2 Jul 2012

Why keep Malawi Cichlids?

Malawi Cichlids are a great fish for aquarists of any skill. They are entertaining, colourful, hardy and fun. Yes: fun!

“How can fish be fun?”, some of you may be thinking. Many think the same before they take the plunge and become hooked. These fish fight, dig and change moods frequently, and they all have different personalities. This provides hours of entertainment for us, who can get lost in the little territory clashes between the colourful males.

This is the main thing that sets Malawis apart from a normal tropical community tank. The character. The tank is not just an ornament. It is a living, breathing and entertaining addition to any room, with the fish adding colour and character to any tank.

Malawi Cichlids can be split up into three types. I shall list them below.


Mbuna (pronounced um-boo-nah) are one of the three groups endemic to Lake Malawi. It translates to "rock dweller" in the native language of the Tonga people. It’s no surprise that these fish spend most of their time within the rocks as opposed to open water, and males will use rockwork as part of their territory. These fish use territory for domination. Domination means the two main things to these fish: rights to breeding, and a good supply of food. In the wild, mbuna will mainly feed on aufwuchs on the rocks, which includes mostly algae and small invertebrates. Feeding in an aquarium should reflect this vegetable-based diet. They are mouthbrooders, meaning that the females will care for fry in their mouths.

They can be divided into the following species: Cyathochromis; Cynotilapia; Genyochromis; Gephyrochromis; Iodotropheus; Labeotropheus; Labidochromis; Melanochromis; Metriaclima; Petrotilapia; Pseudotropheus; and Tropheops.

Mbuna are often considered the most entertaining, due to their unparalleled aggression and intense character. They are the smallest of the three. Another reason for their popularity: they can be kept in smaller (minimum 4 foot) tanks compared to their larger counterparts. As with the others, these are extremely colourful fish. Their competitiveness amongst their territories within the rock can alter their behaviour and colours instantaneously, giving you a d
azzling array of bright colours darting in and out of the rockwork.

ee this link for ideal mbuna for the starter fishkeeper.


Haplochromis (known as Haps) species from Lake Malawi are commonly divided into three major groups: Utaka, Predatory Haps and Other Haps.

In Lake Malawi the Utaka cichlids inhabit open water regions within a relatively short distance from the cliffs. They live in schools, feeding on zooplankton, using their protruding-shaped mouths to efficiently gather the plankton up. They are relatively peaceful and can be kept in stunningly large groups in aquariums, alongside the more docile mbuna species.

Haps’ requirements are different to mbuna’s. Ideally, tanks should be higher, with less rockwork and more areas of open water for the schools to swim around in. A varied diet, with a bigger emphasis on protein than mbuna (although still restricted) is recommended. All Utaka species are mouthbreeders, but their breeding habits vary a lot.

The second group consists of the Predatory Haps. These are usually large and can prey on other Malawi cichlids. In the Lake, these are not confined to any area, as they visit varying environments in their search for prey. These require a large aquarium: males will fight continuously whereas females can be kept together harmoniously. Needless to say, smaller fish should not be kept with Predatory Haps, as they will probably be eaten.

Lastly, the ‘Other’ Haps, consists of everything else and is therefore large and diverse. It includes herbivore fish as well as Haps that are actually Predatory. They will accept pellets and other Cichlid foods, but it is recommended that you vary and supplement this diet with some foods that will mimic their natural diet.

A large aquarium is necessary for most Hap species. To avoid disappointment or death, research specific Haps for individual requirements before adding them to your tank.

The advantages of Haps are that they can be more active; they are less shy and tend not to hide as much as mbuna; their diet is less temperamental, so they’re less susceptible to dietary diseases; they are strong in colour; they grow large and are hardy; and adults are usually cheap as many aim to sell on adults when they have out-grown smaller tanks.


Peacock males are probably the owners of the most vivid array of dazzling, iridescent colours in the whole Cichlid world.

The Peacocks of Lake Malawi consist of fish from the genus Aulonocara. These live is deep, dark water, usually found on the sandy bottom of the lake, feeding on mostly insects and other sand-dwelling invertebrates. Sifting through the sand, they search out these foods. In the aquarium, they will eat most commercial foods for Malawi Cichlids, but a larger source of protein is required compared to their mbuna counterparts. Unlike these rock-dwellers, Peacocks have a mild temperament and are very undemanding.

When setting up a Peacock tank, you should consider their natural habitat, as you would with Haps and mbuna. Sand should be the substrate; fine sand, as they will sift through it. As with Haps, open spaces and beds of sand will be needed for open swimming and breeding areas.

The amazing colouration and relative peacefulness of these Malawi Cichlids are the main attractions to these fish. These can make great all-male tanks, although without the females, they may take a little longer to colour-u

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