Cichlidae Lake Malawi species

There are reckoned to be more than 200 species living in this lake, almost all endemic. The habitat consists of rocky zones with hiding places and shelters, surrounded by clear, shallow, and well-lit water. The Cichlids feed on the algae encrusting the rocks - practically the only vegetation present. These fish require a fairly large tank (200-300 liters minimum for small species, 400-500 liters for the largest) fitted with a powerful filtration system. Rocks will form the main decor, but ensure the arrangement is stable, otherwise the more boisterous specimens will dislodge it. The water must be distinctly alkaline, with a minimum pH of 7.5 - even 8 and over - and fairly hard: 5.6-8.4° GH (100-150 ppm). Cichlids are very fond of live or fresh prey, but they will accept granulated artificial foods. Most species are mouthbrooders. Until the last few years, a certain number of species were grouped within the genus Haplochromis. Scientists have now redistributed these across a variety of genera; however, the term "hap" (i.e. Haplochromine) is still commonly used as a catch-all designation for these endemic, mouth-brooding Cichlids.


The Nyassa peacock is only aggressive towards conspecifics and until a hierarchy establishes itself among the males. It requires a tank large enough for unrestricted swimming, with rockwork and a sandy substrate. After laying her eggs on a stone, the female incubates them in her mouth, where even free-swimming fry will retreat if threatened. There are several varieties of A. nyassae, some of which could well be different species. Size: 12 cm.


On reaching 1-2 cm, fry of this species join groups controlled by a dominant male. The female incubates 30-50 eggs in her mouth for around 3 weeks.


• Cyrtocara moorii

The adults of the blue lumphead have a bulging forehead, more prominent in the males. Rather timid, C. moorii seeks out sandy areas of the lake bed with rocks to demarcate its territory The female incubates the eggs in her mouth for 3 weeks. Size: 20 cm.


Sciaenochromis ahli •

A rather shy and timid "hap"; the male is blue, the female grayish with dark transverse stripes. Size: 12-15 cm.


Sometimes confused with Sciaenochromis ahli, this species is actually larger. Juveniles have two dark patches which usually disappear in adulthood. Size: 18-20 cm.

• Dimidiochromis compressiceps

The long, flat head and slim, elongate body characterize the Malawian eye-biter, whose name derives from its reputation for devouring the eyes of other fish. It swims with head tilted slightly downwards ready to seize its prey. A typical habitat would be a sandy bed with plantations of Vallisneria. Size: 15-20 cm.

• Nimbochromis livingstonii

The Livingstone's mbuna is somewhat pugnacious and bullies smaller species. The dominant male takes on a blue, metallic coloration, while the females -who incubate their eggs for 3 weeks - exhibit brown spots on a light background. Size: 20 cm.

• Nimbochromis linni

The elephant-nose polystigma, or Linn's haplochromis, a native of Pacific waters, is easily confused with a closely related species, N. polystigma (English name: the polystigma) but has a downward-tilted mouth. The female incubates up to 300 eggs for 3 weeks; the fry are free-swimming when they reach 1 cm. Size: 20 cm.


The Latin name of the genus Nimbochromis refers to distinctive patches of dark coloration on the body. The dominant male of the venustus has a yellow body and blue head. The preferred habitat is a sandy area with beds of Vallisneria.

FRESHWATER FISH Protomelasannectens

A shy and timid species. The male of the annectens prepares a burrow in the sand for the female's eggs, which he then fertilizes. She incubates them in her mouth for 2-3 weeks; the fry emerge from their refuge when 7-8 mm in size. Size: 15 cm.


The dark stripe extending longitudinally from the gillcover to the tail of the red empress can lead to confusion with P. annectens. Size: 15-20 cm.


This species (deepwater hap)

feeds on tiny particles which it extracts from the substrate by filtering it with its mouth. The eggs are laid in a burrow dug into the sand, with the female incubating them for 8 days in her mouth. The fry leave their refuge after 2 weeks. Size: 15-20 cm. •

Under the general name of Mbunas are grouped the genera Pseudotropheus, Labeotropheus, and Melanochromis, which display certain behavioral similarities. They are active fish, lively and quarrelsome, especially at spawning time or when defending territory: in the local African dialect M'buna means "stone-striker." In most cases, it is advisable to segregate them in a species aquarium and not to mix larger with smaller specimens. Mbunas are hardy, but sensitive to any reduction in oxygen level.

Breeding can take place in the community tank. The (polygamous) males are distinguishable by their coloration from the females, which incubate the eggs in their mouths for some 3 weeks. Mbunas are difficult to categorize owing to variations in color among local populations and to the more or less regular stream of new commercial imports.


Fuellebom's cichlid can be recognized by its curious parrot-beak snout. It requires supplements of vegetable material. There are several varieties or subspecies found in different parts of Lake Malawi. Size: 10-15 cm.


The Trewavas Malawi cichlid -

yellowside variety. L. trewavasae has a slimmer body than L. fuelleborni and will defend its territory vigorously. Its diet is essentially herbivorous, but it will also accept small crustaceans. Size: 8-10 cm.


The Malawi golden cichlid is the most belligerent of all Mbuna species, especially in the case of the dominant male. The female deposits her eggs in an out-of-sight nest while the male keeps guard; he is recognizable by two dark horizontal stripes on a light background, a patterning reversed in the female. Size: 8 cm.


Melanochromis johannii •

Is very agressive - even the females attack each other. This fish readily accepts vegetable supplements. The male is dark with horizontal stripes, the female golden yellow. Size: 8-10 cm.


A territorial and highly hierarchical species. The female chameleon cichlid lays her eggs on a flat stone, then retires to a quiet place to incubate them. Size: 8-10 cm.


The slender Mbuna has a more streamlined body than other Pseudotropheus species. The basic coloration is blue, but details vary extensively; the male has eye-spots {ocelli) on the anal fin. Size: 12 cm.

Pseudotropheus zebra

The Malawi blue cichlid was one of the first Mbunas known to aquarists. Its diet is mainly herbivorous. There are several color morphs f P. zebra (blue or orange, for instance); some may in fact be closely related species. Size: 12-15 cm.

Pseudotropheus tropheops

The tropheops is one of the largest Mbunas and can measure up to 18 cm. The male displays a violet-brown coloration; the female is dark yellow. Supplements of vegetable material are desirable. •


The male kennyi is golden yellow, the female blue, with black transverse bands; unlike other Mbunas; juveniles assume these colorations on reaching 3-4 cm. The female retires to a quiet area of the tank to incubate her eggs. Size: 13-15 cm.

Pseudotropheus socolofi•

Unlike other species in this group, the male and female cobalt blue cichlid are scarcely distinguishable. This Mbuna is aggressive and defends its territory ferociously. It appreciates supplements of vegetable material. Size: 13 cm.

Cichlidae: other African species

Besides the Cichlids of Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, a few more interesting species are found in other, lesser-known lakes, and in certain rivers in East and West Africa.


The kribensis is a native of Nigeria; it thrives in hard, even brackish waters with abundant vegetation. The female lays 200-300 eggs in a cave, tending them while the male defends the site, though he is less aggressive than other Cichlids. The fry are free-swimming 1 week after hatching. Size: 10 cm. •


Burton's mouthbrooder is a species encountered in th and East African lakes. It i more or less tranquil, but becomes territorial during spawning. The female lays her eggs in a hollow dug into the substrate and then incubc them in her mouth for 2 ' in a secluded part of the Size: 10-15 cm. •

Hemichromis bimaculatus

Several related species are sold under the name of crown-jewel cichlid, the feral varieties having a more marked red coloration. The male will defend its territory vigorously; the female lays up tc 500 eggs on a suitable surface, with the fry swimming within a week. Size: 10 cm. •


An algae- and plankton-eater in the wild, the Nile mouthbrooder becomes omnivorous in captivity. It grows fairly rapidly, and is very hardy: it can withstand a temperature range of 13-33°C and also survive in salt water after careful and progressive acclimatization.

Originally from the Nile, Chad, and Senegal, it has been introduced into practically the whole of tropical Africa, including Lake Victoria. Fishing for this species provides an important local source of food, but the largest specimens (often destined for smoking) are becoming rarer since the introduction of a voracious predator, the Nile perch or Lates niloti-cus. This fish, which can exceed 1 m and weigh more than 100 kg, is a notorious example of bad practice: importing a non-native species without proper precautions. However, the population levels of small Cichlids in Lake Victoria do not seem to have been affected.

O. niloticus has also been introduced into many of the world's tropical regions, where it is raised on a large scale to improve food resources. At the moment it is not in great favor with hobbyists. Size: 30-50 cm.


The Mozambique mouthbrooder has been introduced into several tropical regions of the world. A large female can incubate several hundred eggs in her mouth for 3-4 weeks. The adults acclimatize well to seawater; the fry can withstand a progressive increase in salinity over 4-6 weeks from the time they are 1 cm long and are consequently useful for feeding as live prey, especially to marine species. Size: 50 cm.



The tiger tilapia can be extremely aggressive when defending its territory. The female lays up to 400 eggs on a suitable surface and then keeps guard until they hatch 2 days later. Size: 20 cm.


The dwarf Egyptian mouthbrooder Is a small Cichlid dwelling in the Nile and Lake Victoria which will defend its territory against larger species. The female lays up to 100 eggs in a depression hollowed out of the sand and then incubates them in her mouth for around 10 days. Size: 8 cm. •

• Tilapia buttikoferi

The female hornet tetra lays 200-400 eggs on a stone. The parents become very aggressive, defending both eggs and fry. Extra vegetable material should be added to the diet. Size: 30 cm.


The bellicose lionhead cichlid or African blockhead has its home in fast-flowing, turbid waters. The characteristic protuberance on its forehead is larger in the male. The female lays 100-200 eggs in a hollow, which both parents will guard. Size: 10 cm.


Very few in number; in fact, the hobbyist is likely to come across only two species.

Etroplus suratensis •

In view of its size, the banded chromide requires a good-sized tank. It does best in hard, brackish water. Size: 20-30 cm.


The orange chromide also likes hard, brackish waters with abundant vegetation. A tranquil species which spawns quite prolifically, with the female laying 300 eggs on a suitable support. The newly hatched fry are then carried to a hollow dug out of the sand. There is also an all-gold variety of this species. Size: 8-10 cm.

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