New to Cichlids (extremely low pH)
I have a friend that has asked me to help her manage her 55 gallon aquarium that is mostly populated with African Cichilds. I have kept tropical and saltwater fish on and off for a couple of decades so I am not exactly green, but I have never managed a cichlid community before and I have grave concerns for her current setup.
Tank size: 55g (standard)
Filtration: 1 very low capacity (outside tank filter) that barely exchanges any water...it's just trickle; with poly fiber only.
Substrate: natural quartz
Other items: 2 medium size pieces of driftwood; maybe 12-14"
Planted: no (just artificial)
Current water specs (as of this evening)
Ammonia: slightly elevated 0.25ppm after 10gal water change
Nitrite: slightly elevated
Nitrate: none (some free-floating algae suspension and on the walls of the tank)
PH: 6 (whoa; this really concerns me)
Aside from the 10gal water change; I cleaned all algae off the tank walls and ran 4 exchanges of a vortex diatom over about a 5 hour period; it clogged the filter with debris between each cycle; LOTS of organic waste in the tank; these are BIG messy fish.
Inhabitants: (one crazy collection of novice fish that I am surprised haven't eaten each other:
3 Oscars (3-4")
2 Electric Blue Cichilds (4"); one is very aggressive; the other less colorful, perhaps a female just hides when not being chased by the more aggressive one along with everyone else in the tank
4 Blood Red Parrot Cichlids (2")
2 Gold Gouramis
1 Melanchronis auratus (Lake Malawi)
1 Bala Shark (5")
4 Small Molly's (surprisingly still living and not someone's lunch)
1 Black Skirt Tetra ( 1.5"); pretty beat up
This amalgamation of residents seems to me a disaster in the making.
How would I best transition this tank to a suitable Cichlid community. My friend is most fond of the Blood Parrot's, the Electric Blues, and the melanchronis auratus. My biggest concern is the extremely low pH and how to address that without shocking them to death; I suppose they have just become accustomed to it. The Melanchronis and the Electric Blue's do srape themselves on the gravel, but I can't see any visible signs of infection; perhaps the low pH is just irritating to them.
My suggestion was to move away from the traditional Tropical tank which is what she has now with natural gravel, driftwood, etc., and move to a better substrate to buffer the pH.
My assumption is the large amount of organic waste and lack of filtration and the tank lacking in any kind of bottom feeders to pick up extra food along with overfeeding flake food all contribute to the problem .
So, in short, the fish a quasi-healthy, but stressed, and I need to move them to a more suitable environment with more suitable tank-mates without shocking them to much.
Welcome to the forum first of all.
Yikes, we have a major issue here. Main being the tank is way over stocked even for a 55g . There is going to have to be some fish removed to make this tank anywhere near something that wont cause WW3, it is a major disaster in the making.
First of all, the Oscars, blood parrots, bala shark, molly, tetra all need to go, they are not suitable at all for this tank, Oscar and blood parrots need a 75g or larger tank and with 3 oscars you would be looking at least MINIMUM a 125g tank!
The auratus is easily the most aggressive fish in there even more aggressive than the Oscars will be when they mature. Electric blues depending on what they are, are also likely to be very aggressive.
I would look seriously at removing everything except the gourami and build a community around them. The tank simply cannot handle those fish and their aggressive nature / size at adulthood.
Now, another thing is going to be filtration, 10-15 times the tank volume for cichlids, as you have found out they are messy eaters / poopers. I would look at, at least 2 filters or a large canister to provide ample filtration.
Substrate, I would slowly change it over to sand and add driftwood and rocks.
Has this tank been cycled? the readings of ammonia / Nitrite and NO Nitrate do not make sense with such a heavy bioload, how long has this tank been established? Are you treating the water with a conditioner?
Major changes are going to have to be made to this tank and soon before things start going badly wrong.
I am not going to address the low pH issue at the moment, can you test the water from the tap and post a reading for the pH before I go about explaining how to get the pH back up.
Cichlids (over population, etc)
Thanks for the welcome, Tazman.
It is going to be a tough sell to get her to give up all of the blood parrots; she's really fond of them most. Can you suggest a scenario where she might be able to keep one; even in the 55g if we really amp up the filtration?
After observing the behaviour for several hours, the one Electric Blue is at present the most aggressive; all the other fish tend to hide from him as he chases each in turn around the tank.
I've been considering a canister filter, I've not used one before, might you recommend a model/brand that is widely accessible for parts, media, maintenance? What gph would you suggest for filtration? Something in the 500-800gph range? What about undergravel with powerbeads, plus orb?
Regarding the substrate, could I safely replace it in one pass, or should I do maybe half the tank, wait a few days and then do the other half? What substrate would you recommend; something to buffer the pH I would assume. I've seen quite a few Cichlid specific substrates available.
Yes, the tank is about 4 months old and has cycled. She had a "fish-maintenance" guy (I use the term loosely for the mess he has created). Who had been coming to service the tank twice a month. About 3 weeks ago, everything died supposedly after a water change. I cannot get any accurate details on what occurred. So all but 3 of the original fish are all new in the last 3 weeks.
When I did the 10g water change, I treated the tap water with Novaqua and then added 10ml of Prime along with 2oz (per directions) of a bio-boost solution that he had provided, I don't recall the brand. After the water change the free amonia came down to 0.25ppm; it was previously 0.50ppm. I used an API Freshwater Test Kit. pH from the tap is 7.4.
Regarding the rock; shouldn't they be non-crystaline; e.g. something like limestone to help buffer the pH? There's no rock in the tank at all (aside from the gravel) only the two pieces of driftwood and plastic plants.
Thanks for ALL your suggestions ... looking forward to remaining comments.
If she really is attached to the blood parrots then here is what I would do. It is still going to involve removing a lot of fish though.
Take everything out except 2 blood parrots, 4 the tank is simply too small to house as they can get to 10". Depending on the personality of the blood parrots you might be able to keep the molly, tetra but the shark is a no go.
Filtration look at something like the Rena XP2 or Eheim 2213, both have large media capacities and are well respected brands. If you dont want a canister then something along the lines of an Aqauclear 70 or 110, Marineland Penguin 400 would be a cheaper HOB configuration.
The substrate you can get Quickrete play sand from Home Depot for about $7 per 50lb bag, no real need for specialist cichlid substrate as the blood parrots will be fine in that pH. You could perhaps remove the wood for a few days and see if it makes a difference to the pH in the tank. If it doesnt then you can always add it back in.
When doing a water change, skip adding anything except the prime, prime is all you need to be adding. Anything else and it may be what is messing with the cycle as it could be a bacteria in a bottle product.
Rocks if you keep the blood parrots only will not really be needed.
I think that is a plan that might work for her. Thanks so much for your help!
It seems to me that if the ph truly is 6.0 or a shade lower, the nitrogen cycle may be struggling. Bacteria don't like acid too much. At levels around 6, then tend to start to die and are not very efficient at eating ammonia or nitrites. Aquariums tend to acidify if there is too much organic waste..
As for the lack of nitrates, there are several things that can cause this to happen.
First of all, you may not actually be producing any... If your bacteria are not properly working to transform your nitrites in to nitrates, there won't be any.. Possibly the tank is in a cycle right now and has not made it to the point of nitrate production which is why you read ammonia and nitrite.
Second, it is possible that diatoms, algae, or several forms of anaerobic bacteria are eating your nitrates as fast as they are being produced.
My philosophy is to build your entire system around your most fragile inhabitant. This includes keeping predators out if the water they live in. :-)
We could go over her entire list, but we don't have to. We can stop with the Oscars and anything from Lake Malawi... They are from different continents.. I try not to put things form different parts of the world in the same aquarium, unless they are proven to tolerate similar conditions. It seems like some of the fish on your list like 6.8-7.2 and some of them like 7.8-8.6.
Obviously, whoever this fish guy was really didn't know what he was doing, or just gives people what they want.
Cichlids are one of the easiest fish to mess up. You need to be careful what you put with what not only because of how aggressive they tend to be, but some can breed with cichlids who are not the same sub-species.
You could start over with the tank and do smaller cichlids like Labodochromus, Idotropheus, or Pseudotropheus..
Have your friend find one specific fish species she wants, then do a TON of research to build your ecosystem around that species. Good luck to you and your friend!!
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