The coloration of cichlid fish has been their claim to fame and is the reason they are so popular among aquarists. Their vibrant colors bring an aquarium to life and make the aquarium much more exciting and attractive to watch. Cichilds are often the first fish that new aquarists add to their aquariums. Before you bring a cichlid home it is critical that you understand something of cichlid behavior.
Knowing that they can be aggressive and how to deal with it will help you make better fish buying decisions. Raising cichlids is a challenge and there is a learning curve, but once you have it all under control then caring for and breeding cichlids becomes a lot of fun.
Cichlid Behavior – Aggressiveness
Cichlid aggression will probably the first thing that any cichlid beginner discovers. It happens nearly every time, one cichlid will dominate and the others will all run for their caves when the alpha cichlid approaches.
Cichlid aggression shows up for many different reasons. Some of the most common include another fish trying to steal a potential mate or food or another fish moving in on a cichlid’s territory. There are usually three stages of cichlid aggression. In the first stage, a cichlid will spread its fins and flare its gills to show how large it is in an attempt to scare the other away.
If the other fish is not scared away then stage two begins. Stage two involves ‘tail-beating’. A cichlid will try to push water at its rival to show its strength and dominance.
If the rival is still not deterred then face-to-face combat often begins. This includes lip locking and mouth wrestling and ends with the fish chasing in circles trying to bite each other.
Cichlid Behavior – Breeding
Cichlid breeding behavior can vary a lot because there are there different types of cichlid breeding: open-breeding, cave-breeding, and mouth-brooding. Open breeders lay their eggs on substrate, leaves, logs and rocks. Cave-breeders will lay their eggs in caves, secluded areas or in ditches they dig in the substrate. Mouth-brooders carry the eggs and fry in their mouths for protection.
Cichlids can be a lot of fun to watch when they are breeding. Usually both parents are actively in involved in caring for the eggs and fry. The female cares for the eggs while the male secures the area from other fish. Mouth-brooders carry the eggs in their mouth for the entire incubation period and they end up nearly starving. They are sometimes so hungry that they eat the fry when they hatch. If you suspect that a cichlid may be eating its fry put the parent in a separate tank immediately and give them something to eat.
Cichlid Behavior – Coloration
Colors of cichlids can change depending on maturity and mood. The rift lake cichlid species display their dominance and shyness through coloration. The shy rift lake cichlids have pale colors, while the dominant cichlids display bright and vibrant colors. The males of some cichlid species become dark in color when it is time to breed. There are also some cichlids that change colors when under stressed. For example, when the Maylandia crabro is moved from one tank to another its colors while change as a result of the stress.
The cichlid behaviors above are just general behaviors. As you get to know your cichlids you will discover their various personalities and unique behaviors. They are definitely fun and exciting fish to have.