Can't keep Labidochromis chismulae (clown labs) alive

amrdjen

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I can't keep Labidochromis chismulae alive in an otherwise healthy aquarium (specs below). This is after 3 attempts involving stock from 3 different suppliers over the past 9 months. Most recently, I had a colony of 10 clown labs consisting of 2 males and 8 females ranging in size from 1.75-2” when I purchased them. They appeared to acclimate quickly; there was very little conspecific aggression (the males had established territories on opposite sides of the tank), and at least one female became pregnant. But, as the case was with previous attempts, they flourished for 2 months and then, over the course of 1-2 weeks, one-by-one began to hide, refuse food, become lethargic (I’m not sure about the order in which these events occurred), and ultimately die inside or around pieces of holey rock. I removed the deceased fish within one day. I couldn’t tell whether any of the remaining clown labs ingested part of them beforehand. Now, 2 of the 5 clown labs I have left are exhibiting these same behaviors, one of which appears to be breathing quickly.

It does not appear that the clown labs have transmitted a condition of any kind to my other fish (list below). In fact, all of my other fish are thriving.

There are no obvious incompatibility issues. The clown labs were/are not being harassed by their tank mates. My fish are not behaving aggressively between or within groups … not even the fuellebornis.

If we rule out issues with (1) water quality (parameters below; everyone else in the tank is doing fine), (2) supplier/stock/size (I would be somewhat surprised if all three suppliers sent me clown labs with underlying disease; clown labs were added to similarly sized fish), and (3) stress or injury due to aggression (I have a peaceful tank as mbuna go; I stocked it in terms of numbers and ratios with that goal in mind), what does that leave? What am I doing wrong?

One thing that comes to mind is diet. My understanding is that clown labs are carnivores; they eat mollusks and insects in the wild, but their diet can be supplemented with vegetable based protein in the aquarium environment. So, I have been feeding Hikari cichlid gold medium pellets and small sinking pellets along with spirulina flake twice daily for approx. 1 minute each time. None of the clown labs that died showed signs of bloat. In fact, they appeared to shrink in size overall. I thought they might be starving, but then logic kicked in … we all know that underfeeding is rarely the problem. So, today, I bought some daphnia, mysis shrimp, and a coral feeder (long turkey baster). My plan is to custom feed the remaining clown labs and hope those who are healthy remain healthy, and that the ones who appear ill might rebound.

After 18 years of keeping African cichlids, I feel terrible about any fish that dies. I get it … at the first sign of trouble, remove fish to hospital tank and treat. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t do that. In this case, I suspect it wouldn’t necessarily provide a long term solution. I would very much appreciate any insights and suggestions. I have a real affinity for clown labs and want to keep them in my tank.

75g
2 HOB filters and powerhead = 1,060 GPH, water changes of 15-20% every two weeks

Temp 78 F
pH 8.0
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate <5ppm
KH 240
GH 180
(I use )

6 Acei
6 OB Feulleborni
6 Rusties
6 Yellow labs
(Each group has 2 males and 4 females; mostly older juveniles who grew up together and were introduced at the same time mixed with a few adults)
 

Momgoose56

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amrdjen said:
I can't keep Labidochromis chismulae alive in an otherwise healthy aquarium (specs below). This is after 3 attempts involving stock from 3 different suppliers over the past 9 months. Most recently, I had a colony of 10 clown labs consisting of 2 males and 8 females ranging in size from 1.75-2” when I purchased them. They appeared to acclimate quickly; there was very little conspecific aggression (the males had established territories on opposite sides of the tank), and at least one female became pregnant. But, as the case was with previous attempts, they flourished for 2 months and then, over the course of 1-2 weeks, one-by-one began to hide, refuse food, become lethargic (I’m not sure about the order in which these events occurred), and ultimately die inside or around pieces of holey rock. I removed the deceased fish within one day. I couldn’t tell whether any of the remaining clown labs ingested part of them beforehand. Now, 2 of the 5 clown labs I have left are exhibiting these same behaviors, one of which appears to be breathing quickly.

It does not appear that the clown labs have transmitted a condition of any kind to my other fish (list below). In fact, all of my other fish are thriving.

There are no obvious incompatibility issues. The clown labs were/are not being harassed by their tank mates. My fish are not behaving aggressively between or within groups … not even the fuellebornis.

If we rule out issues with (1) water quality (parameters below; everyone else in the tank is doing fine), (2) supplier/stock/size (I would be somewhat surprised if all three suppliers sent me clown labs with underlying disease; clown labs were added to similarly sized fish), and (3) stress or injury due to aggression (I have a peaceful tank as mbuna go; I stocked it in terms of numbers and ratios with that goal in mind), what does that leave? What am I doing wrong?

One thing that comes to mind is diet. My understanding is that clown labs are carnivores; they eat mollusks and insects in the wild, but their diet can be supplemented with vegetable based protein in the aquarium environment. So, I have been feeding Hikari cichlid gold medium pellets and small sinking pellets along with spirulina flake twice daily for approx. 1 minute each time. None of the clown labs that died showed signs of bloat. In fact, they appeared to shrink in size overall. I thought they might be starving, but then logic kicked in … we all know that underfeeding is rarely the problem. So, today, I bought some daphnia, mysis shrimp, and a coral feeder (long turkey baster). My plan is to custom feed the remaining clown labs and hope those who are healthy remain healthy, and that the ones who appear ill might rebound.

After 18 years of keeping African cichlids, I feel terrible about any fish that dies. I get it … at the first sign of trouble, remove fish to hospital tank and treat. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t do that. In this case, I suspect it wouldn’t necessarily provide a long term solution. I would very much appreciate any insights and suggestions. I have a real affinity for clown labs and want to keep them in my tank.

75g
2 HOB filters and powerhead = 1,060 GPH, water changes of 15-20% every two weeks

Temp 78 F
pH 8.0
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate <5ppm
KH 240
GH 180
(I use )

6 Acei
6 OB Feulleborni
6 Rusties
6 Yellow labs
(Each group has 2 males and 4 females; mostly older juveniles who grew up together and were introduced at the same time mixed with a few adults)
I would get rid of the "Rift Lake Buffer Recipe" and try just using your tap water. Most cichlids (esp. Labidochromis) are bred in captivity and very few large scale breeders augment their water unless their water is very soft or acidic. You are adding salts, minerals and have a calcium carbonate source in your water. I'm guessing they are not tolerating the salt levels (NaCl) you are adding. You never said what your tap parameters are.
 
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amrdjen

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Momgoose56 said:
I would get rid of the "Rift Lake Buffer Recipe" and try just using your tap water. Most cichlids (esp. Labidochromis) are bred in captivity and very few large scale breeders augment their water unless their water is very soft or acidic. You are adding salts, minerals and have a calcium carbonate source in your water. I'm guessing they are not tolerating the salt levels (NaCl) you are adding. You never said what your tap parameters are.
Thanks so much for your reply and suggestion. I will try without the salt. I hadn't thought about that, and maybe the clown labs are particularly sensitive to it. My tap water is hard and alkaline, but pH is < 7.8 (assuming I test it correctly)? I began adding baking soda with partial water changes years ago to raise the pH, which had been dropping between water changes, and then came the epsom and aquarium salt. BUT all of that was before the clown labs were in the picture ... Cheers
 

Momgoose56

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amrdjen said:
Thanks so much for your reply and suggestion. I will try without the salt. I hadn't thought about that, and maybe the clown labs are particularly sensitive to it. My tap water is hard and alkaline, but pH is < 7.8 (assuming I test it correctly)? I began adding baking soda with partial water changes years ago to raise the pH, which had been dropping between water changes, and then came the epsom and aquarium salt. BUT all of that was before the clown labs were in the picture ... Cheers
A pH of 7.2-8.2 is perfect for African Cichlids as long as it doesn't fluctuate wildly. If your pH in your tank is dropping more than 1/2 point between water changes you might try 1. Increasing volume of weekly watet changes 2. Increasing frequency of water changes to 2 a week or a water change every 4-5 days, or 3. try crushed coral-1 cup per 30 gallons actual tank volume-rinsed in mesh media bag and placed directly in your HOB overflow chamber or in canister basket. Crushed Coral (calcium carbonate) will slowly stabilize your pH to between 7.6 and 8.0 based on what your KH is. Crushed Coral is MUCH better at creating a stable pH than other liquid or powdered manufactured buffers because it works continuously, is inexpensive, and only needs to be replace if it completely dissolves or becomes so gunked up that it quits working (rinse and grind it together in drained tank water during water changes to keep coral grit surfaces clear of slime buildup).
 
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amrdjen

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Momgoose56 said:
A pH of 7.2-8.2 is perfect for African Cichlids as long as it doesn't fluctuate wildly. If your pH in your tank is dropping more than 1/2 point between water changes you might try 1. Increasing volume of weekly watet changes 2. Increasing frequency of water changes to 2 a week or a water change every 4-5 days, or 3. try crushed coral-1 cup per 30 gallons actual tank volume-rinsed in mesh media bag and placed directly in your HOB overflow chamber or in canister basket. Crushed Coral (calcium carbonate) will slowly stabilize your pH to between 7.6 and 8.0 based on what your KH is. Crushed Coral is MUCH better at creating a stable pH than other liquid or powdered manufactured buffers because it works continuously, is inexpensive, and only needs to be replace if it completely dissolves or becomes so gunked up that it quits working (rinse and grind it together in drained tank water during water changes to keep coral grit surfaces clear of slime buildup).
This is excellent, thank you. If you don't mind me picking your brain again, I think you mean to increase the volume or frequency of water changes if the tank becomes lower in pH than my tap water, and to use crushed coral instead of buffer recipe if tap water is not hard or alkaline enough to keep pH from dropping. Do I have that right? P.S.
Tap: GH = 60, KH = 80, pH 7.5 based on API 5 in 1 test strips ... I'm sure these are not the best available.
Tank after first water change without the buffer I had been using: GH = 180 (this is as high as the strip goes; I wonder if GH is actually higher given all the remaining aquarium salt), KH = 180, pH = 8
 

Momgoose56

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amrdjen said:
This is excellent, thank you. If you don't mind me picking your brain again, I think you mean to increase the volume or frequency of water changes if the tank becomes lower in pH than my tap water, and to use crushed coral instead of buffer recipe if tap water is not hard or alkaline enough to keep pH from dropping. Do I have that right? P.S.
Tap: GH = 60, KH = 80, pH 7.5 based on API 5 in 1 test strips ... I'm sure these are not the best available.
Tank after first water change without the buffer I had been using: GH = 180 (this is as high as the strip goes; I wonder if GH is actually higher given all the remaining aquarium salt), KH = 180, pH = 8
Start with a 75-80% water change. Then just quit using the buffer you've been using. I really don't think you need it. A KH of 60 with regular weekly water changes of 50% or more should keep your pH at 7.6 to 7.8. That pH is fine for Cichlids. If it drops below 7.6 in a week, add the crushed coral. Crushed coral will not raise your GH significantly. I also recommend getting a good liquid test kit like the API Master test kit and tthe API GH/KH test kit. They are both more accurate/reliable AND less expensive per test than any strips (in the US). Kh us carbonate hardness of your water and will affect your pH. Gh is the general hardness (dissolved solids) of water and has no effect on your pH. I really think you just need to do bigger water changes every week based on your most recent test resukts after a water change.
 

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