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Malawi Mbuna Cichlids

The Fish

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the huge number of mbuna species fully (see the Malawi section of the Fish Index for some individual species profiles). However, some of the more commonly encountered groups of mbuna are oulined below, along with a general rating of their aggressiveness - which is only intended as a general guide!

* = Mildly agressive (for mbuna!) - suitable for smaller Malawi setups.
** = Quite aggressive - some quite aggressive species, should be ok in a mixed mbuna setup.
*** = Very aggressive - keep only in large and well stocked tanks with other higher-aggression fish.
Cynotilapia **

Not overly large, but can be quite aggressive. The most commonly encountered species is C. afra, which has a number of stunning colour variants from different parts of the lake.

Iodotropheous *

This is a small genus, and the most commonly encountered species is the Rusty Cichlid, I. sprengerae.

Labeotropheous **

The two species described are L. trewavasae, and the larger and more aggressive L. fuelleborni.

Labidochromis */**

The most commonly encountered of these is the popular Yellow lab/Canary cichlid L. caeruleus. Most of this genus remain fairly small.

Many species within the 'Zebra complex'
are particularly striking
Maylandia/Metriaclima **

Most of the fish in this genus (the correct scientific name of which is still being debated), were originally under the Pseudotropheus genus. Some species are quite commonly encountered and range from the medium aggression M. estherae (Red Zebra), to the highly aggressive M. lombardoi (aka 'Kenyi').

Melanochromis ***

This genus includes some larger and very aggressive mbuna. Probably the most commonly encountered Melanochromis is the Malawi Golden Cichlid M. auratus, in which the juveniles and females have yellow and black horizontal stripes.

Pseudotropheous */**/***

This is a very large genus, and some of the fish originally placed in this genus have now been renamed as Maylandia/Metriaclima species. The temperament of the fish in this genus varies considerably, from the relatively peaceful Ps. saulosi, to the feisty Ps. demasoni, to the often highly aggressive Ps. elongatus group.


When stocking the tank, it would be ideal if all the fish could be stocked at once, to avoid problems later. However, this can only be done if the tank is biologically mature, having been either stocked with other fish previously (and the change-over made within a day or so to maintain the filter bacteria), cycled fishlessly using ammonia or a maturation product, or adding a large enough mature filter from another mature tank with similar water chemistry (to minimise disruption of the nitrifying bacteria).

In most cases, it will be necessary to add fish in groups, a few at a time. This may result in new fish being attacked by those already in the tank which have established their own territories. To minimise this problem, it may help to rearrange the decor when adding new fish, to break up existing territories, and put all of the fish on a more even footing. Distracting the current inhabitants with food as you release the newcomers may also help. It is also advisable to add the fish in 'batches' of around six or more, so that aggression is not focused on just one or two newcomers.


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