What is a cichlid?

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I thought it would be appropriate to start the Cichlid Geeks blog with a basic description of a Cichlid. What makes cichlids unique as compared to other fishes. As well as a brief overview of the cichlid family and go over some of the basic types of cichlids that one might encounter in the hobby.
The story of the fishes of the family Cichlidae begins in the early 19th century when

… the few known cichlids were split off by the eminent German ichthyologists Bloch and Schneider under a new name, Cichla. About a half a century after, the cichlids were elevated to family status, the Cichlidae. – George W. Barlow, The Cichlid Fishes

Cichlids are a diverse and widespread group of fishes with in the scientific order Perciformes, which includes many familiar groups of fishes such as snappers, jawfish, and marine angelfish. They are further grouped into a ‘sub-order’ of similar fishes called Labroidei that includes wrasses and cichlids.
cichlid photos
Cichlids exhibit several characteristics that separate them from other groups of fishes in the suborder Labroidei. Most importantly, cichlids have a break in their lateral line with the section closer to the head riding in the upper portion of the fish’s flank, and the rear most portion of the line running close the middle of the fish’s flank. (This is true for all cichlids, with the exception of the genus Teleogramma and Gobiocichla.) Cichlids also have as single nostril on each side of their head, instead of two which is typical for closely related fishes.

Cichlids have other characteristics that set them apart from other fishes including skeletal differences that are not readily apparent to the naked eye.

With more than 1650 described species according to Fish Base , the cichlid family is already sizable and its growing quickly.

The total number of species somewhat in flux, with many of them yet to be described by science. However, it is safe to say that there are at least 3000 different species. “With more than 3,000 species, the fish family Cichlidae is one of the most species-rich families of vertebrates. Cichlids occur in southern and central America, Africa, Madagascar, and India.” (1) Via human introduction, Cichlids are currently also occupying waters in the Southern USA as well.

You can check out some cichlid photos here to see some of the amazingly diverse shapes and sizes and exotic coloration of the family cichlidae.

Two of the more prevalent groups of cichlids in the aquarium hobby are lumped into two somewhat arbitrary groups, the New World Cichlids and the Rift Lake Cichlids. South American cichlids as well as those species that are endemic to the Central Americas are generally lumped together as ‘new world’ cichlids. Cichlids are actually present throughout most of tropical Africa, though the Rift Lake species get most of the attention. The Rift Lakes (Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria) are very large lakes in Eastern equatorial Africa. These lakes are full of cichlid species as prized by scientists for their amazing evolutionary diversity as they are to aquarists for their amazing coloration and behaviors.

Most cichlids stay relatively small, staying at or under 6 inches. As such they have been very popular aquarium inhabitants for generations. The largest cichlids such as Boulengerochromis microlepis and the neotropical Cichla temensis reach up to a meter in total length and make poor aquarium specimens due to their extreme size.

Stay tuned to the Cichlid Geeks Blog for more.

(1) – Salzburger W1, Meyer A. , 2004, – Naturwissenschaften. 2004 Jun;91(6):277-90. – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15241604


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