Being predators, pike cichlids prefer a diet of live fish and crustaceans but this is often not possible in captivity, where frozen and prepared foods may have to suffice. This article illustrates some of my experiences with feeding these fish.
It was so much easier when I had
just a couple of tanks with easy
cichlids that would inhale anything
tossed in the tank. Those days are
gone. I started encountering fish
with culinary attitudes a few years
ago when I purchased some wild caught
Apistogramma agassizi. Then
came a few wild, picky Petenia
splendida. About a year or so
later, I collected some Hemichromis
fasciatus in the Niger Delta.
None of these species wanted anything
to do with pelletized dry foods.
Don't get me wrong, not all wild
fish are this way I ve had wild
caught fish eat pellets from my
fingers three days after capture.
aquaristic problem is more common
with species that are specialized.
A certain critter they eat in the
wild constitutes almost all their
dietary intake and they eat little
else, may be because there is nothing
else to eat or perhaps they are
much better than other fish at devouring
that specific little critter. Toss
them a pellet and it doesn't elicit
a feeding response because pellets
don't possess the necessary characteristics
that make these fish eat or they
simply don't like the taste of pellets.
We all know that fish prefer to
eat moving foods; and that is what
I took advantage of when I was weaning
a few Geophagus sp. (they
are basically brasiliensoids with
a different shaped head) from baby
brine and grindal worms. I tossed
few Tetrabits into their little
tank and with the aid of a plastic
eyedropper, squirted the sunken
granular food and made the food
swim around. The fish would attack
it when the pellets were moving
but once the food sunk to the bottom,
they resumed begging me for additional
mobile food. I then completely stopped
feeding them live foods and stayed
with squirted Tetrabits for a week.
After a day of fasting and the temperature
at 83 F, the fish half-heartedly
nibbled at some sunken pellets.
One more week of that and they were
happily inhaling pellets.
I don't follow fads and I didn't
mean to jump on the Pike Cichlid
bandwagon, but I've always wanted
to keep these fish but never had
the room or money in graduate school.
So finally, when I got out of college
and I got a fish room and a job,
I decided to start keeping Crenicichla
sp. Yesiree, I was going to get
into them in a big way and then
wouldn't you know it, Wayne Leibel
officially starts the Pike Cichlid
craze with a Pike Cichlid issue
of the Buntbarsche Bulletin
(Journal of the American Cichlid
Association). Now the guys at the
pet store group me with the reef
people for being faddish.
Anyway, I obtained some Crenicichla
C. compressiceps, C.
sp. bellyslider (incorrectly sold
as C. sedentaria) and C.
frenata Trinidad and a lone
specimen of C. dorsocellata
- five very different Pikes. None
of them liked pellets in the beginning.
I keep most of my Pikes with Cichlasomines
because they don't seem to recognize
each other as competitors for food
or spawning sites. My Cichlasomines
included Cichlasoma tetracanthus,
C. regani, C. alfari,
C. hartwegi, C. loisellei,
C. steindachneri, C. longimanus
and C. rostratum. I don't
mix Pikes. If I were forced to,
I'd probably find a way to keep
different groups together. i.e.,
a saxatilis-group member with a
lugubris-group type or a Batrachops
-type with a lugubris-type. My Crenicichla
semifasciata went a month without
eating pellets and a couple of the
smaller ones wasted away due to
my determination not to feed them
anything that was live. Cruel? Probably.
Acceptable? Maybe. Effective? Certainly.
Some hobbyists feed their fish live
foods occasionally to keep them
alive until (if ever) they gradually
learn to eat pellets. All my fish
are prewarned when they enter my
tank: eat pellets or wait a couple
of days between meals.
(Addendum 1999: it has been
over 6 years since I wrote this
article and my staunch ways have
been amended - now I feed my pikes
a heck of a lot of frozen krill,
live gold fish as well as pellets.
I salt-dip the gold fish before
feeding it to the pikes. A tablespoon
of salt to half a liter of water,
which is salty enough to make the
gold fish float - hopefully this
kills most of the bacteria on the
feeder fish.) I am a bit more lenient
with species I know nothing about,
in which case, I feed frozen brine
shrimp and krill. Unfortunately
for my fish, I am allergic to frozen
bloodworms. It has been my experience
that if you feed Pikes goldfish
to keep them alive while you are
waiting to convert them to pellets,
they take a LONG time to come around
to pellets. Is it a good idea to
feed them gold fish? It is not without
danger, as they can obviously bring
in diseases. Still, I think this
helps condition the fish for breeding.
Eventually they all start eating
pellets. A C. sp. Bocon that
I had fed exclusively live and frozen
foods to for over a year, one day
began snatching pellets being fed
to the other cichlids in its tank.
Pikes with Cichlasomines, allows
the Pikes to watch and learn. In
soaring birds of prey, the zillions
of Turkey and Black vultures in
Florida, for example, the descent
of one bird tells another bird that
the descender has spotted food.
I've observed this behavior in Characins
and I see no reason why cichlids
can t use this mode of prey detection.
The point is: keep the Pikes with
The older the fish, the longer
it takes to convert to pellets.
A good friend, Darin Gasperson,
has had moderate success at getting
his Cichla ocellaris to eat
pellets. My experience has been
that juveniles of the lugubris-group
are a little easier to convert to
pellets than member of the saxatilis-group.
If only I could keep the lugubris-types
from getting so huge their temperament
seems much more agreeable than those
of the saxatilis-types.
I've also noticed that specimens low in the pecking order learn to eat pellets sooner than the gold medallist intramural thugger. Why? I don't know for certain but does the thugee feel the need to eat anything to hang on to dear life? Have any of you observed this?
With a combination of patience,
frozen foods, high temperatures
and the addition of Cichlasomines,
I've managed to convert ALL of my
Pikes on to pellets. I actually
got my Crenicichla semifasciata
to eat frozen peas! Of course, I
culture a lot of live foods like
earthworms, daphnia etc. and the
Pikes get these live foods only
after they learn to eat pellets.
This way, if the live food cultures
ever die or if my neighbor doesn't
like handling earthworms while I'm
traveling, the fish can always eat
pellets. Modern pellets like Doromin
are quite nutritious and can add
bulk to the fish and can even condition
some Pikes to spawn.