Extract from ‘Ivan the Terrible’ by Max Pedley


Editor's Picks
Do I need an aquarium filter
Features Post
Do I need a filter for an aquarium?
07 February 2024
Features Post
How to set up an African biotope aquarium
01 February 2024
Fishkeeping News Post
AQUAH: A new UK aquatic and reptile show for 2024
17 January 2024
Practical Fishkeeping Readers' Poll 2023
Fishkeeping News Post
Readers' Poll 2023
07 August 2023
Foreword by Nathan Hill...

“Size for size,” I write in the standfirst, “it could be the most aggressive cichlid there is.” I’ve used this line before, to sum up the pint-sized pugilists that are the shell-dwelling Neolamprologus of Tanganyika. But their aggression is different. Theirs is a collective aggression towards intruders, whether that intruder is a hungry fish or a curious human diver. Theirs is the aggression of zealous bravery.

The case that Max Pedley makes for Ivanacara pertains to a capricious fish, at ‘American Psycho’ levels of cold, Machiavellian hostility. We should be repelled, shocked away from the idea of keeping the Devil himself in our tanks. Yet for their challenges, there is beauty. And where there is beauty, there will be a fan base, of which Max proudly volunteers to be the standard bearer. He doesn’t hide his enthusiasm for this volatile little fish. Rather, by the end of his feature, you might love Ivanacara too.


“I’ve never been so intrigued or captivated by fish quite as much as my Zebra acara, Ivanacara adoketa. When I peer into their tank, I see golden eyes set upon a face decorated like Apache warpaint. My fish appear to size me up in a way that is, for lack of a better description, almost intimidating. The prospect of keeping them is even more daunting, certainly to the first time keeper — this is a cichlid not without its challenges, but one I will always strive to maintain in my collection.

“Taxonomically, Ivanacara belongs to the tribe Cichlasomatini, containing all the true acaras and their related genera. Ivanacara itself is comprised of two species, with the second member being Ivanacara bimaculata, a very rarely seen species in the hobby, all the way from Guiana.

“Read about these fish in older literature and you may be surprised (or confused) to find them listed as Nannacara, a genus in which they previously resided.

“The type specimen was found in a tributary of the central Rio Negro, Brazil. Since then, other localities have been found along the Rio Preto and Rio Uaupés. More recently, a lesser-known and less researched variant from the Colombia/Brazil border has been turning up in imports, a fish showing beautiful crimson hues which may, in time, give rise to a third species of Ivanacara. Throughout the range, the biotope of the Zebra acara remains consistent; soft, acidic water, usually stained with tannins and rarely deeper than 40cm.

“Bear this in mind when setting up your aquarium. Unless you have very soft tap water, opt for R.O. The hardness should not exceed 3°H, with a lower value being ideal — especially for wild-caught individuals, who seem to sulk
in harder conditions. As for KH, a negligible reading will do just nicely.

“From my own experiences, neutral water up to 7.0pH will be okay, provided it is kept soft, but you won’t achieve the regal striped-pattern markings on the fish until the value drops below this. Anywhere between 4.5 and 6.0pH can be considered optimal.

Temperature is less important, 22°C to 27°C will suffice, though it makes sense to aim for the centre of the range…”

The full 1650-word article can be found in the January 2020 issue of Practical Fishkeeping, out on November 27, 2019. If you don't already, subscribe to our digital magazine HERE.