Kribensis

kribensis-breeding-pair-guarding-nest

kribensis-pair-with-young

Kribensis : Everything you need to know

Kribensis (Pelvicachromis pulcher) inhabits a range from Benin, into Nigeria and Cameroon, but mostly Nigeria..
It was first introduced into the hobby in the 1950s and immediately became a big hit with aquarists.

In the wild kribensis breed in the side of river banks by digging away soil between roots to create a cave. Wild kribensis live on the riverbed between roots and leaves.

Feeding kribensis

kribensis-feeding
kribensis-feeding

Kribensis are omnivorous, eating a mix of animal food and vegetable matter. Algae is good for them.
In the aquarium they readily eat flake or dried food with ease, but the occasional piece of veggie matter such as cucumber slice or lettuce or even algae is relished. Live food can be used to prime them when you want to start breeding them.

To get the best from your kribensis supplement their diet with plenty of fresh greenery such as blanched spinach and dandelion, flaked pea, and any of the seaweed products frequently marketed for marine keepers.

Kribensis behaviour

kribensis pair guarding cave
kribensis pair guarding cave

Kribensis are a little shy and need peaceful dither fish. They also need lots of hiding places such as caves made from clay pots or half coconut shells and plants to make them feel safe. This will encourage them to come out so you can see more of them.

Although kribensis are mostly found in rivers, they do not like a fast water flow. That is explained by the fact they inhabit the bottom of the river on the river bed amongst roots, rocks and caves where the waterflow is very slow. They a good knowledge of their surroundings, which means it is better to not change the aquarium set up as this unsettles them.

Kribensis Description

kribensis-female-breeding-colours
kribensis-female-breeding-colours

Male kribensis are larger than females. In the aquarium the biggest males are about 4 inches and the biggest females about 3 inches. In the wild specimens have been found just under 5 inches long.

Males are long with a gently curved underneath from head to tail. Females are stubbier with a rounded red/purple belly. Males might have a red/pink patch near the throat

Female kribensis fins are rounded while kribensis males fins have longer and pointed fins.

Kribensis Colour

kribensis male in breeding colours
kribensis male in breeding colours

Kribensis have a black/dark stripe on a creamy background running along the side and another dark stripe on their backs that extends into a dark dorsal fin edged in yellow. Both males and females have blue in their pectoral fins and other lower fins, especially when they are breeding. Females become more yellow especially above the stripe when they are breeding. Most kribensis have an eye spot in the top of the tail fin and at the rear of the dorsal fin. Some male kribs have multiple eye spots in the tail fin.

When in breeding mood the area between the red belly and the tail darkens on the female. This accentuates the females red/purple belly.

Water conditions for kribensis

They like slightly acid and soft water from the wild but most aquarists keep them in neutral ph water. Because of the

kribensis-for-sale-in-shop
kribensis-for-sale-in-shop

long time that kribensis have been kept and bred in captivity with few wild specimens coming through, they have become adapted to a wide range of waters conditions. They are capable of breeding in a wide range of ph values.
The temperature ideally should be at 77F but kribensis are happy any where between 75-80F

How and where to buy kribensis

A good place to buy is from online sources such as gumtree, aquarist classified, craiglist from a private breeder. You can also buy from your local aquarium store. Be wary of buying from your large pet chain which will usually have untrained staff. Remember young fish will have less colour than more mature fish so they might have disappointing colours when you buy.

Check all your different sources for buying fish and try to buy from two or three sources a few fish each to give a better genetic mix for your fish.

Do not just choose the largest fish from a brood or you will end up with just males. Sometimes you can tell males and females by body shape when the young are larger but smaller fish you can’t really tell so size is a reasonable indicator.

Kribensis tank set ups

Kribensis cichlids can be kept and even bred in a community aquarium, a species aquarium or even in a West African biotope aquarium

kribensis-community-aquarium
kribensis-community-aquarium

Kribensis in the community aquarium

Make sure you don’t get fish that out compete them for food. With Kribs being bottom feeders, they usually wait until the food goes lower before eating especially. It is best to avoid tankmates that snap up their food near the surface before the kribensis get a chance to feed. This is most noticeable when the kribensis are small and hide a lot.

Kribensis rely on dither fish such as a school of small tetras to tell them whether it is safe to wander out of hiding. A few peaceful dither fish will encourage them to come out and explore instead of hiding so that you get to see them and admire their beauty.

Avoid other bottom feeders such as catfish which will disturb the kribensis, especially when they are breeding.

Kribensis species aquarium

kribensis-west-african-biotope-aquarium
kribensis-west-african-biotope-aquarium

Having a tank of just kribensis can come about if you have had a breeding pair and kept all the offspring. The tank must be quite large at least 160 litres. You need to kit it out with plants, dark sand and many cave like structures such as half coconut shells or half clay pots. The kribensis males will form harems, dispelling the myth that kribensis form monogamous relationships.

Kribensis biotope aquarium

If planning on biotope, then sand, branches and cobbles are the prime choice of décor. For planting, provide opulent growth. Tangles of Crinum species and banks of Cyperus, Ceratophyllum and Ceratopteris, plus ample Anubias and Bolbitis fastened to the wood will provide abundant cover.
For authentic fish, think of Brycinus longipinnis tetra, and Pareutropius buffei catfish. Aphyosemion gulare killifish are abundant in the same areas as kribensis and make a pleasing enough companion. Also jewel cichlids are found in kribensis territory in West Africa

kribensis-breeding-tank
kribensis-breeding-tank

Kribensis breeding set up

-24/30in long aquarium
-heater
-2 x mature sponge filters
-2 or 3 half clay pots or half coconut shells
-plants unlike other cichlids they are not great plant uprooters. However they may nibble on plants.
-driftwood
-rounded stones
-dark sand substrate or very fine dark gravel
-low wattage light to provide dim lighting at night

Preparation for breeding kribs

kribensis-eating-live-food
kribensis-eating-live-food

Buy 6 or more young kribs. Be careful to not just buy the larger fish in the tank as these are usually males. Remove any other bottom dwelling fish from the aquarium such as catfish. Kribensis prefer soft neutral water but can breed in a wide variety of water conditions. So just keep the aquarium water parameters stable and clean. Note: Higher ph tends to increase the ratio of females to males born whereas lower ph gives you more male to female offspring.

Prime the pair by feeding plenty of live foods including chopped earthworms. Keep the temperature at about 76F. If they fail to start breeding then raise the temperature a couple of degrees to encourage breeding but not go higher than 80F

kribensis-female-displaying-to-male-2
kribensis-female-displaying-to-male

Kribensis breeding behaviour

Kribensis can become very territorial when breeding and caring for young so be careful of other inhabitants. The female’s red belly will become solid red/purple. The top of her body between the dark stripes will become yellow. Her throat will also become yellow. Both fish will develop bluish pectoral and ventral fins and they will also develop a blue edge to the gill plate.

The female will bend her body sideways exposing her red belly to the male. If he is interested he will follow her to the breeding cave. They will then go through a ritual of shimmying behaviour to each other. They will

kribensis-pair-cleaning-nest
kribensis-pair-cleaning-nest

then take it in turns to go into the cave and come out again possibly spitting out some substrate outside the cave. This mimics the behaviour in the wild where they dig holes in the soil at the side of the river to create a cave. Each time they come out they will shimmy to each other.

Kribensis females usually lay about 200 eggs. Young kribensis mothers lay less eggs.

The female will usually lay her eggs on the roof of a cave but sometimes they are laid on the floor if it is suitable. The eggs are large and adhesive so stick to the cave wall. The female mouths them to keep them clean until they hatch. She will not leave her cave until they hatch. They hatch after 3 days and the fry will not become free-swimming until after another 7 days. Do not feed the fry until they become free-swimming.

Raising the kribensis fry

kribensis mother guarding her brood
kribensis mother guarding her brood

Kribensis parents co-operate in protecting the eggs and herding the young. The female will usually be closer to the young while the male will skirt around the perimeter protecting from threats.

In the wild kribensis are known to co-opt other kribensis fry into their own brood. It is thought to raise the survival rate of the baby kribs. The reason could be safety in numbers and as a backup for stray fry.

Harmless dither fish can help the parents to co-operate in looking after their brood. The parenting kribensis will focus their attention on protecting their fry from an external threat rather than considering each other as a threat.

Sometime, however one parent might get nervous of the other parent and push her/him away especially if there are no other fish in the aquarium. This is usually the male that is seen as a threat but sometimes the female will be pushed out. It is best to remove the harassed parent from the tank.

To protect the male(or female) from the overprotective parent then provide plenty of hiding places and a bigger aquarium. This should keep them safe. You could also consider moving him/her to another tank if the bullying gets too much.

kribensis-pair-guarding-eggs
kribensis-pair-guarding-eggs

Surprisingly for such a small fish, they lay quite large eggs and when the fry hatch they are quite large and can eat brine shrimp from birth. This makes raising the fry a lot easier for the beginner. The fry also pick at microscopic life forms growing on algae growths on the glass and on sponge filters.

keep a low wattage night light on so that the parents can protect the fry especially if there are other fish in the aquarium. Daily water changes of 5% and having many plants will keep the nitrate levels down.

As the fry grow you can start feeding flake food. You will also need to thin out the brood by selling on the young or moving them to another tank, depending on how many young fish you have.

Relatives of the kribensis

Most Pelvicachromis are readily bred in the aquarium. Breeding behaviour and care is similar to P.pulcher.

pelvicachromis-taeniatis-male-female
pelvicachromis-taeniatis-male-female
Pelvicachromis taeniatus

Historically this was the original kribensis but has been replaced by the popularity of pelvicachromis pulcher. There are many colour variations and patterns in males of all species of Pelvicachromis, Several populations of each species appear to co-exist in different regions. Pelvicachromis taeniatus are sometimes offered with names hinting to which region they were caught from. You might see P. taeniatus ‘Nyete’ or ‘Moliwe’ which will differ substantially to P. taeniatus ‘Niger red’.

Pelvicachromis subocellatus
pelvicachromis-subocellatus-male-female
pelvicachromis-subocellatus-male-female

The males are less colourful than normal kribs but the females are quite interestingly coloured having a dark collar between the head and the red belly and another dark area the other side of the red belly. The tails have a yellowish net pattern in them.

Other “kribensis species from the Pelvicachromis family include:

  • Pelvicachromis drachenfelsi
  • Pelvicachromis kribensis
  • Pelvicachromis roloffi
  • Pelvicachromis silviae
  • Pelvicachromis sacrimontis

There is also an albino version of the kribensis that is not a true albino and does not breed true. The albino will have pink eyes and a mostly white body but the female will still have the red belly. Both male and female will have yellow edging to the fins.

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle
The texture of good quality water is subtle

On a very basic level water is 99.98% H2O in a liquid that your fish swim, eat, breathe and excrete into. What about the other .02%? Is it important? Of course it is. It is these minute quantities of dissolved gases and dissolved solids that makes all the difference in whether the water is hospitable or poisonous to the fish. It is this 0.02% of dissolved substances that make sea water, river water and lake water different from each other. Note that seawater has a much higher level of dissolved salts of around 3.5%. It only takes minute quantities of the common gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide or insufficient oxygen to poison or drown fish. Likewise it only takes a small amount of pollution or the wrong type of chemical to be dissolved in the water to poison and kill fish. But when conditions are just right or within reason then your fish will thrive without much care from you.

Creating a generic biotope for your fish to live in

The most common elements of an aquarium biotope
The most common elements of a biotope

As a fish keeper is is your responsibility to recreate a reasonable biotope for your fish that is as close as possible to the fish’s natural environment as you can.

Water has dissolved gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia and chlorine. Some of these gases are poisonous while others are necessary for fish to breathe. Water also contains dissolved minerals that determine the general hardness of your water. Some fish thrive in very hard water with a high ph, while other fish prefer much softer water with a lower ph. Organic matter can also dissolve in the water, usually darkening the water and acidifying it.

A biotope should include a substrate, plants and a source of light with the temperature of the water kept within a suitable range for the plants and fish. The choice of subrate includes gravel, sand, and even soil. Soil is usually topped with gravel. Other less essential features you might want to include in your fish’s biotope could include rocks, roots and branches.

The Lake Malawi Biotope explained here

The Amazon Biotope explained here

Is tap water safe for fish?

Is tap water safe for fish
Is tap water safe for fish

Tap water direct from the tap is not suitable for use in an aquarium. The main problem is chorine which water companies put in the water to kill off any potential bacteria in the water. To remedy this you need to leave your tap water standing in a container for at least 24 hours. This allows the chlorine to evaporate. This can be achieved by using buckets of water or water barrels to store the water.

Another danger to your fish is from dissolved copper which can come from copper pipes. Water that comes into contact with copper will slowly absorb the copper. This problem is worse for new copper pipes. But this can be remedied by running your tap water for a few minutes until uncontaminated water starts to come through. Copper is poisonous and even copper coins left in your aquarium will slowly dissolve and kill your fish.

If you are going to be serious about the quality of your fish’s water then you should buy a water test kit. A good test kit will test ph, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as well as general hardness.

If you are a new fish keeper who wants the best chance of keeping your fish healthy and alive then test your tap water before you buy any fish. When you know the ph and hardness of your water then you can buy fish that prefer the water from your tap. Adjusting your water to suit fish that like a different type of water is best left to the advanced aquarist who don’t mind the extra effort. Some fish when kept in the wrong type of water will simply die after a few weeks and certainly won’t thrive.

If you are a more experienced aquarist then you can start adjusting the ph and hardness of your tap water so that you can keep the more delicate species of fish. To soften your water you can buy a reverse osmosis device that will remove the minerals from your water. Such water is usually too soft and must be mixed with unfiltered tap water to achieve the correct level of hardness. You can also use rainwater collected from a safe source.

To adjust the ph of your water you can either use a muslin bag containing peat moss to acidify your water or you can use calcium carbonate sand to alkalinify it instead. In order to reach the correct ph level.

All these procedures are complicated and time consuming and even prone to error. Messing with your tap water usually means you will have to monitor changes in your water conditions to maintain it. To make this complicated process a little easier it is best to prepare large batches of water in say a 200 litre barrel all in one go and then draw off water as needed.

I recommend that you don’t bother with all this messing around and just buy fish that can do well in the water that comes from your tap. There is usually quite a variety of fish that will suit your water conditions but you may have to avoid a particular species of fish that you might be keen on.

What water conditions are best for fish?

Normally the ph used in most freshwater aquaria ranges between 6.0ph and 8.3 ph. However Lake Tanganyika fish like an even higher ph, even as high as 9.0ph. And they also like hard water. Ph nearly always varies together with hardness. High ph above 8.0 usually means very hard water, while low ph of 6.4 or less coincides with soft water. Some amazonian fish like water that is of a ph less than 6ph and have very soft water.

Most of the commonly available fish in your aquarium prefer an average ph around 7ph and a medium level of water hardness. Not only that but such species can also tolerate a wider variation away from this medium than other more exotic species. Tank bred fish that have been bred in aquaria for several generations are overall more adaptable to variations in aquarium conditions compared to their wild caught counterparts.

Most average species will live in a wide range of possible water condititions. However, when it comes to breeding the ph and hardness must more closely resemble the fish’s conditions in the wild. Only then will some fish be capable of breeding and their eggs hatching.
Water hardness

This is a measure of the amount of dissolved minerals in your fish’s water. The most common minerals are calcium, magnesium and sodium.

These dissolved minerals are also essential for the health of your fish and plants.
Most cyprinids, tetras, rasboras and similar river fish like soft water. Most livebearers, Malawi fish and Tangayikan fish prefer quite hard water.

Plants also show a similar type of preference for different levels of hardness depending on the plant species.

Iron for fish health

Plants require minute levels of dissolved iron for optimum health as do fish. Fish acquite iron from their diet while plants will absorb it directly from the water. Pure iron quickly rusts in water making it unusable for the plants and animals. Feeding fish iron rich fish food will not only provide iron for the fish but allow the fish to provide manure that is rich in iron for the plants use.

Dissolved oxygen in water that fish breathe

Dissolved oxygen is essential for fish to breathe. The main source of oxygen in an aquarium is through the surface of the water. So a large surface area of water is essential to allow sufficient oxygen to dissolve into the water to replace the amount of oxygen that the fish breathe in through their gills. Also excess carbon dioxide that the fish release into the water from their gills has to be released from the water through the surface of the water. Plants also give off oxygen when they are in bright light, but will release a small quantity of carbon dioxide at night.

It is best not to rely on the quantity of oxygen that plants produce during the day to supplement the amount from the surface because this source of oxygen stops at night. If you see your fish gasping for air very early morning this is a sign that there is not enough oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the water in the night so you will have to reduce the number of fish in the aquarium. This can also be a sign you have too many plants.

Fish waste in water

One lethal cause of fish deaths is ammonia poisoning which burns the skin and gills of the fish while also displacing oxygen in the water. Ammonia comes from fish waste and from decaying fish food and other decaying organic matter. In a new aquarium there will be no ammonia but this will build up over the fish few weeks. If you are new to fish keeping you will see your fish as being fine for the first week and may not realised that the fish are slowly but surely poisoning themselves in their own waste matter.

To overcome this you need some way to remove the ammonia as it gets created. You will have to for the first 6 weeks have to do daily water changes, use a filter and make sure that you under stock your tank until it is mature. Also avoid any uneaten fish food being left in the tank that will quickly rot and cause an ammonia spike.

A filter is not just for removing particles from the water but also for providing a base for the growth of bacteria that digest ammonia converting it into nitrite which is also poisonous. Later on another set of bacteria develops that will digest the nitrite converting it into nitrate which is much less harmful. This process takes between 4-6 weeks from new. So partial water changes are needed daily until the filter matures.

This is better explained in cycling your aquarium

Plants take up nitrate but usually not enough so you will need to keep doing partial water changes, perhaps once a week. 10% of the water changed is a reasonable amount of water change.

During this filter maturation period you should test your water daily with a test kit and if the ammonia or nitrite reading becomes particularly high then you will have to do another partial water change to bring it down to acceptable levels.

14 best fish from Lake Tanganyika

Cyphotilapia frontosa male

14 best fish from lake Tanganyika

I will assume that you know how to set up a typical lake Tanganyika aquarium with the correct hard water and high ph paramaters with typically a sandy substrate and some rocky areas with cave like structures. And that you need over filtration and many small water changes to maintain the Tanganyika aquarium.

Some of the following fish live in deeper waters so like less light and less water movement. While other species live in the shallows and like more light with plenty of water movement.

paracyprichromis nigripinnis - blue neon cichlid
paracyprichromis nigripinnis – blue neon cichlid

Paracyprichromis nigripinnis – blue neon cichlid

The blue neon cichlid is a very attractive shoaling fish. So there needs to be a group of over 6 fish. It has a salmon coloured body with thin blue lines and blue tinged fins. It is a long dart shaped fish.
It is a shy fish and prefers subdued lighting and rocky caves. the rock structure should be tall. The males hang upside down underneath rocks. Feed with daphnia, brine shrimp and small grained dried foods. Keep in a species tank or with other shy and peaceful fish.
It is a maternal mouthbrooder where the female will brood from 21-28 days. It is difficult to breed. But once bred, the fry are quite large and will eat baby brine shrimp

Julidochromis ornatus – golden julie

Julidochromis ornatus - golden julie
Julidochromis ornatus – golden julie

The golden julie is probably the most beautiful of the julidochromis species. It grows to around 3 inches. Keep in a typical Lake Tanganyika setup with sandy substrate and rock formations at both ends of the tank.
Needs a diet of live food and dried foods. Be careful of large water changes as this disturbs the fish.
Golden julies are cave spawner with both parents tending the spawn and fry. Golden julies form extended families where young fish from previous spawning help guard newer spawnings. The fish mate like typical cichlids forming definite marriages. So it is best to buy 6 or more youngsters and allow themselves to pair off naturally.

Tropheus kiriza

More about tropheus here

These fish are black with a wide belt of yellow around their middle from belly to dorsal fin. They are a maternal mouthbrooder. kiriza’s are aggressive between themselves but do not bother other fish too much. They eat algae and the lifeforms in the algae. So must be fed with mostly vegetable matter such as spirulina. They grow to about 5 inches in length. Aggression may be lessened by having 6 or more Kiriza’s. They like rocky formations and caves above sand. They live near the shore so a lot of water movement is appreciated by them.
Difficult to keep, so buy tank raised specimens and do frequent small water changes and over filter the water. Feed only once or twice a day.

Tropheus duboisi

tropheus kiriza male female spawning
tropheus kiriza male female spawning

The duboisi starts off as a spotty teenager, black in colour with white spots. But when he matures he will have a blue face, black body and a white band. They will grow to 5 inches. Feed spirulina and other vegetable matter and some veggie based dried foods. They are maternal mouthbrooders and the female will hold the eggs and fry for about 21-28 days before releasing them. Feed the fry on baby brine shrimp and microworms.

All tropheus are active and boisterous fish. They should not be kept with timid or smaller fish to reduce aggression. This is the easiest of the tropheus species to keep, but still not for the beginner.

Tropheus bemba

Similar in appearance to kiriza except it has a wide orange band on its black body. Feed in the same way. Spirulina, veggie matter and veggie based dried food. Grows to 6 inches long. Will breed at 2.5 inches. Best kept in larger aquariums. Feed only once or twice a day to prevent bloat.
Difficult to keep – see tropheus kiriza

Tropheus ikola

Similar in colour to the kiriza except the yellow band is a wider band that covers the mid half of the body and the head and body being black.
Difficult to keep – see tropheus kiriza

Cyphotilapia frontosa

Cyphotilapia frontosa male
Cyphotilapia frontosa male

Known as “fronts” by aquarists. They are the kings of the Tanganyika set up growing to 12 inches. They are tameable and will eat from your hand. But you do need a very large aquarium to succeed with them because they are gregarious and you need at least 6 fish for them to be happy. They are female mouthbrooders. They are fairly easy to care for. Keep in an open sandy aquarium with a few rocky shelters. They are gentle giants and can be kept with other not too small fish.

Cyprichromis leptosoma

They are a schooling fish that swim in open waters. It is recommended to keep at least 10 in an aquarium. They are an attractive fish with elongated blue bodies and fins and a yellowy orange tail. There are various colour morphs, all of which are attractive. They grow to 3-4 inches long. So, to keep 10 in an aquarium requires a large aquarium. There is a giant morph that grows to 5 inches or over.

Cyprichromis leptosoma male
Cyprichromis leptosoma male

They are a maternal mouthbrooder. But they breed mid water. The female lays some eggs. The male fertilises them and then the female backs up to catch her newly fertilised eggs in her mouth. They fry are released after 3 weeks into a cave or other secluded spot. The few fry are quite large.
They are peaceful and relatively easy to keep and will eat most foods offered to them. They can coexist with cave dwelling tankmates because they live mid-water.
lamprologus ocellatus – shell dweller – small 2″ – breed inside shell
This is called the frogface cichlid because of its bulging eyes and large head. It has a delicate beauty with a bluish silvery sheen on its sides. It is a small fish at just under 2 inches, quite lively but peaceful. It is a candidate for a nano aquarium but with hard water. The frogface makes an ideal Tanganyika community fish. it lives on the sandy floor of the aquarium and requires snails shells for territory and breeding. Always have more shells than frogface cichlids otherwise an individual without a shell will get bullied. The female will lay eggs inside her shell which the male will fertilise. The shells are usually buried in the sand with only the mouth exposed. They eat a mixed diet of small live food and high quality pellet food.

Lamprologus signatus

Lamprologus signatus live and guard their own shells. Breeding occurs in the female’s shell. The eggs hatch and the fry slowly leave the shell when they become free swimming. The adults do not eat the fry. Feed the fry with newly hatched brine shrimp.
They grow larger than their relatives ocellatus up to 3 inches. They have an attractive pattern of many vertical dark bars on their sides.

Neolamprologus Similis near snail shells
Neolamprologus Similis near snail shells

Neolamprologus Similis

Known as the zebra shell dweller. This is another nano species. It is even smaller than ocellatus. They have wonderful breeding behaviour. They breed in the female’s shell but also have extended families where young from previous spawnings will help guard the new fry. Less of a digger than the other shell dwellers.
Zebra shell dwellers can be included in a Tanganyika community aquarium alongside other Neolamprologus such as brichardi, or smaller Julidochromis species and even open water species such as the blue neon cichlid. It is easy to care for and readily breeds. Empty French escargot snail shells are ideal.

Neolamprologus leleupi

Neolamprologus leleupi lemon cichlid
Neolamprologus leleupi lemon cichlid

Commonly called the lemon cichlid. This is a long time favourite of aquarists because of its brilliant yellow colour. Both males and females are equally yellow. The lemon cichlid is a peaceful fish except when spawning. They can be community fish but note that they can grow up to 5 inches and they like good water conditions. They need to be kept in a light sandy aquarium otherwise they will darken and lose their brilliant yellow colouration.
The lemon cichlid is a solitary fish only coming together with the female when it is time to mate. Breeding occurs in caves. Both the male and female guard the young. The fry become quite large and are well guarded by the parents.
The lemon cichlid needs foods rich in carotene so that it can keep its brilliant yellow colour. Also, if not using a proprietory Tanganyikan salt mix for the water then use of iodine containing salt must be added to the water occasionally.

Xenotilapia flavipinnis

Known as the yellow sand cichlid. They swim in groups close to the sand. Keep a group of at least 6 fish together. They grow to 3.5 inches. They are peaceful and make a good community fish with other peaceful fish. They do like good water conditions so provide good filtration and water changes. The yellow sand cichlid heads to rocky areas when breeding. Both fish will mouthbrood. At first the mother takes all the eggs into her mouth. After 8-10 days the eggs are transferred to the father’s mouth. The father holds the fry for a further 10 days and releases the free swimming fry.nd microworms. You can feed the fry on baby brine shrimp a The parents keep protecting the young for a further 3 weeks. The fry will re-enter the male’s mouth when frightened.

Enantiopus kilesa

male enantiopus kilesa displaying passing females
male enantiopus kilesa displaying passing females

This is truly a beauty of a fish. Well, the male anyway. He has a blue sheen along his body and a turqoise forehead with a yellow throat that he expands for display. It is a long torpedo shaped fish, growing to 5 inches in the aquarium. But what is more remarkable is that the male builds sand mounds and ditches to impress passing females. Both male and female hover above the sand.
They breed as typical mouthbreeders with the male and female twirling round each with their mouth on the other’s vent area.
So it goes without saying, you need a fine sandy substrate.
They can eat good quality pellets and live or frozen foods. They are not aggressive. You need a large group of at least 8 to see the full range of behaviours. So, you need a 6 foot tank or even bigger. enantiopus is not a difficult fish to keep and breed but it is not a beginners fish either.
Do not overfeed. Feed only once or twice a day. It can be a community fish when kept with other peaceful Tanganyika species.

Lestradea perspicax

This is another peaceful sand loving mouthbrooder. It grows to 5 inches and should be kept in groups of 8 or more. It makes a good community fish with other peaceful Tanganyika species such as neolamprologus, julidochromis and xenotilapia species. Needs to be kept in a 48 inch tank or bigger with lots of sand and some rocky areas.
It is a maternal mouthbrooder. The males dig pits to attract the females. They breed in the pits with the typical mouthbrooder twirling. Not the most attractive fish but makes up for it in the behaviour department.

The aulonocara peacock cichlid aquarium

The aulonocara peacock cichlid aquarium

all male peacock aquarium
all male peacock aquarium

If you have previously kept a Malawi cichlid tank and want a change or are considering setting up a new one, then you may consider setting up a peacock cichlid aquarium. Rather than having a wide range of species from lake Malawi, concentrating on just peacocks will give you an aquarium full of colour. The most remarkable fish from lake Malawi are the Aulonocara species, commonly known as peacock cichlids. There are 22 different peacock species known at present – all with brilliant colours. Add to that the fact that most peacocks are less aggressive than mbunas and you have your recipe for a successful and colourful aquarium.

Types of peacock cichlid aquariums

There are three basic choices when it comes to setting up a peacock cichlid aquarium. Each of the following three choices comes with specific advantages and drawbacks:

  • All-male tank
  • Mixed species breeding colony
  • Single species breeding colony
all blue male peacock cichlid from lake malawi
all blue male peacock cichlid from lake malawi

Understanding which of these three options suits you best requires you to identify your main goal with the tank itself. If brightly coloured fish is your only consideration, then an all-male tank would be ideal, provided that your tank is large enough for them to create several distinct territories. An all male tank means choosing male peacocks from several species. An all-male tank precludes your fish breeding. To breed your fish you will need to set up separate female breeding tanks but be sure not to confuse which female you use for breeding because the females of the different peacock cichlids look pretty much the same. The all male aquarium is a display aquarium.
 

Single species and mixed species peacock cichlid aquariums

While an all-male tank is certainly the simplest and most colourful option, breeding is one of the most fascinating behaviours that peacock cichlids engage in, and creating the right environment for them to do so, will be hugely rewarding. A single species tank is the simpler of the two, since you will not have to deal with inter-species aggression or interbreeding. You can also get away with a smaller aquarium, but it will be less interesting. And you have the further problem of choosing which single species to include in your aquarium.

male aulonocara jacobfreibergi - yellow jake
male yellow peacock cichlid aulonocara jacobfreibergi – yellow jake

Just like the peacocks they are named after, you will find that the females of any of these species are less colourful than the males. While it may be tempting to add more males than females to your setup, this is unnatural for a peacock cichlid colony and will result in stress and territorial disputes. The ideal distribution is one or two males with a larger group of females, perhaps 5 or more females.

One of the benefits of a single species breeding tank is that you can turn it into a breeding colony that lets you examine and observe the entire life cycle of your fish, their fry, and later descendants as well. By keeping a single species of peacock cichlid in your tank and taking good care of them, they will be able to raise some fry naturally without requiring you to set up separate breeding tanks and raising the fry yourself. However, to maximise the spawn you will need to remove the fry or brooding male to another tank.

The mixed peacock tank allows you to create a biotope of lake Malawi. Mixed species tanks, however, are not likely to make efficient breeding colonies because of interspecies competition. Your choice of species for this kind of tank will have to be carefully chosen in order to minimize stress, aggression, and the risk of interbreeding.

Choosing aulonocara peacock cichlid species for a mixed tank

aulonocara rubenscens red peacock cichlid male and female
aulonocara rubenscens red peacock cichlid male and female

If you would like to enjoy the multiple colours and differing behaviours of peacock cichlids in a mixed species tank, you will have to choose species that can get along together. Luckily peacocks are less aggressive than mbunas so you have a head start. The males are usually only aggressive when defending their own territory. The key to choosing your selection of peacock cichlids is in choosing species with a wide variety of colouration: Different species with similar colouration will see one another as breeding rivals, which will cause fights and interbreeding.

Size can also play a role in interspecies aggression between these fish. Species such as the peaceful Long Nose Peacock (Aulonocara Rostratum) are significantly larger than most other members of their species, for example. A fish of this size is unlikely to view a much smaller specimen such as a Ruby Red Peacock (Aulonocara Rubescens) as a threat. In fact a single, large male may become, “king of the tank” and settle disputes between the other fish as well.

male yellow peacock cichlid
male yellow peacock cichlid – aulonocara hansbaenschi

Varying the fish sizes can also help ensure that interbreeding does not occur. Females of all the Peacock cichlid species tend to look similar and may mate with dominant males of other species to create hybrid fish. Hybrids are generally undesirable and should be avoided if you would like to maximize the colouration and good health of your fish. A mixed tank featuring fish with greatly varying colours and body size will help reduce the risk of interbreeding. For example where the female of one species is brown and the female of the other species is silver then interbreeding should not occur.

When choosing which species to place in your aquarium you should remember that each species has several colour variations depending on which part of lake malawi they come from. Having different colour variations of the same species will result in interbreeding.

Breeding peacock cichlids

Click here for in depth article on breeding peacock cichlids

Peacock cichlid care

male orangle blotch peacock cichlid
dominant male orange blotch peacock cichlid

Once you have spent some time researching which fish and set up you want, you will want to spend some time researching the aquascape that your fish will be living in. The more accurate and natural-looking the environment for your fish, the less stressed will be your fish in the long run. For peacocks, there are two basic choices of aquarium layout either a sandy area or a rocky area with caves. In a larger tank you can of course have both.

Making the environment work requires researching into the origins of your specific species. For a single-species tank, obviously, you should attempt to replicate the original environment as close as possible. For a mixed species tank, however, you may need to provide a kind of hybrid zone for the separate territories of your fish.

“Jakes” of the species Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, for example, are primarily cave-dwelling fish that prefer rocky aquariums with lots of hiding spaces. Mixing this species with a sand-dwelling northern peacock ,such as Aulonocara stuartgrantii, might be a poor compromise, unless you have a large enough tank to provide two large zones within the tank for each of them to inhabit. In fact, it is recommended that any mixed species tank be as large as possible for this reason.

male aulonocara ngara - flametail red peacock
male aulonocara ngara – flametail red peacock

If you have followed the above guidelines, you should have a successful peacock aquarium. The various species of peacock will peacefully live together in the aquarium without stress. This will enable the male peacocks to display their best colours with fins proudly spread. When this has been done properly, you will have an aquarium that will rival a typical marine aquarium for its beauty and colour. The reds of the rubens peacock, the blues of the stuartgrantii peacock and the yellows of the baenschi peacock will give a brilliant contrast of colours. Sit back and enjoy your fish with a sense of pride.

Lake Malawi biotope aquarium

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Lake Malawi biotope

See also perfect Malawi Aquarium

and Breeding Malawi

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks
Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Reasons for creating a Lake Malawi Biotope

Now more than ever, is a good time to set up a natural biotope of Lake Malawi. For instance, there is a lot of information on the behaviour and environment of most species inhabiting Lake Malawi. Which means we can recreate conditions in the aquarium, that are very close to those found in Lake Malawi.

Another reason is that with the discovery of oil in Lake Malawi, the ongoing destruction of the habitat in and around the lake is increasing. This is causing the near extinction of many species of fish and plants. How does setting up a Malawi Biotope aquarium help this, you may ask? In conservation, it is only species that people are aware of that get saved. And so if many aquarists set up a Lake Malawi biotope then what better way of showing what beauty will be destroyed by showing off their aquariums. The press can be invited to see the natural beauty of fish from Lake Malawi and told about which species are facing extinction in order to raise awareness and save the lake.

A final reason is that the fish can be observed in something that approximates their natural environment. The fish will of course be happier and you, the observer, will get to see the full range of natural behaviours and interactions between the fish and their environment. The fish will naturally try to inhabit the same niche in the biotope aquarium that they would normally inhabit in the wild, instead of being forced to lump it with other species that they would normally avoid.

How faithful a Malawian biotope can be created?

Recreating a Lake Malawi Biotope that is absolutely accurate down to the`smallest detail is an impossible task. But we can go a long way to recreating something that very closely resembles the lake. We can also very closely recreate the same water parameters, lighting, rocks and sandy base. Recreating the muddy parts of the lake would requre a very large aquarium, such as a public aquarium. So is not really feasible in the home aquarium. Luckily there are lots of sections of lake Malawi that are just rocks and sand, just rocks mostly or just sand mostly. These we can recreate in the aquarium.

Different approaches to building a Malawian biotope

There are possibly two approaches to recreating the biotope. The first way is to base it around the fish species in your possession or that you intend to buy. Then it would be a matter of researching to find out which environment your fish live in and if they are compatible. Then you would have to recreate a biotope that best accommodates your particular set of fish.

The second approach is to have a look at many pictures of lake Malawi in order to choose a scene that you particularly like. Then recreating that scene in the aquarium. Once that scene has been created then it would be a matter of finding which species would comfortably fit in your biotope and going out to buy them.

If you have species that inhabit different environments within the lake, then you need a very large aquarium to try and accommodate them all. Lake Malawi divides into two areas mostly with an open sandy region broken up with a few scattered rocks and a dense rocky area with many hiding places consisting of caves and crevices.

Aquascaping your Malawi biotope aquarium

Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium
Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium

The base is going to be a layer of sand of about 3 inches in depth. Most normal sands are fine, even crushed coral sand should be fine. However, wash well because sand creates more cloudiness than gravel.

Your rock choices are limestone and sandstone. The sand comes from the sandstone in the lake. Limestone is present in the lake also and gives the lake its ph and hardness. The sandstone can be the golden type or a grey type. Choose types of various sizes with smoothed edges. Algae will also grow quite well on these types of stone.

Arrange the stones in your aquarium so that caves, crevices and hiding places are created. Leave an open space of sand in the front of the aquarium. Scatter a few smaller rocks around the sand but separate from each other.

The rocks at the back need to be stacked up along the back so that they reach the surface and even break the surface of the water in places. To ensure the safety of your glass and fish, use silicone to glue rocks together to create a stable rock formation.

Plants and other creatures

planted rocky malawi aquarium
Atypical planted rocky malawi aquarium with sand substrate

Besides the fish there will be algae and small insects and invertebrates. Since many species from lake Malawi feed off snails then including snails in the aquarium is a good idea. Try apple snails that are native to lake Malawi or snails that are similar to those of lake Malawi such as snails of the genus bulinas. Obtain snails that look and behave similarly that can live in hard water.

Most mbuna species feed off the algae growing on the rocks and the micro organisms growing in the algae. In the sand will be worms and other insects that the Auloconara species(peacock) feed off. Trying to find suitable creatures that will live, grow and reproduce in the sand is a difficult task. You risk the creatures dying and polluting the sand and the aquarium. In the wild it would be these creatures that would dig through the sand that prevents the sand in the wild from compacting the way it does in the aquarium.

Insects found in lake Malawi include water bears, daphnia, cyclops. Create a separate culture of these and feed the fish. These will be native food for your Malawi fish.

There are few plants in lake Malawi so you do not have to have any plants in the aquarium. But valisneria and hornwort are a possibility that do occur in lake Malawi. Plant singly and sparsely.

Which fish to have in a Malawian biotope

Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums
Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums

Mbunas are perfect for the rocky parts of the biotope. One or two species will quickly set up home and create territories within the rocky structures, each fish with its own little cave or crevice. Aulonocara species like open waters above sand but not too far from rocks. One or two species will be great for the open, sandy areas. They feed off insects that they can find in the sand. The aggressive mbunas will only rarely venture out from their rocky area while the Aulonocara will avoid the rocks.

In a large enough aquaria with distinct areas the two groups of fish will approach each other and there will be aggression but the fish usually retire to their own habitat.

If your aquarium is not too large then you will have to settle for one group or the other. If you settle for auloconara then you shouldn’t have a large rocky formation. A smaller rocky set up is better for them. Aulonocara do like to swim in open spaces. However, aggression between the fish means that they too need hiding places.

Finally, it is an aquarium so run it like one

You can buy Malawi salts to recreate the exact water found in the lake. However, don’t just add it to tap water. Tap water already has some hardness and minerals which you will have to take into account. SInce you are creating a biotope you should use a reverse osmosis filter to remove all minerals from your tap water then add your Malawi salts to get the correct hardness and ph. For tap water you will obviously have to reduce the amounts of Malawi salt per litre. This is best done by testing your water after adding a half dose to tap water. If it comes out too hard reduce the amount of salt used. If not hard enough increase the amount of salts.

You need good quality lighting that will encourage rock algae without causing an algae bloom. Also, too bright a light will spook the fish. In lake Malawi the waters are not pristine and there is a little murkiness there. This is where most aquarists depart from the strict biotope by having pristine water.

The ecosystem however needs some way to operate the nitrogen cycle without plants. This means that you will have to have powerful biological filters that have a high turnover of water and a filter media with a large surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to grow on.

Water changes are also a necessity. While some may consider this as cheating, you may want to consider the real lake Malawi. There is an inflow of fresh water from the Ruhuhu river. And the lake is vast giving a lot of scope for de-nitrification.

If you have followed these guidelines, the end result should be a pleasant aquarium full of colourful fish. It should look like a piece of lake Malawi. So, sit back and enjoy your hard work.