Central American Cichlids • Dither/Target fish tips

Discussion regarding only Central American Cichlid species. (Guapotes, Jack Dempseys, Red Devils, Firemouths, Convicts, Texas Cichlids, etc.)

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Dither/Target fish tips

Postby oldcatfish » Thu May 28, 2009 1:40 pm

Hi everyone. Lets all post tips for keeping dithers/target fish with aggressive cichlids, which is a commonly asked question here. For those that saw my other post, though I haven't had a lot of luck in the past keeping equal sized CA cichlids from killing each other, I have had a lot of success keeping them with other fish and keeping breeding pairs. It's been my experience that most cichlids can be kept with non-cichlid species if the following rules are followed. There are 2 methods--fast moving schooling open water targets, or smaller- fast moving rockdwelling targets.

1) Your tank must be large enough for the dither/targets to evade attack.
2) You must keep them in enough numbers (at least 12 for schooling, 2-3 rockdwellers) so that the cichlid can't single out one fish. The more targetfish the better.
3)The fish must be large enough to make an impossible meal, and they need to be fast.
4)The dithers/targets must not be a shy species.

Example #1-- a 75g tank with a texas cichlid and a school of 12-15 giant danios. One area of the tank that is cichlid friendly (cave, driftwood, etc.) the rest open water.

Example # 2-- a 75g tank with one texas cichlid and a couple of same sex convicts. There should be several caves for each convict that only they can fit into, with a cave for the texas in the middle of the tank.

**It's extremely rare to get a fish that must be kept in isolation (if your tank is large enough). But it does happen. If you have one, and your fish hides whenever you are around (but kills anything that you add), just divide off a small portion of the tank with a clear (very sturdy) divider, and put a fish on the other side--a convict works well here too. Your large cichlid will spend his time trying to get to the other fish...you'll see him much more. This method also works very well with breeding pairs...the pair bond is much more stable with a target in the aquarium, to focus their aggression.

What tips do you all have?
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Postby imfbrad » Thu May 28, 2009 8:55 pm

how would congo tetras do for dithers?
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Postby TheFishGuy » Thu May 28, 2009 9:06 pm

I somewhat agree, but Now I'm going to nit pick so please don't take offense.... I post with my experiences...

In example number two while it will work for a little while it's a know fact that convicts and texas will spawn. If the tank was a female texas and all female cons you might have issues with the cons still dropping eggs and two females defending them which could possibly lead to the maming or death of your female texas. Putting a male in will result in texicons... Keeping a group of male convicts with a male texas will go over like a lead baloon...

As for using a divider to draw out your single cichlid by baiting it with a convict or some other small growing species will result in two stressed fish... Stress kills...

In my experience, and I stress "my experience" if you'd like to keep a handfull of large growing "aggressive" CA/SA cichlids together then size matters. You need a massive tank to pull it off. Lots of hide spots and defined territories, breaks in line of site and good clean water. Skimp on any one of those and you're headed for disaster. Disaster can strike in one night brought on by one fish... Or it can happen slowly until all you've got left are two big boys just waiting to kill one another...

As for dithers when keeping large cichlids together... I find that once they mature they could care less about the dithers, if they want to kill something or if they want to defend their territory they will focus on one other fish weather it's a target or cichlid and proceed to spend it's days attempting to remove the fish from the tank. My 1500 is the second tank where I've had success keeping large growing "heavy hitters" together in harmony. The first was my 800. I had midas, jaguars, oscars, convicts, cutteri, blackbelts and polleni spawn in those two tanks without incident. Reason being when they give chase it rarely goes past eight to ten feet. After that they've proved their point and all is well. When they spawn, chases rarely last for three feet then the point is made.

Point is, size matters and sometimes with luck dithers work, but in time, they usually don't especially when you're dealing with mature full grown cichlids :)
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Postby oldcatfish » Fri May 29, 2009 9:24 am

No offense taken, and you do make several good points.

First, the large cichlids together...no doubt that you need a huge aquarium to keep large aggressive pairs in a community setting. I haven't had a lot of success in the past even with non breeding singles in this situation (the reason for my other post), so I can't debate your experience.

And also, you are right...if an aggressive cichlid decides to go after a particular fish--it has little chance. But plenty of cover (rocks, etc.) is a key factor too, as well as enough escape space for open water swimmers. Most people don't have nearly enough cover in their tanks, or not enough escape space for the open water swimmers.

As for example #2 with the convicts...the convicts do have to be the same sex as the texas cichlid for sure. And you are right about the female convicts...if one pairs up with the female texas. The female convicts pairing with each other shouldn't be too much of a problem if your texas is tough enough. If it isn't, example #1 would be a better choice. Most substrate spawners get really aggressive once fry are free swimming, not when they just drop eggs. But I've done the male convicts with numerous male large/aggressive cichlids. I've only ever had one problem, and it was with one of those "isolation type" fish (it actually was a green texas), and had to use a divider. If the convicts are a real concern, you can use other rockdwelling fish like the more omnivorous mbuna as well.

As for the divider causing stress...as long as the tank is decorated normally(rockwork, etc.), in my experience the divider works great. It's no different than having two cichlid tanks next to each other, except that the fish can smell each other too. The divider just ensures that each fish has an established territory (note: I'm not talking about keeping them in a really small tank). Since there is no physical contact, there isn't a high degree of stress like there would be if the fish actually had contact. Both fish usually display great colors.

And I've bred numerous species with a target fish on the other side of the divider. It results in LESS stress for the breeding pair, because they aren't focusing their aggression on each other. I used to divide the aquarium, and put a breeding pair of a different species on each side (in a large aquarium). It usually worked fairly well, but the single target seems to work better. I used to always have at least one tank with a divider (at one time I had over 20 aquariums in my fish room). In fact, when I decided to again try a CA community set up in my 125g, my wife said, "Oh not a divider again; they don't look very nice."

That being said though, we each have our own experience---and cichlids are such individual personalities that nothing seems to work 100 percent of the time.
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Postby oldcatfish » Fri May 29, 2009 10:09 am

I don't know about Congo Tetras---I've never kept them. Here are a list of fish that I have personally kept with non-predatory cichlids, or have personally seen kept with cichlids (noted by*).

--Australian Rainbowfish: any of the larger species
--Giant Danios
--Silver Dollars
--Tinfoil Barbs
--T-Barbs/Spanner Barbs
--Buenes Aries Tetras

*** White Skirt Tetras, Black Tetras, Bleeding Heart Tetras, Blue/Red Columbian Tetras, Blue Gouramis(they aren't fast moving, but stay up towards the top-if you have a deep tank).


Stay away from any small, slow moving, long finned fish. They make easy targets.
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Postby RyanR » Fri May 29, 2009 1:31 pm

oldcatfish wrote:As for the divider causing stress...as long as the tank is decorated normally(rockwork, etc.), in my experience the divider works great. It's no different than having two cichlid tanks next to each other, except that the fish can smell each other too. The divider just ensures that each fish has an established territory (note: I'm not talking about keeping them in a really small tank). Since there is no physical contact, there isn't a high degree of stress like there would be if the fish actually had contact. Both fish usually display great colors.


My take is that when a divider is needed for more than short term in a community tank, that's the end of the game, and someone needs rehomed.... which is part of why I've wound up with many more tanks than I originally considered. :lol:

-Ryan
125g: Mostly SA: Severums, Chocolate cichlid, rainbow cichlids,Flagtail Prochilodus, Pleco's, Tetra's ....
75g: Texas Cichlid
75g: "Peaceful" African tank
55g: (Wife's) F1 Rotkeil Sev
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Postby illy-d » Fri May 29, 2009 1:59 pm

Congo's work. But it all depends on what you're keeping them with. An adult congo is probably too big to be seen as a meal for most severums for example, but just the right size to be seen as a meal for an Oscar. Both O's and Sev's are not typically known as 'heavy hitters', but they both have a penchant for putting small fish in their mouths.

I'm in a unique spot at the moment where I actually need dithers for my dithers... Well not really, but my group of Ameca Splendens (who are doing a terrific job acting as dithers & occassionaly targets for my Nics), have activley harrased and nipped my American Flagfish to death. I've watched it. The Amecas are nippy buggers. I'm going to try my hand with some swordtails next. I have no doubts that my Nics will leave them alone - just worried about those darn goodieds. Nasty.
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby Stomes85 » Sat Nov 25, 2017 8:49 pm

Tried to add 4 zebra danios to my mixed Malawi tank and they ate 2 real quick and I managed to save the other 2. Wow, is adding these target fish a joke? Not sure I understand.
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby Stomes85 » Sat Nov 25, 2017 9:08 pm

Zebra danios didn't work with my African Malawi mixed cichlid tank.
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby TheFishGuy » Sat Nov 25, 2017 9:54 pm

I don’t suppose they would. Malawian Cichlids don’t need dithers. They just need to be overcrowded.
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby Sinister-Kisses » Sun Nov 26, 2017 4:50 pm

Zebra danios shouldn't be considered a dither fish in just about ANY cichlid tank - they're too small and not fast enough, they'll get picked off very easily. GIANT danios are what should be used as dithers. Additionally, 4 zebra danios are just providing your fish with a snack, you'd need many more...you would need a large-ish school of GIANT danios, not zebra.

And yes, dithers aren't needed with Malawi cichlids. Overstocking the tank with other Malawis is the correct method for them.
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180gal: Argentea, Regani, Heterospila
125gal: Goldfish tank
120gal: Midas male
5gal: Bettas
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby Stomes85 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 5:29 pm

Thanks for all your replies.
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby PGJE » Thu Dec 28, 2017 11:01 am

Sinister-Kisses wrote:Zebra danios shouldn't be considered a dither fish in just about ANY cichlid tank - they're too small and not fast enough, they'll get picked off very easily. GIANT danios are what should be used as dithers. Additionally, 4 zebra danios are just providing your fish with a snack, you'd need many more...you would need a large-ish school of GIANT danios, not zebra.

And yes, dithers aren't needed with Malawi cichlids. Overstocking the tank with other Malawis is the correct method for them.



how many would a large- wish school of giant danios be? :-?
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Re: Dither/Target fish tips

Postby lilcaddy420 » Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:07 am

my RD has killed 8 blackskirt,4beanus aireas I gave up on dithers got a divider with a divided tank I agree with the comment earlier give most to the fish that need to be fed a healed proper and find defendable territory..see my new tank post hope I help even a little
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