African Cichlids

Any one here have a lot of experience with African cichlids?

I’ve kept a cichlid tank for several years while living in Phoenix. About two years ago I moved to Cleveland OH. Just about 8 months ago I set up my 50 gallon tank again. Built it using all the same rocks, fluval filter and power head. The only thing different between this tank and my tank in Phoenix is the fish.

My problem is my fish are scared of any movement at all. If I sit across the room and don’t move, they’ll come out and swim around like their “normal.” If there is ANY movement in front of the tank they bolt into hiding spots with the speed of lightening. Guests to my house commonly ask if I have any fish in my tank.

I’ve tried rearranging the rocks to form new spots. I’ve played around with the water temp (slowly) but it’s now about 75 degrees. I’ve even added some rocks to create newer hiding spots. I don’t know what else to do…

Any ideas?

I’m not an expert, but I have kept numerous fish over the years, including Cichlids.

I would WAG there is probably something slightly different in the orientation of the tank (in Cleveland) that they see small movements greatly magnified and bolt into hiding. Whereas your fish in Phoenix may not have seen out the same way.

Maybe a window or nearby lamp could be casting some light in a goofy way that you don’t see.

Lastly it could be the fish themselves. Perhaps the pet store in Phoenix took better care of their stock, and didn’t allow people to bang on the glass. Maybe they’re from a better farm? The Cleveland fish could just be skiddish.

That last paragraph begs a good question though. Are your new fish from a farm or are they wild caught? Perhaps one set of your Cichlids was wild, the other a product of generations of farm breeding.

Either way, they sound like they could be getting stressed if they are always taking off. I’d watch their colour (if they start to go grey or white they may be stressing out), and maybe keep a few drops of a stress-coat liquid nearby.

Three Internet forums that are good.

The more hiding places a fish has close at hand, the more time he’ll spend in the open. In a bare tank the fish huddle in the corners.

Almost any source of stress in a fish can manifest itself in behavioral changes. Is the water in Cleveland less alkaline than the water in Phoenix? African lake cichlids (assuming that’s what you have; river cichlids are not as numerous in the trade) like hard, alkaline, slightly brackish water. Make sure your water has enough mineral content, and add a little aquarium salt. I don’t remember how much, so I don’t want to recommend an amount, but a teaspoon per gallon is what the deepest reaches of my memory is sending me. Confirm this elsewhere.

Cichlid communities form odd dynamics: if you have a more belligerent species in the mix this time around, the other fish may be on pins and needles most of the time and be more likely to dart when additional stress occurs.

If you got the fish from a national chain and not a local independent, they will be less healthy and more apt to respond quickly to stress. Also, the highschool kids that work there will not be much help to you. Find a decent independent store, and spend your money there. This is extremely important. Aquarium husbandry is one of the most information-intensive hobbies you could imagine, and a store that pays minimum wage is not going to have any career fish-geeks working there. I worked at an independent pet store in Chicago for many years, and they paid well enough that there was a man there who could work there for 30 years and still support his kids, so he knew more about fish than Jaques Cousteau; Shedd Aquarium used to call him with questions. Then the chains started opening up, and people would still come in and pick his brain for information, but then they’d go spend their money at the chain store, because they could save a buck or two here and there. The store recently closed after 80 years. With such an information-intensive hobby, please remember that you’re not just paying for fish and equipment, you’re paying for the information and the knowledge that you receive too, and consider that as part of the price when you’re buying. Support independent pet stores.