FEEDING CICHLIDS IN CAPTIVITY

Try blanched courgette (zucchini) for your mbuna

Simply slice down the middle as shown, and immerse in boiling water for 2-3 minutes

Allow to cool, then fix securely in the tank

Here it is wedged underneath rocks

As you can see...

...they just love it!

The cichlid fishes of the African Rift lakes exhibit such a range different feeding behaviours that it is hard to make sweeping generalisations about what is best. However, from my experience over the last 30 years, I suggest a few 'golden rules':

Take time to find out the dietary requirements of your fishes

Most African cichlids, and Malawi mbuna in particular, will eat virtually anything offered, and do not seem to know when to say 'enough'. Most of the foods we offer contain far more nutrition than the fishes will find in the wild, and may cause health problems.

Fishes that are adapted to animal foodstuffs have relatively short digestive tracts (often no longer than the length of the fish), as animal tissues quickly putrefy in the gut and must pass through the system quickly. In contrast, herbivorous species can have intestines up to a metre long in a six inch fish. This is because it takes time to break down the cellulose in plant matter, the food must remain in the gut for longer to extract nutrition efficiently.

Therefore, feeding a diet high in vegetable matter to piscivorous fish is unlikely to cause immediate problems, though much of the plant matter will be expelled undigested. However, problems will arise if you reverse this and feed herbivorous fishes regularly with a high percentage of animal matter. The long gut of these fishes, designed to slowly break down plant foods, cannot metabolise such matter before putrefaction, resulting in 'bloat' or other health problems.

Find out what your fishes are adapted to eat, and err towards an herbivorous diet if in doubt. For example, when keeping piscivores, I will only offer foods such as whitebait if there are no herbivores present.

Do not feed mammalian animal products to your fishes in any form.

My reasons for saying this are twofold. Firstly, it's unnatural (solid fats as found in mammals can harm the digestive systems of fishes).

Secondly, it is totally unnecessary - there is a huge variety of healthier foods you can give to your fishes.

Do not overfeed.

Almost all of the species I have kept will happily gorge themselves to the point of near bursting. While the occasional big meal is unlikely to cause any problems, constantly over-feeding will not only result in potential water quality problems, but can result in health problems in fishes, particularly if the protein levels of the food are high. It is worth bearing in mind that fishes are cold blooded animals, and therefore do not need to constantly expend energy maintaining body temperature. Most adult fish can be left for at least two weeks with no food - this can be preferable to having a friend feed them, particularly if no water changes are being carried out.

The expert advice in Enjoying Cichlids (Cichlid Press) is to only feed adult mbuna every other day, and sparingly at that. Most herbivorous mbuna in the wild spend almost all the daylight hours feeding. This is because the food naturally available to them is of almost unbelievably poor nutritional quality. This is what they are adapted to, but is practically impossible to replicate under aquarium conditions. The best we can do, given the high nutritional content of almost all aquarium foods, is to reduce the amount given to a minimum.

Don't feed granular or pellet foods to to mbuna or other herbivorous cichlids.

These tend to be very high protein foods, and in solid form the fish simply get far too much nutrition, resulting in over-sized, overweight individuals. Damage to internal organs can result, as can an impairment of breeding capability. Flake foods, while often of a very similar composition, cannot be consumed in such quantity as the dense and concentrated pellets or granules, and therefore are a preferable alternative when dried foods are used.

Don't use bloodworm.

Many people feed these creatures to their (non-herbivorous) Cichlids without problems. Some authorities say that this is a potentially dangerous food as it can introduce disease. I agree that they should not be used, but mainly because they are the most disgusting thing to handle and I always end up dropping some of the little beggars on the floor!

Same goes for Tubifex - horrible creatures!

Neither of the above should ever be fed to adult specimens of primarily herbivorous species such as Tanganyikan Tropheus spp. or Malawi mbuna, where the long intestinal tract is not designed to cope with such soft meaty foodstuffs.

For feeding very small fish fry, maintain a microworm culture.

You will need a couple of plastic sandwich boxes with lids, or old ice cream containers. A 1" hole should be made in the lid and plugged with a piece of sponge or filter floss. A starter culture will be required, either from a fellow fish keeper or by mail order. Fresh cultures need to made every 3-4 weeks, using porridge oats and water, seeded with a teaspoon of the previous culture. The culture boxes need to be kept at a warm room temperature, but note they can be a bit smelly as they pass their productive peak! Once the culture is mature, the worms are collected from the sides of the container with a finger (or paintbrush for the squeamish), which is then swirled in the tank water to feed the fish fry.

Try Shrimp Mix.

This is hard to beat as an all-round food. The recipe came originally, as far as I know, from the book Enjoying Cichlids on the Cichlid Press. I have altered it in a couple of aspects, the main one being that I use Agar Agar as the gelling agent rather than gelatine (I'm a vegetarian and don't like to use gelatine). It's basically simple enough to make if you are sufficiently competent in the kitchen to knock up say, a typical pasta sauce or something similar from scratch. GET RECIPE

I feed this relatively low protein Shrimp Mix to almost all my fishes as the main staple element of their diet. Aquarian tropical flake and spirulina flake are also used as staple food. Piscivorous species get regular additions of mussels or whitebait, while omnivores receive frozen Mysis, Daphnia or Krill. This regime of feeding, which includes one day a week with no food (except for young fry) does not give me the exceptional growth rates that a higher protein diet would produce in younger fishes, but I am far happier with the quality of stock raised and maintained using such a relatively meagre feeding regime.