Lake Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi Cichlids

There are over 1000 different species of cichlids in Lake Malawi, and many fish stores have a large selection of these in stock. Lake Malawi cichlids for aquariums include fairly common species, but also rarer, and even new species, which are currently undescribed to science.

Malawi cichlids are largely divided into two main groups, the Utaka (‘yoo-tarka’) and the Mbuna (‘ma-boona’).

All of these fish are maternal mouthbrooders, meaning the female keeps the eggs and baby fish in her mouth for about 25 days, until they are large enough to fend for themselves; during this time, she usually does not feed.

What conditions do they need?

Malawi cichlids must be housed in their own tank, they cannot be housed with tropical fish. These fish need hard, alkaline water with a pH of around 8.2. This is easily accomplished by decorating the tank with coral sand and Calcareous Tuff, and adding buffers such as Proper pH 8.2, and Lake Malawi and Tanganyika Buffer Salt.

They are not tolerant of pollution, so it is necessary to test the water regularly for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate; weekly 25% water changes and a good filtration system will keep contamination levels low.

While most of the fish in our tanks are small, most Malawi adults are around 10cm long, but some can exceed 30cm. Rock-dwelling species are extremely aggressive and must be kept in ‘controlled crowding’ conditions to prevent territorial disputes from ending fatally.

Keeping too few fish in an aquarium will often result in fish being killed! A tank size of 90 x 30 x 30 cm is the absolute minimum required for these cichlids; additional filtration may also be required.

What are the Utaka?

The Utaka include species from a wide variety of different genera, such as Copadichromis, Protomelas, Scieanochromis, Aulonocara, Placidochromis, and Cyrtocara, to name just a few. Utaka live pelagically, that is, they are more predominant in areas of open water, rather than being associated with rocks.

While most juvenile Utaka are dull and uninspiring in appearance, the coloration of the adults is exceptional! Many species take several years to develop their full adult coloration, so the higher price for adults reflects the costs that have gone into raising the fish to adulthood.

Much less aggressive than Mbuna, and problems can arise if these peaceful fish are kept with more boisterous Mbuna, particularly in smaller tanks. If these fish are kept in the tank without Mbuna, controlled overcrowding is not usually required.

What are Mbuna?

Mbuna are the brightly colored rock-dwelling fish and are by far the most popular group of cichlids. Unlike Utaka, which sometimes take years to develop their colorful adult coloration, Mbuna are often brightly colored from a very small size.

They are very aggressive and the tank should be stocked with large amounts of tuff rock and plenty of fish to prevent territories from forming. A 90 cm x 30 cm x 36 cm (36″ x 12″ x 15″) tank, for example, should contain no fewer than 15 adult Mbuna. Most species grow to around 10 cm.

Some species of Mbuna undergo dramatic color changes, and the sexes can look quite different from each other. Most species can be sexed without too much difficulty. Males have yellow spots on the anal fin, called anal occeli.

The female mistakes them for eggs during spawning and they allow fertilization of the eggs inside her mouth. Some females have these ‘egg spots’ on their anal fins, but lack the opaque ring around them as seen in males.

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