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Lake Malawi Cichlids Species Overview & Care Guide

Do you love larger species for your aquarium? Larger African cichlids or Lake Malawi cichlids have a wide range of species options you can choose from.

These cichlids aren’t only larger but they also have an amazing appearance each with unique coloration and pattern. This genus has been a popular choice for home aquariums and has been consistently imported from its natural freshwater environment.

It refers to a range of species from 4 inches to 13 inches depending on the particular species. They have varying temperaments but have successfully thrived and been bred in captivity worldwide. You can now find different haplochromis species in the market with no problems.

Species Overview

Level of CareEasy
TemperamentSemi-Aggressive or Aggressive. Depending on the species
AppearanceBold patterns and coloration. Unique for each species
Life ExpectancyUp to 10 years
Size4-13 inches
DietHerbivorous, Omnivorous, Carnivorous, Insectivorous
Tank Size50-gallon or larger
Tank EnvironmentWide range of water conditions. The exact parameters depend on the particular species
Tank MatesBetter kept in a species tank
Possible tank mates include large armored catfish

African cichlids or haplochromis host different species with diverse colorations, characteristics, behaviors, and habitats.

The freshwater species are popular among aquarists and can thrive in different sizes of species or community tanks. They’re generally adaptable and resilient in the aquarium environment.

According to reports, Lake Malawi’s cichlids cover more than 1000 different species. It’s impossible to list down all the species here but there are some popular ones which we’ve covered in detail in this blog.


These species have diverse colors and patterns that are unique for each. You can have the catalog with pictures, but each lake species may take up to all year long to develop its bold coloration.

On the other hand, captivity-bred Lake Malawi cichlids may be slightly different in color and size from the wild specimens.

The appearance can also be largely determined by the tank environment, care, and diet.

They may have dull coloration as the water conditions aren’t ideal or they receive an unbalanced diet. Indeed, these species are mainly differentiated by their appearance.


Haplochromis species aren’t spectacular until they’ve fully grown so you can enjoy their bold colors.

Even sexting isn’t possible until they’re mature enough. You can expect most Lake Malawi cichlids fry to be gray or silver-colored while some of them have bland egg spots that help them avoid predators.

Some popular cichlids for aquariam include Blue moorii (Cyrtocara moorii), Electric Blue Hap (Sciaenochromis fryeri), Malawi Eyebiter (Dimidiochromis compressiceps) and Star Sapphire Cichlid (Phenochilus Tanzania).

However, haplochromis also refers to larger groups of fish including Utaka cichlids and some peacocks.

They’re usually called “haps”, which refers to their happy behavior even when kept in captivity.

Malawi blue dolphin
Malawi Blue Dolphin

Behavior & Temperament

These species are very active fish that give energy aria appeal. Some species require special care while others are pretty easy to care for.  They unite different levels of aquarists with extensive species to choose from.

These fish have a different levels of aggression. You must be carefully selecting the cichlid species for a community aquarium.

Even though many cichlids have shown their ability to live together with other species, some species are just intolerable. Not all species are eligible for home aquariums.

Lake Malawi Cichlid Care & Tank Setup

The right tank setup haplochromis is generally about resembling their natural habitat as much as possible.

These include the tank size, water conditions, decoration, lighting, filtration, etc. More importantly, you should know how to maintain the tank and take care of the species.

Tank Size

It can have a range size of 4 -13 inches so it would depend on the species and how many fish you want to keep in the tank. If you want to keep smaller species, a 20-gallon tank would do.

However, these can be very active, territorial, and aggressive, you better use larger tanks like 30-gallon or above.

Let’s say you start with a 20-gallon in mind, you need to add three gallons for each fish you want to add into the aquarium.

Take also into account the maximum size of the fish if they’ve fully grown in the future. Providing more space is the best practice whether it’s for species or community tanks.


Most of these would love open water with rocky spaces. The substrates must be fine sands or gravels and avoid coarse, sharp materials. It’s because some species would scavenge foods at the bottom.

This species can be territorial so you’d need to set up plenty of hiding places, cavities, and ensure they have adequate space. You can use either rocky caves, fixtures, or aquaria plants proportionally in a safe manner. However, some species can simply uproot the plants.

Electric blue hap
Electric Blue Hap

Water Conditions

Resembling the natural habitat of Haplochromis species in Lake Malawi, you must keep a pH value of 6.5 to 8.5. The exact value would be subject to the species you want to keep. Water temperature is slightly flexible at a range of 75 – 85 F.

If it’s a community tank, you should maintain the best possible setup for all inhabitants. Otherwise, you better choose the tank mates that require similar water parameters to live in the tank.

To keep the water quality and temperature, you need some instruments to invest in including a thermostat, water heater, and filter. The heating and filtration system must suit the species or community tank size. When it comes to lighting, they have no specific requirements except for showcase purposes.

Again, a larger tank is highly recommended if you want to keep Lake Malawi cichlids in captivity. Since they can live up to 10 years, choosing the proper aquarium is important as a long-term investment.

Tank Maintenance

Despite a robust filtration system, maintain the water quality in the tank by cleaning up your tank regularly. Do partial water changes of up to 25% each week to reduce the nitrate level that would make water toxic. The bio-loads would be larger with more inhabitants in the tank.

With proper maintenance, you allow them to live healthier and longer. Besides, it provides you with a clear aquarium view where you can see these habitants swimming or schooling around.

Tank Mates

It can be aggressive so you must carefully select tank mates. Avoid any species that love to swim in the open water as cichlids may attack them. It may prey on small fish so they are better kept with similar-sized species.

Don’t put South American cichlids and Lake Malawi cichlids together since they’d likely fight each other even though they look similar. At this point, the larger bottom-dwellers are likely the best possible options for tank mates. The armored catfish can defend themselves and won’t disturb the swimming area of cichlids.

Need a more peaceful and less hassle maintenance? You better keep them in a species tank instead of in the community aquarium.  While it looks dull, that’s the safest option for keeping Lake Malawi’s cichlids in a home aquarium.

It’s highly recommended to contact a professional aquarist if you want to set up a community tank. Ask them for the best ideal population and tank mates for these cichlids.

Food & Diet

These species require varied foods and the exact diet would be subject to each species. They can be carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, or insectivores. You can prepare varied foods of pretty much everything but you must provide adequate but no excessive supplies.

Some common foods for this species include flakes,  insects, tubifex or blood worms, frozen foods, cichlid pellets, algae waters, brine shrimps, vegetables, and fruits. Regardless of the species, you can feed Haplochromis fish twice a day and avoid singly large portions.

Don’t overfeed them and keep the water quality reduced from decaying waste. Generally speaking, you feed on them with no more than they can finish within 2-3 minutes. Give a longer gap between meals as these process foods slower than other fish.

You won’t find any difficulty when looking for their foods since they’re widely available in the market. There are also special foods for cichlids that may intensify the colors or boost the saturation. Consult with experts whether or not your particular Haplochromis species can take these specialty foods and which products to select.

Breeding & Reproduction

Like other African cichlids, Haplochromis is easy to breed even in captivity. The females are generally maternal mouthbrooders while the eggs can be scattered throughout the tank. Males would fertilize the eggs and the female would incubate them in her mouth.

The incubation period can last up to 21 to 31 days depending on the water condition. Once hatched, the free-swimming fry is released but the mother would collect them again once they’re threatened. Males would typically harass the female after spawning.

You can relocate the female into a separate tank where she can take care of her fry safely. You can feed them with infusoria or other suitable foods until they are large enough for the species tank. In this very tank, females can recover from their brooding season more quickly.

With a separate growing tank, you can expect more surviving fry that would grow beautifully and fill your next tanks. Research further for more techniques and approaches for breeding Lake Malawi cichlids in a home aquarium.