Those of you who know me well are aware of the fact that I tend to favor small, relatively docile fishes, like characins- the "Teacup Poodles" of the aquarium world.
Well, I may favor those fishes in my tanks, but I do have a healthy respect and admiration for some of the more- shall we say- "hardcore" fishes...like the so-called "Eartheaters" (families Acarichthys, Biotodoma, Geophagus, Guianacara, Gymnogeophagus, and Satanoperca). This lively and diverse group contains some of the most endearing and interesting cichlids around. With a surprising number of our customers wanting to incorporate botanicals in setups with these fishes, I couldn't NOT take a little look at them in "The Tint", right?
(Gymnogeophagus balzanii. Photo by CHUCAO, under CC BY-SA 3.0)
And of course, the name of the genus Geophagus contains the Greek root words for "earth" and "eat", as if to reinforce the popular collective name. So, in case you haven't figured it out by now...they dig in the sand to get food...oh, and they poop.
But you probably already knew that, and I'm the last guy you really want to write one of those "Review of the Eartheaters"-type articles, so we're going to focus more on the kind of environment you'd want to set for these bad-asses, from a botanical perspective, of course.
So, without getting too specific, suffice it to say that the bulk of them do fine in neutral to acidic environments. Hailing from South America (Brazil, Northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay), including Amazonia, many inhabit areas with a mix of botanicals, rocks, and of course, sand or sediment.
Yes, you'll see plants in these environments, too, but not always true aquatics, so we'll focus on the botanical aspect.
Hailing as they do from environments that have both swift currents and sluggish water movement, you can use a mix of bigger, heavier botanicals with some of the smaller ones. Rocky, sandy, botanical-strewn bottoms are common habitats for these fishes.
One interesting thing- a fair amount of these fishes need some "roughage' in their diet- usually in the form of plant materials...However, some of the "softer" botanicals, such as leaves, coco curls, etc are often "mouthed" by these fishes, so that's something to think about when keeping them in a botanical-influenced tank.
Now, I wouldn't specifically go for a leaf litter tank with these guys- they'll simply make a mess of it. Rather, I'd go with some of the more durable, larger materials, in various sizes. The beloved "Jungle Pods" and "Savu Pods" are a perfect "prop" for these fishes, although the bulk of them reach sizes which will make them useless as a hiding place after they're just a few months old. So, these will be pretty cool "props."
My preference for botanicals with fishes like this would be an abundance of the more durable stuff, in various sizes, such as "Lampada Pods", which have a "nut-like" outer shell that can easily be moved, and are analogous to some of the botanical materials that you'd see falling into rivers and streams.
Since many forage of fruits and other botanical materials as part of their diet, you could include some of the more "transitional" materials, like "Capsula Pods", which soften significantly after being submerged, and are a favorite of shrimp and many catfishes, as well as materials such as "Flor Rio", "Teardrop Pods", etc., which have similar characteristics.
Really, this blog is going to end up sounding more like a sales brochure for our stuff than anything else, so I think you get the idea by now....You can use pretty much any of our botanicals with these unique cichlids, within reason. We receive a lot of request for "Enigma Packs" designed for these fishes, so it made sense for us to come up with something tailored for them to offer as a variety pack. So, we're working on an "Eartheater Pack" (hmm...that name is not too good..might need your help on this...contest soon?) to be rolled out really soon...You can only imagine what our choices will be, right?
The key, IMHO, is to offer more durable materials, which can hold up to the "chewing" and digging and general moving-around-the-tank activities that these guys are known to engage in throughout the day. You can create a cool aquascape that is both functional and aesthetic by using a nice mix of the larger, more durable botanicals with some of the aforementioned "transitional" specimens.
To quickly summarize, these endearing fishes are surprisingly good candidates to keep with botanicals, because while many are not specifically from blackwater environments, the bulk (heh heh) of them do come from environments which have "botanical influence" from materials that fall into their habitats from overhanging trees and such.
(Acarichthys heckelii- Pic by Dr. David Midgely under CC BY-SA- 2.5)
So keep enjoying these fascinating, high-octane cichlids...and keep creating "functionally aesthetic" displays for them! Let us know if you've found that some of the botanicals seem to work better than others for these guys!
Stay excited. Stay dedicated. Stay engaged.
And Stay Wet.