Mbuna Cichlid Temperature – What is the Best?

Mbuna cichlids belong to a special category of tank fish – the exclusive one. These cichlids’ most distinct characteristic is their origin. All Mbuna cichlids come from Lake Malawi, where it is believed that more than 1,000 species of cichlids have adapted to the multitude of habitats available.

The Mbuna cichlids display slightly different characteristics compared to their common counterparts, including:

  • Behavioral differences – Mbuna cichlids tend to be more aggressive than other species. This is because cichlids make up most of the lake’s fauna, leading some species to have few interactions with other fish. As a result, they have developed powerful territorial instincts and will attack and kill any fish entering their protected area. This makes Mbuna cichlids unfit for community tanks, no matter what other fish species those environments house.
  • Dietary specialization – Mbuna cichlids are mostly herbivorous, unlike other species that display a wide range of dietary preferences, including carnivorous, omnivorous, detritivores, etc. This doesn’t mean that they won’t consume animal-sourced protein, it’s just that they prefer more plant-oriented diets. They also tend to consume a lot of aufwuchs (an organic growth consisting of algae, small crustaceans, bacteria, and other micro-biological components), providing them with all the nutrients necessary in the wild.
  • Temperature differences – Not all Mbuna cichlids prefer the same temperatures. It all depends on their habitat layout, as some species live in colder areas than others. This means that, depending on the species, your cichlids may require different environmental temperatures.

What Temperature is Best for Mbuna Cichlids?

Most Mbuna cichlids thrive in temperatures around 77-85 °F. This is higher than many tank species, including tropical ones. Guppies, for instance, require temperatures around 72 to 82 F but will be more comfortable in the mid-70s. When it comes to cichlids, their Goldilocks zone is around 80 for most species.

Then you have other Mbuna species that prefer colder waters with temperatures of 75 to 79 °F. Finding the ideal temperature range for your cichlids is vital since these fish regulate their entire existence based on the environmental temperature. It influences their breeding rate, activity level, temperament, and long-term health.

Lowest Temperature for Mbuna Cichlids

Before figuring out the lowest temperatures that Mbuna cichlids are able to withstand, let’s first understand that there’s no consensus on the matter. There isn’t even a consensus on these species’ preferred temperature range. Some claim it’s 76-80, others that it’s 77-85, while others place it at 75-82. These small temperature variations may create confusion, so it’s best to stay somewhere in the middle rather than push the limits to see what holds.

As a general rule, I advise keeping your cichlids’ environmental temperature at values around 76-79. This appears to be the comfort zone for most Mbuna species. But what would be the general lowest temperature for Mbuna cichlids, and what happens if you go beyond it?

I would say the absolute temperature would be 75 F. As to what happens to cichlids in cold waters, the answer is: nothing good.

The immediate effect is that their metabolism will slow down significantly, leading to:

  • Less activity and swimming around the tank
  • Lower appetite throughout the day
  • Less pooping due to eating less
  • Lower breeding rates, since cichlids won’t mate if the environmental conditions are not optimal
  • Hindered growth rate, leading to smaller cichlids
  • Diseases and parasitic infections due to a weaker immune system

In other words, Mbuna cichlids need tropical conditions to thrive and remain healthy long-term.

Do Mbuna Cichlids Need Aquarium Heater?

I would say yes, they do, regardless of the environmental temperature. Water temperature can fluctuate dramatically during the day, especially in heavily circulated rooms. Since cichlids need temperatures sitting higher on the thermometer, you can’t afford to leave the water’s temperature to chance.

Invest in a heater and program it to a specific temperature range. This will allow you to control the cichlids’ habitat and overall life quality for years to come.

Temperature During Water Changes

This is an important point due to the nature of Mbuna cichlids. These fish tend to be more aggressive when kept in small groups, causing many aquarists to keep them in larger shoals. Some even push cichlids to the brink of overcrowding since they prefer overcrowding to empty spaces with only a handful of mates.

As you know, overcrowding comes with a variety of problems, primarily excess fish waste and ammonia boosts. This means that cichlids require more frequent water changes and more water being changed each time. While other fish species require 1 water change per week, replacing 10-15% of the water volume, Mbuna cichlids may need 2 water changes per week, replacing 20-40% of the water.

This can cause issues due to temperature variations in the water, and cichlids don’t appreciate temperature fluctuations that much. To prevent this problem, use a water heater to balance the water’s temperature before adding it to the tank. This will prevent your cichlids from detecting any significant temperature shifts, keeping them comfortable during the process.

Mbuna Cichlid Temperature Shock

The signs of temperature shock depend on where the temperature goes. If it’s cold-water shock, your cichlids will display lethargy, lack of appetite, erratic swimming, and apparent confusion. They will die soon if the temperature remains at dangerously low levels for prolonged periods of time.

If the water is too hot, your cichlids will display signs of suffocation. That’s because the hotter the water is, the lower the oxygen levels present. In such a scenario, Mbuna cichlids will display rapid gill movements, opening and closing the mouth in rapid succession, and swimming in an abnormal fashion.

They will soon lose control of their bodies and die if the situation doesn’t change. A reliable heating system will prevent situations like this.

What Temperature is Too Hot for Mbunas?

I would say anything going above 84, but here’s the deal. 84 isn’t ideal either. For instance, when we say that Mbuna cichlids are comfortable with temperatures between 75 to 84, that doesn’t mean that they are comfortable living at 75 or 84 long-term. Those are the limits, but it’s the average that matters.

So, I would say that 84 is generally too high for your Mbuna cichlids in the long run. Anything above that will cause additional problems proportional to the temperature’s value.


Mbuna cichlids are generally hardy fish, but they have strict environmental requirements and a fiery attitude. They also have a specialized diet and lifestyle, making them unfit for novice aquarists.

Only consider a Mbuna cichlid tank if you’re confident in your abilities to accommodate them in their environment. And, whatever you do, don’t mix them with other fish species unless you want to see death happening.

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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