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Malawi Cichlid
~Pooja Chakrabarty

Malawi Cichlids: The Inhabitants of Lake Malawi

Malawi Cichlids are from the African Lake Malawi. This lake is home to nearly 500 species of cichlids. Most of these are extremely colorful and great eye candy. These fish are territorial and often get quite aggressive. The two main types are the Mbuna and the Utaka.

Lake Malawi in eastern Africa stretching as it does for some 600 km is one of the great lakes of the world. The inhabitants of Lake Malawi, the Malawi Cichlids, are some of the most beautiful creatures in the world.

Most of the fish from Lake Malawi are Mbuna, that is, they live in very rocky areas allowing the males to choose their own territory which they protect fiercely.

The other type of fish found in Lake Malawi is the Utaka or open swimmers. They require a tank with less rocks and more open space. Some Utaka species are Aulonocara, Cyrtocara, and Protomelas.

Most Malawi Cichlids are about 4" in length, but a few species reach up to lengths of 12" as well

The colors of the mbuna start developing while they are quite small, but the young utaka remain rather plain, and only become colorful with maturity. The utaka are also less aggressive than the mbuna, and therefore should not be kept with the rowdy mbuna.

In an aquarium setting, it is best to use a large, species-specific tank with a small population. In order to replicate its original environment, it would be helpful to place a number of rocks in the aquarium so that the Malawi Cichlids can mark out their territory. Limestone rocks would work perfectly.

It would also be beneficial to provide rocks with rich algal growth on them as Malawi Cichlids love to feed on algae (The correct lighting would promote such algal growth apart from showing your fish to their best advantage). You could also feed them vegetables such as spinach and lettuce.

In some species of Malawi Cichlids the males and females are colored differently. One of the distinctions is that male cichlids may have several light spots on their anal fin, while the females would have fewer such spots. When picking the fish it is best to purchase them in trios (one male and two females). This helps reduce stress as the aggressiveness of the male will be spread over the two females instead of it being the lot of just one.

Most Malawi Cichlids breed quite easily. Malawi Cichlids are largely mouth brooders, that is, once the eggs have been fertilized by the male, the female places them in her mouth for safekeeping. Often, the mothers stop eating at the time of spawning. It is advisable to separate an egg-laden female and place her in a different tank. The reason for this is that she will undoubtedly become weak by not eating, and may therefore be attacked by the other fish. Plus there is also the danger of the other fish eating the fry. In fact, even the female might eat the fry, so it is best to separate even her from fry once they hatch. The fry may be fed the same thing as their parents. This would include flakes, pellets, and frozen food. The only difference would be that they should be ground well when being given to the fry.

The filtration process should not be ignored as all traces of ammonia must be removed from the water. Frequent water changes of 20 to 25% every fortnight would go a long way in keeping the water free from potentially dangerous substances. This would also prove beneficial for spawning fish. A crushed coral substrate could be used. This, apart from being functional, is also beneficial as it gradually dissolves in the water and thereby increases its mineral content. Hard, alkaline, and salty water would keep your Malawi Cichlid quite satisfied.  A pH between 7.6 and 8.6 and a temperature of 25oC would be ideal.

Most Malawi Cichlids are about 4" in length, but a few species reach up to lengths of 12" as well. It is estimated that there are about 500 species of cichlids in Lake Malawi.

[The picture used in this article is in the public domain and has been obtained from Wikipedia.]

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