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Lake Malawi Cichlids 5, Choosing the Right Fish and Compatibility

Updated on January 19, 2012

Once you have filled your aquarium with water you should put some bacteria into the water. This can be done by purchasing bacteria from a dealer or putting some vegetables like peas, for example into the aquarium and allowing them to decompose.

Your aquarium should be operational for at least two to three weeks, if not more before you think about going and getting your Lake Malawi Cichlids. The water quality should be just right and the equipment working perfectly.

A dealer specialising in the sale of ornamental fish is the best place to buy them, talk to them and ask for advice. Don’t rush into buying the fish as you have to work out which fish are compatible. Generally most of the fish sold should be ok together and if they aren’t then the dealer should let you know when you are talking about them.

You will also have to decide whether you are going to go for fish bred in captivity of caught from the wild. Captive bred specimens are generally hardier and less susceptible to disease, they are normally cheaper. And you can purchase younger Cichlids and watch them grow.

You must also decide on how many to buy. It is easy to get too many and cram the aquarium. Since most African cichlid aquariums are quite large, you will be able to keep a good number. Depending on how many litres your tank holds, will obviously determine how many fish you can keep.

A 540 litre aquarium can hold 27 Cichlids

In order to ensure that you get the right selection of fish, you should rely on the advice of the experts at your local aquatic centre or fish shop.

I would advise beginners where possible to stick with captive bred fish, as the wild fish are more difficult to keep, due to the very long journey that they have had to endure, which make them more susceptible to disease, and this is due to the water conditions that they have been kept in, that will weaken their immune systems. Captive bred fish are now normally of excellent quality and virtually indistinguishable from their wild counterparts. The main reason that wild fish may be required is if a shop is out of stock, or if a new species has been introduced to the market.

Species Compatibility

Stocking an African Cichlid aquarium with incompatible fish can lead to fierce and sometimes fatal outbreaks. To avoid this, it is a good idea to write a list of the species you like the look of and then consult your dealer. Many of the Lake Malawi Cichlids are very aggressive, but this can be prevented by properly stocking your aquarium. For example some species will require lots of rockwork and hiding places so they can feel comfortable, while others will need a bit more open water. And wherever there is a dealer that has a good supply you can be pretty sure that there will be good advice too.

Cichlids always establish a pecking order. There will be clearly dominant males who display their full colouration, while subordinate males will not do so. The females should be in the majority as most breeding groups will consist of about 1 male to every three females per species, so if you are going to get two males of a species then you should also get four to six females of the same species. Do not get all your cichlids together as the amount of ammonia will be too much for the filter to cope with. The fish should be introduced in batches of about 10-12, and then a week or two later another batch, so that the filter has a chance to build up to the level it is required to work at, or else the ammonia will just kill all of the fish.

Introducing Fish Later on

What to Look For When Buying

When you come to choosing the Cichlids from the pet shop tanks, look for the strongest looking ones, the ones that will be able to defend themselves. If you are aiming to breed them then the fish should be strong enough to do so and therefore create the healthiest offspring. Try not to get any with parts of their fins missing and scales missing. (This can be seen by a patch of lighter colour), and make sure you point out to your dealer the one you want, don’t settle for the first one they are able to catch, as the one they easily catch will probably be the weakest.

The Other Parts of the Keeping Malawi Cichlids Guides

Part 1 - Introduction

Part 2 - Aquarium Requirements

Part 3 - Aquarium Technology

Part 4 - Aquarium Decoration

Part 6 - Cichlid Nutrition

Part 7 - Breeding Cichlids

Part 8 - Causes of Diseases


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    • profile image

      James 3 years ago


      I am creating a lake Malawi tank for a school project and I am trying to figure out what Mbuna will go well together. Do you have any suggestions? I plan to get a decently sized tank. Also what bottom feeders would work well in a Malawi tank? I would like plenty of variety in coulour, shape, size etc to make it look interesting. Your whole Malawi guide is the most helpful on the net. Thanks

    • TylerSteele profile image

      TylerSteele 5 years ago from London, UK

      It really depends on the size of the fish :)

      And thanks :)

    • profile image

      Emily 5 years ago

      How many fish per gallon???

      Also this helped a lot so thanks xxx