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Creating a Central American Cichlid tank - I

by John and George Reclos

Creating a "different" tank is always part of the joy of this hobby. A new tank, especially if it is going to house species that you have never kept before is a challenge but also a great temptation. This summer Johnny decided that after 4 years, his 45 liter tank was not enough anymore and he would like to move to a larger tank with different kind of fish. Since the fish he chose to keep was a pair of Parachromis managuensis, we had to look for the largest tank that would fit in his room which was a 360 liter tank (net water volume: 300 liters). Although still quite small for this particular species we felt that with large water changes and the correct type of aquascape the pair would live happily and even spawn in it. This called for a structure that would allow a fish possibly sized about 25-30 cm to escape from a male who might become 40 cm or even larger. On top of that, the aquascape should use natural elements (this is a principle we follow for every tank we setup) and be aesthetically acceptable. Moreover, there should be enough room for the fish - that is the main reason for avoiding stone formations. The tank was already on the borderline as far as its size was concerned so we had to save as much as we could for the fish. Quite a few parameters to be taken into account but we had all the time in the world for that. First we got the tank and the fishes which were kept in separate tanks since the female was much larger (20 cm)  than the male (9 cm). We would like to note here that the sexes are not defined by venting or any other examination but based on behavioral observations. Indeed, things would be the other way around.. or even being the same sex. Then we made many drawings and measurements of the available tank space and the best way to arrange the decoration elements. After a month or so we were ready to go. Here you will see a list of the steps we followed and we hope you will like the final result. Our jaguar cichlids do !

This is the brand new tank measuring 120x50x60 cm. Although the length of the tank should be a bit more, this is the maximum space we had in Johnny's room. Moreover, this tank comes with two fluorescent tubes pre-installed as well as a (quite efficient) internal filter with a turnover of 1200 L/hr. A second external filter (900 L/hr) would be added in the other side of the tank. Large central American cichlids are really messy eaters and a good filtration system is a must.

The presence of tens of wires behind your tank is not good for taking photos or enjoying the result of your work. A background wallpaper was used to cover the back and sides of the tank. Fish feel better if three sides of their home are covered and P.managuensis are not the exception to this rule. The basic idea for the aquascape was to add the rocks in the background in the form of a wallpaper and not add any rocks in the tank itself - just a large flat stone for spawning and plenty of bogwood on a sand bottom. Even in its natural habitat, P.managuensis is often found lurking among roots..

The background was secured in place with black adhesive tape. Extra care was taken to ensure that the top of the wall paper was sealed correctly so any water that would come out of the tank could not pass between the glass and the wallpaper. Previous experience has taught us that this will result in salt deposits which will be clearly visible through the back glass.

The interior of the tank after the background was in place. Now it was time to move on with the actual decoration.

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