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General Care for Malawian Fish

Malawi cichlids on display at the Georgia Aquarium.

Malawi cichlids on display at the Georgia Aquarium.

By Tony Griffitts

What are Malawian Fish?

Malawian fish come from Lake Malawi in Africa.  Malawi is one of the great rift lakes of Africa.  Malawi was created by the continent of Africa pulling apart.  It is one of the lakes in Africa that is known for it's diverse and endemic cichlid population, and unique water chemistry.  Most African cichlids in the hobby today come from lake Malawi.

List of Malawian fish that are commonly sold:

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, A. stuartgranti, A. ethelwynnae, A. saulosi, A. kandeensis, A. nyassae, A. baenschi, Cynotilapia afra, Labeotropheus fulleborni, L. trawavasae, Pseudotropheus Zebra, P. crabo (Bumblebee Cichlid), P. kenyii, P. demansoni, P. acei, P. elongates, P. greshakei, P. barlowi, P. livingstonii, P. socolofi, P. saulosi, P. tropheops, Labidochromis caeruleus, Copadichromis borleyi, Melanochromis auratus, M. chipokae, M. johanni, M. chipokee, Haplichromis moori, H. venustus, H. livingstoni, Sciaenochromis frieri (Electric Blue Hap, ahli).

Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi cichlids, left to right, Aulonocara sp., Labidochromis caeruleus, Protomelas taeniolatus (Red Empress), Sciaenochromis fryeri.


Lake Malawi has a very high mineral content.  The pH in the lake can range from 7.8 to 8.6.  In the aquarium it is recommended that a pH no lower than 7.8 is maintained in order to keep these fish healthy.  Most tap water will require some type of alkaline buffer additive to keep the pH up.


70 to 85F


7.8 to 8.6

Habitat/Proper Aquarium Set up:

Aquarium should have coral or aragonite sand to help maintain a high pH.  The aquarium should be decorated with lots of rocks, and have plenty of caves for the fish to hide.  Plastic plants can be added if so desired.  Most live aquarium plants do not do well in an aquarium with Malawian cichlids, because of the high pH and the fact that many of them like to eat vegetable matter.


Most Malawian cichlids will eat frozen brine shrimp and dry foods.  The Mbuna cichlids should be given dry food (flake, pellets, or algae wafers) that has spirulina.  In the wild most of the Mbuna cichlids eat algae that grow on the rocky reefs in the lake.  Nori seaweed can also be offered.

Special Note:

Many of the Malawian cichlids like to dig.  These fish are mostly mouth brooders.  Most Malawian cichlids are aggressive, and active fish, that need a large tank.  Aquaworld recommends a 50 gallon or larger aquarium for these fish.  It is also best to buy at lease 4 of the same species at the same time.  Aggression can be spread out, and there will be less likely a chance of one fish being killed by an aggressor. 

Published - 2003

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