Cichlids inhabiting Lake Malawi (Nyasa), appeared in it relatively recently, just a million years ago, where they arrived from another large lake - Tanganyika. For some time these lakes were connected by a river channel formed as a result of tectonic shifts. According to scientists, since the appearance of the channel, many species of fish rushed into it, however, only one type of cichlid could reach Malawi. Then an evolutionary event occurred that had no analogues in the animal world.
For several hundred thousand years, more than 500 new species were formed from a single species! Moreover, the process of speciation continues today.
Almost all of them are endemic and are not found anywhere else. The success of these cichlids is explained by an unusual way to protect the fry, which appeared for the first time in Lake Tanganyika. In the period of spawning, the fish lay off from several tens to hundreds of eggs. After fertilization, the female immediately takes them into her mouth, where further development takes place. Emerging fry always keep close to their parents and in case of danger they immediately hide back in a safe place - in the mouth.
Lake Malawi is located in a rift valley in East Africa and is a body of water that filled a deep fissure on the surface of the earth. For example, Baikal has the same origin. The bottom of the lake is littered with sedimentary rocks (sand, stones), and the coastline combines gentle slopes and rock formations. The basis of the ecosystem is phyto and zooplankton, however, food sources are very limited, which predetermined high competition for food resources. During the evolution, cichlids divided into three specialized groups: the first began sifting sand at the bottom and extracting useful microorganisms from it, the second group of fish, known as Utaka, feeds on small plankton in the water column, the third - the most numerous group known as Mbuna, feeds on algae growing on the surface of stones and rocks. It is the latter group that is most popular in aquarism. These fish have a bright color and interesting social behavior.
What is this fish?
In general, the family of cichlids is quite extensive - it includes hundreds of species of fish that live in warm countries and continents. Some of them have long gained enormous popularity, and you can see them in many aquariums. Others are less well known because of their lesser attractiveness or the complexity of care. But for experienced aquarists and beginners, they may also be of some interest, because many would be interested to have an exotic inhabitant.
What cichlids are considered dwarf
To simplify the classification, all cichlids are conditionally divided into groups - large, medium and small. Among the latter in recent years a separate category has emerged - dwarf cichlids. The photo and description of these beautiful fish will pleasantly surprise any connoisseur. However, some experts may be interested: on what basis some cichlids belong to the dwarf, while others do not?
First of all, as the name implies, you should pay attention to size. Males in most species of cichlids are larger than females. Therefore, it is customary to focus on them. If their maximum length is no more than 12 centimeters, then this species is usually referred to as dwarf.
However, the size, though one of the most important factors, is not the only one. Also taken to monitor the behavior of fish. The group of dwarfs include only species in which the majority of representatives are calm, peaceful. That is, a mandatory requirement is high compatibility - so that the fish do not pose a danger to neighbors in a small aquarium, such as themselves or smaller.
Where do they live?
Before telling about the species of dwarf cichlids, it is worth briefly mentioning their habitat.
It is quite large. On sale you can see the fish, whose homeland are Asia, Africa and South America. Of course, this provides a huge variety: if you give a description of the species of dwarf cichlids, you will have to write a whole book. This can be safely attributed to about fifty families of aquarium fish, each of which includes several species.
Most of them live in rivers with weak currents or small lakes. The small size imposes a certain imprint on the behavior of fish. They keep in flocks and prefer secluded corners - overgrown with thick algae or near the curtains. Which is understandable - in the wild, many predators do not refuse to eat fish of 5-10 centimeters in size. Of course, this should be taken into account when designing an aquarium, if you want the female residents to feel as comfortable as possible, live long and bring healthy offspring.
Cichlids of South America
If you begin to talk about the species of dwarf cichlids imported from South America, then first of all it is worth noting that they are the most numerous. The variation in size is also quite large. The smallest is Apistogrammoides - in this species males rarely have a body length of more than four centimeters. But there are quite large representatives of cichlids. For example, in the Apistogramma, Guianacara and Tahuantinsuyoa families, males grow up to 12 centimeters. By the way, the dwarf cockatoo cichlid belongs to the Apistogram family - a rather popular aquarium fish, which is very popular among connoisseurs.
Guests from Africa
African cichlids are slightly larger than their South American relatives. The average size here ranges from 8 to 12 centimeters.
The smallest are representatives of the Nanochromis family. It includes eight species of fish, but even the largest males have a body length of no more than seven centimeters. But the complete opposite of them are Etia and Pelmatochromis. They have some males reach 14 centimeters, because of what the existing system should not be included in the number of dwarf cichlids. However, on all other grounds, they are fully consistent - peaceful, calm, males strongly resemble females. Because of this, the experts decided to make a small exception for them by writing to the appropriate group.
The Asian family is the smallest. Science knows only three species of dwarf cichlids, whose birthplace is Asia. Because of this, some experts prefer not even to allocate them in a separate group. However, to know about them will still not be superfluous.
We list all three species: Etroplus Cuvier, Iranocichla hormuzensis Coad and Etroplus maculatus. They are known for a long time. For example, etroplus maculatus were discovered as early as the end of the eighteenth century! It is not surprising that in many countries they have become popular for a very long time. Actively bred them in our country - before the revolution of 1917!
All of them cannot boast of large size - the largest males are about 8 centimeters long. And for the rest of the parameters are fully consistent with those features that combine dwarf cichlids. Therefore, despite their small number, they can be confidently called reference representatives of the family.
Choosing the right water
In general, aquarium dwarf cichlids are not too demanding of water. Throughout their history, they lived in relatively soft fresh water, often not too clean. Therefore, no problems here.
The optimum is soft water with a slight deviation in the direction of acidity - pH 6.5. But to the temperature they are pretty picky. Still, in the natural environment of the fish live in the tropics and even the equator. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that the temperature does not fall below +25 degrees, but it is generally better that it stably be one to three degrees higher. In general, the fish can survive at a temperature of about +23, but in this case they will eat worse, get sick more often. Growth slows down, the color scheme will be poor - the fish will not be so bright and attractive. They either do not spawn at all, or do it quite rarely. Therefore, if the apartment is not warm enough, it will be very useful to purchase a heater.
But the most dangerous are the temperature drops. Even a fluctuation of only two or three degrees can cause serious illness and even death of fish. Therefore, it is advisable to install an aquarium at a distance from windows and radiators. And also protect it from drafts. Only in this case, the aquarist can be sure that his pets will be healthy and will delight the owner not only by the riot of colors, but also by healthy offspring.
How to equip an aquarium?
The next stage - the correct design of the aquarium. On the one hand, it provides maximum comfort for cichlids. On the other hand, it will allow them to shade their visual appeal.
Let's start with the ground. In general, there are no preferences here - you can choose both coarse sand and small pebbles. The cichlids have no habit of digging in the ground, so here you should rather adapt to the algae that you have chosen for the aquarium. The only thing to consider is its color. The darker the fish, the brighter the ground should be. However, this is the rule that every novice aquarist knows, and therefore you shouldn’t focus on it.
When choosing algae problems also arise. Perfectly fit any plants that can grow tight enough to provide the fish with a cozy and safe haven. As mentioned above, in the wild, dwarf cichlids often hide from predators in aquatic plants. Of course, in the aquarium there is no such threat, but still, in the thickets, the fish feel more comfortable. However, this does not mean that it is necessary to plant the entire available area with algae. You can either thickly plant one corner (about one third or a quarter of the aquarium area), leaving the rest of the area free, or plant the plants at the back wall, leaving enough space ahead. After all, cichlids, though calm, but rather active fish, which is desirable to give enough space for games and active swimming.
It will not be out of place to use various elements for decoration - large stones (the main thing is that they do not have sharp edges, which the fish could get hurt about) or specially treated snags. Thanks to them, the aquarium will acquire a special elegance and elegance, and the cichlids will feel at home. But the use of shells is undesirable. Over time, they increase water hardness, and cichlids prefer soft water.
But with nutrition to give unambiguous advice is not easy. If only because among the dwarf cichlids there are both species that prefer plant food and predatory ones. Therefore, the diet should be accordingly.
However, for all the live food will be the best choice - bloodworm, tubule, Artemia, and for the smallest species suitable cyclops. Thanks to this diet, the inhabitants of the aquarium will receive all the necessary substances for a comfortable life and reproduction. But when choosing herbivorous fish, it will be useful to add some greens to the diet - they need more vitamins, which are difficult to obtain from animal feed.
Of course, in extreme cases, fish can live on dry food, even on daphnia and gammarus. But the long absence of live food worsens the health of cichlids. Therefore, if there is no possibility to get moths and a pipe worker, try to pick at least special granules - they are better balanced and contain almost all the necessary vitamins and trace elements.
In the care of cichlids relatively unpretentious. It is enough to carry out regular cleaning - ideally, half an hour after each feeding. However, if the aquarium has bottom fish that will collect the remains of a cichlid's meal, you can reduce the number of cleanings to one per week.
In any case, you need to change part of the water weekly. Not too much - no more than one-fifth of the total volume of the aquarium. Of course, water must have a suitable temperature and not contain bleach. Therefore, it is advisable to defend the water - after collecting cold tap water, let it stand for a day or so in an enamelled bucket. Then the temperature rises to room temperature, and the chlorine gradually evaporates.
Other troubles in the care certainly will not occur. Despite the sonorous and incomprehensible names, aquarium cichlids require quite a bit of attention.
We select neighbors
However, few aquarists, having got a cichlid and populated the aquarium, decide to leave them in splendid isolation. Most will be interested to share their neighbors. But here you need to be careful that the neighborhood does not cause trouble to either side or the other.
The first is to recommend somikov. Cichlids rarely sink to the bottom. Therefore, the bottom area will still be empty. Several large catfish perfectly smooth the void, and at the same time they will eat the remnants of food that have settled to the bottom. Due to this, cleaning will have to be much less.
Many carp can be a good choice. The main thing - make sure that they are not too aggressive. For example, a flock of barbs will quickly make the life of unfortunate cichlids completely unbearable. Choose medium-sized, calm, peace-loving fish. You can also advise not too large haracid fish, as well as melanotenias. Representatives of most other families will not be able to become good neighbors for cichlids.
The content in aquariums is quite simple, with the exception of some demanding species, for example, Discus. They prefer soft, mildly acidic water, a subdued level of illumination, soft substrates and an abundance of aquatic plants.
Most South American cichlids are considered peaceful and tranquil species, able to live with many other freshwater species. Tetras, which are naturally found in the same habitat, will be excellent aquarium neighbors. South American cichlids are caring parents, so during spawning and during the subsequent care of the offspring they become quite aggressive, but if the aquarium is large enough, then there will be no problems.