1: looking back; why (not) convict cichlids?

by Paul Veenvliet
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1: looking back; why (not) convict cichlids?

Post by illustrator » Sun Sep 14, 2008 7:23 am

Why convict cichlids?

So here it is. My very first internet blog about one of the my very favourite animal species. At the start of this blog I'd like to look back at what started my interest in convict cichlids, as well as to give some general remarks. Later on I'll continue the story of the set-up of my aquarium-to-be, and I plan to add other convict-related subjects, as they come to mind. Comments are - of course - very welcome.

A personal history
Like any aquarium keeper, I had seen convicts in shops. In general they are found in over-crowded, somewhat unclean aquaria in a dark corner. Not very attractive. My interest in this species started in a very different place. About 25 years ago, one of the Zoo's in the Netherlands (Noorder Dierenpark) had a very large enclosure for iguana's. The enclosure was dark and permanently damp, and overall not remarkable, it's not surprising that it's now replaced by something far more attractive for the general public. But the old enclosure included an artificial forest stream, maybe 15 meter long and 2 meter wide (in my memory), of which a small part could be viewed under water through a window. In the stream was a thriving population of convicts. I must have been sitting there for at least an hour, watching territorial behaviour, guarding of frey and just the "generall appearance and movements of convict cichlids". I didn't realise at that time, but I got firmly imprinted on these little striped guys.
About 18 years ago, I had to give my terrapins away, because they outgrew my 1 meter aquarium. Wait a minute, a 1 meter aquarium? Empty? Can't take long … In a local shop they had 3 female convicts which looked … well, like healthy convicts. In another shop they had a white male with a very impressive body shape (I’ll come back to my opinion on colour mutations in another part of this blog). One of the »normal« females and the white male soon found their way to my aquarium. They bred (of course, what else would you expect?). I had them and their offspring for some time, and later had some »supposed to be F1 from wild parents« as well. Although I had other fish since this time, the memory of the "little striped guys" stayed – apparently forever.
An old photo (scanned slide), my first female convict cichlid, in 1990
And her leucistic (white/pink) partner ...

Why this one species:
Like any cichlid keepers already now:
- They look nice
- They are robust: you don't have to waste time with keeping them healthy. Instead you can spend more time »just watching fish
- They behave very interestingly, and they are not shy (so you don't need a telelens for photographing them – as I just read that someone does in order to photohtaph salvini's …)
- And a personal reason: I like »old aquarium strains« rather than »new imports« (although some of the latter are fascinating as well …)

And a worry
In general I feel that cichlid keepers are aware of negative effects of inbreeding. In particular in »beginners-species like convicts, these effects are often visible (small size, deformities). The common reaction is to prefer wild caught or F1 fish. I am worried that the hobby as a whole is, in this way, dependent on the continuous import of wild caught fish. The alternative is difficult because it requires setting up a dedicated cooperation between many keepers of the same common species, and a regularly updated registration (studbook) of kept fish. Although I realise that this might not be realistic, it's a thought that comes back to me from time to time. I am always glad to see some healthy fish that -apparently- belong to old aquarium strains and prove that, even with all inbreeding going on and without a studbook, some good fish are around.
Last edited by illustrator on Wed Mar 18, 2009 12:05 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: 1: looking back

Post by illustrator » Tue Dec 16, 2008 6:14 am

Why not convict cichlids?

Convict cichlids are popular fish for beginning cichlid-keepers. More experienced keepers generally switch to other species of cichlids or keep convicts as "dithers" in aquariums with other species. When they mention convits it is often with some kind of excuse "I know they are only convicts but ...". I wonder why and came up with some thoughts:

I have the feeling that fish, or in general, animals give a certain status to their owners. Masai are proud of their herd of cattle (which can indeed look magnificent), just like farmers are, and zoo-animal keepers and ... For city-dwellers it is not possible to keep a herd of cattle, but some of them (us) have the same tendency to keep a captive "herd" of animals. And, in the case of cichlid-keepers, fish provide status. A status amongst other cichlid-keepers. Now look at the species that are kept by the high-status-cichlid keepers, the people you would love to invite as special guest-speaker on a club-meeting. In general they keep rare species, difficult to keep species (often in exellent condition!), large species or species with a special history (for instance the keeper had to go through a lot to get a hold of them, like organising a complex expedition to get fish from some remote corner of the world). They can also be expensive fish and fish that others would like to have (making ofspring valuable/sellable).

Now look at convicts. These hardly qualify for any of the above: they are easy to obtain (go to your local petshop), common, easy to keep and cheap (actually difficult to get rid of). There are exeptions, especially "new varieties" of convicts (hrp, marble convict) or wild-caught convicts and in general these can be found at specialized, experienced (high-status?) cichlid-keepers.

So when you tell someone that you actually keep normal convics you give a message that your fishkeeper status is that of a beginner, or you have to give some kind of excuse.

Now what's my excuse?

- heck, I like them (and I don't care about my status?)

- my convicts are very special because they come from a stream, not from a shop (I had to drive all the way to Austria to get some fish - which were dumped in that stream as unwanted fish from others ... I guess I could have saved the trouble and gotten some from collegue fishkeepers around the corner ...)

- or ... ?
I actually think that there is a challenge in keeping a common species and I try to:

--- keep them as healthy as possible
--- enable them to show natural behaviour when possible
--- enable them to look as natural as possible (an overfed fish can be reasonably healthy, but it doesn't look natural)
--- learn by simply observing fish

And that is, to me, the art of fishkeeping. Regardless of which species I happen to have.

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Re: 1: looking back; why (not) convict cichlids?

Post by Csababá » Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:05 pm

What do you do with the offspring?

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Re: 1: looking back; why (not) convict cichlids?

Post by illustrator » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:20 pm

that's a good question. However, there's another question right now. I argued before why convict cichlids are interesting to keep. Right now I am back at the other dicusion: why stop keeping them. I still have a single pair: I reduced the number of fish because of persistent disease problems (mainly bacterial finrot), which indicated too much stress in the aquarium. Most of the disease problems gradually lessened, but one remains: some kind of infection that causes white swellings on the edges of fins. After discussing this with a veterinary, I strongly suspect a virus (this was suggested by the veterinary) and I realise that it is present in my cichlids for at least a year, but more likely as long as I have them. I don't know of any treatment, and although it does not seem to kill the fish directly, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep their condition otherwise optimal.

Also, without competing cichlids, the single pair has become very shy. When I walk into the room, I see them rush for cover, where they stay untill I am gone. The presence of small fish ("dithers") does not help enough. I feel that the aquarium (200 liter; 120 cm) is on the small edge for more than one adult pair.

So now I have a choise between:
- keeping the current two, maybe also some offspring and accepting the disease problem
- exchanging the current convict cichlids for dfferent individuals which - hopefully - don't have the disease
- stopping with convict cichlids and using the aquarium for another fish species

I am strongly considering the last, especially because I don't think that it's wise to keep several pairs of adult convicts in my aquarium (I expect disease problems to return in that case) and very shy fish are not the most fun to keep.

This would also mean that this blog might not be continued much longer ...

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Re: 1: looking back; why (not) convict cichlids?

Post by LewC » Sat Jun 26, 2010 11:30 pm

About those convicts you got in Austria: Had they been in that stream for long? Were they some how able to survive Austrian winters and reproduce multiple generations? If so, you probably got a good strain because they were again subject to natural selection, unlike continuous aquarium strains.

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Re: 1: looking back; why (not) convict cichlids?

Post by witamygreatdanes » Wed Jan 30, 2013 12:26 pm

I have convicts! I love them. They have so much personality. I love how they care for the fry!!! I would like to know what you decided to do. I do like the fact that they are a very hardy cichlid. I have them in with my Oscars (to make the oscars behave) I also have one breeding pair as well in a separate tank. Mine did not get shy tho...might be because I "threaten" their fry to make them attack me thru the glass...oh so fun!!! :) I really just love them!

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