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SubscribeTarget/Dither Fish For CA Cichlids
Calilasseia
 
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EditedEdited by acidrain
Several of the articles in my possession on the subject of Central American Cichlids cover their wild habitats, wild behaviour and aquatic companions in some detail, most notably those written by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas, who is possibly the foremost Cichlid expert in Mexico. Needless to say, native Mexican species are his speciality, although his expertise also covers several other Central American Cichlids, including the Guapotes and the 'Veggies' of the Genus Vieja.

One feature that all of these articles have in common is the mention of one particular fish species that shares the waters of Central American Cichlids, and which is regarded as a notorious predator of Cichlid fry in the wild. This is a Characin called Astyanax mexicanus, which Azas describes as 'nasty', and which congregates in the wild in large shoals. Azas particularly describes how these fishes are capable of destroying a Cichlid pair's entire spawning in a few seconds if the Cichids drop their guard for a moment, in an article on Herichthys carpintis, the Green Texas Cichlid, but the dreaded Astyanax mexicanus is mentioned in other articles by Azas and other authors covering Central American Cichlids as a major threat to Cichlid fry.

Consequently, I asked myself the question whether this Characin would, in suitably controlled numbers, be a perfect dither fish or target fish for the big Central Americans. Apparently it is quick enough to stay out of trouble if the big Cichlids are tempted to snap at it, large enough to avoid becoming a snack except in the eyes of the larger Guapotes or Midas Cichlids, and a shoal of six would be too small to inflict anything other than minor attrition upon any fry. Parent Cichlids would be suitably occupied watching these fishes, and this could help in the case of Midas Cichlids, which are notorious for murderous divorces seemingly at the drop of a hat, because the male's defensive instincts are so powerfully developed. With a shoal of Astyanax mexicanus to keep an eye on, chances are a male Midas Cichlid would be kept too busy keeping them away from the fry to launch an attack upon his mate, and the Characins would in turn be able to escape the Midas Cichlid's attentions in a large enough aquarium. As a Central American native, Astyanax mexicanus shares the water chemistry requirements of the Cichlids, shares their home in the wild, and would seem to me to be a good choice for a dither fish or target fish to keep the big Central Americans from attacking each other. Innes covers the species briefly, citing it as tough, hardy and freely breeding, but having fallen out of favour even in his day once colourful Characins such as Neons entered the hobby, as it is basically a silvery fish with little colour. While Innes cites it as reaching 3 inches in length, one has to take into account remarks made by the same author with respect to a related species, Astyanax bimaculatus, which reaches 6 inches in the wild, but rarely reaches 4 inches in the aquarium. Innes gives a length of 3 inches for Astyanax mexicanus, which means that in the wild it is probably a 5 or even 6 inch fish. Consequently, six of them would probably reach that kind of size in a large Central American Cichlid setup of the kind that any decent aquarist should be planning for big Cichlids, namely a minimum of 150 gallons (UK) and nearer 300 gallons for big Guapotes. Among the Cichlids cited as sharing their home with Astyanax mexicanus in Azas' assorted articles are Paraneetroplus bulleri, Theraps coeruleus, the aforementioned Herichthys carpintis, Thorichthys meeki, Parachromis friedrichstalii, Cryptoheros spilurus and the huge Petenia splendida, although in this latter case, the Characins would be at risk of forming its lunch, given that it reaches a size comparable to that of Parachromis dovii and has a truly cavernous mouth!

Another fish that is mentioned in some of Azas' articles is Belonesox belizanus, the Pike Livebearer. This is a Livebearer that is definitely too big to be eaten, females reaching as much as 8 inches in the wild, and as Innes says in his venerable tome, a once-seen always-recognised fish, with a voracious appetite for smaller fishes, and which needs live fishes in its diet. Again, this fish shares its native waters with various Cichlids including Vieja synspila and Cichlasoma salvini (or whatever it has been renamed as nowadays!), plus several Guapotes including Parachromis friedrichstalii again. However, the rigorous demands of this species for live fishes in its diet means that it would probably not feature in even the most dedicated Cichlid fan's setup, unless of course live fishes were being raised to feed the likes of Petenia splendida in preparation for spawning. But in this case, first of all, an aquarium large enough for Petenia splendida would probably contain a volume of water equivalent to that of my living room (!), and second, even Belonesox belizanus might end up becoming an expensive lunch for a large Petenia splendida! So despite its toughness (and let's face it, any fish that shares its home with Petenia splendida, not to mention five metre crocodiles, has to be tough to survive), Belonesox belizanus is probably not a practical option. However, aquarists with an experimental bent, and a willingness to devote the requisite care, might like to try combining Belonesox belizanus with several big Cichlid species, as the Pike Livebearers are definitely tough enough to cope with the attentions of the Cichlids.

Failing that, how about Gambusias? Innes mentions that Gambusia affinis, the first livebearer domesticated in the hobby, is found in Mexico, particularly in the Tampico area, which just happens to be the type locality for Herichthys carpintis. Smaller than Belonesox belizanus, but a fish with a reputation for being nasty, Gambusia affinis is probably capable of looking after itself in an aquarium containing medium-sized Central Americans, particularly the highly territorial ones such as Cichlasoma salvini. Plus, its availability as a native of the United States (and one which has been exported around the world for mosquito control), its fecundity as a livebearer and thuggish disposition (it is a notorious fin-nipper, and Innes describes it by saying "like all efficient fighters, it gives no notice of attack", means that it could be a suitable dither fish to put in with bad-tempered Cichlids, probably species of around Convict Cichlid size. Probably NOT a good choice for an aquarium containing big Guapotes, as even adult Gambusias would end up a lunch for a big Jaguar Cichlid, but big enough and robust enough to take the heat when Convicts start declaring open season on anything straying too close to their egg clutches. Plus, this fish is likely to be feisty enough to start sniffing around the Cichlid fry for some opportunist plundering, meaning that a pair of Convicts will be kept occupied keeping the Gambusias at bay rather than wiping out other Cichlid occupants of the aquarium. As a bonus, all those unwanted Gambusia fry will help keep the Cichlids in good condition as they add them to the diet.

And finally, for the ultimate in target organisms, there is the venerable Innes tome recommendation of aquatic insects. Diving beetles such as Dytiscus species are dangerous fish predators on young fishes in the wild, and various Dragonfly larvae are similarly threatening to fry. Cichlids know this, and as Innes says, destroying them gives double pleasure to large parent Cichlids, namely the satisfaction of exterminating a threat to the fry, and securing a tasty meal in the process. A big pair of Jaguar Cichlids will easily devour Dytiscus beetles, spitting out bits of unwanted carapace after munching on the juicy bits, and the spectacle will doubtless appeal to those Cichlid fans who like to see their Cichlids 'red in tooth and claw', as it were. Even Firemouths will, when fully grown, rip apart Dragonfly larvae with ease, while Dempseys would simply engulf them whole and treat them like underwater Doritos, crunching them to a pulp.

So, for those looking around for solutions to the 'dither fish' and 'target fish' problem, particularly for that big pair of Midas Cichlids that threaten to explode in volcanic rage at any moment, this little discourse could very well provide the answers ...



Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile Homepage PM Edit Report 
.cm.
 
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Nice article. I will announce it for a period of time, so people can read your hard work. Members like you are the ones who really make this forum as great as it is. Thank you for your continued interest in educating us!

David
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile Homepage ICQ AIM MSN Yahoo PM Edit Delete Report 
Calilasseia
 
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Glad to be of help!

Pity some people in the IT world have lost that altruism that was once a feature of the industry, in the days before it was poisoned by MBAs in suits with red braces who all think they're Superman while wearing their underpants outside their trousers ... but that's a rant that belongs elsewhere.

I alighted upon this information, and again, the light bulb popped up over the head with the words "FishProfiles Post" written on it, and here's the result. Only trouble is, actually finding some of the fish species (particularly Astyanax mexicanus) outside of specialist fish socieites might prove to be an interesting exercise. And as I've already mentioned, Belonesox belizanus is probably best left to those with a seriously experimental bent and the facilities to keep it fed with live fish. But, if anyone CAN find Astyanax mexicanus, chances are it'll be tough enough to live even alongside Jags and Parachromis friedrichstalii, although it won't last long with dovii of course!


Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile Homepage PM Edit Delete Report 
poissonrouge
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great article, bit of further research implies that ast. mexicanus is the same species as the blind cave characin, just it can see. you might want to specify that putting bind fish with convicts is a risk.

also, in my personal experence there are few better dither fish than the tiger barb for any cichlid smaller than a guapote. but of course they're not from CA so biotope purists might disagree.
but anyway, thanks for another great article. you should see if you can get paid for these. by someone.

[span class="edited"][Edited by poissonrouge 2004-08-18 05:08][/span]
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
gantnege
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I would also like to add my compliments on your excellent article, along with a couple of other suggestions.

I am successfully using Buenos Aires Tetras as target fish for my Firemouths. I realize they are not technically CA, but they are similar in size and VERY similar in appearance to the Mexican Tetra.

I have also been recommended to use swordtails as targets for Firemouths (biotopically accurate). Of course, it's hard to find "wild type" swordtails these days.

Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Jason_R_S
 
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Swordtails or Platys go great with any Thorichthys spp.

Jason
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Calilasseia
 
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Strange you should mention Buenos Aires Tetras, Gantnege - only Innes' old book says that Astyanax mexicanus shares a lot of behavioural features with the Buenos Aires Tet, including breeding behaviour.

And given their reputation, Buenos Aires Tets should be tough enough to handle whatever heat they get from the likes of Firemouths and Convicts!

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Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile Homepage PM Edit Delete Report 
gantnege
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Compare these pictures:
http://www.nativefish.org/Articles/Mex_tetra.htm

http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?genusname=Hyphessobrycon&speciesname=anisitsi

What do you think? I think they look remarkably similar.

I have 4 Buenos Aires tetras (2.5-3.5" long) as target fish in a tank with 5 Firemouths (4-5" long). They have been together for almost a year. I did lose one tetra about 3 months ago, which I'll admit looked like it got attacked (no sign of disease, and no other fish got sick or died).

Most of the time the firemouths flare at each other, rather than chase the tetras. These tetras are very active, interesting, and can apparently fend for themselves. I know they usually beat the firemouths to the cichlid pellet food!
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
thecichlidkid
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I would like to ask three questions:

1. I would like to know what fish cohabit with the firemouths in their natural habitat (other cichlids, charicins and catfish).

2. With those of you keeping the B.A. tetras in tanks as dithers, i have read in their profile on this site that they will eat plants in the aquarium, just wanting confirmation on wether this is the case or not?

3. Where I can locate these texts/article by artigaz on the
subject of Central American Cichlids cover their wild habitats, wild behaviour and aquatic companions in some detail


any help with these questins will be greatly appreciated

thanks in advance

Beau.

Last edited by thecichlidkid at 25-Jun-2005 07:20
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
gantnege
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Sorry for the delay, I haven't been around this site for awhile, too busy with my new addiction to saltwater reefing!

Basically, the most numerous companion species to firemouths in the wild are swordtails, Mexican tetras, and catfish not available here.

I don't know whether the Buenos Aires tetras really do eat plants, since the tank I keep them in has only plastic plants and a little Java Moss. If they're eating the Java Moss, it's outgrowing the pace at which it's being eaten. In general, if you want a nice planted tank DON'T put cichlids in it, or Buenos Aires tetras.

And sorry, I don't know exactly where to find the article you refer to, but some diligent Googling should turn it up. I have also seen his name spelled ending with an S instead of a Z, try that.

An update on this tank of mine: I added a Leporinus to this tank, who grew more nasty as he aged (he's now 8" long) and eventually killed all the firemouths. I have replaced them with convicts, who can fend for themselves better and have rewarded me with a spawn about a month ago.

The Buenos Aires tetras are still doing fine; in fact, I bought a few more and now have six. They're still effective in their role as target fish; the aggressive fish can't catch them.
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:25Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Jason_R_S
 
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EditedEdited by Jason_R_S
3. Where I can locate these texts/article by artigaz on the

subject of Central American Cichlids cover their wild habitats, wild behaviour and aquatic companions in some detail




sorry this hasn't been answered yet, but most of those articles can probably found on his (Juan Miguel Artigas Azaz) website... http://www.cichlidae.com/. there are a ton of articles posted on his website on cichlids from all over. the articles are not all his own..some are written by other well known cichlid experts such as Rusty Wessel, Jeff Rapps, Don Danko, Dan Woodland, Paul V. Loiselle and several others. There is also a place on his website where you can purchase articles for like $5 each I think.
Post InfoPosted 27-Jan-2006 23:00Profile Homepage MSN Yahoo PM Edit Delete Report 
tinfoil
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mexicanus is the same species as the blind cave characin, just it can see

that is only partly correct.
The blind cave tetra is a. fasciatus mexicanus, the one referred to here is a. fasciatus fasciatus.
Mind you, the blind ones can cause their share of harm to a bunch of cichlid fry too!
The actual a fasciatus is very hard to come by.
I've got some CA cichlid lovers in my area that would gladly buy a few hundred of them, should they find them.
(With tanks of over 13 feet, you can deal with some of them ...).

Post InfoPosted 01-May-2006 12:28Profile Homepage MSN PM Edit Delete Report 
ophie99
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bala sharks, clown loaches, silver dollars, barbs

SAs love em- as do CAs, also I'm having good luck w/ my clown knife as well,

Post InfoPosted 04-Jun-2006 19:31Profile Yahoo PM Edit Delete Report 
FortWayneFish
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Kudos for the great article. It looks like it took a lot of research and time in writing it.

I have been told by a few " experts " that livebearers are the prefered dither fish for Central American cichlids.

Reasons being. The fish are hardy enough to adapt to most enviroments. They give birth to live young, they are not that aggressive, easily obtained in all Fish stores.

With that said I am currently using iLyodon Furcidens in my Archocentrus Sajica tank.

Xiphophrus Maculatus( with collection data ) in my Spinossisimus tank.

Limia Melanonotata Santa Maria Dr in my Pelvicachromis pulcher( AFrican cichlid )Tank.

Xenotoca Eiseni( w/ collection data ) in my Thorichthys sp tank( red tailed goodeids are a nasty fish, and shouldn't be used with small peaceful cichlids

I have also used Swordtails as dither fish in with my Port cichlids.

The dither fish are happy and reproducing even though there numbers are not increasing sharply.

The mexican Tetra is a nasty little fish and in my opinion not a good dither fish. The cichlids might be good dither fish for the Tetras though.

Hobbyist helping Hobbyists
Post InfoPosted 03-Mar-2007 18:12Profile AIM PM Edit Delete Report 
toxic69
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the only thing that would worry me is putting a natural enemy of a cichlid in a tank with it, It wont be like a river ware it can stay out of sight from the cichlid so it may be pre programed to see it as a threat and kill it on sight, there are lots of barbs and tetras that do well with ca cichlids and may not be reconised by the cichlid as a natural threat to its spawn.
Post InfoPosted 25-Feb-2008 15:23Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
amilner
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I find swordtails good target/dither fish too. They definately don't resemble cichlids so that issue is sorted, they are very fast to get out of the way and also very hardy. Not sure I'd put them with the really aggressive stuff though.
Post InfoPosted 12-May-2008 01:48Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
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