Mail Bag Archives

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In 2008 I had enough time to spend working on the original website that I was able to add regular Q&A updates where I answered readers questions. Below I’ve included the archive page for those questions. They are just listed here by date starting with the most recent. I’ve not edited them at all so they contain any original errors.

Remember, this is an archive from 2008 when we used the internet much differently than we do today. Social networks were still finding their way and just a few bulletin boards allowed for communicating with fellow hobbyists. Most of these questions would be quickly answered today.

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Apistogramma agassizii variants?
March 20, 2014
      Question:   I saw a picture of an Apistogramma that I really want to get. It is called a flaming red dwarf cichlid. I have not been able to find these for sale. Do you have any?

       Answer:  The fish you saw was probably an aquarium form of Apistogramma agassizii. There is a strain that has a bright yellow to white body with bright reds in the tail and fins. The mix of colors can vary widely as can the name they are sold under. Look for red flame, fire red or red fire agassizii and you will likely find fish similar to what you saw in the photo. 

Oak Leaves?

December 9, 2012
      Question:   I noticed that you suggest to put oak leaves in the cichlid tank. I was just wondering if any type of oak leaf would work? I’m from nebraska and we have a lot of bur oaks. Would thier leaves be ok in my tank?

       Answer:  As far as I know, every type of oak leaf will work just fine. I have used Bur Oak leaves a lot and I know that they will work fine. They will last in the tank for a couple of months before they start to significantly deteriorate.

Lowering pH?

March 21, 2009
Question:   I set up a new tank nearly two months ago now. My PH 2 days after a water change is 8.0, a week after water change is 8.0. I can’t get my PH below 8.0, what do I need to do? The tank has drift wood and a few plants, but I’ve been told that the wood or plants will not impact PH. I prefer not to use chemicals to alter PH, any suggestions? ?
       Answer:  This is a very common problem for many people. Most likely your water has minerals in it that keep the pH at 8.0. This natural buffering capacity makes it hard to get the pH to stay lower. It is also possible that your substrate adds buffering capacity as well as any rocks you might have. Driftwood and plants will not raise pH. You can add chemicals but that will often only work for a short time until the pH rises again. I strongly suggest that you not try to use chemicals to solve your problem. Actually, a pH of 8.0 might allow you to succeed with many dwarf cichlids. Many tanks raised apistos can handle this as can many rams. I would suggest that you try starting with your regular water and see how the fish do. If they do not thrive then you can look at other alternatives. Here is a page with  more info about good water for apistogramma

Flake Food?

January 29, 2009
Question:   What brand of flake food do you recommend?
       Answer:  I don’t feed flake food to my fish. I use so many floating plants that floating foods don’t work for me. Instead I use sinking pellets to feed my Apistogrammas and other fish. If they worked for me I would not hesitate to feed flake as almost all of the flakes on the market today provide good balanced nutrition for your fish. Rather than brand I would focus on freshness and variety. Once you open the food it begins to lose quality. After 6 months it has lost a lot of the quality of new. My advice is buy small containers of food and use them as quick as possible. If you have old stale food throw it away and get fresh. You can read more about how I feed at Good Food and at Equipment.

When to separate fry?
January 15, 2009
       Question:  How long do you leave the parents in with their offspring? And if they spawn while the fry are still with them, do they become aggressive toward them? 
       Answer:  It is always a problem when you have a young healthy pair that will spawn on a regular schedule. Rarely will apistos tolerate older fry when new ones are brought out. Since the first fry are so small they are not ready to be on there own and try to come to the female. She sees them as a threat to the new fry and eats them. I have seen females spawn repeatedly and always eat the existing fry when the new ones come out. Often she will continue to care for the first batch right up until she brings the new ones out at which time she immediately turns on the older ones. I don’t think there is a special age at which the fry should be removed. Rather it is a matter of behavior and independence. Once the fry start to spend significant time outside of the school it is OK to separate. The fry will probably be fine prior to that but when they are schooling they do not move around as much and can be harder to feed. I believe that fry grow faster with the female that without.

November 25, 2008
       Question:  Have you heard of Apistogramma Pebas before?  A local store in the area had some and I have never heard of them before.
    Answer:  A. pebas is a kind of confusing fish. They are very closely related to A.sp. putumayo and they are often confused as each other. They are also very close to A. sp. “Morado”. Similar fish have also been sold as A. sp. Algodon, sp. Algodon II, A. Melgar and others. This is a confusing complex of closely related fishes.pi
     Apistogramma sp. Pebas and many related forms can be very colorful. They exhibit reds, yellows and blues in very attractive patterns. However, there is a lot of natural variability in their colors and some are quite drab. They are relatively easy to keep. Clean neutral moderately soft water is all they really require. Otherwise treat them as any other Apisto and you should have good luck.

Krib Question
November 13, 2008
       Question:  I want to ask a question on the Pelvicachromis Plucher concerning ideal water parameters, such as: Proper pH, Temp,and GDH?
    Answer:  P. pulcher ( common Krib)  are normally pretty undemanding. Most of the fish sold in pet shops are captive raised and have a broad tolerance for water conditions. In the wild they come from soft acid waters but anything from neutral to slightly acid should be fine. Soft water is best but I have bred them in moderately hard water.
     Unless you have very extreme water conditions I would start with tap water and see how they do. The most likely problem that you would have would be in the viability of any eggs produced. If you get a few spawns without fry you might try looking for soft acid water.
      In terms of temp, anything from 74 – 80 is fine. Slightly cooler or warmer would not cause harm.

Bolivian Rams with Apistos or Blue Rams
October 15, 2008
       Question:  I recently added some Bolivian rams to my tank and I like them so much I would like to a pair of some other dwarf cichlids. I was wondering if I could keep Microgeophagus’ with Apistogrammas. Also can you keep blues and Bolivians together?
    Answer:  Many people keep both blue and Bolivian rams with other dwarf cichlid species. There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind though. Be sure to create a habitat that offers territories for each species. For the rams this means having a couple of open areas with a flat rock or two in each. For other species be sure to have caves and hiding areas.
           If you look at the top photo here and you will see a tank set up for blue rams and Apistogramma cacatuoides. Personally I avoid mixing the two species of rams. I have never kept them together so I don’t base that on any first hand info but based on years of keeping both I don’t think it would be the best idea. However, I could be wrong so if that is what you really want to do give it a try.
          Lastly, with any rams in mixed community don’t expect to raise any fry unless you are prepared to remove them. Ram parents are often very good for a day or two but soon lose control of the situation and all of the fry will be eaten by other fish.

Blue Rams with Apistos
October 8, 2008
      Question:  I have a 30 gallon tank. I have 5 gold  rams in there and I was thinking of adding a pair of Apistogramma cacatuoides or A. borelli.  Would there be any difficulties, issues or incompatibilities?
    Answer:  I think that either Apistogramma borellii or Apistogramma cacatuoides would work well for you. I lean toward the Apistogramma borellii based on size and temperment, however you shouldn’t have too much trouble with Apistogramma cacatuoides if you prefer them. A pair of either should be fine in your tank just make sure that you have appropriate habitat for both species.

Questions about RO Water
September 21, 2008
      Question:  In reading the Aquarium Care section of this website I have some questions regarding RO.  If you use a RO, won’t you have to put back some of the minerals necessary for the dwarf cichlids?  You’ve mentioned that your direct output of the RO is back into the tank so was wondering if you add anything else.
    Answer:  Under almost all circumstances I use straight RO without adding anything back. Some will strongly disagree with this but it has always worked for me. I tell everyone to try and use the easiest water they can. If your tap water is at all reasonable try adjusting your fish to that. In my case I have adjusted my fish to the water I provide that is straight RO discharge. 
      Of course, everything will depend on other factors as well. What type of substrate, rocks, driftwood, etc. will all play a factor as many of the items we put in our tanks will provide some buffering capacity. Depending on what you have you might find that there is no need to add minerals.
      For me a factor s always the age of the membrane. When a RO filter is new it is highly efficient but as it ages it loses some of its effectiveness. This takes several years but, as time goes on, the water output  is not as pure as when new. I keep this in mind and observe carefully when I install a new membrane as I know that I might well have changing water conditions.
     There are a number of excellent products on the market as RO additives. I suggest finding a single brand and sticking with it to provide consistency in the replacement water. The other option many people use is to add tap water to the RO water. If you do this find a percentage mix that works best for you and stick with it. Again, consistency is the key.
      There is no one way, right way or best way to keep these great fish. What I write is my way which works for me others have great results doing it other ways. The important thing is to get some fish, do your best for them and watch carefully and learn from them.

pH of 8.1
August 21, 2008
    Question: I have a 70 gallon tank (well planted,lots of caves) with just tetras(12) and otto cats(4).I would like to add a pair of cacatuoides and a pair of macmasteri in the tank,My pH is at 8.I was told Apistos would thrive fine under these conditions,but would not breed.Is this ok to keep two separate apisto species under this condition.
    Answer:  From what you have described I don’t think you will have problems with two species of Apistogrammas in this tank. The pH is on the high side of where I think Apistogrammas do well but the fish should do OK. Generally Apistogrammas will live in harder more alkaline water but any eggs produced will not be fertile.
    Of the species you mention, I think the cacatuoides would do better. They are found in neutral water in the wild and most aquarium strains are adapted to a wide range of conditions. If the macmasteri are wild they will not do as well as the tank raised ones. Conditions in the wild for these fish are generally very soft acid water. However, as with the cacatuoides, tank raised fish are very adaptable.
    If you are picking these species based on their photos you might find them hard to actually find. Cacatuoides and macmasteri are both fairly common so that helps but often it can be hard to find particular species. In general tank raised fish should do OK but try to avoid wild fish that require extreme water conditions.

A series of questions about a tank for Blue Rams 
July 9, 2008
    Question: I’m in the process of starting up my 55 gallon tank and want to go with German Blue Rams Microgeophagus ramirezi. I want to go through a reputable dealer that has quality fish. I’m thinking that 6-8 rams should be okay in my tank along with some tetras and cory cats. Could you please give me some suggestions on who I might contact to get the fish? I have time because I’m just starting my tank up. I’d just appreciate being able to get things planned in advance. I also have about 6-7 years experience with other cichlids so I’m not totally new to the hobby. 
    Answer:  This sounds like a great tank that will give you a lot of pleasure. The only caution I would have is that it will be impossible for you to parent raise fry if you have successful spawnings. Rams are not aggressive enough in their fry care to fend off the tetras and corys. Except for eating fry there is no other compatibility issue although some corys do better at cooler temps than the Rams prefer. I have a strong preference for wild rams when I can get them. I believe they are healthier and display great colors. At times you can find wild rams in local shops. However, you can order them from some of the sources listed at Dwarf Cichlid Vendors. With your timing a little uncertain I would make contact with one or more of these people and see what they have going. Let me know if you have other questions.

July 10, 2008
    Question: thanks for responding so quickly. I will skip the tetras and corys and go with the rams only-or, perhaps a couple of plecos that will stay small. What are your thoughts on reverse osmosis? I’ve read that in order to keep rams healthy its best to get one of these. Sometimes it seems like I’ll be opening myself up to mega work and expenses by going with rams versus other types of cichlids. 
    Answer:  Don’t get scared off as the rewards of keeping the Rams are well worth the effort. Otocinclus cats are great companions for rams. They will generally leave the fry alone and are a good clean up crew. As you already mentioned plecos that stay small work as well but I find the otos to be good with rams. I only use RO water as described here Good Water. However, it is not necessary for keeping them. Wild fish will be more demanding of soft water than tank raised but they will all do fine in most water except the very hardest. In hard water they will be less fertile and successful spawning will be tougher. However, for general maintenance there should be no problem. I am really opposed to people trying to mess with their water with additives or chemicals. This will usually lead to problems. If your water is too hard and you don;t have RO you can easily buy RO or distilled water at the local grocery. The water machines that most grocery stores have dispense RO water at very low costs. You can probably mix with your tap water to get good conditions. If you do invest in a RO unit you will find that keeping good water for Rams is no problem at all. What is your water like?

    Question:     My water is supposedly from Lake Michigan. It is hard water. I put an undergravel system in the tank. I used 25 lbs of rinsed gravel and two 15 pound bags of fluorite for the substrate floor. I added a chemical that nullifys the chlorine and supposedly helps with fish slime etc (building it up). I added bacteria that aids in setting up a good bacteria culture in new tanks. I did all of this on 7/13. I also put a piece of dried out drift wood, as a center piece. My plan is to continue allowing the tank to run, with lights on 10 hours daily, until 7/19. On that date I plan on getting some plants, swords etc, and the following weekend some starter fish, perhaps tetras, to get the culture further established. I am thinking of adding the Rams toward the end of August if all goes well. Where could I find the cats that you mentioned?  I found a pet store in the area that has Rams as well and can use them as a backup as well. If you see any “holes” in my plan, please let me know. Any other advice will be gratefully appreciated as well. Oh the tank temp is currently at 82 so I will probably lower it when I get home and check it in the morning. 
    Answer:  It sounds to me like you are doing everything right. The tank set up is great and the water should be ok. I used to live in the Chicago area and had success breeding Apistogrammas with tap water. You are correct that it is fairly hard but not too bad. Rather than try to modify it I would try to use it as is and see if the fish do ok. The Otocinclus cats are fairly common. Most wholesale distributors offer them so your local shop should be able to get them for you. They are usually not very expensive, maybe three or four dollars a fish. They stay pretty small at about an inch or so. I would suggest somewhere between six and a dozen for your tank. They get along fine and are not aggressive. There is a lot of info here If you can’t get them from a local shop most of the supplier names I gave you have them. Finally, the 82 temp is perfect for rams. They do best at 82 or so but will be fine down to about 78. I have kept them at cooler temps but they prefer warmth.

June 25, 2008 – Cherry Shrimp
    Question: A friend has turned me on to Apistogrammas but I am worried that they might eat an important component of my current  tank.  I have a large colony of cherry shrimp in a well-planted 55g aquarium with a  variety of schooling tetras.  Will dwarf cichlids munch on my shrimp?”
    Answer:  In a short answer, yes. Apistogrammas and other cichlids will eat any of the shrimp that are small enough for them to get in their mouths. This means that most of the baby shrimp will become cichlid food while the adults should be fine. You certainly could select for a small mouthed variety that would allow juveniles to survive but any small shrimp will be considered food.
     If you have the ability to keep two tanks you could keep the shrimp colony in one thank and the dwarfs in another with only adult shrimp. Also, if the tank is planted densely enough it is likely that a few young shrimp will stay hidden enough to avoid predation and grow to adult size. However, in general it is almost impossible to maintain a mixed age colony of shrimp in the same tank as Apistogrammas or other dwarf cichlids.

June 15, 2008 – A large Dwarf Community?
       Question: “I’m looking to start a 120 gallon planted, community tank featuring some dwarf cichlids and other South American fish.  I’m thinking I need 2 or 3 types of  fairly docile community Dwarf species  for such a size tank that will be shared with other South Americans. Would this work well?”
    Answer:  You have a lot of options in a tank this size. I think that the first thing you need to think about is exactly what do you want from the tank. You could easily house 2 or 3 different Apistogramma species and could possibly achieve successful spawning of them all depending on the other tank mates. Rams make great companions to Apistogrammas, even in a smaller tank. However, it is tough to raise ram fry if there are Apistogrammas (or any other fish) in the tank. On the flip side, Apistogrammas can easily fend off rams when they are protecting fry.
    As you set up the tank try to build in a number of separated territories for the fish. If you have a number of different open areas that have their line of sight blocked from the other areas you will likely find that each species will take a home territory and you have the potential for a great tank.