Hobbyist Gallery - Aaron Causyn

Aaron Causyn, Ontario, Canada, e-mail:

Being relatively new to raising African Cichlids, I am more than eager to seek any advice from far more experienced hobbyists such as the folks at MCH.  So here is my attempt at a Malawi Cichlid tank.  I welcome your comments as I aspire to go bigger and better.

Tank: 55 Gallons (48
pH: 7.8
GH: ~12
KH: ~13
Substrate: CaribSea Aragonite gravel, large rocks found locally
Filtration: Millennium 2000, Whisper 60 Power Filter
Lighting: 2 x 20w fluorescent Grow-lux
Heater: 300w Ebo-Jager
Plants: none
Background: Hagen Background 3D
Inhabitants: 5 x Pseudotropheus elongates (yellow-tail) 6-9cm
          5 x Labidochromis caeruleus (electric yellow) 4-6cm
          5 x Maylandia estherae (red zebra) 5-8cm

My tank is approximately 11 months old.  All inhabitants were added at the same time (to a properly cycled tank of course) and I have had no casualties since.  I used information on compatibility from MCH and other cichlid authorities to come up with my choice of species.  I particularly enjoy the elongates because of their colours and mischievous demeanour.  They also seem to be the most prolific spawners as I have raise 3 broods from 2 of the females.  I have also raised 2 broods from the estherae and as you can see in the pictures, my first Labido is carrying. All species are fed spirulia flakes, mixed cichlid flakes and various green vegetable scraps.  Water changes of 40% are performed on a weekly basis with a gravel siphon every two weeks.  I add aquarium salt to all pre-conditioned water.  I change the rock formations every couple of mouths just to stir things up a little and encourage spawning. All pictures were taken with a digital camera and no flash.


MCH Verdict

Fifty-five gallon tanks are very common among cichlid enthusiasts. It's not easy to create a stunner Malawi biotope in such a shallow 55G, but Aaron succeeded to build a very nice one for his joy and pleasure. The Hagen background indeed adds a realistic touch together with the rocks. The technical equipment is also invisible what adds to the natural look. I'm less enthusiastic about the substrate though, as it contains the very white and reflective aragonite. It's still my belief that the buffer effect of this material is rather limited and even negligible after a while. The specific aquarium salts that Aaron also adds are definitely much more effective to optimize slightly acidic water for cichlid use in my opinion. Only 3 cichlid species is an excellent choice, as you can observe their intrinsic behaviour much better . The Labidochromis caeruleus is a real classic and deserves a place in every Malawi Mbuna tank. I'm less fond of the Maylandia estherae, but the Pseudotropheus elongatus is also a beauty. If I would ever keep Mbuna again I would certainly add the very neat Pseudotropheus elongatus "Chewere" variant. I don't see the advantage of moving the rocks every couple of months, unless it's meant to remove the fry or for cleaning purposes to prevent sulfide pockets being formed in the substrate. When the organic debris piles up too high behind the rocks this can indeed cause the biological filter system to collapse and acutely threaten the health of the fish. Another plus is the very balanced feeding and water changes schedule.

The overall impression is really good! This is a direct example of how a good Malawi cichlid tank can be arranged and run, even if the tank is not that big. Just a bit dark to look at but , may be, pics are to blame. I'd, rather, add more rocks to reach the water level - at least in one corner. This being said: Technical equipment is good: nothing really exotic in used but nothing is wrong or missing. This approach follows one of the top statements ever: keep it simple. Water chemistry is good too; no data available on NO2, NO3 but fishes overall look/behaviour is worth one thousand "readings", isn't it ? Aquascape is remarkably good (also because of the nice back ground in use, dark colours enhance the fish's feeling of security and make them feel "at home"). I will have to disagree with the use of coral sand (what is the reason for using CaribSea Aragonite gravel after all ?); all chosen rocks look nice (possibly a bit too sharp in the edges). In the end, the substrate used is - in my personal opinion - the only "black spot" in this, otherwise, excellent tank. Maintenance is correctly performed. I disagree with the continuous re-arranging of aquascape, which could induce /encourage stress in fishes. Water changes are excellent in quantity and regularity (even "too conservative": 40% on a weekly basis!). Fishes, eventually: their choice/mix (no mention on sex ratio is available) is - to me, again - excellent, with all major "Malawian hues" represented: blue, black, yellow and orange. It should be noted that no "intruders" (non malawian fishes) were introduced in the tank. All inhabitants are - according to the owner's report - correctly fed and this fact beyond improving their appearance, also induces spawning, as already witnessed by the tank's owner.

This is what I would call a classic mbuna tank which keeps everything at bay in good proportions. The fish are carefully selected, the rocks are not too large or too small for them, the light is not too strong, the background is really good etc. Even when it comes to maintenance and filtration, things are again done by the book. Although I can't see the actual setup, I am sure the photos don't do it justice. If I were to make a couple of negative comments these would be the presence of sharp rocks, the fact that the rock pile is not a bit higher and the light could be a little bit more intense. Those are little details that are only mentioned because we have the time to look at this tank closely. I am pretty confident that if we saw that particular tank in real, those comments wouldn't be made at all. However, crushed coral is another issue. Frankly, whenever I see a cichlid tank, I expect to see fine sand at the bottom. We know very well that a great percentage of hobbyists prefer crushed coral which will also bring the water values to their optimum but if this is used, at least it should be of a finer grade. Cichlids love it and my primary concern is always the well being of them and less the appearance of the tank itself. If the two can work together, I would give it a try but if not, the fish matter more. All in all it is a beautiful (although rather small) mbuna tank which shows that the owner did his homework in every aspect. It doesn't need to be spectacular - but it has to be correctly setup and this one is.
Overall rating by MCH :  81/100

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