Email me with any tips you think should be added. (Or if you disagree with anything put forward here!)
Click on the title of each entry below to go to its fuller description:
The first and best piece of advice to give to any less experienced fish keepers that may ask you for advice. I would not advocate the use of any of the proprietary chemical products that claim to eliminate the need for water changes - although I confess to be largely ignorant of their composition or the detail of their claimed effects, it just doesn't make sense to me that this can be an equally good option.
We are restricting the fishes that we keep in glass boxes of unbelievably tiny proportions, in relation to the natural habitats. These few gallons of water are their entire world and it is our responsibility to gain some sort of understanding of what we are doing and how to offer an environment and food supply that will ensure a relatively normal life span, free from the major stress factors that invariably lead to discomfort and disease.
If you are on a public water supply, you are entitled to a full report on the water provided to your home, free of charge. This covers every aspect of the water quality and is most useful as it will contain details of the suitability of, and any potential problems with, your tap water.
I have no vested interest in recommending this book to EVERY keeper of all types of cichlids. It is without doubt the most useful book on fish keeping I have ever bought. It is an essential accessory when I go on buying trips as it gives information on the requirements of all the different groupings of the cichlid family, right down to tank size, social compatibility and several other aspects of what is required. If you want lots of detailed information on particular types of cichlids, then seek out more specialised titles. This is a more general book which, due to its enormous scope, does not set out to mention every known species by name.
UPRIGHT WITH THE CORNERS AT THE BOTTOM *(except for fishes of 3cm and less - see below)
Fish can easily get their snouts caught in the corner and may suffocate.
Invert the sealed bag and insert into another bag, which is then tied up.
The outer bag should be packed upright for transport.
Without the second bag, even the smallest hole in a bag could lead to disaster. *For fishes of 3-4cm or less I recommend putting the sealed first bag with fishes and water into the second bag the right way up, sealing the second bag, and then taping up the outsides of the bottom corners of the doubled-up bags with sellotape or packing tape, which cuts off any hiding place in the corner of the bag. Dry the bag before taping if necessary. Pack bag upright for transport.
The best way to transport fishes. Temperature can be constant for up to 24 hrs for a full box. If you buy a large batch of fishes from a supplier, ask for a box - they will usually be happy to give one to you.
I expect a fair number of people will disagree with this as I know many hobbyists and indeed many shops use coral sand. My arguments against it are:
1. It is far too light in colour and does the viewing of fishes' colours no favours at all.
2. It cannot be 'sifted' by rift lake cichlids in the way that so many of them are naturally inclined to do - and indeed has reportedly caused discomfort and disease through gill irritation.
3. If compacted in use or left, for example, in a tray or bucket while not in use, it 'goes off' rapidly and creates an horrendous smell - not a good sign where fishes are concerned (nasty bacteria!).
The very best substrate for tanks not using undergravel filters is in my opinion a very fine sand. I use bags of children's play sand from a builders' merchant - about £3.50 for a 25 Kg sack. This needs washed VERY thoroughly and will still cloud your tanks for a few days, but after that you will see the results for yourself. I am also pretty sure that this substrate contributes towards the nitrogen cycle management, by virtue of the huge additional surface area it provides for colonisation by nitrifying bacteria. TRY IT! One potential hazard of using sand is that it is rather easy to scratch the front glass of your tank when cleaning. If you use a sponge or algae magnet, be sure it is totally free of particles of sand before using, or use a razor blade in a holder which will not press sand against the glass.
For about half my tanks, which use undergravel filters, I use ordinary gravels, either collected or shop bought.
If you have coral sand or gravel and want it to serve as a buffer, try incorporating it in your filtration system.
Probably the best buffer to maintain appropriate levels of dissolved salts in your tank water. Best bought as a garden product in bulk packs, rather than buying expensive aquatic products, some of which are exactly the same substance. I sieve out any dust and use the remaining gravel-sized pieces, after rinsing in clean water, either in a filter compartment or mixed with gravel where this is used as the tank substrate.
I'm sure many fish keepers do this already - but the prices charged in most shops seem over the top to say the least. Exceptions I would make are tufa, ocean or lava rock if you wish to use them.
If you have the set up to allow for this, in a position above your tanks, then the essential task of making partial water changes becomes much easier to carry out effectively. (see WATER page)
In many cases where newly introduced fish start bullying one another, most people normally remove the victim. If you take away the aggressor, better results are often achieved. (Often an aggressor will simply pick another victim if the first is removed)
Just a question of cost, really. Anything allowed to be sold for human consumption will be fine for your fishes, and much cheaper this way.
I have never done this and hope that I never will need to. It is well documented that it leads to problems with the offspring when mouth brooding, namely they have no idea what they are supposed to do!
OXYGEN-FREE POCKETS AT THE SUBSTRATE LEVEL
I had this problem in a 30" deep tank with a fine sand substrate of 1-2" depth. It seems unlikely to be a problem in tanks of lesser depth. The clay piping I was using caused 'pockets' made by the footprint of the piping pressing down on the sand at considerable pressure, and led to conditions allowing anaerobic bacteria to thrive, resulting in what I took to be a slow seepage of toxins into the tank. After increasing health problems with the fish in this tank, I removed the piping, and the sulphurous smells that came from beneath the piping led me to the conclusion that this was the cause of the problems in the tank.
While useful if you do get an outbreak of disease, it is not advisable to use any medication on a long term basis. If the situation appears to indicate differently, I suggest there is a problem with the management of the tank.
DO NOT BUY PROPRIETARY BRANDS OF 'LAKE SALTS'
I do add chemical salts to my water (see WATER page), because my water has insufficient dissolved salts for the fishes of the rift lakes to live and develop normally. Your water report (see above) will tell you if any action is required. If it is, do not be persuaded to buy expensive proprietary branded so-called 'Lake Salts'. They largely comprise of cheaply obtainable chemical salts such as Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, and Magnesium Sulphate.
If it contains meat or 'animal derivatives' do not buy it. (See FOOD page)
Some people still seem to go by the maxim that a high protein fish food is a good one.
I suggest this is almost completely wrong - and liken the robust and well formed fishes that I raise on a low protein diet to wild salmon when compared to fish farm stock. You can see on your plate the difference in the meat (i.e. muscles) - if it affects the flesh in such a major way then I assume it affects all aspects of the body, as the fish are, presumably, what they eat (in the case of farmed salmon, rubbish!).
Unless you have very small bodied fishes or fry, you are much better to give them perhaps a little more food than normal in the week before you go away (and double up your water changes!). Almost all fishes will come to no harm if left for two weeks, providing they were well-fed at the start.
If you MUST get someone in (and I do as I always have fry) then it is ESSENTIAL that they do not overfeed - tell them to feed a quarter the amount you normally do and they will probably feed twice that amount!
Carefully cut them right down the middle, thereby getting twice the number of tests for your money.
The best food by far for most rift lake fishes (in fact, for almost ALL fishes).