Whenever I look into a tank of "Mixed African Cichlids" and get the urge -- that rapidly escalates to an absolute obsession to buy a fish that I think looks a little like a fish I'm pretty sure will work in my tank -- I suddenly see Clint Eastwood's face and he's giving me stink eye. It's that scene where he's just laid out for the bad guy the impossible odds he faces if he draws on Clint, and then he says to the bad guy, and to me:
". . . so, you gotta ask yourself: are you feeling lucky?"
Okay, maybe the odds at the mixed tank aren't quite that bad. But buying a fish that is incompatible with the fish you already have can lead to one or more of your fish ending up like that bad guy. With African Cichlids you not only need to know what species of fish you already have, but also what species can go with them. It can get very complicated and the mixed tank further complicates things because you don't know what you're looking at ó- especially if the fish are juveniles. The safest thing would be to stay away from those tanks entirely. But, there's often some really nice fish in them; fish that would be perfect for your tank, and for a lot less money too. So should you? Should you buy one of these fish?
Maybe. You need to ask a few questions, all aimed at identifying your prospective fish, and the first thing you should find out is where or how your LFS (Local Fish Store) gets their Mixed Cichlids.
A tank of mixed cichlids can contain just about any kind of cichlid you can think of and most LFS get these mixes in one of two ways. The first is for the store to put the mix together themselves using leftover single species that didn't sell. It's just a matter of needing the tank space for a new shipment of fish.
So at your LFS you might be looking at a mixed tank containing a Kenyi, a yellow lab, a brichardi and a couple of convicts. Not the combination you would choose for your tank, but if you or a knowledgeable employee can positively identify one of these fish, (and it's a fish that's on your list), then you should be safe buying it. (Just keep in mind though that just because an employee can say Labeotropheus fulleborni, doesn't make the fish a Labeotropheus fulleborni. Part of what you're doing here is trying to determine if you can trust what your LFS is telling you. Often they don't know that they don't know.)
The other way your LFS gets their mix is from their supplier. This is the mixed tank you want to stay away from. There is a strong possibility that many of these fish are in fact hybrids.
You may feel that the issues surrounding hybrids don't concern you, and for the most part that's probably true. You're not going to sell any fry and you don't care if your hybrid doesn't develop good color. But where it affects you directly is that a hybrid can seriously mess up your well thought out plan for a compatible tank. You just don't know what you're getting. How big does it get? Will it outgrow your tank? How does it behave? What fishes does it get along with? Who will the hybrid mate with, and will they want to mate with him? Or is it a her? How do you know your hybrid's grandmother wasn't a Melanochromis auratus and will someday seek to kill every other fish in your tank? You donít.
There are just too many questions that can't be answered and questions without answers require luck, and of course then you gotta ask yourself: Do I feel lucky? □