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.

Aquarium live food rearing

daphnia swarm

 How to reap the benefits of aquarium live food rearing for your fish

If you have spent great amounts of time and effort reproducing a natural habitat for the fish in your tank, yet you still feed them commercially prepared fish food, it might be a good time to consider rearing live food. There are numerous benefits to rearing your own sources of live food, covered in the points below:

• Live food more closely reproduces the natural diet of fish, making them healthier and happier.

• Live food, being composed of living organisms, will not decay in your tank if left uneaten the way that fish flake does.

• Adult fish that are used to foraging for their food behave more actively in pursuing live food than prepared fish flakes.

• Better nutrition can be achieved through indirect enrichment— feeding your live food vitamin supplements that get passed on to your fish.

• Live food encourages breeding, and some species of fish will not breed successfully without it.

For young fry live food rearing is essential:

• Most species of fish give birth to fry that are too small to eat commercially prepared foods.

• Many species of young fish fry will only eat food that is moving, and need to be carefully weaned onto non-moving food over time.

• Live food is the healthiest option for young fry, and will help them grow faster and become healthy adults.

Types of live food

There is a huge range of live food available at your local fish store or online but this can be seasonal. Choosing which of the available types of live food you should use depends greatly on the species of fish you keep and whether you are feeding adult fish, fry, or both.

For adult fish, there are a number of attractive and healthy aquarium live food choices available. These largely consist of water fleas, various worms and larvae, as well as some shrimp. Some of the most popular species are:

• Daphnia. These tiny water fleas often top the list of easily managed aquarium live food rearing options. They live comfortably in slightly alkaline freshwater tanks with temperatures between 18-25 degrees Celsius and medium light intensity. Daphnia multiply quickly, offer beneficial vitamins for your fish, and are very easy to raise.

• Blood Worms. Blood worms are widely available from a vast majority of fish stores and bait shops, and offer a very convenient live food for your fish. They are simple to raise and once the life cycle is introduced, greatly reduce the need to supplement your fish’s diets with other foods.

• Earth Worms. Earth worms offer one of the most complete food sources available for aquarium live food rearing. They are high in protein, essential vitamins, and roughage. They do require soil, however, and can grow quite large, making them ideal for larger fish in larger tanks.

• Mosquito Larvae. Mosquito larvae are some of the easiest aquarium live food rearing options, since they will readily grow in just about any environment where you have access to stagnant water and sun. You must be very careful, however, to regularly harvest the larvae before they turn into troublesome adult mosquitoes.

• Brine Shrimp. Brine shrimp are an excellent and highly popular live food option for fish. They are especially suited to this purpose since baby brine fish are also suitable for fish fry thanks to their tiny size and nutritional value.

• White Worms. These nutritious worms are easy to cultivate and fish love them. They are high in fat as well as protein and can stay alive in the water for days. These worms can make your fish fat, however, so care should be exercised so as not to overfeed them.

Any of the options listed above should be enough for most species of adult fish, but fish fry have more subtle nutritional needs. If you are raising young fish fry, you will need to give them food small enough for them to eat and nutritious enough for them to subsist on completely, such as:

• Infusoria. This term refers to a number of extremely tiny microorganisms that serve as a readily cultivated source of food for your fry. It can be convenient to think of Infusoria as fresh water plankton. Infusoria are easy to culture and widely available online or at your local aquarium store.

• Brine Shrimp. One of the most popular and successful aquarium live food rearing options for young fry, baby brine shrimp are simple to cultivate and small enough for some fry to feed on.

• Microworms. These hardy creatures can thrive in a wide variety of environments, and make an excellent live food choice when you need a readily available source of food quickly. They can be cultivated in days and offer a complete source of nutrition that fry will gladly eat.

In many cases, offering your fish a variety of these food sources will help give them a varied and complete diet. Many of these foods are complementary when added together, and can be combined for the optimal balance of nutrients, vitamins, and essential proteins.

How to cultivate live food for your aquarium

If you are interested in aquarium live food rearing for your fish, you will need to invest some effort in making a cultivation tank or water barrel to raise your food in. Most species of live food are very easy to raise and require very little attendance or care.

For instance, Daphnia can be cultivated in any large container with access to sunshine and green water algae or yeast. Optimal water conditions include a pH between 6.0 and 8.2 and a 20% water change every two weeks. With a large enough surface area for the water in the container, aeration is not even necessary.

Brine shrimp make a similarly easy aquarium live food rearing selection for fish keeping enthusiasts and do not even require a large container. They are filter feeders that need only be provided with a food source such as yeast or wheat flour, an air stone for aeration, and regular water changes.

Mosquito larvae are even simpler, readily growing in just about any pot of stagnant water with access to sunlight and algae. Mosquitoes will readily begin spawning anywhere they find the right conditions, and you need only net the larvae every few days to feed your fish.

Most of the worm species available at your local fish store can be raised conveniently in plant soil and introduced to your aquarium when they grow to full size. Cultures are simple to purchase and cultivate; once ready, they can be tossed directly into the aquarium.

Tips for easier growing of live food

Once you decide to begin investing in an aquarium live food rearing setup, there are a few important considerations that can help you make the most of your breeding. One of the most helpful ways to ensure sufficient stocks of food for your fish is to stagger multiple cultivars several days apart.

Keeping several separate tanks can help insure your aquarium live food rearing attempt from being compromised by disease or other problems. Just like a fish tank, any number of unwanted conditions could erupt in a live food cultivation environment, and you want to be protected against the possibility of losing your fish’s primary food source.

Depending on the specific needs of your fish, you may also be able to feed them essential vitamins and minerals through the live food you raise. This process is called indirect enrichment and can help you more effectively fight disease by ensuring the right combination of ingredients makes its way into your fish’s diet. Many fish supply sites provide aquarium live food rearing supplements like these.

For further detailed instructions you can buy the amazon book by Mike Hellweg. Click on the picture to go to Amazon

This book was written by a master breeder of tropical fish. It has been written not just to culture live food but rather to culture live food for the benefit of fish and breeding and raising fry. It is well written giving detailed instructions on how to raise the variouslive foods. Finally you will be armed with the knowledge on what to feed difficult to breed species. Over 80 different live foods are explained in great detail. This is a book for the serious hobbyist and breeder. It is well written and surprisingly easy to read and understand.