By Sameer Gudhate

Lake Malawi was formed 1–2 million years ago. The ninth-largest lake in the world, a geologically young, rocky lake of the East African Rift is about 60 km long and 85 km wide. The lake is surrounded by Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. This lake is ruled by cichlids, most of which are endemic to the lake. Over 280 cichlid species have been termed, although estimations of up to 500 cichlid species have been made. The largest group of Cichlids found in this lake is the Haplochromines with over 120 species and 48 genera. Among the Haplochromines, are the Peacock Cichlids of the genus Aulonocara; the Mbuna, a large group, including the genera, Cynotilapia, Labeotropheus, Labidochromis, Melanochromis, and Pseudotropheus; and the larger piscivores of the genera Cyrtocara, Nimbochromis, and Sciaenochromis.

Lake Malawi Cichlids are among the most colourful, active, and hardy freshwater fish in the aquarium hobby. Their colours resemble those of many saltwater fish, and their elaborate mating and brood care behaviour are fascinating to watch. If you’re looking for brightly coloured freshwater fish with loads of personality, Lake Malawi Cichlid is the one for you!


An aquarium of minimum 300 litres is what is recommended when looking to house a mixed community of Mbuna rock dwellers, Peacock cichlids, and other medium-sized species. A tank for African cichlids should be at least 4 feet long, preferably bigger. The bigger the better! Make sure that there is no leakage in a tank made on order as getting out all the material would be a painful job. As most African cichlids are territorial, the aquarium should have a large bottom area relative to its volume.


Live plants are not part of a Malawi cichlid display and the fish prefer more subdued light, making standard aquarium lighting more than adequate. Colour enhancing bulbs can help accent the natural colours but are not essential. Fluorescent or LED lighting can be used; however, LED is preferred because it won’t add extra, unwanted heat to the aquarium. And consider more intense lighting to highlight Cichlid’s intense colours.


Standard aquarium sand or gravel can be used, but crushed coral, coral sand or crushed oyster shell will help maintain the proper pH and alkalinity to support good health and colour in your African cichlids. A 1–2 inches bed is best, as many species love to dig! Marine substrates will give a marine look to the tank as well as buffering the water.


The Malawi cichlid aquarium should have plenty of rockwork, caves, and other hiding places to create the needed territories. Limestone and dolomite rock will help maintain proper water chemistry, but virtually any rock or artificial décor is suitable. Avoid using driftwood, as it may cause an undesirable lowering of pH and alkalinity.

When decorating your aquarium, position rocks directly at the aquarium bottom and add substrate around them to prevent stacked rocks from tumbling and damaging the tank if your cichlids burrow under lower ones. Add enough rockwork and another décor for the first few fish but leave room to add more as you add new fish.


This is the most important factor. Most African cichlids do best at temperatures between 74° and 80°F (23°C–27°C), which is easily attainable in India. In winter, as the temperature goes down, there could be a need of a heater. Large African cichlids can be rough on heaters, so it’s best to use plastic-coated ceramic or stainless steel models as opposed to glass to avoid breakage and a potential electrical hazard.

Perform a water test every week. When the nitrate and pH levels are appropriate for your fish, you can go to a fish store and buy your fish. The specific pH, temperature, and water hardness levels will vary depending on the species and breed of cichlid, but listed below are the most common ones:

  • The pH should be between 7.8 and 8.5. Some dwarf cichlids prefer a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
  • The water hardness should be between 10 and 15dH. If the area you live in has very soft water, you can add some aragonite.
  • The temperature should be between 72°F and 82°F (22°C–28°C).


A strong filter with strong mechanical filtration capability is a must as many of the fish species love to dig, stirring up debris. Canister (external) filters are suitable for aquariums up to 75 gallons, but canister filters paired up with a sump filter are preferred for larger tanks. Choose a filter rated at least one size larger than your aquarium and use multiple filters on tanks larger than 55 gallons. Generally, a combined flow rate of at least 10 times the aquarium volume is recommended.


Mbuna cichlids are mostly herbivorous; while Peacocks, Haplochromines, and many other cichlids are carnivorous. Flake, granule, and pellet foods make an excellent diet for virtually all African Lake Malawi cichlids. Frozen and freeze-dried foods are also recommended, but avoid feeding tubifex and bloodworms, as many of these cichlids cannot digest the high-fat content in these foods. Do not feed live feeder fish to your Malawi cichlids, as their nutritional value is limited, and they can carry diseases. For Mbuna, allow algae to grow on rocks and other décor as this provides them with a constant supply of natural food.


Once the temperature is set and a water conditioner has been added, allow your aquarium to run for 48–72 hours before adding fish. Start with juvenile fish. They will be less aggressive and more accepting of one another as they grow to adulthood. When adding new fish, add new rocks and/or rearrange existing decorations to create new hiding places that have not been claimed by existing fish. Ask your local aquarium expert about the aggression level of each species before you buy them. Add less aggressive species to the aquarium first and progressively aggressive species as time goes on. New additions should be at least the same size as the largest or most aggressive fish already in the aquarium. When mixing closely related or similar-looking species, try to add them to aquarium at the same time to avoid dominance from established fish. Never add a smaller member of a species already living in the aquarium. Adult African cichlids are less inclined to quarrel when you crowd them just a little, so don’t be afraid to stock a little heavily. Just make sure you have adequate filtration and don’t add too many fish at a time in a newly set up aquarium.

Tank Mates

These species of fish don’t get along well with many fish when they are placed in the same tank. It doesn’t mean that they are solitary in their entirety. Here is a list of ten best tank mates you can place to live side by side with your African Cichlids.

Now that you have all the information you need to make a decision, it’s time to sit down and think. Owning African cichlids can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. They are beautiful, active, and very exciting fish! However, their aggressiveness can sometimes be something that aquarists don’t want to deal with.There’s no right or wrong answer here. The right choice is what’s going to be best for you and the aquatic life you decide to take care of.

Happy Fishkeeping!!!

* The author of this article is an advanced aquarium hobbyist with an Aquarium at his place even before his birth. Today he promotes the pet keeping hobby apart from maintaining his own aquarium. He can be contacted on +919820270247 or

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