Keeping Dwarf Cichlids
A common mistake of many people is thinking that small fish equals small aquarium. This is not necessarily the case. The intra-species social interaction can best be seen in larger aquariums and of course larger aquariums make it easier to keep and maintain stable water conditions. Dwarfs require extremely clean water conditions, they are highly sensitive to nitrites and nitrates, and if water quality is not maintained they become susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. On the other hand dwarfs seem to be able to handle pH and temperature variations with few problems.
Maintaining good water quality requires good biological filtration and frequent water changes. Weekly water changes of 1/3 to half of the tank is not unreasonable, but essentially the more the better. These fish come from big river systems where the water parameters change with the season. Good Filtration can be as simple as a decent sized sponge filter, which has the added bonus of growing lots of microorganisms for any fry to feed on.
Given the big range of biotopes that fish come from it is not easy to pick a single pH and hardness level for a tank. For general maintenance of most dwarfs a pH of 5.5-6.5, hardness of around 80ppm and a temperature between 23–28ºC would be suitable. For successful breeding, pH and hardness need to be matched more closely to the particular species preference.
Aquariums should provide lots of shelter/cover to make the fish feel secure, this is generally achieved by dense vegetation in the tank, or with some plants and mix of Driftwood, rocks and caves. A sand or fine gravel substrate is ideal – preferably of darker colours as again it makes the fish feel less exposed and vulnerable.
The tannin rich waters of the black water rivers can be simulated with the use of peat, leaf litter (Oak, Indian Almond), or a commercial “Black Water Extract”, these often seem to trigger spawning when added to the tank.
Dwarfs are good community tank fish because they show very little inter species aggression and happily co-exist with most other fish. It is not recommended to mix them with fish that are highly energetic. They can usually be kept successfully with Corydoras, Tetras, Ancistrus sp., Discus and Angels in a maintenance situation.
Dwarfs can be fussy eaters – if you can feed them close to their natural environment – meaning live food (mosquito larvae, white worms, etc) 2-3 times a week that would be perfect. The rest of the time they will take flake food, small cichlid pellets, frozen bloodworm, brine shrimp, etc.