Setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium

A quick guide to setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium

There are many aquarists and fish keeping hobbyists interested in setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium, and for good reason: The African Great Lake is home to more fish species than any other lake in the world, including about one thousand separate species of cichlids. It represents a unique ecosystem that many aquarists find incredibly fascinating. The beauty of Malawi fish rival that of tropical marine fish in the range and vivacity of colours.

The specific term for an aquarium that is designed to mimic the conditions of a real-world location is, “biotope”. This kind of aquarium is highly rewarding for its keeper as it provides a unique view into the ecosystem that it represents. Keeping a biotope healthy, however, can be a complex process.

See also Malawi biotope

and tips for keeping African cichlids

and Peacock cichlids from Malawi

Water conditions for a Lake Malawi biotope

Lake Malawi’s water is alkaline in nature; it features a pH level ranging from 7.7 to 8.6. The water has a hardness level of GH 7 and KH 10-12. The tropical waters of this lake are generally warm, with a surface temperature of 24-29 degrees Celsius and a deep-water temperature of 22 degrees Celsius year-round.

The first step to setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium is recreating these water conditions in your tank. This will require the use of high-quality testing kits for the water’s pH level and hardness.

Managing your water pH level

Keeping your water at the correct pH level is critical for setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium, and can be achieved using a material to buffer the pH level and keep it high. Crushed coral sand placed in the substrate or filter, crushed oyster shell, or live rock can do this for you.

Using rocks such as limestone will help buffer the pH level of your water and keep it at the desired amount, as well. Extra care should be exercised when changing the water, as your pH levels can change greatly during this procedure if the new water is not properly prepared beforehand.

Once your water is prepared, you are ready to begin gathering the necessary ingredients necessary to setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium.

Malawi biotope fish: cichlids

malawi fish with rock backgrounds
malawi fish in public aquarium

If you are interested in keeping a Lake Malawi biotope, chances are that you want to keep a community of cichlids. These beautiful fish are by far the most common inhabitant of Lake Malawi, and any Malawi aquarium should have quite a few.

There are two general types of cichlids in Lake Malawi: Mbuna, which are rock dwelling fish, and non-Mbuna, that live in the sandy areas of the lake and feature such species as the bright and colourful Peacock cichlid.

Some species of mbuna can be quite aggressive, especially the larger varieties. It can prove difficult to maintain peace and order between the species if they are not carefully chosen, with mysterious deaths occasionally happening. However, one mbuna species to consider is Labidochromis caerulus, also known as the “yellow lab” fish which is a relatively peaceful fish.

 

 

mixed malawi fish tank
crowded mixed malawi fish in rocky aquarium

In general, aquarists who wish to keep a mixed Malawi tank are recommended to keep larger peaceful non-mbuna like the Peacock with smaller slightly aggressive mbuna fish. However, avoid cichlids that are too aggressive, or grow very large like Venustus. Furthermore, attention must be paid to the male female ratio. One male to three or more females. This will reduce the males over pestering the female and avoiding fights between rival males.

Choosing the right mix of fish is an art. Special attention must be paid to the right colour mix, temperament, age of fish and especially the size of the fish. In some species it is just the males that are colourful with other species both males and females are colourful. And the choice of fish must contrast well with the rockwork, sand and even with the other fish.

Your decision about which types of cichlids to house in your Malawi biotope should reflect the setup of your aquarium: A mostly Mbuna aquarium should feature numerous rocks for the fish to feel comfortable in and use as shelter, while Non-mbuna fish will feel much more comfortable surrounded by sand and lots of open water to swim about in.

It is also important to keep your aquarium relatively heavily populated. It is in the nature of Malawi cichlids to fight over territory more often when they have plenty of space and few competitors. A heavily populated tank is a notably more peaceful one for this species of fish.

Considering plants for setting up the perfect malawi aquarium

aquascaped malawi aquarium
sandy rocky planted malawi aquarium

If you insist on keeping plants in your Malawi aquarium, the only commercially available underwater plant that is suitable for a strict Malawi biotope is Vallisneria spiralis, although Anubias and Java Fern can be suitable if you are willing to bend the rules of biotope keeping.

In general, Malawi aquariums have no need for plants with many keepers of this particular biotope do not add plants to their setup at all.

Setting up your tank

The size of your tank should reflect your needs regarding the amount of space that your fish need. It is important to remember that these fish tend to play nice with one another when they are in a more crowded tank.

A good rule of thumb for setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium is to keep one fish for every 20 litres of tank capacity. A few more fish can be acceptable if you change your water more often— for example, 50% weekly.

It is recommended that you line the bottom of your tank with a plastic egg crate-style light diffuser along the bottom of your tank. This will help distribute the weight of the rocks you will need to line your tank with and protect the glass from the digging action of Mbuna cichlids.

In general, setting up a successful Malawi biotope comes down to choosing the right rocks, layering thin substrate of sand over the egg-crate bottom, introducing a healthy mixture of smaller mbuna and large, friendly non-mbuna, and balancing their habitat with two high quality filters.

The best way to filter a Malawi tank is using a dual-pronged approach. The best results are realised by combining an external power filter and an internal mechanical filter in your tank. This offers excellent biological and mechanical filtration, improving water circulation and oxygenating the water effectively, especially for a crowded tank.

How to choose the right lighting

The last essential consideration for setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium is lighting. Fluorescent or metal halide lighting is preferable to other forms, and should be liberally distributed at a rate of 1 watt for every 2 litres of tank capacity.

Malawi cichlids respond best to subdued lighting. Overwhelming the fish with too much light can cause them to lose their lustrous appearance and spend most of their time hiding out under the aquarium rocks or in whatever shady place they can find.

Conclusion

If you follow this short guide correctly and take the necessary steps to ensure that your Malawi biotope is put together faithfully, you will be able to enjoy a realistic example of one of the most exciting and interesting freshwater lakes in the world from the comfort of your home.

Setting up the perfect Malawi aquarium is an involving task, and it takes more involvement than a general freshwater community tank, but it can be a very rewarding experience for the ambitious biotope aquarist. With the help of this guide and numerous other web resources, your Malawi biotope can become a great success.

Setting up a beginner’s community fish aquarium

beginners aquarium

5 Key tips on setting up a beginner’s community fish aquarium

Child choosing fish in aquarium storeIf you are new to the world of keeping tropical fish, there are a number of key considerations that you should keep in mind when you are choosing your very first community fish aquarium. These considerations are important for anyone who would like to keep a healthy, productive and colourful community aquarium, since fish are notoriously sensitive creatures and the choices you make in this regard will seriously affect them.

Often, people who are just starting out in the wide and wonderful world of tropical fish community aquarium keeping will simply walk down the aisles of the aquarium section of their local pet store and collect the most colourful combination of fish they can find there and throw them all into whatever aquarium seems to fit their tastes. While a good eye for beauty is great to have, it is critical to apply some forethought and expertise to your choices as well to ensure that your fish lead happy lives.

See also set up beginners aquarium

and avoid these mistakes

Tip Number One: Choose The Right Fish

choice of beginners fish aquarium storeIn general, your interest in keeping an aquarium should remain focused on the fish that you would like to have living there. While it is perfectly reasonable to see an aquarium you really like and then choose the fish afterwards, it is important that the fish you keep are chosen based on their compatibility with the environment that you wish to keep them in.

Some species of fish, for example, are very difficult to keep alive and happy in a community environment. They can be overly sensitive to water quality, require special marine conditions to survive, or represent a species that does not get along with other fish in your community fish aquarium. It is always best to start with hardy, well-disposed community species.

Here are some examples of popular fish that are ideal for living in a freshwater community aquarium:

selection of beginners tropical fish• Barbs And Rasboras; (But not tiger barbs)
• Corydoras Catfish;
• Danios (including the popular Zebra Danio);
• Loaches;
• Guppies;
• Black Mollies; (or any coloured molly)
• Swordtails;
• Tetras;
• Rainbowfish.

There are numerous other species of fish that are well behaved and offer an easy experience for fish enthusiasts to plan their first aquarium. As always, good research is important before any purchase so that you know what to expect.

See also suggested compatible fish groups

Tip Number Two: Choose The Right Size Tank

choice of fish tanksThere is a common misconception among beginning aquarium owners that smaller tanks are always easier to keep than larger tanks. This is not true— in fact, smaller tanks make it harder to control the water quality correctly and make it easier for a tiny mistake to end up with disastrous results.

Ideally, a tank in the range of 200 litres allows for small changes in pH, ammonia, or nitrite levels in the tank to have a less drastic effect than if you begin with a tiny tank. The water quality will change over time and you will need to be ready to address those issues before their consequences become realised.

For a beginner’s community fish aquarium, it is important to appropriately measure the amount of space that you have for your tank and to relate that with the size and number of fish you would like to keep. Two useful rules of thumb can be applied when choosing the size of your tank. In general, you want to have:

• 1.5 litres of water for each centimetre of fish length;

• 30 square centimetres of surface area per centimetre of fish length.

These are not strict rules and they do not take into account the activity level of the fish, social behaviour, and their eventual growth. However, they are very helpful for beginners to gauge the right size of their tank in relation to the fish they’d like to keep: miniature tanks for small schools of tiny fish, and large tanks for larger specimens or greater numbers.

Tip Number Three: Keep Live Plants In Your Aquarium!

selection of beginners aquarium plantsWhile it is possible to successfully keep a thriving community fish aquarium without live plants, it is advisable for beginners to keep a healthy number of live plants in their aquariums for a number of reasons:

• Plants oxygenate the water that your fish and for the essential bacteria rely on to survive.

• Plants, as living organisms, are notably more complex than algae and utilize waterborne nutrients more effectively and readily than algae can. Having a mixture of the two is a good option to consider.

• Plants offer additional decorum that double as an important part of the living ecosystem you are creating. In terms of their natural beauty, they are vastly preferable to little pirate ships or plastic pieces for creating a pleasant aquatic environment.

See also beginners plants

Tip Number Four: Invest In Your Filter

different types of filter
canister, power, sponge, internal filters

Your water filter is one of the most important elements of your community fish aquarium. While you may hear that it is okay to purchase an aquarium filter that turns your water two or three times per hour, it is recommended that you get a filter that will do so at least four or five times per hour for the best results.

When in doubt, remember that it is perfectly okay to get a filter slightly larger than necessary, but that a smaller filter can easily lead to frustrations in your community fish aquarium. Under-investing here can undermine your entire attempt at successfully keeping a thriving aquarium environment.

Tip Number Five: Use A High Quality Submersible Heater thermostat

There are a number of aquarium heaters available on the market, and you owe it to your fish to choose a high quality submersible heater instead of a more expensive titanium solution or a hanging heater. This piece of equipment is vital to your community fish aquarium and, if chosen correctly, will provide years of service without causing any problems.

There are certainly better and more complicated heating solutions on the market, but simple submersible heaters represent the best choice for beginners. Hanging heaters may require you to cut a hole in the aquarium hood in order to make room for the head of the heater, and submersible titanium heaters are more expensive solutions meant for tanks with large, boisterous fish.