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I adore our fish.  They live in a large four and a half foot  bespoke tank in the dining room, and provide us with endless distraction and entertainment.  A few years ago, Pete converted the tank from a standard tropical aquarium to one designed to house African Cichlids. These fish have fairly specific requirements – hard, foliage-free water, and rocks and shells in which they can hide. After researching the price of commercial rockery (too scary to discuss), my clever husband created a backdrop out of carved polystyrene packaging and concrete. It resembles a large rocky lake bed, and the fish seem to enjoy it immensely.

Four species of fish share our home with us. The main ones are the Labidochromis caeruleus, a bright yellow species originally from Lake Malawi, who have established their dominance in the tank partly through their ability to breed.  We now have three generations living in the tank.  Only one baby fish from any spawning ever seems to survive, but it’s always the cleverest one, who hides himself in a tiny hole under the big rock on the far right. A classic example of survival of the fittest, presented right before our eyes as we eat our Weetbix.  The Labs are mouth breeders, and it’s fascinating to watch them keep their numerous fry inside their mouths – wriggling and bulging like a scene from Aliens.

The grey-blue fish with yellow tails are Cyprichromis from Lake Tanganyika, but given that I was promised bright blue fish, the less said about them, the better.  Although they did provide us with a wonderful mating display yesterday, as they circled each other with their dorsal fins raised majestically.

My favourites are the Lamprologus stappersii, small mottled grey fish commonly known as Shellies.  Completely fearless, each guards its chosen shell with ferocity, boldly chasing the larger fish away if they get too close.   When Pete puts his hand into the tank to clean it, the Shellies nibble on his fingers, while the other fish hide in the caves.  They’ve also developed an unnerving habit of hovering right next to the glass, on the other side of the bubble stream, which makes them appear to be floating on the outside of the tank.

The last fish we have in the tank is not an African Cichlid at all – it’s an Amazon Basin catfish.  Our Plecostomus is now about three years old, and it’s the second one we’ve had – the first one lived for over twelve years.  Plecs are the vacuum cleaners of the aquarium world.  They start off fairly small – maybe 5cm (2”) – and grow continuously until they reach an appropriate size for the given tank – in our case, that’s about 25cm (10”) long.  Picasso, as Small Man has christened him, is now too large for the other fish to annoy, and too old to care.  He’s a grumpy old curmudgeon, who spends most of his days glued upside down to the roof of a cave,  coming out at night to eat the algae when  all the annoying young upstarts have gone to bed.  I couldn’t get a decent photo of him, but found this one online – our fish looks almost exactly like this:

Our fish tank is a constant source of joy for us –  a tiny slice of the outside world that we wouldn’t normally get to experience.  And it’s always changing! One morning, Pete noticed that all the gravel in the tank  was moving.  Overnight, we’d had a plague of snails – all hatched from tiny eggs which, unbeknownst to us,  had come in with the pebble mix.  Within a few days, they’d all been eaten, but obviously not before they had reproduced, because the same thing happened again about a month later.  The snail and fish populations have now reached an equilibrium, and we rarely have to clean the tank anymore – the snails eat the algae and the fish poop, and the fish eat the snails!

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