10 Most Popular Lake Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi Cichlids can be divided into two different families, which are the Auloncara and the Mbuna. In this article, we are going to talk about the Mbuna Cichlids since they are the most popular ones from the lake in general.

First off, pretty much all African cichlids have an aggressive temperament.

This usually makes it more difficult to pick tank mates for them as well. Of course, there are always at least a handful of species that are compatible with them. Therefore, it is important to do some research before you add any other fish to your tank.

In order to set up your home aquarium properly, you will need to replicate their natural habitat in great detail. This means setting the correct water parameters and re-creating their natural environment at home. Mbunas typically grow to 4-6 inches in size.

They are small, yet there are many interesting fish in this family with some of the most amazing colors and patterns. Can you guess which Lake Malawi Cichlid is the most popular among fish keepers?

1. Electric Yellow Lab Cichlids (Labidochromis caeruleus)

The Yellow Lab Cichlid has such a bright lemon-yellow color that it can deceive you into looking at a floating lemon. Jokes aside, it truly looks amazing and this species is not hard to take proper care of either. Beginner fish keepers can go ahead and buy one without any hesitation.

The Yellow Lab is peaceful and also small with its 3 inches after it matured. If keeping a lot of yellow fish at home is your kind of thing, then you can buy a bunch of them at once. They don’t require much space in order to feel comfortable.

What further complements the looks of this wonderful cichlid are the black lines along its fin tips. Its dorsal fin is also quite long which makes this species even more decorative. Fish keepers often call it Lemon Drop after its bright yellow color.

You can freely put this fish together with other Mbuna species thanks to its peaceful temperament. They prefer hard water, a soft sandy substrate and a rocky environment in general.

2. Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis auratus)

People absolutely love the horizontal stripes that can appear in various ways on an Auratus Cichlid. Although it looks innocent, this one is actually one of the most aggressive fish from Lake Malawi. It is rather small, measuring only 6 to 8 inches in size, yet it requires a rather big aquarium.

Just because it is so aggressive, a minimum of 75 gallons is required for this species. But this doesn’t mean you can’t keep it with some other species. Many years of fish keeping experience has proved that it is best to keep them with fish from the Haplochromis and Peacock family.

Or you can populate your aquarium with lots of Cichlids, which is a great tactic for preventing them from establishing territories. Since there will be so many different types of fish around them, they simply won’t get the opportunity to pay attention to the weaker ones.

This, of course, will require you to change the water more frequently because with more fish comes more contamination.

3. Maingano Cichlid / Blue Johanni (Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos)

What makes the Maingano Cichlid so beautiful is its blue and black horizontal stripes that run through its body. The blue color is sometimes brighter and sometimes darker that covers its cylindrical, elongated body. Typical to the Mbuna cichlid family in general, this one also lives in a structured, rocky environment.

It is best to keep them in an aquarium with plenty of driftwood, plants but mostly rocks and caves. The hiding places are going to be more important for the other cichlids in the tank because they are going to get chased. Mainganos can be very aggressive so they will need to hide from them.

Out in the wild, they tend to dig in the substrate looking for food. Therefore, using some fine-grained substrate in the tank is important because it prevents them from hurting themselves while digging. When it comes to such aggressive species like the Maingano, you should keep very few males and a lot of females.

You should keep them on an herbivore diet while occasionally adding protein-rich foods to the mix.

4. Aurora Cichlid (Pseudotropheus aurora)

For those who are looking to keep some Malawi cichlids, keeping an Aurora Cichlid at home is a must. Although they are aggressive and territorial, they are also quite small which makes them ideal aquarium fish. Not to mention their fascinating colors which makes them a delight to look at.

In their natural habitat, they got used to a sandy and rocky environment so that’s what you should replicate at home. For beginner fish keepers, it can be quite a challenge to keep this species because of their aggressive ways. They are typically bright blue with vertical stripes while their fin tips and throat area are bright yellow.

If you take proper care of an Aurora Cichlid, it can live as long as 10 years. Housing a male with a few females will require a 30-gallon fish tank, which is the bare minimum. When it comes to tank mates, they are compatible with all the other Mbuna Cichlids.

5. Red Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae)

The Red Zebra Cichlid is one of the Lake Malawi Peacock Cichlids and its body is bright orange, yellow or it can be any shade between the two. Although it falls under the Zebra family, this one doesn’t have any stripes. In fact, it’s usually completely red in its natural habitat.

Including rocks, caves and other decoration that can work as hiding places is mandatory. Otherwise, your Red Zebra is just going to bully its tank mates all day. It is just how aggressive this species is. Being mouth breeders, they only need correctly set water conditions in order to indulge in breeding.

If your main purpose is to breed Red Zebra Cichlids, then we recommend you to keep 6-7 females with a single male. Keeping more females than males is a good idea in general. They are omnivores so you will have many options when it comes to feeding them.

6. Blue Dolphin Cichlid (Cyrtocara moorii)

The Blue Dolphin Cichlid is easily recognizable by its bright blue color and the hump on its head. It sometimes develops a couple of blue patches as well. If you plan to fill your aquarium with Malawi Cichlids, then this is going to be one of the bigger ones.

When the Blue Dolphin reaches maturity, it can be as big as 10 inches. Although juveniles don’t have a bump on their forehead, it always develops with age. This species will truly stand out in a colorful aquarium filled with cichlids. The hump on their head is what makes both the male and the female look similar to a dolphin.

Although the Blue Dolphin Cichlid is peaceful, you should definitely keep only one male in the tank. As tension grows between males, they can get quite aggressive towards each other. We would recommend you to not pick tank mates that are much smaller or overly territorial.

7. Venustus Cichlid / Giraffe Cichlid (Nimbochromis venustus)

If you are looking for a peaceful fish that flourishes in a mix of blue and yellow, then you should take a look at the Venustus Cichlid. It is also called as Venustus Hap among fish keepers because it belongs to the Haplochromine fish family.

Although females are quite peaceful, males can often be the complete opposite. In any case, we don’t recommend you to keep more than a couple of males in the same aquarium. And, of course, they have to be accompanied by multiple females. The one to one ratio simply doesn’t work.

You will need a bigger tank for the Venustus Cichlid because they not only require plenty of swimming space but hiding places as well. Rocks are the most optimal hiding places for them but you can add a few plants and caves too.

We can’t say this one is for absolute beginners but pretty much everyone is able to take proper care of this fish after a bit of research.

8. Sunshine Peacock (Aulonocara baenschi)

Once you discover something as beautiful as the Sunshine Peacock, it is going to be hard to resist buying it for your home aquarium. It is pure perfection with the vertical stripes running through its bright yellow and neon blue body.

As usual with cichlids that are from Lake Malawi, this one also needs at least a 100-gallon tank once it reaches maturity. Cichlids that fall under this family of species are pretty much all very active and aggressive. They need plenty of space to swim around and hiding places as well.

If you want to set up a colorful home aquarium with the Sunshine Peacock, then you need to buy a bunch of different cichlids. Then just put them together and leave them enough space to swim around but not enough to establish their territory.

It is going to be easy to breed this mouthbreeder fish at home. Since they become even more territorial and aggressive during this period, the pair should be removed from the tank.

9. Rostratus Cichlid (Fossorochromis rostratus)

The Rostratus Cichlid is usually blue with black vertical stripes and wonderful fins decorating its body. This species can grow as big as 10 inches when reaching maturity. It is best to keep it in a big tank because it’s a swift swimmer that needs a lot of space.

The coloration can differ from individual to individual, which one of the things that makes the Rostratus Cichlid so unique. Obviously, their colors are the most beautiful during their breeding season. Those who buy a pair in hope of breeding them should keep in mind that it takes two years for the juvenile to become fertile.

The personality of the Rostratus Cichlid is very interesting because it buries itself into the substrate when it gets scared. You will be surprised when you see how it does it with lightning speed. You are going to need to lay down plenty of sand substrate for this fish.

10. Flavescent Peacock (Aulonocara stuartgranti)

The Flavescent Peacock looks very similar to the Sunshine Peacock and it is just as beautiful. It has the same vertical stripes with the males being typically black and blue and the females flourishing in brighter colors. If you want to see many different bright shades in your aquarium, then you should consider buying one.

It has the main characteristics of the typical Lake Malawi Cichlid. It tends to be semi-aggressive and needs a lot of space in the tank. Flavescent Peacocks can develop different colors, which allows you to set up a colorful single species tank. In fact, we are talking about a family of fish here and their color depends on where they live in the lake.

Their brilliant coloration is what made them widely popular among fish enthusiasts. You can keep them together with numerous other species as long as they are not aggressive or hyperactive. Unlike many other colorful fish, the Flavescent Peacock is not that sensitive which makes it ideal for beginner fish keepers.

Wrapping up

In fact, you can keep several Lake Malawi Cichlids in the same tank if you follow a simple tactic. Buy a relatively big tank and populate it with a lot of cichlids. The point is to reduce their ability to establish territories by reducing the space between them.

This doesn’t mean that you should overcrowd the tank. You just need to hit the balance between overcrowding it and them being able to establish territories. If you can do this, you are going to have a wonderful tank where territorial debates are simply not going to happen.

Hopefully, this article helped you discover some Lake Malawi Cichlids you have never heard about before. Now all you need to do is to buy the ones you like the most and set up an exciting home aquarium. If your main goal is to breed specific types of Mbunas, then all you need to do is to keep the water conditions stable and it will happen eventually.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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