The Cichlidae family stands out as an extraordinary example of vertebrate evolution. From the sheer size of the family to the complexity of their ecological interactions and rapid evolution, cichlids provide a unique glimpse of the many factors that promote speciation. The behavioral and physical changes resulting from intense speciation in cichlids is equally impressive. Cichlids demonstrate some of the most unique and intensive parenting in fishes and utilize several different mating systems, from monogamy to polygynandry (See Reproduction). Many feeding behaviors found in cichlids are unique among freshwater fishes (See Behavior and Food Habits). Finally, although the general body plan of cichlids is constant, they come in a dazzling array of shapes, sizes, colors, and dental plans, making them popular with aquarists and aquaculturists (See Physical Description and Economic Importance to Humans).
There are no concrete figures on the number of genera and species in the Cichlidae family because there are still many revisions being made and a considerable number of species are yet to be described. Rough estimates range from 200 to 2000 species and approximately 140 genera, which, after Cyprinidae and Gobiidae, would make them the third largest family of bony fishes. The largest genus is the African Crenicichla with over 100 species. Cichlids inhabit fresh waters, and many species are endemic to isolated lake environments. The fact that no genera occur on more than one continent illustrates the degree of endemism in this family.
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