please update your bookmarks!
click banner for the new site and new sections

Cichlids of African Rift Lakes

tropical fish


I am going to change the format on this section as all the information written in the Cichlids page is applicable to these fish as well. I will give some specific information on the care of the fish from each individual lake. To view some quick statistics on many individual fish just click on any picture.
African Cichlids:
I have added the word "Rift" in the title phrase to emphasize the specific region where these cichlids live; namely the Rift lakes Malawi and Tanganyika. When you hear the term "African Cichlids" most people think of fish from these great lakes, but Africa is home to a wide variety of Cichlids like these. lakes
Click for full size map.






    With basically the same behavior patterns as their South American cousins. The Rift lake Cichlids have very different and specialized needs, which will be outlined here on a lake to lake basis.

Lake Malawi:

 cape maclear
View to Cape MaClear, Lake Malawi.
photo by; Liolsten Kaonga

Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa about 365 miles long but only 53 miles at its widest and probably has the greatest fish diversity anywhere. It is home to over five hundred species of Cichlids, including the popular "mbuna" which actually consists of more than fifty popular species.


    Lake Malawi water statistics

    Area 11430 sq miles.
    Maximum depth about 2300 feet
    Clarity up to 70 feet
    pH 7.7 to 8.6
    Total hardness 4.0 to 6.0 dH
    Carbonate hardness 6.0 to 8.0
    Surface temperature 76 to 85 dF
    Deep water temp 69 dF
    Conductivity at 68dF 210-285  micro-Siemens/cm


All of the Mbuna cichlids are vegetarian and in their natural habitat graze the algae off the rocks where they live. The Mbuna are highly colorful and generally small like the electric yellow Labidochromis. Probably the most recognized species of mbuna are the members of the genera pseudotropheus with p. zebra being the most popular of all. P. zebra has many color variations ranging from blue to red to spotted, there is even an albino variation.

Yellow Labidochromis

P. Zebra albino

The other important aquarium Cichlids from the lake include the "Utaka-Cichlids" which live in the open water regions and feed on the Zooplankton floating in the water. They are some of the most vivid blues seen and can rival any marine fish. They grow larger than the Mbuna and need a larger tank.


Lake Tanganyika:

Ruizizi river
Ruizizi river flowing into Lake Tanganyika.
photo from the Lake Tanganyika fisheries research site.

Lake Tanganyika is the second largest lake in Africa about 410 miles long and at its' widest 45 miles and is also known for its great depth of over 4700 feet. The lake has a couple of interesting points,  (1) it is the longest lake in the world and (2) it is the second deepest lake in the world. It is home to about 200 species of Cichlids, with more being classified all the time.


Lake Tanganyika water statistics

Area 12700 sq. miles
Maximum depth over 4700 feet
Clarity up to 70 feet
pH 8.6 - 9.5
Total hardness 11 - 17 dH
Carbonate hardness 16 - 19 dH
Surface temperature 76 to 85 dF
Deep water temperature about 70 dF
Conductivity at 68 dF 570-640 micro-Siemens/cm


Sciaenochromis Ahli.


Probably the most sought after fish are from the genus Tropheus with the Troppheus Moorii being one of the favorites, followed by the Neolamprologus with many interesting members such as N. Brichardi. The Tanganyikan cichlids are not as commonly available as their Malawi cousins and so their following is usually limited to the Cichlid specialist.

Troppheus moorii


General requirements:
Due to their aggressive behavior the African Cichlid tank should be as large possible, with its length being more critical than its height: meaning the longer the better.

The bottom substrate should be of a material that will aid in the pH buffering capabilities of the water. Good substrate choices could be Dolomite or crushed coral.

Decorations for the aquaria should include rock structures with caves and platforms, but leave an open area for swimming. Try to avoid driftwood as it tends to lower pH over time.

The use of live plants is a hit or miss situation (usually miss) due to the Africans vegetarian nature. Lighting is not critical and can be of any spectrum or color you like.

The water chemistry for the African lakes differs greatly from all other bio-topes and more closely resembles marine than tropical fresh water. Due to their high pH and hardness levels it is necessary to treat the water with some sort of African Cichlid lake salts, two products I use and find to excellent are Kent A F Cichlid buffer and Kent A F Cichlid chemistry.

In nature feeding is by scraping the algae covered (Aufwuchs) rock surfaces, and in the aquarium it is not a problem as all flake food is taken, but it should be supplemented with a plant based formula containing something like Spirulina.

Almost all of the species from Lake Malawi are known as mouth-brooders, they incubate the eggs and protect their fry in special sacs in the mouth. They are excellent and protective parents and have been known to raise young in crowded community set ups.

Tanganyikan Cichlids are more varied in their spawning techniques and consist of open spawners mouthbrooders and even some that use empty snail shells. They too are great parents. This is a general overview of these fish and much more specific information is published on them, suffice to say that if you are willing to meet their needs the African Cichlids will provide you with many years of enjoyment.




The Cichlid Room Companion

C.H.O.P. Cichlid Home Page

Guide to South American Cichlids

The Cichlid Center


Navigation Console

Tropical Fish