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Reducing Aggression in Cichlids
by Marc Elieson

The first thing a new hobbyist probably hears about African cichlids is "Beware, these are mean, mean fish." Cichlids in general are aggressive by nature. There are a few exceptions (and these should not be kept with the tyrants). This warning is justified. Cichlids' aggressiveness can be daunting and even discouraging if it is not controlled. Too many new beginners fall into despair as one cichlid annihilates the others. Well, there's good news: cichlid aggression can be ameliorated and controlled - to some extent.

The number one cause for aggression between fish is food-related. You can ease aggression by feeding your fish less, but more often. By keeping your fish fed throughout the day, they are less likely to feel threatened by a tank mate.

2 Peacocks sparringAggressive cichlids are usually more territorial because they want to stake out their own backyard garden from which to hunt and harvest, and then guard it against intruders. Conspecifics (i.e., similar looking fish) are seen as a threat (because if they are similar, they will compete for the same foods), and are chased off. Therefore, by having fish from a wide variety of species you can cut down on intra-species aggression. In the wild, cichlids live in high density pockets. They're able to do this because they don't all occupy the same ecological niche. Some of these cichlids may hug to the sand, others will stick to the rocks or caves, and then some will cruise the open water. By stocking your aquarium with fish who inhabit different niches, you can reduce inter-species aggression. Also, by giving your fish lots of room to swim, and lots of territories to claim and caves to hide in, you can reduce this aggression.

Temperature plays a large role in a fish's behavior. Warmer temperatures will increase a fish's metabolism, stimulating its aggressive tendencies. (Don't we all get a bit testy when it's boiling outside?) So, by lowering the temperature in your tank, you can ease the aggression between fish.

2 Neolamprologus tretocephalusWith few exceptions, males are the more aggressive of the two, and they tend to rough females not interested in mating. For this reason, it is advisable to keep at least 2 females per male for polygamous mouthbrooders. This way his aggression and frustration is not received by just one female but is distributed instead. For those species that form pairs (e.g., Neolamprologus and Julidochromis), it is advisable to only keep a single pair. Lone males and females both are not tolerated by pairs once they have formed.

Also, by "crowding" your tank, you can distribute inter-species aggression. Not just one fish is a target of abuse, and aggressors tend to lose victims more easily when the tank is crowded. Just be sure that you "over filter" your aquarium if you are going to "crowd" it. Again, this trick works for most species but there are some that will become more aggressive as a result of crowding, like Neolamprologus brichardi types.

Aggression in cichlids can be stemmed by feeding more frequently. Keeping cichlids that claim different niches of the aquarium is also important in reducing aggression due to territorialness. Aggressiveness can also be eased by keeping the temperature on the low side, thus lowering your fishes' metabolism. And by crowding an aquarium, what aggression is displayed by dominant males is spread out over the group.


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