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This profile was written by Tracey, a Senior Member on the World Cichlids Online web site. This is a great resource and you should check it out.
G. Surinamensis is a peaceful, relatively non-territorial cichlid, with beautiful, almost iridescent patterns of blue, green and red markings. As their common name suggests, they are ferocious diggers, foraging constantly for food in the substrate. They are well designed for this, with a long, sloping forehead and eyes placed high on their head. They are slower growing than a lot of other SA cichlids and it does take them a while to get to adult size.
Being more peaceful in nature than most cichlids of this size, they are more suitable for large community tanks as they will not bother smaller fish. However, this peacefulness makes them less suited to tanks containing other large, more aggressive fish. When in situations like this, they tend to spend a lot of time hiding and can become stressed very easily.
Their juvenile coloration is considerably less dramatic that their adult colours, but considering how beautiful they become as they grow, it is well worth the wait. They are somewhat shy by nature and it can take them a lot of time to be comfortable enough to come out and visit their owners, but this will happen eventually and they can become quite friendly.
Their preference, like many South American cichlids, is for softer water and it has been many people's experience that hard water can diminish their coloration, but I have not found this to be the case with mine. They are hardy fish, tolerating a reasonable range of ph's, but are most comfortable with a neutral ph.
In the wild, G. Surinamensis are found in quiet pools and backwaters in the rivers they inhabit. Their natural habitat does not contain much in the way of plants, but has more large root systems and rocky banks. Substrate should be sand or very fine, well rounded gravel, as they spend a lot of their time sifting through it searching for food, Larger, sharper types of gravel should be avoided as it can cause injuries to their face and mouth. Any plants that are included in the tank should be well secured otherwise they will be consistently dug up and possibly nibbled on occasionally.
As they grow to a reasonable size, a tank of 55 gallons or larger is necessary for a pair. They are comfortable in larger groups, so they do well in larger, species-only tanks, but care should be taken to make sure there is enough room for each fish to dig without banging into a tankmate. The tank should be wider rather than taller, giving as much substrate surface as possible for foraging. G. Surinamensis are not overly fond of large, open spaces, but this can be gotten around with the addition of floating plants or large pieces of driftwood that allow swimming space underneath. Caves are a good addition as well, as these fish like to have somewhere secure to retreat to between feeding sessions
Good filtration is essential, as their constant digging will stir up the substrate. Under gravel filters are not recommended, as they will be uncovered on a regular basis. It is important to keep the water quality high, as they are susceptible to HITH disease if kept in poor conditions.
I purchased a pair of these fish a little over 2 years ago knowing next to nothing about them. At first, I did regret this decision, as their juvenile coloration was somewhat boring and they tended to hide a great deal. However, once they reached maturity, I soon changed my mind. They are truly spectacular fish, with dramatic coloration and a very good temperament. Anyone looking for an attractive, large cichlid without the personality problems that come with many of them should definitely consider these as an alternative.
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