By Vinny Kutty
It was so much easier when I had just a couple of tanks with easy cichlids that would inhale anything tossed in the tank. Those days are gone. I started encountering fish with culinary attitudes a few years ago when I purchased some wild caught Apistogramma agassizi. Then came a few wild, picky Petenia splendida. About a year or so later, I collected some Hemichromis fasciatus in the Niger Delta. None of these species wanted anything to do with pelletized dry foods. Don t get me wrong, not all wild fish are this way I ve had wild caught fish eat pellets from my fingers three days after capture.
This aquaristic problem is more common with species that are specialized. A certain critter they eat in the wild constitutes almost all their dietary intake and they eat little else, may be because there is nothing else to eat or perhaps they are much better than other fish at devouring that specific little critter. Toss them a pellet and it doesn't elicit a feeding response because pellets don't possess the necessary characteristics that make these fish eat or they simply don't like the taste of pellets.
We all know that fish prefer to eat moving foods; and that is what I took advantage of when I was weaning a few Geophagus sp. (they are basically brasiliensoids with a different shaped head) from baby brine and grindal worms. I tossed few Tetrabits into their little tank and with the aid of a plastic eyedropper, squirted the sunken granular food and made the food swim around. The fish would attack it when the pellets were moving but once the food sunk to the bottom, they resumed begging me for additional mobile food. I then completely stopped feeding them live foods and stayed with squirted Tetrabits for a week. After a day of fasting and the temperature at 83 F, the fish half-heartedly nibbled at some sunken pellets. One more week of that and they were happily inhaling pellets.
I don't follow fads and I didn't mean to jump on the Pike Cichlid bandwagon, but I've always wanted to keep these fish but never had the room or money in graduate school. So finally, when I got out of college and I got a fish room and a job, I decided to start keeping Crenicichla sp. Yesiree, I was going to get into them in a big way and then wouldn't you know it, Wayne Leibel officially starts the Pike Cichlid craze with a Pike Cichlid issue of the Buntbarsche Bulletin (Journal of the American Cichlid Association). Now the guys at the pet store group me with the reef people for being faddish.
Anyway, I obtained some Crenicichla (Batrachops) semifasciata, C. compressiceps, C. sp. bellyslider (incorrectly sold as C. sedentaria) and C. frenata Trinidad and a lone specimen of C. dorsocellata - five very different Pikes. None of them liked pellets in the beginning.
I keep most of my Pikes with Cichlasomines because they don't seem to recognize each other as competitors for food or spawning sites. My Cichlasomines included Cichlasoma tetracanthus, C regani, C. alfari, C. hartwegi, C. loisellei, C. steindachneri, C. longimanus and C. rostratum. I don't mix Pikes. If I were forced to, I'd probably find a way to keep different groups together. i.e., a saxatilis-group member with a lugubris-group type or a Batrachops -type with a lugubris-type. My Crenicichla semifasciata went a month without eating pellets and a couple of the smaller ones wasted away due to my determination not to feed them anything that was live. Cruel? Probably. Acceptable? Maybe. Effective? Certainly. Some hobbyists feed their fish live foods occasionally to keep them alive until (if ever) they gradually learn to eat pellets. All my fish are prewarned when they enter my tank: eat pellets or wait a couple of days between meals.
(Addendum 1999: it has been over 6 years since I wrote this article and my staunch ways have been amended - now I feed my pikes a heck of a lot of frozen krill, live gold fish as well as pellets. I salt-dip the gold fish before feeding it to the pikes. A tablespoon of salt to half a liter of water, which is salty enough to make the gold fish float - hopefully this kills most of the bacteria on the feeder fish.) I am a bit more lenient with species I know nothing about, in which case, I feed frozen brine shrimp and krill. Unfortunately for my fish, I am allergic to frozen bloodworms. It has been my experience that if you feed Pikes goldfish to keep them alive while you are waiting to convert them to pellets, they take a LONG time to come around to pellets. Is it a good idea to feed them gold fish? It is not without danger, as they can obviously bring in diseases. Still, I think this helps condition the fish for breeding. Eventually they all start eating pellets. A C. sp. Bocon that I had fed exclusively live and frozen foods to for over a year, one day began snatching pellets being fed to the other cichlids in its tank.
Housing Pikes with Cichlasomines, allows the Pikes to watch and learn. In soaring birds of prey, the zillions of Turkey and Black vultures in Florida, for example, the descent of one bird tells another bird that the descender has spotted food. I've observed this behavior in Characins and I see no reason why cichlids can t use this mode of prey detection. The point is: keep the Pikes with pellet-eating fish.
The older the fish, the longer it takes to convert to pellets. A good friend, Darin Gasperson, has had moderate success at getting his Cichla ocellaris to eat pellets. My experience has been that juveniles of the lugubris-group are a little easier to convert to pellets than member of the saxatilis-group. If only I could keep the lugubris-types from getting so huge their temperament seems much more agreeable than those of the saxatilis-types.
I've also noticed that specimens low in the pecking order learn to eat pellets sooner than the gold medallist intramural thugger. Why? I don't know for certain but does the thugee feel the need to eat anything to hang on to dear life? Have any of you observed this?
With a combination of patience, frozen foods, high temperatures and the addition of Cichlasomines, I've managed to convert ALL of my Pikes on to pellets. I actually got my Crenicichla semifasciata to eat frozen peas! Of course, I culture a lot of live foods like earthworms, daphnia etc. and the Pikes get these live foods only after they learn to eat pellets. This way, if the live food cultures ever die or if my neighbor doesn't like handling earthworms while I'm traveling, the fish can always eat pellets. Modern pellets like Doromin are quite nutritious and can add bulk to the fish and can even condition some Pikes to spawn.