Cichlids from the African rift Lakes, Malawi and Tanganyika, are some of the most interesting and easy to keep family of fishes.

Aulonocara sp * Neolamprologus leleupi, Altolamprologus compressiceps Gold Head * Tropheus sp Red Moliro

They are highly coloured, come in various shapes and are some of the hardiest fish around.  African cichlids are excellent fish for those starting out and for the serious fish enthusiast alike.

I can remember the day I purchased my first, a Kenyi (M. lombardoi) female. It has been 20 years since that day and I am still enthralled by their beauty and interesting behavior. Over the years I have been lucky enough to keep and breed some of the most amazing species including direct imports from Lake Malawi.  The fish spoken about here are the species of fish we keep and breed in New Zealand presently.

Maylandia lombardoi * Mixed African cichlid aquarium * Maylandia lombardoi

All fish need a stable, healthy environment to thrive and cichlids are no different.

African cichlids need biologically clean, highly oxygenated water that is around 23 -25° Celsius. They require alkaline water, pH 7.2-8.6, and a Carbonate hardness (KH) value of around 11° which helps prevent wild pH swings.

It's important to have a mature filter which can cope with all the waste produced by a heavily stocked aquarium. All of our aquariums are filtered using the Hamburg Matten Filter (HMF) technique. We fill the area behind the HMF with crushed oyster grit. This buffers the water increasing the Carbonate hardness which is very important.

This filter uses the principles of nature to provide consistently clean and biologically pristine water with minimal cleaning (6 months to 2 years). I believe the success we have found in our 7,500 liter cichlid hatchery and all the aquariums we maintain is due to the HMF technique and Poret filter foam.

"Water quality comes first and everything else follows."

Lake Malawi is the southern most lake of the Rift Valley and is home to over a thousand species of cichlids.

When you stand on the water edge it feels like a sea rather than a lake. Lake Malawi experiences a seasonal movement of water from north to south. A southern wind known as the "Mwera" pushes cold water northward. This cold water piles up in the northern part of the Lake forcing warm water to the south. This effect is known locally as "Mafunda". This seasonal exchange ensures replenishment of nutrient rich water to all parts of the lake.

Cichlids from Lake Malawi are grouped together by the areas that they live. Some fish live in the very rocky shoreline in high concentrations. Others live in the open water areas where there are less rocks and more vegetation.

This video shows some of the different areas of Lake Malawi and the different fish that inhabit them.

Aulonocara hansbaenchi * Red Zebra Lodge, Malawi * Pseudotropheus demasoni

 Mbuna are a family of cichlids that are known as rock fish in the local language.

The areas of the lake they inhabit are made of large piles of rock, which provide plenty of habitat. This habitat accounts for the high density of fish in the lake. Sometimes up to 10-15 fish per square meter. Mbuna are sometimes thought of being highly aggressive which is not really correct. In fact it's not aggression, it's just territoriality. In nature the less dominant fish would move on to another area if it were chased by the dominant fish. 

The reason for high levels of territoriality comes from breeding and feeding instincts. Breeding instincts are self explanatory but the feeding behavior is very interesting. Beautiful fish like Pseudotropheus demasoni defend an area of auwfuchs, which is a collection of algae, small animals and detritus. These auwfuch gardens are very much like veggie patches.  They will energetically defend this area against all other fish. This explains why the demasoni cichlid is so crabby. These instincts do not diminish just because they are fed a pelleted food in an aquarium.

We always suggest stocking any African cichlid aquarium with lots of fish. We think of it this way, if you have a fish tank with two fish the dominant fish might chase the other fish a hundred times in a day. If there were six fish in that aquarium the 5 less dominant fish might get chased twenty times in a day. 100 is a way scarier number than 20. If there is plenty of rockwork and lots of fish, it is very easy for the fish being chased to get lost in the masses. It is important to make sure that your filtration system can handle a large number of fish.

Check out the video  belowshowing one of our showtanks filtered with 2 sheets of Poret filter foam.

One way we regulate aggression is by keeping the tanks at a cooler temperature of 25⁰C / 77⁰F in Summer and 23⁰C / 73.5⁰F in Winter.

The other way of minimising aggression is to keep your fish well fed. We feed mostly Norill ( Nori and Krill) which has the benefit of keeping the fishes bellies full without polluting the tank. This is because of the large amount of green matter in this food.

More often than not people feed their fish a Macdonald`s diet (high protein fish food),much of the available protein is not processed by the fish and just ends up being converted into Nitrates.

Open water Haplochromines (Haps) or Utaka (local name) are a group of cichlids which inhabit the open water areas.

Copadichromis azureus * Open water area of lake Malawi * Crytocara moorii

They are usually found in deeper water, where there are fewer rocks, cruising for food. Food includes everything from zooplankton to smaller fishes but they will also sift through sand looking for invertebrates. This is especially true for the Crytocara Moorii, small groups of these fish follow large sand sifting cichlids looking for morsels in the dust cloud that follows in their wake. Males of Haplochromines build their large breeding nests on the sandy bottom.

Their tendency to predate should always be considered when housing with smaller species and aquariums with juvenile fish. Haps start out with a drab silvery colouring as juveniles.  The colouring is usually darker on top and lighter below, making them harder to see from above and below. This is a camouflage technique to prevent predation in the early stages of their life when they are most vulnerable.

Sciaenochromis fryeri * Protomelas sp. "Steveni Taiwan" * Otopharynx lithobates

Similar to Aulonocara some open water Haplochromines only begin to show colour once maturity starts. They might be slow to start but Haplochromines are some of the most magnificent fish around. Hap`s are also some of the larger fish from Malawi which are able to be kept in an aquarium. Consideration of the fishes temperament and eventual size should be considered when choosing tank mates and aquarium size.

The group of fishes known as Aulonocara, or Peacocks inhabit the rocky areas of Lake Malawi.

Aulonocara stuartgranti sp. Chilumba * Aulonocara sp OB * Aulonocara stuartgranti maleri

Similar to birds, the Peacock male sports beautiful colouration while the females have a somewhat drabber colouring. They have large pores around the mouth area and an enlarged lateral line to detect sand dwelling invertebrates. To provide habitat enrichment we make sure that their aquarium has a sandy bottom. They will be seen constantly punching their nose into the sand searching for food. Blackworms are a favorite food of theirs and their diet should be made up with lots of food with a higher protein value than what you would feed Mbuna.

Auloncara sp OB * All male peacock aquarium * Aulonocara hansbaenchi

Considering females of different species are similar in appearance. Hybridization of Peacocks is a regular occurrence in the aquarium and steps must be taken to ensure the purity of the species. The all male Peacock/Hap aquarium has become very popular of late. These tanks need to be as large as possible with a sizable footprint and a filtration system to cope. Certain species of peacock maintain their great looks even if they are not the dominant fish in the tank. These are the fish that should be added last in the hierarchy.

Lake Tanganyika is the largest lake in the Rift Valley system and is home to over 250 species of cichlids.

Altolamprologus calvus Black * Tropheus sp Red Moliro * Neolamprologus leleupi

One of the coolest things about Tanganyikan (Tangs) fish is the large variety of different body types and shapes which reminds me of a marine environment. The habitat they live in is very stable and this needs to recreated in the aquarium with no large fluctuations in conditions and no pollutants. We have found the Tangs to be very sensitive to chlorine in tap water. The pH range should be 7.4-8.5 with a temperature range of 23-28° Celsius. It's important to cater for different dietary requirements when housing different types of cichlids. Some are highly predatory and others are herbivores (vegetarian).

Neolamprologus brichardi * Tang Tank * Altolamprologus compressiceps Gold Head

Lamprologini includes the genuses Altolamprologus, Julidachromis, and Neolamprologus. Aquariums to house these type of fish should have plenty of rock work. They are mostly cave spawners and will stake out a defined territory and actively defend it.

A successful technique in hardscaping (tank decor) is to place piles of rocks within a sandy substrate, the Lamprologini will excavate and make it their home very efficiently. This feels  better than spending time creating cave systems only to have them undermined by your fish.  It is important to allow plenty of territory for each species of fish to feel comfortable.

 Neolamprologus leleupi * Synodontis mulitpunctatus * Tropheus sp red Moliro

Due to their  beautiful colouring and interesting social behavior they have become a favorite of mine and the rest of the aquatic world. Always make sure that the smaller females have a bolt hole or cave that the males cannot enter. This will ensure the female is not harried to death by an over enthusiastic male.

To ensure success, provide the best water quality and a level of habitat enrichment e.g algae covered rocks. We suggest regular water changes with minimal water temperature difference and absolutely no chlorine or chloramine. Another suggestion is to have plenty of extra air. Whatever you think is sufficient, double it. You will not regret this when there is an ammonia spike or temperature rise.

Altolamprolgus calvus Black * Julidochromis marlieri * Neolamprologus brichardi

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