The Case for Little Fish in Big Aquariums
By Ken Armke (7-97)

          Back when Keegan—then quite a bit younger—first started showing real interest in my aquariums, he couldn’t understand my lack of interest in keeping “cool” fish.
         Why wouldn’t I let him put that 10-inch clown knife fish and that 8-inch tiger shovelnose catfish in my 180-gallon show tank? After all, all I had to show off was a group of relatively small cichlids.
          It wasn’t hard to explain that, with the clown knife and shovelnose catfish, I would not have any of my cichlids very long.
More difficult was explaining my preference for the small cichlids—dwarf and semi-dwarf African species—over the larger and admittedly showier fish he would regularly bring to my attention.
          “Keegan,” I explained, “through the years I’ve kept large and small fish, and I still get a thrill out of seeing a beautiful, large show specimen in an aquarium.
           “But day-to-day I like to watch an aquarium that provides as much of a natural environment for the fish as possible…where the fish look like they belong, instead of looking out of place.
          “That’s a lot easier to accomplish when you put small fish into a large aquarium. They become more interesting because they behave normally. They’re even more interesting when the small fish have the intelligence of cichlids. See?”
          “Sure, dad. I see what you mean,” Keegan replied. “You think we can set up a special tank for the knife fish and shovelnose cat?”
          It took a a couple of years—and one national cichlid (ACA) convention—to do the trick, but finally came the words a father hears all too seldom:
          “Dad, you were right. I like the aquariums with the smaller cichlids much better. What say I trade in the catfish and knife fish somewhere and make my tank a cichlid aquarium?”

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