African Cichlids

African cichlids are my personal favorite. There are between 1,200-1,500 different species that have been identified in the three major lakes in Africa. The major lakes used for collection are Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, and Lake Malawi.

These three lakes are often referred to as the Great Rift Lakes of Africa.

Lake Malawi

african cichlid pictureLake Malawi is the 9th largest lake in the world. Lake Malawi covers over 8,500 square miles and is over 2,000 feet deep in some areas. Specialists believe that Lake Malawi has the largest diversification of species of fish in one single lake.

The cichlids that come from this lake are more colorful than the other Rift lakes of Africa. Actually, this lake produces some of the most beautiful cichlids in the world. The African cichlids that are collected from Lake Malawi are categorized into two main categories. These two groups are Malawi Haps and Malawi Mbuna.

Malawi Mbuna


Mbuna are cichlids that live among the rocks and rocky shores of Lake Malawi. Usually found in large numbers along the rocky bottoms. Mbuna in general are very colorful among both males and females. Mbuna naturally eat algae and plant matter in the lake and should be fed a high quality veggie/spirulina flake in the aquarium.

Size of the Mbuna species vary but most average around 3 inches. Most do very well in the home aquarium when supplied with a high quality veggie diet.

Mbuna are fun to watch as they hover, dart through, and swim above their rocks or caves while displaying their beautiful colors.

Mbuna typically can be categorized as more aggressive than the Malawi haps. This is why most in the hobby keep a small group of Mbuna together to spread out the aggression in their home aquarium.

Remember that Mbuna are mostly herbivores therefore many aquarium plants in the hobby will be eaten. If you decide to try certain aquarium plants, do so with caution as to they can become an expensive snack for your Mbuna.

Malawi Haplochromis (Haps)

Haps in Lake Malawi on average grow a bit larger than Mbuna. Haps eat a little of everything but mostly crustaceans, invertebrates, some plant matter, and other fish.

Malawi Haps in the aquarium generally are a little less aggressive as compared to the Mbuna species. Haps are not considered “rock dwellers” because they prefer to swim through the water constantly. If kept in an aquarium, Haps will usually stay mid-tank swimming back and forth.

Hobbyists love housing a large group of Malawi Haps together in an aquarium. Haps grow on average between 4-7 inches and display beautiful colors. Males display brighter more attractive colors, so many hobbyist setup an all male Hap tank that will stand toe-to-toe with any saltwater tank.

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is one of the Rift Lakes in Africa. Lake Tanganyika is the largest of the Rift Lakes and the second deepest lake in the world. This lake reaches depths of over 4,500 feet! Lake Tanganyika is around 420 miles long and nearly 45 miles wide (widest point).

The water temperature averages between 76-78 °F. pH measurements have been recorded between 8.4-9.0.

There are believed to be over 200 species of African cichlids living in this one lake.

Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria borders three countries: Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Lake Victoria covers roughly 26,000 square miles. Average depths of this lake are between 70-120 feet.

The pH of the water in Lake Victoria has been measured between 7.5-9.0. Average water temperatures vary by season and region. Measurements have been recorded between 70-81 °F.

Scientists say it use to be around 500 species of African cichlids in Lake Victoria. Now they estimate there are only around 250 species living in the lake. The decline is linked to the introduction of the Nile Perch, a large fish that can reach up to 6 feet in length. In the 1950’s this fish was introduced to help local fisherman in sustaining a living. The Nile perch feeds on smaller fish, hence the destruction of our wonderful cichlid population.


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