Cichlids on the Web - A Primer

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Updated: December 5, 2007

The Opportunity and the Challenge

The World Wide Web offers the unparalleled opportunity to access information as never before. At a click of a button you can get more information that you can ever read or use. But, while the anarchy that underlies the Web is its greatest strength -- I can write whatever I want and so can you -- it is also its greatest weakness because there is no mechanism to ensure the accuracy of any statements.

Therefore, I urge you to use caution when reading information on the Web. Printed materials almost always have to be reviewed by an editor, possibly a technical editor, and in the case of scientific publications, one or more content reviewers. The end product is relatively free of grammatical and spelling errors and the reader can be moderately sure of the validity of the factual content.

Not so on the Web. I can write that I fed my oscar nothing but jelly beans and that it grew rapidly and gave birth to two dozen live baby oscars. None of that is true, nor even possible, but there is no way to stop me from writing it.

Experience versus Experiment

Many people search the web looking for advice about how best to keep or breed a particular species of cichlid. For example, "I just saw rainbow cichlids at the local fish shop and I would like to get a few and breed them; what are the best conditions to keep and breed rainbow cichlids?"

The answer to this question is more complex than it first appears. If you ask different cichlid breeders this question, they will likely say something like, "keep the rainbows around 76 oF (26 oC) and feed them flake food." It is important to realize what they are telling you -- they are telling you the conditions under which they (or a friend or colleague) raised and spawned the fish. This is fine but the implication is that those conditions are best and that other conditions would be worse for the fish.

You may also encounter (either on the Web or in books) a statement like "I travelled to Nicaragua last year and found rainbows cichlids spawing in the Rio X. I measured the temperature as 27oC so that is the temperature at which I keep them." Again, the assumption is: "if something works once then that is what is best."

In both cases, the assumption may be wrong. The fact that a particular fish spawned at a particular temperature does not mean that it wouldn't have done so at any other temperature, or that it wouldn't have preferred a different temperature. The only way to really find out such information is through a rather lengthy series of carefully controlled experiments, in which an experimenter offers the fish a range of temperatures and then observes which temperature the fish chooses. I know of only a very few such experiments ever having been done.

There is substantial misinformation circulating about cichlids which stems from various misconceptions we have about fish. For example, it is often assumed that large fish need large food. I have often heard of people feeding live goldfish to midas cichilds or red devils (large Central American cichlids) simply because these cichlids are large. These cichlids will eat those foods but they certainly don't need them. Furthermore, live food costs a fortune and can easily introduce diseases like Ich. The most recent work on midas cichlids shows that many of them feed either on snails or on the eggs or fry of other fish, not large fish. In addition, some large New World species are piscivorous (they eat other fish) when young but become vegetarians as they get larger. They do quite nicely on trout chow pellets in an aquarium.

I'm not saying that every aquarist needs to start a fish experimental laboratory just to figure out what to feed their fish, or what temperature to keep them at, but I do urge you to be cautious about what you read, and to seek out information that seems supported by more than one experience. Also, be open to listening to someone who suggests that some of our "established" knowledge may not be the best way to go. As with all things scientific, healthy skepticism tempered by a willingness to evaluate new information, is a valuable approach.


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