Cichlids are one of the most popular freshwater fish varieties. They belong to the Cichlidae family. There are more than 1,300 cichlid species in the world, so it is the largest family of vertebrates. Scientists and biologists aver that there are more than 2,000 cichlid species in the world and hundreds of them have not yet been discovered.
Cichlids may be small or large in size. You can find cichlids ranging from one inch to thirty six inches. Their shapes are also different. Some of them are cylindrical and some are elongated. They live in freshwater. However, some varieties can tolerate to survive in saltwater for short periods.
Some cichlid varieties like tilapia are eaten by many people in Asia, so they are now cultured in large numbers in many parts of Asia. Oscar fish, angel fish and discus fish are some other popular varieties. They are small in size and are not picky eaters, so you can breed them easily. Cichla species are considered as game fish. The peacock bass of South America is one of the famous sport fish varieties. It generates more than $8 million a year among anglers.
Cichlids are aggressive in nature, so it is sensible to put them in small groups rather than keeping a couple of fishes. Otherwise, they may end up fighting with each other. It is also advisable to keep many hiding places like caves and plants, because some cichlid varieties prefer such places to lay eggs.
The most unique feature of cichlids is that they have complex set of muscles in upper and lower pharyngeal bones. They work together to process food. This lets cichlids eat variety of foods. Cichlids are typically herbivores and like to eat algae and plants. However, they may also feed on small animals like invertebrates now and then. Some varieties like Tilapia are detritivores and they feed on all types of organic materials. Some cichlids eat small animals like snails and sponges. Some types of cichlids feed on parasites found on catfish.
There are four types of cichlid breeders- open border, cave brooder, ovophile mouth brooder and larvophile mouth brooder. Open brooders lay eggs on open surfaces like on rocks, leaves and logs. They are good parents. The male cichlid watches over the territory, while the female cares for the fry.
Cave brooders lay eggs in caves, holes or crevices. They communicate with their young ones through body movements like flicking and shaking fins.
Ovophile mouth brooders lay eggs and keep them in their mouth until they hatch. This variety of cichlids is found in Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria in Africa.
Larvophile mouth brooders lay eggs in open surfaces and then keep the hatched fry in mouth to protect them from predators.
Some cichlids are monogamous and some others are polygamous. They are protective parents and care for their young ones well. There have been instances that cichlids enhance their care for generations by helping in raising the offspring of their own brood.