When someone tells me about the vibrant and colorful fishes they saw in an aquarium, I suspect they were talking about saltwater fishes.

Their colors and personality would be hard to replicate using only a freshwater aquarium. However, there are freshwater fishes that can do the trick, such as African cichlids. These originate mostly from Africa’s three famous lakes – Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika.

African cichlids are considered to be one of the most diverse, active, and colorful families of freshwater fish in the modern aquarium hobby. Most species are also fairly hardy and are perfect for both novice and experienced aquarists. If provided with each species’ specific requirements, they can live an average lifespan of six years.

Keep in mind that African cichlids are aggressive and territorial. They are best kept in aquariums with their own kind, with lots of hiding places. In their natural habitat, African cichlids dwell in lake bottoms littered with enormous amounts of rock. Creating a similar biotope is truly a great way to enjoy them because it provides hiding places for them, which serves to minimize their aggressiveness as well as enjoying their natural beauty.

They prefer water hardness between 7.5 to 8.5 pH.


African cichlids are robust eaters and will consume most types of foods. They should be fed a varied diet consisting of both frozen and processed foods like pellets, brine shrimp, and bloodworms.

Many commercial foods are designed for African cichlids. In my personal experience, locally sold sinking pellets work really well for them.

Mouth Brooding

If female African cichlids lay eggs, they are mouth brooders, which means the female nurtures her eggs in her mouth. After the female releases the eggs and the male fertilizes them, she gathers them back into her mouth.

The eggs will remain inside the female’s mouth until they hatch into fry. She will allow her babies to enter and exit her mouth from time to time. She will not eat until the fry grows into a size that makes it possible for them to survive on their own.

The male will continue to pursue and harass the female, adding to her stress. She is very weak by this time, which is why she should be transferred to a separate tank until fully recovered; otherwise, it can be fatal for her. After around four weeks of rearing the babies in her mouth, she will let her babies swim on their own.

Variety of Tropical Fish From Lake Malawi

The Aulonocara, Mbuna, and Haplochromis are the three types of tropical fish from Lake Malawi in the African Rift Valley. Although the three can be kept together, it’s not advisable due to their feeding requirement differences.

Aulonocara Cichlids are commonly called as peacocks. They are very popular, mainly because of their beautiful coloration. They consist of around 23 species.

Popular Varieties

1. A. jacobfreibergi – commonly called the African Butterfly Peacock, this is one of the most colorful of the Peacock cichlids.

2. A. baenschi – called the Yellow Regal, Yellow Peacock, or Sunshine Peacock, this is my favorite. They grow an average of five inches.

3. A. hansbaenschi – commonly called the Red Shoulder Peacock, Red Flush, or Firebird Cichlid.

4. A. nyassae – known as the Emperor Cichlid.

5. A. rubenscens – dubbed the Ruby Red Peacock.

Common Varieties

1. Cyrtocara moorii – popularly called Blue Moorii, Blue Dolphin Cichlid, Malawi Blue Dolphin Cichlid, or Hump-heads. I am not a fan of Haps but one of may favorite African Cichlids is this variety.

2. Sciaenochromis fryeri – called Electric Blue, Hap Ahli, or Blue Ahli.

3. Haplochromis Compressiceps, Compressiceps, Eyebiter – quite peculiar looking fish. Sometimes, I can see the image of a horse image with this species.

4. Venustus Nimbochromis – known as Venustus or Giraffe Cichlid. This is a big fish that can grow to a length of ten inches. It has a yellow body covered with splotches of brown. Males develop an attractive blue face and head as they mature.

5. Nimbochromis livingstonii – commonly called Livingstonii. Like the Venustus, it can also reach close to ten inches.

6. Copadichromis borleyi – dubbed the Red Fin Kadango, Redfin Hap, or Goldfin Hap. Their average size is around 6 inches.

Most Popular Mbuna Cichlids

1. Pseudotropheus demasoni – called Demasoni. Definitely my favorite among all Mbunas. They are dwarf in size, but pack a lot of personality.

2. Melanochromis auratus – known as Auratus. They have a golden coloring with stripes of black and blue. Males and females have opposite coloring. They are very aggressive fish.

3. Pseudotropheus socolofi – dubbed the Blue Pindani. They have a beautiful blue color and are less aggressive than Auratus and Kenyi.

4. Albino Pseudotropheus socolofi – common named Ice Blue. These are the beautiful albino counterpart of the Blue Pindani.

5. Maylandia lombardoi (previously Pseudotropheus lombardoi) – also named Kenyi or Blue Kenyi. They are beautiful zebra-barred African cichlids that reach up to four inches in length.

6. Metriaclima estherae – known as Tangerine or Red Zebra. The key to the beauty of this fish, based on my experience, is sunlight. They turn dark orange and are truly majestic in sight.

7. Labidochromis caeruleus – called Yellow Prince, Yellow Lab, and Electric Yellow. These are very popular because of their beautiful yellow coloring.

8. Labeotropheus Fuelleborni – common name: Fuelleborni. They are heavy algae eaters. Females have marbled patterns. They can grow five to six inches.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September 2018 issue.