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Written by: Dan Colodney
The Cichlids of Lake Nicaragua - Part I
Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua, Central America contains a very diverse cichlid population. Some of these such as the convict cichlid are quite common in the hobby and will be known to many of you, while others are relatively rare and you may never have heard of them. After reading this article, you may want to try your luck with some of these and given appropriate tank size, I encourage you to do so.
Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America, is drained to the east into the Caribbean by the Rio San Juan. A number of smaller rivers flow into the lake from the surrounding courtryside; Lake Managua to the northeast, connects to Lake Nicaragua via the Rio Tipitapa. With an average depth of only 40 feet on average, Lake Nicaragua contains several island chains of volcanic origin which are surrounded by rocky habitats and additionally, numerous swampy habitats. The lake has very low visibility which accounts for the few submerged aquatic plant species represented here; Salvinia and Pistia are among those found at the mouths of the inflowing rivers.
Until a mere 8 million years ago, Lake Nicaragua lay along a connection between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, when the formation of the lake existed as an embayment of the Caribbean Sea. Not until the Peistocene era did Lake Nicaragua come to exist in its present form. This geology accounts for the tremendous cichlid populations within the 'lake' and their composition among piscivore, herbivore, omnivore and insectivore species.
Unlike the cichlid "flocks" of the Great Rift Lakes of East Africa, not a single cichlid (except for Cichlasoma labiatum) is endemic to the lake; Rather, they are also found in rivers and streams in surrounding areas as well as in other parts of Central America. Many of the species occupy specific ecological habitats. For example, Neetroplus nematopus is an algae scraper and is found only in areas which support a large algal population.
of the aquarium literature suggests that Central American cichlids should
be maintained in pairs. In fact, this doesn't at all represent the way
these cichlids are found in the wild where they are most often encountered
in large shoals comprised of several different species. Only when breeding
does 'pair' formation occur. By contrast, some piscivorous species such
as Cichlasoma dovii and C. managuense are solitary and only found together
during spawning season.
Thus, when keeping Central
American species many hobbyists cannot provide conditions which duplicate
their natural environment and often keep 'pairs' of fishes that don't
get along together. This results in continuous stress and behaviour
which is neither normal nor healthy. Moreover, such fishes do not display
their best color, or live a normal lifespan .. much to the detriment
of the hobbyist who never gets to see these cichlids at their 'best'.
I've always maintained my Central American cichlids in groups of 6-8
in tanks of 75-150 gallons.
When maintaining cichlids from Lake Nicaragua, it's important to feed them in a manner which duplicates their behaviour in the wild. Cichlasoma rostratum for example, is a sand sifter, finding food particles by sifting through mouthfuls of sand and separating out that which is edible. Clearly, this species should be maintained over a sand substrate to facilitate normal feeding methods.
Here's a list of those cichlids currently found in Lake Nicaragua together with their feeding preferences and adult size:
In part II of this series, I'll detail each cichlid found in Lake Nicaragua.
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