Saturday, June 9, 2012

South American Pike Dwarf Cichlid

Dwarf Pike Cichlid
South American dwarf pike cichlid; dwarf pike cichlids intriguing group of vigorous, predatory dwarf cichlids they belong to the. Majority of this species is found in the South American Amazon region where they inhabit rivers, streams, lakes and pools but pike cichlids over most of the South American continent

To the south, they have inhabited coast to Rio Negro in the central regions of Argentina, just north of Patagonia. To the north, their habitat includes Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and the island of Trinidad however the pike cichlids are never found west of the Andes.
South American Dwarf Cichlid
Most pike cichlids require and are warm water fishes that require high temperatures in their aquarium, but there are a few notable exceptions to this rule. The Argentinean Crenicichla lacustris and the Uruguayan Crenicichla scotti are for instance found in colder environments and will appreciate lower temperatures in the aquarium. It is therefore important to study the species you are interested in before you bring them home; do not assume that all pike cichlids have the same preferences or requirements.


When you look at a pike cichlid, you can clearly see that this is a capable predator. A majority of the species sports an elongated body that ends in a broad, protrusible mouth. This body shape can be observed regardless of whether you are looking at a huge 24 inch specimen or one of the petite dwarf species that grow no bigger than 3-4 inches. Species that grow to be roughly 6-10 inches as adults are considered medium-sized pike cichlids.  

Hunting technique

The most commonly observed hunting technique among pike cichlids is witness as ambushing this has been described  the pike will lurk behind a rock or sunken tree branches until an unsuspecting prey ventures close enough. The pike will then carry out a rapid, forceful chase to seize its prey. 

If you keep your pike cichlids in a large enough aquarium and feed them live food you will be able to enjoy this dynamic natural behavior. Pike cichlids will naturally require rocks, driftwood etcetera in the aquarium to hide among. 

A majority of the pike cichlid species feed primarily on fish, but a number of species have developed in other directions. The Brazilian pike cichlids named Crenicichla compressiceps and Crenicichla cyclostoma have for instance specialized in catching insects. 


Keeping Pike Cichlids in home aquariums

Many aquarists believe that pike cichlids are superb aggressive death machines that can only be housed alone and that will viciously attack each other as well as any other fish regardless of size and temperament. 

It is true that pike cichlids are highly skilled predators that will feed on a wide assortment of prey and it is also true that they can be really aggressive in captivity but if you are willing to learn more about pike cichlids before you purchase them you will see that there are many ways for the aquarist to handle this potential aggressiveness and set up a well functioning pike cichlid aquarium where the amount of aggression is kept at a minimum. 

Many cichlids are renowned for being keen on redecorating their home; frequently ruining planted plants in the process. Pike cichlids are however equipped with a jaw structure that makes moving, pulling and tugging difficult for them, and they will therefore usually leave the aquarium decoration alone. 

They can still dig up the occasional plant, but compared to for instance the Central American Cichlasoma cichlids, they are on friendly terms with the plant life in the aquarium. If problems still occur, switch from planted plants to species that can be anchored on drift wood and rocks or left floating.

Aquarium size

The recommended aquarium size will depend on which pike cichlid species you chose and how many specimens you wish to keep together. Their size if your fish and the presence of any tank mates will naturally also effect how small the aquarium can be.
If your aquarium is no bigger than 30 gallons, it is advisable to choose small and comparatively peaceful species such as Crenicichla notophthalmus, Crenicichla regani or Crenicichla urosema

More aggressive dwarf species, e.g. Crenicichla compressiceps, should not be kept in aquariums smaller than 55 gallons due to their temperament. Keep in mind that small aquariums are harder to maintain than big aquariums, especially when feeding live and frozen foods. Using bigger aquariums than the bare minimum will help you keep the water quality up.

Instead of aggressive dwarf species, a 55 gallon aquarium can be used to house mid-sized and comparatively peaceful species such as Crenicichla britskii, Crenicichla geayi and Crenicichla cf. menesezi

If your aquarium is even bigger, you can have your pick among most pike cichlids, except for really big ones such as Crenicichla johanna, Crenicichla lugubris and the huge Crenicichla sp. Xingu I (commonly known as Orange pike cichlids), which can only be housed in 125 gallon aquariums or bigger. 

If you are in the process of choosing between two aquariums of different size for your pike cichlids, always go for the bigger one. In a large and roomy aquarium, pike cichlids will exhibit a much broader repertoire of natural behaviors. 

Water quality

Dwarf cichlids should only be kept by aquarists capable of keeping the water quality up in the aquarium, since they are very sensitive to poor water quality and will die of you allow the water quality to drop. The same is true for the big, small-scaled species of the Lugubris-group. 

The native environment for dwarf pikes and Lugubris species are the black waters of the Amazon where the amounts of pollution and bacteria are very low. Such conditions, including the correct water hardiness and pH-value, must be mimicked in the aquarium. 

Rare Green Pike Cichlid

Even a small increase in the levels of organic waste in the aquarium can lead to hole-in-the-head disease in big pike cichlids, while the less resilient dwarf species simply die. Powerful filtration must be combined with large and frequent water changes if you want to house these species, and this is something that you have to devote yourself to year round, not simply when you have the time. 

If you want a hardier type of pike cichlid, you can for instance select one of the medium sized cichlids of the Saxatilis-group. These cichlids are known to adapt to most types of tap water as long as you use normal water treatment stay clear of the extremes. Saxatilis cichlids can even breed in captivity without much coaxing. 

Always research the species you are interested in order to find out which environment they hail from and which water parameters they require. Generally speaking, black water species need really soft water where the pH-value is kept between 5 and 6. This is especially important if you want to breed pike cichlids from this environment. 


If your pike cichlids are wild caught, they may refuse to eat prepared food and you must be prepared to provide them with live, or at the least frozen, meaty foods. Wild caught pike cichlids can be trained to accept cichlid pellets, but it will require patients and persistence. Juveniles are usually much easier to convert than adult specimens. 

Captive bred pike cichlids have normally been trained to accept cichlid pellets from a young age and are therefore easier to feed than wild caught specimens. 

Even if you obtain pike cichlids that accept cichlid pellets, it is however a good idea to provide them with a varied diet where pellets are combined with live and frozen foods. You can for instance give your pike cichlids crustaceans, live earthworms and live fish. 

Your pike cichlids will be much happier in the aquarium if they are allowed to carry out their normal feeding behaviors, and risk of nutritional deficiency will also be reduced. Keeping pike cichlids on a diet consisting of nothing but cichlid pellets have been linked to hole-in-the-head disease, but more research is necessary before we can know for sure if this link is valid or if it is a mere coincidence.

Handling pike aggression

There are several things that you can do in order to reduce the risk of violence in the aquarium when keeping pike cichlids. To begin with, pike cichlids should naturally never be combined with small fish species or small crustaceans since they will be considered food. The pike cichlid is after all a predatory fish. 

The pike cichlid can be really aggressive toward members of the same species but the amount of violence can be reduced by choosing specimens of roughly the same size. If you want to house pike cichlids with other species, ideally pick species with different shapes and colors to make it clear for the pike cichlids that these fishes belong to a completely different group of fish and that there is no need to fight them.


Adding PVC tubes that you have glued gravel or rock too make sure the glue is non toxic in the aquarium set up - this is a splendid way of reducing aggression in a pike cichlid aquarium since it makes it possible for each fish to retreat and stay away from the others instead of violently trying to take over the entire aquarium. 

There should be at least one tube for each fish and the tube must be wide enough to comfortably house the fish. Adding more tubes than fish is definitely recommended since this will prevent fighting over the tubes themselves. If you find PVC tubes unsightly, you can obtain hollow pieces of driftwood instead or decorate the PVC tubes using pebbles and plants.   

Breeding Pike Cichlids

If you have never bred any pike cichlids before, one of the Saxatilis species is a good choice since they are not that tricky to breed in captivity. These fishes are also known as Spangled Pikes; a group of sturdy species very popular among aquarists since they are less fuzzy than the sensitive dwarf cichlids and not as space consuming as the biggest species. 

Saxatilis cichlids are cave spawners and you should therefore provide them with a suitable cave in the aquarium if you want them to breed. The female will deposit adhese eggs inside the cave and they will stick to the cave wall where they are easy to safe-guard. 

The female will care for the eggs will the male fends of intruders. You should therefore let the parents stay with their offspring; they are devoted parents and will not eat eggs or fry. 

They will even keep other adult fish at bay. Saxatilis eggs normally hatch within 4 days and the fry will be free swimming within another 4 days. The exact time will depend on water temperature. 

Newly hatched brine shrimp is a suitable first food for the fry and you can then gradually increase the size of the brine shrimp as the fry grow bigger. Large fry will readily devour small fry, so if you want a high survival rate the fry must be segregated by size. If you do not segregate the fry, it will eventually lead to a much biased sex ratio. 

Species of Apistogramma and smaller Cichlasoma types dominate my tanks, but on a recent trip to Cleveland for the Ohio Cichlid Association Cichlid Extravaganza I found none listed on the showroom bulletin board. What I did find were "dwarf" pikes (genus Crenicichla), so just out of curiosity I went to check them out. 

After looking at three pairs of Crenicichla regani Ploeg, 1989, I decided to purchase only one 3" pair. Little did I know I would later regret that decision. At the time I simply figured that they would make a nice addition to a large display tank, and I would have something different to show club members when I arrived back home.

Always having been told that pike cichlids would accept only live foods, I purchased a couple dozen feeder guppies and placed them along with the pikes in a 76 liters (20-gallon), slate bottom tank just to grow them out. 

A half-dozen 10 cm (4") clay flowerpots or use PVC-pipe were placed in different locations about the tank. I cut an entranceway in each just large enough for the fish to enter, as I normally do with apistos. 

A few floating killifish-type "mops" were added along with a large handful of Java moss. No gravel or any other type of substrate was used; two jumbo bubble-up box filters completed the setup. 

All I had to do was sit back and watch the fighting, as I was sure they would kill each other sooner or later. And sure enough the male began chasing the female relentlessly about the tank; I felt so sorry for her that he was removed to an adjacent tank, and both were forgotten. 

After another two months or so, I noticed both displaying through the glass sidewalls.
Eight months after their birth, the F1's are now spawning and rearing fry in regular tap water

Given their interest in each other, I returned the male to the main tank, but a clear glass divider was inserted to separate him from the female. Both live baby brine shrimp and frozen brine shrimp were accepted greedily. All this time the pair was maintained in regular tap water with a hardness of 170 ppm and a pH of 7.5 at a temperature of 26°C (78°F).

Next I removed 80% of the water, replacing it with purified RO water at a temperature of 22°C (72°F). This drastic change quickly brought down the tank temperature to 23°C (74°F) with a hardness of 40 ppm and a pH of 6.0. Over the next two days the temperature returned to 26°C (78°F), and the female's belly developed a rosy hue. 

The divider was then removed and since nothing violent resulted I left the pair together overnight. The next morning the male was patrolling the tank, but the female was nowhere to be seen. 

Hours later I could wait no longer and began lifting the pots to locate her carcass ­ assuming the worse ­ but instead was delighted to find her hiding under one of them, guarding a clutch of beige-colored eggs hanging from the ceiling by fine, short threads. 

The male was then immediately transferred to his previous home. Nothing else much was observed for the next five days until I finally noticed wrigglers on the slate bottom under the pot, guarded carefully by the attentive female.

Crenicichla regani
Crenicichlia regani female from the Rio Trombetas caring for her fry

The Cichlids Yearbook 6, page 75. Fish and Photo by Frank Warzel.

By this time the male had reached about 10 cm (4") in length, the female 9 cm (3.5"). He had a light tan ground color with a very dark lateral stripe; the pointed dorsal and anal fins were pale orange edged in bluish-black. The female had more rounded unpaired fins; the dorsal fin contained an extensive black blotch surrounded by a starkly contrasting white border. 

Five days later I finally observed the fry swimming about the tank, herded along in a small tight school by the female. At this time freshly hatched brine shrimp nauplii were provided, and soon after all the fry were observed with pink, distended bellies. 

The original feeder guppies were still for the most part present and unbothered; however, guppy fry disappeared as quickly as they were born. After only two months the pike fry were already 2.5 cm (1") in length and removed to their own tank where the water was gradually converted back to regular tap water. 

The parents were then reunited and have never fought since. For their second spawn I left them together. The female guarded the eggs and wrigglers, with the male joining in the care of the free-swimming fry. 

I am thankful for this, as I believe that there is no greater pleasure in the hobby than seeing a devoted pair leading young around their tank. I should have taken all three pairs, but I had no idea that they would spawn. I have since learned that my pair is the only of the three to survive.

About a dozen adults can be grown out and maintained in a 76 liters

Eight months after their birth, the F1's are now spawning and rearing fry in regular tap water. One thing I've noticed is that each individual male and female is somehow unique in appearance. 

Interestingly, some of the fry are much more colorful than the parents. At this time the original pair has not changed in size, but the female now has four black blotches that run together but are all encircled by the white margin in the dorsal fin. In the year-old females, the markings in the dorsal are quite variable (see Warzel, 1996).

I call Crenicichla regani the "gentle pike," because about a dozen adults can be grown out and maintained in a 76 liters (20-gal "long") along with some dither fish with no problems whatsoever. 

Of a hatch of about 100 fry, I get about 65% males, which isn't bad though the females are much better looking. I don't have a community display tank, but I believe the "gentle pike" would be a welcome addition to any display of small to medium-sized South American cichlids.

Many thanks to Mike Zebrowski of
Michigan for collecting the wild fish in the Rio Purus of Brazil and to Wayne Leibel who encouraged me in Cleveland to obtain at least one pair.

Warzel, F.; 1996; Variation in Crenicichla regani. The Cichlids Yearbook 6:74-79.© Copyright 1998 Don Zilliox, all rights reserved


Zilliox, Don. (
October 21, 1999). "Crenicichla regani, the gentle pike". The Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on June 09, 2012, from:

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Cichlids said...

Pike cichlids is a beautiful cichlid however do you think they can be kept with Angel Fish and Red Parrot Cichlids?

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