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3 Strange Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Cichlids

Blake B

Posted on May 02 2018

We all know how amazing and unique each species of African cichlid is, with their many iridescent hues and sometimes quirky personalities. Most creatures, especially one as diverse and interesting as cichlids, also have a few peculiarities that may normally be known only by biologists or zoologists. Whether you’re a long-time enthusiast or newly exploring the world of these fascinating African fish, here are a few odd facts about African cichlids which you may find surprising.

1. Some cichlids communicate with urine, a bit like dogs and cats.

While we’re all familiar with our more mammalian household pets using their pee to mark territory and communicate with others of their species, you probably wouldn’t think about fish using the same method. After all, since they live in the water, wouldn’t it just dissipate? How would that even work?

As it turns out, there’s a lot we don’t know about how fish communicate with each other, but what biologists are learning is an indication that fish have much more complex social lives than we previously supposed. Case in point: Lake Tanganyika cichlids have been found by scientists to use their urine to communicate aggression, when encountering other cichlids. If the fish are able to smell one another’s urine (are not in separate containers), then they will urinate less, whereas if they are separated, they will continue peeing excessively, trying to communicate chemically to the other cichlid.

While it’s not quite marking territory, as dogs and cats do, it is comparable, and certainly not something we normally associate with fish behavior.

2. Some cichlids consider fish eyes a delicacy

It’s a well known about cichlid behavior that some are quite aggressive, so much so that you cannot necessarily keep them in the same aquarium with other fish. One example of that quality is the Lake Malawi Eyebiter. This particular species earns its nickname, which is straightforward enough, by doing exactly what you would expect: eating other fish’s eyes, specifically.

As one of the flattest cichlids known, the Eyebiter is an extremely appealing shade of reflective blue, which makes them a highly valued addition to the aquarium. Luckily for us, this eye-biting activity is actually somewhat exaggerated. In reality, this Malawi Eyebiter will usually only feast upon the faces of other fish if it’s quite hungry, which if fed regularly, it shouldn’t be.

So, if you keep your cichlid satisfied, your other fish should be safe, so long as they are the same size or larger. Smaller fish will most likely be eaten.  

3. There’s a chance your cichlid might outlive you...but probably not.

While the average lifespan of all cichlids is relatively long for small fish, about 10 years, that’s just an average. Generally speaking, the larger a fish is, the more likely it is to have high longevity. Certain large sharks, for instance, may live for decades, and the Greenland Shark can survive for centuries. In the case of cichlid lifespans, it’s rumored that a well-cared-for member of one of the larger species can live for as long as 25-30 years!

So, when you choose a cichlid, keep in mind that it could be with you for a very long time. This puts cichlids in a category of pets for which you might actually want to have a godparent.

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