Cichlids are freshwater fish that come from the Cichlidae family. With some 1,300 cichlid species identified, the Cichlidae is the largest family of vertebrates. It is said that there could be more than 2,000 cichlid species in the world, some of which have yet to be discovered and identified.
Cichlid sizes range from as small as one inch to as large as 36 inches. Their shapes also vary: some are laterally compressed while others are elongated and cylindrical. They are mostly found in freshwater, although some can tolerate short periods of being in brackish or saltwater.
Some cichlids, like the tilapia or tilapiines, are food fish that are now cultured largely in many parts of Asia. Others have become popular aquarium fish—for example, the oscar fish, discus fish, and angelfish—because they are small, not picky eaters, and easy to breed. Still others, like the Cichla species, are considered game fish. For example, the peacock bass of South America has become one of the more popular sportfish, generating more than $8 million a year in revenue among anglers.
Cichlids are generally aggressive, and it is wise to put a small group of 8 to 12 of them in one tank rather than keeping a pair, in which one might end up being picked on. It also helps to put in many hiding places such as caves and plants for some cichlids to retreat into when one cichlid starts becoming aggressive.
What makes cichlids unique is their complex set of muscles in which both the upper and lower pharyngeal bones work together to process food. This allows cichlids to eat a wide variety of food.
Cichlids are generally herbivores that eat algae and plant life. Every now and then, they also feed on small animals like invertebrates. Some cichlids such as the tilapia are detritivores, feeding on all types of organic material. There are also cichlids that eat a variety of small animals. For example, one type of cichlid feeds on snails, while another feeds on sponges. There is a certain cichlid that feeds on the parasites that are found on catfish.
There are four types of cichlid breeders. The open brooders lay their legs on the surfaces of rocks, leaves, or logs. Open-brooding cichlids are hands-on parents, with the male cichlid watching over the territory while the female cichlid caring for the fry until they hatch.
The second type of cichlid breeder lays its eggs in caves, crevices, holes, or any other hidden place. This kind of breeder has been observed to communicate with it young through fin flicking and shaking.
There are also the ovophile mouth brooders that snatch up their eggs and keep them in their mouths until they hatch. Among them are the cichlids found in Lakes Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria. The opposite happens with larvophiles mouth brooders that lay their eggs in open surfaces or in caves then take the hatched fry into their mouth.
Some cichlids are monogamous while others are polygamous, although this form of pairing isn’t consistently found in specific species. All cichlids, however, are hands-on parents that contribute significantly in caring for their brood during the breeding process.
There have even been instances in which cichlid parents extend their caring across generations by also lending a hand in raising the offspring of their own brood.
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