I wrote this article for another forum, but I just thought I could share with you guys Dwarf Cichlids in the Aquarium Many new aquarists fail to consider Dwarf Cichlids as being potential candidates for their aquarium. Often times the name "Cichlid" is associated with large, aggressive fish. Dwarf Cichlids are in fact small Cichlids. Not only are they small in size, but their aggressive behavior and territorial habits are minimal in comparison to those of their larger cousins. On the other hand, Dwarf Cichlids hold all the colour and parental instincts of the larger Cichlids. They are excellent in the community tank and are usually dismissed far too quickly. Most cases of aggression occur when fish are not kept in the right environment. This article will mainly focus on bringing up the more important aspects of aquascaping a Dwarf Cichlid themed tank. To start off, you will need to know which Dwarf Cichlids you plan on keeping. You will need to do thoughrough research on the species and you will need to ask yourself questions like; Where do they come from ? Do they prefer soft, acidic water or do they thrive in hard, alkaline water ? Are they cave dwellers ? Do they spawn on smooth rocks ? What other special needs do they require ? There are two major Dwarf Cichlid groups; South Americans and Dwarf Africans. Both have different needs and requirements that need to be met. For this reason, Dwarf Africans and South American Dwarf Cichlids should not be housed in the same tank. (Pelvicachromis species are excluded from this rule) Size of Tank The first thing to consider is having the right size tank for the fish you want to keep. Since Dwarf Cichlids are relatively small in size, it is possible to keep two pairs in a 30 gallon aquarium. Some species require a bit more room than others, but in general a 20 gallon aquarium is suitable for a pair or trio of Dwarf Cichlids. In larger aquariums (75 gallon +) it is possible to keep many Dwarf Cichlid species together. Keep in mind that some species will spawn regularly and will claim a larger territory than usual. If you plan on keeping two pairs of Dwarf Cichlids in a 30 gallon aquarium, you should be ready to raise the eggs and fry yourself. This will help keep stress and aggression in the aquarium, to a minimum. Tank Lighting Although this is not an important issue when dealing with Dwarf Cichlids, it has been noted that several Apistogramma species prefer subdued lighting. If your aquarium is brightly lit, special attention should be placed on providing your little cichlids with shade. This can be easily achieved by using live plants and aquarium driftwood. Floating plants and tall bushy plants are especially useful in creating shady outcroppings. * For more information on keeping live plants, please visit the Planted Tank section of the forum. Substrate Dwarf Cichlids are not particularly fussy in this regard, but as with most fish species, the use of sand or fine gravel is highly recommended. Avoid unnatural colours like blue, green or pink. Instead focus on providing your fish with a more natural setting. For South American Dwarf Cichlids I recommend dark brown, black, dark red or beige coloured substrate. For Dwarf African themed tanks, I suggest pale colours such as cream, light brown or possibly even white. Plants Dwarf Cichlids need live plants in order to thrive. Again, you can find a wide array of information on live plants in our Planted Tank section. Choose plants that will grow well in the setup you wish to have. Dwarf Africans require a high pH, so take your time and choose plants that will do well in these conditions. Vallisneria, Java Ferns and Anubias are recommended for this type of setup. South American Dwarf Cichlids on the other hand, prefer a lower water pH. This setup is favorable for most plant life. The recommended plants are as follows; Hygrophila, Vallisneria, Echinodorus (Amazon Swords), Cryptocorynes, Rotella, Jave Ferns, Anubias, Java Moss, Xmas Moss and Lotus plants. Also note that Dwarf Cichlids will not bother or uproot plants in any way. This is another beneficial quality that differenciates them from their larger cousins. Rocks and Driftwood Including Rocks and Driftwood in the aquascaping of a Dwarf Cichlid tank is another important aspect to consider. Although Driftwood or Bogwood is not usually found in Dwarf African themed tanks, rocks consist one of it`s most important elements. Dwarf Africans such as the Neolamprologus, Julidochromis and Pelvicachromis species rely on rock or cave formations for shelter and security. For many of these species, caves will also provide a place to lay the eggs and establish a territory. Both driftwood and rocks are vital to properly mimic a South American themed tank. The vast majority of South American Dwarf Cichlids will use flat stones and smooth rocks as places to establish a territory and can eventually serve as a spawning site for a conditioned pair. Use the driftwood to create shady and secluded areas around the plants and rocks. Moss and Ferns can be attached to the wood, creating a very appealing effect and giving your tank a very natural look. Driftwood and Bogwood will also help soften your water and therefore prove beneficial to your Dwarf Cichlids and other South American tankmates. How do I aquascape my tank if I plan on keeping several different species together ? This can be done very easily and will produce amazing results. Nothing is more rewarding than sitting in front of your tank and observing several Dwarf Cichlid species peacefully interacting with each other. But how can this be achieved ? In a Dwarf African tank this is actually quite easy. A large part of your tank should be occupied by rock work and caves. The more caves and hiding places you have, the more fish species you can safely house. It is not uncommon for hobbyists to keep members of the Neolamprologus and Julidochromis species together, and most do so with good results. In a South American themed tank however, this can prove more challenging since these fish are not used to living in such close quarters. They need more room and take up larger territories than Dwarf Africans. Use plants and driftwood to create natural barriers in the tank...this will help the fish establish territories and will prohibit one of them from taking over a large portion of the tank. If you plan on keeping two species in a medium size tank (30-40 gallon), look for species that do not prefer the same spawning locations. For example: If you choose two cave spawning species, squables and territorial fights may occur. For this reason, it is recommended you keep a pair of smooth rock spawners like Leatacara Curviceps, Microgeophagus Ramirezi or Cleithracara maronii with a pair of cave spawners like Apistogramma Agassizi or Pelvicachromis Pulcher. * Note that the Pelvicachromis species are one of the only african fish suitable for South American themed tanks. This is due to similar needs and requirements, dietary needs and compability issues. Suitable Tankmates As was stated in the beginning of this article...Dwarf Cichlids are community fish and do well in the company of small or medium sized, mild tempered fish species. Suitable tank mates include other Dwarf Cichlids, Angelfish, Gouramis, Corydoras, Plecosotums, Otocinclus, Loaches, Tetras, Barbs, Hatchet fish, Killifish, Livebearers and Rainbowfish. Some of the milder Apistogrammas and Microgoephagus also make potential tank mates for Discus. - Some Dwarf Cichlids - Female Pelvicachromis Pulcher (Kribensis) Male Pelvicachromis Pulcher (Kribensis) Male African Butterfly Cichlid (Thomasi) Male Apistogramma Borelli Male and Female Cleithracara maronii (Keyhole Cichlids) Now that you know more about aquascaping a Dwarf Cichlid themed tank, make some research and see if Dwarf Cichlids are the right fish for you.