I have been a fresh water aquarist for 30 of my 42 years and have kept hundreds of different species of fish during that time. Like most aquarists, I have had my fair share of success stories as well as tragedies, and like most aquarists my successes can be directly attributed to:
- Having a good understanding of the requirements of the animals that I was keeping.
- Keeping animals that were capable of adapting to the conditions that I was able to provide.
- Just plain lucky!
When I began to get serious about fish keeping, "just plain lucky" just would not be a viable option; my conscience and my budget would not allow it! So I began to educate myself, I would research the animals I was planning to obtain by reading, talking to trade people, and picking the brains of my fellow aquarists. This helped minimize my losses and made the whole experience a more rewarding one. But, as we all know, even when much research and preparation has gone into creating the ideal habitat for our fish where conditions seem perfect, unforeseeable catastrophes still do occur. This is not due to bad luck or being a poor aquarist, in every case it is due to a variable or variables being overlooked or not fully understood. There is no animal on earth, which cannot be maintained in captivity and made to thrive if its requirements are understood and provided for.
About 15 years ago, I started keeping Rift Lake Cichlids. At first, I kept Lake Malawi fish, mostly Mbuna and Haps, then a few Lake Victoria Haplochromines, and for the past 5 to 6 years, Lake Tanganyika Fish. During this time I have successfully kept and breed several Lamprologus, Chalinochromis, Cyprichromis, and Julidochromis species. Then, for some reason, I think it was for their endearing behavioral characteristics, I got the urge to try my hand at keeping Tropheus. This is where my experiences begin.
I had tried to introduce small groups of 6 to 8 animals on three or four occasions into my 150-gallon Tanganyikan community tank and always met with failure. I did everything by the book, veggie diet, small feedings, frequent water changes, over filtration, etc., the animals would thrive for about 3 weeks after which they would begin to die of bloat, one by one they dropped like flies! I just gave up on them, wrongly thinking that they were just one of those difficult and mysterious species of fish that only the aquarists with a wet thumb could keep! Then one day I purchased a bag of 4 fry at our club's BAP auction for 5 bucks, I figured that this was an inexpensive enough science project to embark on. I brought them home and put them in an unpopulated 10-gallon tank with a heater, a sponge filter and some flowerpots, where they thrived and grew for 4 months without incident. I fed them irregularly, I was less than diligent in performing regular water changes, I did not even clean the glass! I ignored and neglected these fish and they thrived, this flew in the face of everything I had ever learned about them and every experience I had ever had with them. This could only mean that I had been overlooking some variable all along, but what was it? I could not put my finger on it, but felt that it was time to try it again. I sold all the fish in my 150-gallon tank with the exception of a colony of Cyprichromis leptosoma, which I wanted to keep with my new Tropheus. I got the tank running sparkling clear in anticipation of the introduction of my new jewels.
I went to visit a very well known and reputable wholesaler in my area, and purchased 30 F1 Tropheus fry and slowly let them acclimate to their new home. Within a few hours they were acting like Tropheus are supposed to act, within 3 weeks they began dying like all the others I had kept. I was so frustrated and discouraged at this point that I was ready to flush them all down the toilet! Some of my fellow aquarists have kept and bred Tropheus for many years without any special treatment or problems; while others (like me) had experienced nothing but failure and frustration. Like all failures in this hobby, it had to be attributed to something I was overlooking. I began to read and ask questions of these Tropheus "gurus"; I searched the Internet for any clues, which might help me find the right recipe for success as well as a real understanding of what was happening. I found that just about everyone who is successful at keeping these fish has their own twist on the basic recipe that is documented in just about every Tropheus article ever written; veggie diet, small feedings, clean water, etc.
I have never been an advocate of medicating any of my animals, I was always afraid of stressing them, staining my equipment blue or green, and killing my biological filter bed. Since most of the deaths I had ever experienced in all the years that I have maintained African Cichlids were due to aggression, it further strengthened my resolve to avoid the use of medications. I was telling my friend Jim of my recent bout of "bad luck" and described the symptoms to him, fish hanging back and being listless, no appetite, difficulty in maintaining balance, white feces etc. Well, my friend Jim works in the aquarium maintenance industry and when I mentioned the symptoms, (especially the white feces), he immediately recommended Metronidazole. He said that whenever he sees white feces it usually indicates a secondary intestinal infection and this particular drug is good at getting to the root of the problem without being "aggressive". He also recommended avoiding Clout® because it is a very aggressive medicine, it stains the silicone seals in aquariums blue and is not friendly towards biological filter beds. So I obtained some Metronidazole and performed the following course of treatment:
- Removal of chemical filter media.
- Applied the recommended 125 mg per 10 gallons for 2 days.
- Performed a 30% water change on day 3.
- Applied the recommended 125 mg per 10 gallons for 2 more days.
- Followed by another 30% water change and the replacement of the chemical filter media on day 6.
- I also mixed about 50 mg of the drug with a few drops of water and some OSI spirulina flake and fed this drugged mush to the animals in this tank during the treatment.
The results were mixed but encouraging, On the positive side, there were never any indications that the tank was ever drugged, there was no evidence of the drug stressing any of my fish or adversely effecting my biological filtration. Every fish that was not showing the typical symptoms of bloat and were eating survived and thrived! However, I did lose every animal that was visibly ailing. I deduced that they were to far gone for this treatment to have been of any help.
Finally it appeared that things were under control and started to make some sense, I thought back to what had keyed my friend Jim into his recommendation of Metronidazole, the white feces. This jogged my memory, I have lost fish other than Tropheus here and there over the years in that same 150-gallon tank and there is no doubt in my mind that it was due to bloat. The same symptoms were present but usually seemed to single out a weak or picked on animal and it never reached epidemic proportions. I have never lost an animal to bloat in the 10-gallon tank that I was successfully keeping those 4 Tropheus alive in. I researched some of the more common drugs used to treat bloat, including Metronidazole, Octozin, and Clout® and found that they are all used to combat parasites, in particular flagellated protozoa's. It is interesting to note that Metronidazole is the drug most commonly prescribed by veterinarians to combat parasites in cats and dogs! It is also available under the trade name "Flagyl".
So it seems that what we are fighting is a parasite and the secondary infection and stress caused by it. Parasites do not come from thin air; infestations must be borne from either a newly introduced animal or already be present in the environment, perhaps in a dormant state. Could my 150-gallon tank have been harboring a parasite all these years or were the new arrivals succumbing to an infection brought on by parasites they were already carrying, which became troublesome due to transport stress? Perhaps some animals are more tolerant than others in their resistance to these parasites, it would seem that Tropheus are more susceptible than most fishes. As I stated earlier, I am keeping a colony of Cyprichromis in the same tank as the Tropheus. I would wager that Cyprichromis sp. are a more delicate animal than Tropheus are, but they never showed any sign of sickness or stress even as Tropheus were dying all around them! I observed that Tropheus are always picking at the substrate while the Cyprichromis never do, perhaps the parasite is spread from this feeding behavior. As sick fish excrete these white feces they may also be spreading the parasite to other Tropheus by their constant substrate picking. Perhaps my Cyprichromis were used to or are more tolerant of their "native" parasites. I know first hand what it is like to get sick after traveling to different countries and being exposed to new "bugs" while the native people were unaffected, (Montezuma's revenge)!
I have since replaced the Tropheus I had lost during my last bout with bloat and used Metronidazole as a preventative treatment when I introduced these new fish. I followed the same course of treatment as I did before, and just as before, there were no signs of stress or intolerance of the drug. I have also begun to treat all of my tanks as well as isolate and treat all new animals with great success. In fact, Metronidazole is well tolerated by most animals, including people, and there is very little danger of overdosing. I have changed my attitude toward the use of medications from avoiding the use of them altogether, to the routine use of Metronidazole as a prophylactic treatment for all of my fishes. This is especially important for fish other than Tropheus where live aquatic foods are fed, such as black worms, tubiflex worms or blood worms, since these organisms are likely to carry some nasty parasites. In addition, wild caught fish should always be isolated and treated since they are likely to be harboring both internal and external parasites which could wreak havoc on domestically produced fish. The old adage still holds true, "An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure"!
Lastly, I would like to comment on my perceptions of Tropheus vs. what I have read of other peoples perception of these fascinating animals. I observed that they are tough, rugged and pugnacious animals, this is evident in their behavior. They are always busy and quarrelsome amongst each other, sometimes to the point of killing each other. They remind me of many of the Mbuna from Lake Malawi, I reason that this is why the Genus Pseudotropheus or "False Tropheus" was established, there are definite physical and behavioral similarities between the 2 Genus'! They share definite similarities in body shape, feeding adaptations, dietary requirements, breeding behavior, and social behavior. I have not observed any characteristic of these animals, which would lead me to believe that they are a fragile, delicate or difficult fish to keep other than their well documented susceptibility to bloat. In my experiences with these animals, I have found them to be quite the opposite as long as their dietary needs are met and one can keep them clean of bothersome parasites.
Like any aquarist, I have had enjoyed successful experiences in fish keeping and the methods which I have used to be successful may be different from that of other aquarists. I am not advocating that this is the only way to be successful in keeping Tropheus, I am merely sharing my experiences and a method, which has worked for me.