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How to Breed Malawi African Cichlids

Updated on January 21, 2011

One of the Cichlid fry I have produced

A Gravid Female Cichlid will Usually be shy

An Example of a Fry Tank I have

 Malawi cichlids are living jewels of Africa, and to breed them is no easy task. I myself have had some experience breeding Pseudotropheus species, especially the zebra cichlid. Hopefully, my insight will help.

  1. The first step is to establish a large tank. My tank is a 125 gallon. While it is possible to breed African cichlids in a 55 gallon tank, I recommend 75 gallons and higher, so there are no territorial disputes. In a 125 gallon tank, I keep around 25 African cichlids, 75% of them being zebras, the other 25% being various species, including yellow labs (Labidochromis Caerulus), demasoni cichlids, rusty cichlids, and auratus cichlids (which I'm currently trying to breed).
  2. The second step is to establish a harem. This means that you should have one male to every 5-6 females, so the male has a choice on who to mate with. How can this be achieved? By initially purchasing a large group of juveniles. My tank started with around 15 zebras I got at a very good price. They grew up together, and eventually began to breed. I find that having juveniles that grow up in the same tank together is better than introducing a fish one by one. This reduces aggression in the tank.
  3. I cannot stress water parameters and temperature. I find that my fish breed when I add more water to my tank. Perhaps its just a hunch, but I let 25% of my tank's water evaporate, and then add fresh water back in. The fish seem to be revitalized and excited. Other than this, pH for malawi cichlids should range around 7-8.5 and temperatures should range from 78-82, preferably around the 80-81 mark. Of course, your fish won't breed if they are suffering; ammonia and nitrite/nitrate levels should be low.
  4. Your fish need to be in breeding age! Zebra cichlids display numerous egg spots (dots on anal fin) in males. Males will start being aggressive towards other males. They should be around the 4 inch mark.
  5. Provide plenty of hiding space. I use stacked slate/sandstone rocks, plus plenty of large round pebbles for nooks and crannies. Be sure to feed your fish a quality diet, asides from flake food/pellets, they should be receiving salad greens, spirulina, brine shrimp, and I personally feed mealworms from my mealworm colony. It really plumps that females.
  6. With proper nutrition, environment, temperature, and social ladder, your fish should eventually breed. Signs to look for are females with puffy mouths (mouthbrooding), and males chasing females around the tank (not too aggressively).
  7. Be sure to check my youtube page, username demasoni521, for many other tropical fish related videos.
  8. Be patient! As long as you have done everything on this page, your fish should figure it out. Make sure you have a lot of the right species and it should happen!


  • ¬†Most african cichlids do not lay eggs directly. They will mouthbrood, which means they will have eggs in their mouth to incubate. Another clue of a gravid female fish is that they will not eat when they have eggs in their mouth.
  • My first time breeding I scooped out the gravid female and placed her into a small tank. This helped me get more fry (baby fish), but in the long run it is too inconvenient, and when the female is returned back to the main tank the social order of the cichlids are disrupted.
  • The fry can be fed baby brine shrimp (recommended), spirulina pellets, finely crushed flake food, and infusoria.

My Video on Cichlid Mouthbrood


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      Lana 23 months ago

      NO Malawi cichlids can get bloat from a high protein diet and their main source of food is vegetation. You should ONLY feed your fish food that is designed for their digestive tracts, aka Cichlid feed. As far as your tank being brown, that isn't even a little healthy for your fish, bacteria and other harmful things can grow in their with them, as well as parasites. This is a good way to get ICK. Your entire tank can die overnight. Some of your advice is ok, but as far as putting human food in their and having a brown tank, those things are not something you should even recommend. Also, you should have at least a 10 gal for Malawi cichlids, that many fish in such a small tank is, again, not healthy for the fish, the reason your tank is brown and green, and also cruel.

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      Joshua 4 years ago

      Large and small cichlids will eat just about anything we human’s will. However it is important to grind it up and feed in very small amounts (as much as can be eaten in 3 minutes). Yes they like mashed vegetables, Cooked mashed green food, baked beans, scrambled eggs, a small amount of boiled egg (crumbled up), spaghetti, bread, cake, banana, prawns or shrimp, Still don’t forget to also feed them the recommended on sale aquarium foods. Another thing is to hand feed the fish, let them get used to the five fingered monster that is giving them a treat. This will also instil trust and calmness in your fish.

      Regarding your large Cichlid Aquarium. As the fish grow they will produce more acids in their waste into the water. To balance this try adding some coral sand to the aquarium substrata.

      Just like a surrounds of an ocean coral reef, if the water starts to become acid the millions of tons of coral sand surrounding the coral reef will slightly dissolve bringing the water back to the perfect PH that nature provides for our coral reefs around the world.

      So this acid neutralising effect will also help bring stability to your Freshwater Cichlid aquarium. This means the more mature larger cichlids will thrive and breed in this more stable environment.

      Goodfishkeeping 2U

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      fry 4 years ago

      when you say feed them salad greens, do you mean what we eat or special fish stuff?

    • profile image

      Wayne 4 years ago

      I have my aquarium for 5 months now and only now starting to understand the fish. This webpgae realy help me a lot and I will definetly aply what I have learnt . Thank you !

    • profile image

      Joshua 4 years ago

      Regarding the remark about your aquarium being Filty (Filthy) Many African Cichlids like the water a bit murky with a brownish tinge. I think it is because the Rift Lakes they come from in Africa have a similar brownish tinge. Maybe they feel a bit more secure in water that is not Crystal Clear. Although it is nice to watch your fish in an aquarium that is "Crystal Clear".

      I suppose it is a matter of choice.

      Goodfishkeeping 2U


      PS. if you want to see you’re fish having fun. At feeding time just put in a small amount of cooked spaghetti. (No sauce).

    • profile image

      Joshua 4 years ago

      To get your Cichlids to breed simply add a couple of handfuls of ice each day. This can also be a part water change (though small) along with only 2 percent daily water change you will find small water changes much better for stability of fish and aquarium. This will also help with breeding.

      You will find with these smaller daily water changes algae will become less of a problem. One of the mainly Untested factors of algae in an aquarium is what they call “Silicates” many home water supplies around the world contain Silicates, so whilst thinking you are improving conditions by large water changes, you are actually increasing the algal problem.

      Also it is an idea in a planted tank to stop using an aerator or air pump. Simply aim the filter return water so it slightly ripples the surface. This will not only aerate the aquarium but also not rob the vital CO2 that your plants need.

      Another thing you can do is fit a very small power head feeding a piece of plastic hose with rain drippers over the aquarium. This rain effect on the surface will not only oxygenate the aquarium surface but also just like rain on the surface of a lake or river it will create negative ions that will aid the health of your fish and the gentle fall of the raindrops on the surface will give your fish a sense of relaxation and security. Once again aiding breeding.

      Goodfishkeeping 2 U


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      jovi 6 years ago

      your aquarium is filty.


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