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My Experience with Dicrossus filamentosus
Or Checkers, Anyone?
by Mike Valcarcel

It all started innocently enough. A quick stop at one of the many local fish stores I haunt. I had been looking for the right fish to go into a recently acquired 20 long. I knew it was going to feature dwarf cichlids. I knew it was going to be my first serious attempt at plants. I even knew that I wanted it to be moderately accurate as far as biotope aquariums go. I just had one tiny, little problem.

I was torn between West African and South American dwarfs.

I guess as far as dilemmas go in the big scheme of things, this was pretty minor. But I was seriously torn; do I go with a really cool West African set-up, something I had been planning since I was sixteen, or do I try my hand at keeping South American dwarfs again? I had considered all possibilities as far as the featured fish and its tankmates, even consulting many online sources for help.

I had just finished browsing through the many tanks of tetras, and as I rounded the corner for the last aisle, I knew that what few tanks remained for their freshwater department might not contain anything that would catch my attention. I looked into one of the middle tanks and froze.

Staring back at me (sort of) was a tank full of Dicrossus filamentosus, or Lyretail Checkerboard Cichlids. To me, this was the fish. I had wanted its relative, the Checkerboard Cichlid (D. maculata) ever since I had seen it as a twelve year old in my dads copy of Exotic Aquarium Fishes, 19th edition. I had an opportunity to get some of this species when I was sixteen, but due to lack of funds and space in my room, I had to pass on it, something I regretted doing. But now, with both the funds and the space, I would not let them get away from me.

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After some quick research on the species, and consulting with those who have kept them, I prepared what was to become their new home. The tank and sand were carefully washed. As far as the substrate was concerned, I went with a mixture of pool filter sand, black gravel, and black sand. In retrospect, I probably could have skipped the black sand; it made a colossal mess when it was added to the tank. I added several pieces of driftwood, and all was almost ready.

I had decided that whatever route I took, fish-wise, I was going to have live plants in this set-up. Due to the fact that D. filamentosus appreciates a more dimly-lit aquarium, I had to find plants that would also thrive in this scenario. Fortunately, there are many plants that will do very well in low light. After the tank had finally cleared and the black sand had settled to the bottom, I obtained some Java fern (Microsorim pteropus), to put on the driftwood. Also added were some Myriophyllum pinnatum, Cryptocoryne balansae, C. wendtii, a dwarf water lilly, and a few sprigs of Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana), which had come with some Victorians I had gotten around the same time.

Once the tank had been up and running for two weeks, and the water parameters were somewhat acceptable, I went ahead and bought the fish. As far as tankmates go, I knew I would be hard-pressed to find anything better than tetras. My choice in this department was the Blue Emperor Tetra (Inpaichthys kerri). Since I had read it favored similar conditions to the lyretails, they would be just fine. Then came the tricky part; finding a pair of cichlids.

I am not sure if this is a recent trend or not, but lately I have noticed that it is becoming more and more difficult to spot female dwarf cichlids. As I was carefully looking each fish over, the clerk told me that sometimes breeders would send just males. I dont know if they do that so they can control the market on a particular fish, or if they send males because the males tend to have better color. But everyone knows that a male will only look his best when theres a lady to impress. After much careful, excruciating examination of the fish, I selected one definate male, and one that seemed like it might be a female. I paid for my fish and went home.

As it turned out, I did acquire a pair. I havent been fortunate enough to have them spawn for me, mind you, but there is no mistaking a female D. filamentosus. While the male is swimming around with his long, flowing, pointy fins, hers are clear and rounded, save for a little red in her pectoral fins. The male is brilliant with electric blue spangles; she is more subdued, but still lovely.

As far as behavior goes, its almost impossible to believe that its a cichlid. It almost seems too mild-mannered. The pair goes about the tank in a non-hurried fashion, even at feeding time. They seem fond of grazing and picking at their food, so if food doesnt get eaten right away, I know that they will find it and eat it. In a way, it seems to be a good strategy, especially since they move a little slower than the Blue Emperors and recently-added Rummynoses! When it comes to food, I have not found them to be picky; mine accept flake food readily, but they go into a frenzy when daphnia is on the menu.

When I had first obtained my fish, I almost lost the male due to ich. However, a combined treatment of Maracide® and raising the water temperature to 85 degrees for a week seemed to not only due the trick, I havent had any other problems with illness since.

Overall, I have found D. filamentosus to be a wonderful fish. I have not found them to be shy, but frequently swimming in the open. They are peaceful, fairly hardy, and excellent community fish when kept with other peaceful fish. It may have taken me over twenty years, but Im glad I finally got them.
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