Book Review: Dwarf Cichlids

If you attended Jeff Cardwell’s presentation at the Ginger Beef House in Brentwood the night before the big April auction, you might have seen this book making the rounds during dinner. To say we got excited would be a serious understatement. We have been looking for a really good dwarf cichlid reference for several years. Sure, we have the first two Baensch atlases but the information they contain is very basic and pretty much useless when it comes to identifying any if the various Apistogramma. Seeing our excitement, our illustrious president decided to torment us and told us that the book was a donation from Tetra and would be auctioned off the next day. Sadly, it turned out to instead be Jeff’s personal copy. This story does have a happy ending, however: as it turns out, Birgit McKinnon had ordered a copy of this very book for our library so you might get a chance to read it too (when you pry it out of our cold, dead fingers!).

What do we like about this book? First, it’s current. This is the first completely revised edition, and the first English translation of the fourth German release. There is a lot of information here that has previously been unavailable outside of Germany. Second, the authors cover all known dwarf cichlids in detail. There are quite a few fish described here that we have never seen in any other reference. Finally, the presentation of the information is very nice. All photos are in color, the drawings are very well done, and the text is very readable although the translation is awkward at times.

The first 22 pages introduce the reader to South American dwarf cichlids in general terms, and provide a pleasantly non-technical introduction into classification, locales, and recommendations for keeping dwarf cichlids in an aquarium. The remainder of the 232 pages are devoted to detailed descriptions of the species. This is where the book really shines. Each species is described over several pages of text interspersed with at least one color photograph. Frequently, there are several photos showing both the male and the female in normal and breeding colors! This is extremely important: many female Apistogramma look almost identical, and most species show distinct and intense markings only during spawning which makes identification in a store quite difficult. Of course, apistos are not the only dwarf cichlids in the world. In all, eleven genera are described including the very popular blue or butterfly ram (Papiliochromis ramirezi) and the red ram (P. altispinosa).

The description of each species is broken up into six sections: an introduction which includes a map showing the distribution on the species; specific traits that can be used to identify a specimen, including a very nice drawing of the male of the species overlaid with red circles and arrows indicating the major distinguishing features or lack thereof; similar species which discusses species which are sometimes confused with the species being described, and describes the features that distinguish each of these other species; the natural habitat; care with the recommended water conditions, tank size, and decorations; and of course breeding.

We are delighted that our library contains such a comprehensive and beautiful book on our favorite fish. This is without a doubt the definitive reference on dwarf cichlids, and if Birgit makes us give it back, why, then we’ll just go out and buy a copy for ourselves. Actually, to be completely honest, we thought we should write this review to atone for keeping the book just a little bit longer than we should have. And now that the word is out…. look for Dwarf Cichlids at the next meeting. You’ll be impressed. ?