I have been keeping cichlids for about 27 years, and many of these interesting fish have been living and breeding in my tanks, but none have left in me with such a strong impression nor exhibited charm like the Tropheus group. Since then, I have always kept some fish of this nice genus.
My first experience with these wonderful fish took place 12 years ago through another good hobbyist (at present a good friend), Juan Carlos Nieto. I had the chance of getting my first three specimens of Tropheus moorii from Chipimbi; two males and one female. Never before had I seen Tropheus in "person" and in that same moment I became captivated with them. I took the fish home where they were housed in a 400 liters tank (100 gal) together with several young Pseudotropheus zebra and P. lombardoi. My new fish were adults of 12 cm. (4.8 inches) and they had no problems becoming dominant over the remaining tiny Pseudotropheus.
For awhile, these Tropheus had not bred, so when a few days later I found my only female with her mouth full of eggs, I couldn't believe it! Four weeks later 8 babies were swimming around. Since that moment my only interest was to know and learn about these fishes.
One year later, I had the chance to get a colony of Tropheus moorii from Kasanga which have been living and breeding in my tanks. Several years after that, though my number of aquariums had not grown, my interest in other species from Lake Tanganyika had. Therefore I decided to give them to another hobbyist and for the next four years I had no Tropheus. Two years ago I decided get back into it and get some of these fishes for my tanks.
Nowadays I keep several large tanks, almost all them with Tanganyika cichlids, of course, Tropheus too. My Tropheus are housed in three tanks because they are very numerous and I want to avoid interbreeding. You must avoid putting fish of the same species or very similar coloration together. I always try to buy at least 8 of each species or variety, that way the aggressiveness is minor. My Tropheus tanks are: one 500 l (125 gal) with Tropheus moorii Mpulungu, T. moorii Moliro, T. duboisi Maswa and T. brichardi Kipili. Another 400 l. (100 gal) tank with Tropheus moorii Chaitika, T. brichardi Mpimbwe and T. sp. Kaiser l from Ikola. The last tank has 260 l (65 gal) and its inhabitants include Tropheus moorii Kasanga and T. sp. black from Rutunga.
As you have seen in the aforementioned distribution, I have two T. moorii species together, but I don't think that these two fishes are the same species (although books say yes), and their coloration's are very different. Moreover, I have been watching these fishes quite a lot and they have never tried to spawn, both varieties only spawn with their respective couple. But remember that I have at least 8 of each one and today there are many fry of different sizes growing up.
Tanks, Filter system & Feeding
I like the floor substratum to have fine sand grains and rocks of several sizes in the background with no plants present. I don't like volcanic rocks or very eroded stones, as they could cause damage to the fish and don't allow for them to graze. Also, food, feces, and many other waste products can fall into the crevices which are harmful to the water quality. Algae growth is favored by means of two fluorescent lights meant for plant growth.
The filter system for each aquarium is one or two 1000 l/h. (approximately 250 gal/h) canister filters filled with crushed shell which works like pH-buffer. With this system I keep the pH level between 8.0 and 8.2. Indeed, it is working well if we keep in mind that it is very difficult in overcrowded tanks to hold the pH up while maintaining high levels of CO2. The canister outlet goes to one wet-dry trickle filter made by myself with 3 mm. glass-thickness and the following dimensions:
- 1 Lateral glass of 10 x 47 cm. (4 x 18.8 in.)
- 1 Lateral glass of 10 x 50 cm. (4 x 20 in.)
- 2 glasses (front & back) 50 x 60 (20 x 24 in.)
- 1 base glass 8 x 59.4 cm. (3.2 x 23.76 in.)
This wet-dry filter is placed on the tank and filled with bio balls or whichever other bacterial support you like. On top of the bio-balls put a cotton-filter or one sponge-filter piece adequate to your container, and finally over that we put on the filter-tube or one PVC pipeline full of holes. This second filter will be very useful for maintenance of high levels of oxygen and in the same way to remove CO2 from our tank and therefore stabilize the pH and make maintenance easier. Anytime that you can do it, setup two powerhead filters in each tank, generally Tropheus tanks are overcrowded and if you have only one powerhead and it fails, your fish could be dead within a few hours if you are not present. This of course, is a useful preventative measure for all aquariums. Besides, I should advise water changes weekly of 40%., though it is really dependent on how many fish you have and how large your tank is.
With regard to feeding, I shall avoid spreading advice on the wrong feeding consequences, as it will be addressed further on, when I shall talk on bloat. Here only I want to talk about what I like to feed my fish.
Feeding Tropheus could maybe be considered together with water quality as they are the most important points to understand to have success with this genus. Tropheus are principally vegetarian, although in the wild they eat tiny animals together with their daily algae diet. You must take this into consideration also, for aquarium feeding. Young fishes up to 7 cm. (3") are most sensitive, therefore I must stress the importance of caring for them properly. These young fish are fed only with dry food flakes: TetraMin®, TetraRubin® and O.S.I. Spirulina four times each day and shrimp mix once or twice each week. Also, each day I give them one uncooked lettuce leaf which is not very nutritive, but has some vitamins and much fiber which is very healthy for the digestive systems of our fish.
Adult Tropheus have less problems, from my point of view. They can eat almost everything but keep in mind not to offer them any food derived from warm-blooded animals. Only fish meat, shrimp, or shellfish are suitable meat meals for our ADULT Tropheus, two or three times a week, but not as the principal diet. My adults are fed three time daily with the same dry food that the young fish get, and two or three time weekly with Mysis, Artemia, Cyclops or Shrimp mix recipe.
Bloat, what is it and How do I treat it?
This dreadful disease really is new for me, as never before had I had problems with it. After four years of not keeping Tropheus in my tanks, I made a trip to Germany in the summer of 1996. I bought several young Tropheus, and when I came back home all fishes seemed to feel good. A few days later one of them refused to eat. He was near of surface in a corner and his abdomen was starting to bloat. His breath was very fast and anxious, and from his anus hung a slimy white fece. In the following days other fish started to show the same state and in one week more they started to die. Two weeks later, all them had died. I lost 24 fish! At that time, I didn't know what was happening. I thought that it could be a bacterial problem and tried to fight against it with Furanace® in the normal dose, but it was useless.
According to Dieter Untergasser, bloat could be caused from "a intestinal flagellate, Cryptobia sp.., that parasitizes exclusively the intestine. Affected fishes discharge white feces and die in few days with their bellies bloated." Effectively these two symptoms are characteristics of bloat, but like other problems: absence of appetite or swaying could be joined and always all are not present. In the chapter 4, he talk about another very similar disease named "Abdominal Dropsy", where he say something very interesting: "Virus indeep infect the fish, but bacterial are always involved, so that at time they are seen as the primary cause. (.....). Even without a specific host, the bacteria can remain viable and reproduce for months in water and mud. Since they belong to the normal bacterial flora of the tank, healthy fishes can resist them. The fishes are endangered only when: starvation, improper diet, cold or transportation stresses or when unsanitary conditions in the tank burden them. Once a fish is infected, it releases large numbers of bacteria, exposing its tankmates to the disease, which is often characterized by the discharge of large amounts of fluids into the body cavity, (.....).The fish often rock back and forth just under the surface of the water and lack their flight reflex or else exhibit it only to a very limited extend. The ocular reflex also is weaker. The anus is often inflamed.(....), intestinal mucosa sloughs off and is eliminated, so dissection reveals a transparent, glassy intestinal wall, the kidney is inflamed, liver is yellow to light brown and the cells sloughed off. Many motile and immotile bacterias are found in the liver, gallbladder, kidney and body cavity. Treatment is possible during the early stage. Affected fish and those suspected of the disease, immediately should be isolates and observed."
Up to here, we can see many similarities with the bloat symptoms, and really I think that it is the same thing or perhaps in the specific Tropheus case, the consequence of the joining of both bacterial and flagellates in action. In fact, other authors argued that stress by transport or harassing, could activate and favor the propagation of uncontrolled flagellate colonies. These flagellates attack the intestinal tissues damaging them, and later lead up to a bacterial infection of the wounds and the total destruction of intestinal tissues.
Of all these things, we can agree that the most important is the prevention. Observation of your fishes after transporting them, remove them, or making changes in tank settings, is the best way of avoid losing all your fish. Recently acquired fish must be put in a quarantine tank, with little shelter so that we can see our fish and properly observe them. In a small tank, between 100 and 150 liters (25 - 40 gal) is easier to observe and treat, and also we will save money in chemical products.
I have tried several treatments during this time: Furanace®, Clout®, both together, Metronidazol solely, Minocicline Hydrochloride and Terramicine. I did save some Tropheus with some of them, but I have lost many others. I was looking for any totally effective treatment in the bibliography, between friends, local dealers and across internet, but I was not satisfied with the results. Finally I made a trip to Germany in Spring of 1998 and I talked with several dealers and breeders. There I learned of the only treatment which is really effective, saving 100% of my fish, when the disease is treated at an early stage. The treatment is the following
- 1 grs. of Metronidazol each 100 liters of water tank
- 2 grs. of Aquafuran for each 100 liters (Furanace in double dose is also useful)
The Metronidazol is crushed up to make a fine dust, then is dissolved in lukewarm water and distributed over the surface in the aquarium. Also we will dissolve the Aquafuran®, it will be distributed in the same way as the Metronidazol. The bacterial support of the filter should be removed while leaving the filter running. Also we should put an air stone in the tank for increased oxygen levels. The tank must be in a quiet place of your home, avoiding places with many movements, like passageways.
This treatment should be done for three days, after which we will make a 40% water change and then wait another three or four days to start another treatment. This second treatment should do it, for this will eliminate the possibility of cysts that can remain in the intestinal tract. These cysts are resistant to the treatment and only can be eliminated when they are active. Between treatment and treatment, we must do it daily water changes.
This is the way I have saved 100% of my fish, till now. Finally I would like remind you that before the start of the treatment you must do a 40% water change and in the following two days after you finish it also. Then you can put your bacterial support back into the canister filter and keep the fish there during one month, at least, looking at them each day attentively to be sure you catch any reappearance of disease. As soon as you see one fish refuse to eat, you must be ready for action.
During all this treatment and the following four weeks I only feed my fish with OSI Spirulina flakes. In severe cases, when we have a fish seriously affected, we can try one stronger treatment: 4 grs. Metronidazol each 100 liters added to 2 grs. Aquafuran® for two days and always oxygenating the tank very well.
Finally, it is not advisable to abuse using Metronidazol as it can be very dangerous for the internal organs: liver and kidneys. After the second treatment you should wait at least one week to start it again.
I would like to give thanks to some people for your attention, knowledge and help about Tropheus, Bloat, and treatment, thank to all : Ad Konings, Jessica Miller, Juan Miguel Artigas, Mary Bailey, Paul Optenkamp from Verduijin Cichlids, Thomas Lepel from Mal-Ta-Vi, Malawi-Tanganjika-Aquarium from Grefrath, Germany
- Andrews C., A. Exell & N. Carrington, 1996, The Manual of Fish Health, Salamander Book LTD.
- Konings, A. et al, 1993, Enjoying Cichlids, Cichlid Press
- Melke, S., 1993, Succes with Cichlids from Lakes Malawi & Tanganyika, TFH Publicatios
- Staeck, W. & H. Linke, 1994, African Cichlids II. Cichlids from Eastern Africa, Tetra-Press
- Untergasser, D., 1989, Handbook of Fish Disease, TFH Publications
- Untergasser, D., 1991, Discus Health, TFH Publications