets along with new equipment, such as an aquarium and a filter. They will fill the aquarium with water and then put in the fish and they will think that the work is done. This is a common error by most new fish owners. Even before you introduce your desired fish population, you need to create a nitrifying bacteria bed in your aquarium and filter.

Take note that the same way human bodies have good bacteria that can protect them from harm, so does the aquarium. An aquarium and especially the filter must have good bacteria that can protect them from risks to their health. The bacteria work by neutralizing or converting toxins that are produced by the fish’s droppings and urine such as ammonia and nitrites.

Without good bacteria, these toxins build up in the aquarium. When they reach dangerous levels, the fish will absorb these toxins and cause them to become ill. Since it is often difficult to detect if a fish is sick, new fish owners will only discover it when it is too late and the fish are dead or about to die.

It takes time for the healthy bacteria in the filter to build up, between 4-6 weeks before a healthy population of bacteria develops in the filter capable of fully removing fish waste products. So, what do you do in the mean time? You have to do daily partial water changes to dilute these toxins. Perhaps, remove 5% of the water and top up with (chlorine free) fresh water.

dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap
dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap

This explains a common pattern to newly bought fish that will be fine for up to a week or longer. Then something seems to change and the fish start getting ill. Finally they start to die. And, the few fish that survive start to get better and if all is well the survivors live a long time.

This is all explained by the cycling of the filter and the fish waste product. When the fish first enter a new aquarium with fresh water there is no waste matter in the water. As the fish start to poop and urinate in the water this waste starts to build up. This poisons the fish. Slowly the bacteria in the filter build up and digest this waste cleaning the water, but this takes weeks to establish.

Water chemistry problems

Fish require a delicate balance in the chemicals in the water. Clear water does not necessarily mean an ideal environment for the fish. Ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are some of the chemicals, which when uncontrolled, can cause significant harm to your fish that will eventually lead to death. These toxins are from the waste your fish produce. These are harmful toxins that should be neutralized or kept at a minimum during the course of your taking care of the fish.

Cycling explained in full here

When looking after fish as pets you are not necessarily taking care of the actual fish themselves but rather of the water quality instead. Measuring devices and kits are available to keep a check on the various chemical parameters of the water of your fish tank. You must also have keen observation, noting changes such as the tinge of the water, any discoloration of the gravel in the aquarium or the behaviour of your fish. However, as a beginner, if you rely solely on observation, the toxic levels will already be too high to before you understand that something is wrong. At this point any chance for survival of your fish is slim.

Tap water usually contains chlorine which is lethal to your fish. To remove it leave the water standing for 1-2 days before adding to your aquarium. Alternatively, use dechlorinating medication that removes chlorine immediately from tap water.
Check the ph and hardness. Ph between 6.6 – 7.6 is okay for most fish. Test the hardness level. A moderate level of hardness is ideal for most beginner fish.
Diseases

Don’t buy sick fish! Beginners often buy fish that have illnesses from the pet shop. This is easier said than done. Check the pet shop aquarium if there are any sick or dead fish in there. Check if there are any spots on the fish or markings or fungus like patches. Make sure the fish are active and swim towards food. Don’t buy fish that are sulking or have clamped fins (ie fins held close to the body). Check the fish has bright colouration.

Another cause for fish death is because of disease. As the water quality becomes poorer from elevated levels of toxins, the fish health also becomes poorer with it. When the fish become weaker, they are more vulnerable to disease. A healthy fish will normally be able to resist these illnesses but a weakened fish will succumb to them.

Some examples of these diseases are bacterial infections, fungal infections, internal parasites in the fish’s body, dropsy and other opportunistic diseases. Most new fish owners will attempt to cure these diseases by adding antibiotics, anti-parasitic or anti-bacterial medicine into the water. However, without treating the underlying cause of the disease, which is the toxicity from waste matter, there will still be fatalities, despite the medication. Experienced fish owners are able to nurse a fish back to health where a beginner may or may not succeed.

Poor diet and overfeeding

Most new owners will enjoy feeding their fish. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing their fish swim towards the food and follow the trail wherever you sprinkle the food? It is also fun to see some fish diving towards a food pellet that sinks towards the bottom of the aquarium. Ironically, feeding your fish or rather overfeeding is also one of the main causes of fish death.

Fish should be fed once a or twice day, with the fish eating everything within 5 minutes. But most new owners will feed their fish every chance they get. On top of this over feeding, other members of the family may also be feeding the fish on their own without the owner’s knowledge. Fish food that is uneaten, such as food left floating on the surface of the water or sitting on the aquarium bed will rot and pollute your aquarium, leading to the same problems as fish waste. Rotting food in the aquarium is the second biggest cause of fish deaths after new tank syndrome.

Over population

Another cause of death for fish is the population itself. Despite the care you make on making a balance in the water chemistry, proper feeding schedule and best equipment you can provide, your fish may still die because there are just too many fish in too small an aquarium. But problems may also arise if you have the wrong combination of fish species.

There isn’t a strict rule on the ideal number of fish for a certain size of aquarium. More experienced fish owners recommend a ratio of 1 inch of fish for every 1 gallon of water. Take note that the 1 inch is meant to be measured on each fish’s eventual adult size. The more fish there are, the greater the chance for oxygen deficiency, self pollution and diseases to spread.

The wrong combination of fish can also lead to stress and deaths. If you put together an aggressive fish with a more passive or smaller fish, the passive fish may be bullied. In their natural environment, a passive fish would be able to escape the aggressive fish, but in an aquarium they have no chance for escape. The constant stress will cause death.

Wrong type of fish

Finally, the beginner may have bought a difficult to care for species of fish. Difficult fish may need special water requirements, special dietary needs or some other type of specialised care. You must always ask the pet shop owner if the fish you are buying are beginner community fish to avoid such problems. Only buy more difficult fish when you have more experience.

You should buy popular starter fish such as gold fish, tetras, platies, swordtails and bettas. These are colorful, active and most importantly easy to care for. Avoid buying difficult fish such as saltwater fish.

Recommended compatible fish groups here

Conclusion

Once you have mastered the two main causes of fish death which is new tank syndrome and rotting uneaten food in the aquarium you will have a good chance of keeping your fish alive long term. And, if you follow all the above advice you should hardly ever see a fish death in your tanks. If you follow all this advice, not only will your fish stop dying but you will see your fish in full glowing health.