Mbuna Cichlids: Top 8 Facts You May Not Know

Mbuna are cichlids that reside amid rock heaps and along Lake Malawi‘s rocky coasts, unlike other Haplochromide cichlids that live in open water, on sandy coastlines, or on soft substrates. In the Tonga language of Malawi, the term mbuna means “rockfish.” Mbuna Cichlids fish can grow to a maximum size of four to six inches. 

Unlike other Haps and Peacocks, the males and females generally have color at maturity. These bright and intriguing fish are frequently seen hidden in rocky caves and are much more than furious tiny fish. They’re tough, versatile, and colorful. In this post, Healthy Betta will provide you with some of the little-known facts about Mbuna Cichlids.

  • Name: Genyochromis, Labeotropheus, Labidochromis, Melanochromis, Iodotropheus
  • Family: Haplochromine
  • Care Level: Moderate to difficult
  • Temperature: 73-84˚F
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Color Form: Orange, yellow, and bright blue are common
  • Lifespan: Up to 10 years
  • Size: 2-8 inches
  • Diet: Herbivorous with occasional offerings like bloodworms
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Tank Set-Up: Rocks with plenty of hides and caves
  • Compatibility: Peaceful bottom-dwellers and other fish that frequently hide in rocky environments

What Are Mbuna Cichlid Fish?

Mbuna Cichlid Fish
Mbuna Cichlids. Image credits: Calwhiz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Mbuna cichlids vary in activity, diet, compatibility, and color, but they all live on rocks. This implies that a tank loaded with rocks is essential for their health and enjoyment. Many plants are not suitable for these fish since they are rough on plants, uprooting them while scavenging or devouring them. Mbuna cichlids spend a lot of time hiding in rock caves, and you may often spot them congregating under the rocks, looking out at you. They are, nevertheless, energetic fish, and it is not uncommon for them to spend the entire day swimming about the tank.

There are around 100 kinds of these gorgeous fishes, all of which come from Lake Malawi, the world’s tenth-largest lake. Mbuna, in general, refers to any of Lake Malawi’s rock-dwelling cichlid species. And among them, 13 are classified as Mbunas, including:

  • Abactochromis 
  • Melanochromis 
  • Labeotropheus 
  • Iodotropheus
  • Cynotilapia 
  • Maylandia 
  • Labidochromis
  • Genyochromis 
  • Gephyrochromis 
  • Tropheops 
  • Cyathochromis 
  • Petrotilapia 
  • Pseudotropheus 

What are Mbuna Cichlids like? Most Mbuna cichlids are territorial, prepared to protect their perceived territory against tankmates, while some are hostile. Mbuna are normally equally territorial towards both males and females, except when a female is ready to spawn. Choosing tankmates who will not come into contact with the cichlids regularly is typically the best solution. Still, another alternative is to have a harem with one male and many females. Overstocking Mbuna can reduce territorial behavior by restricting the amount of area each fish has to “claim.”

What Do Mbuna Fish Look Like?

Mbunas have such brilliant and unusual hues that they are sometimes misidentified as marine fish. Color is one of the requirements for a fish to be an aquarium staple. And, no pun intended, mbunas pass with flying colors.

Blue, green, red, yellow, stripes, spots — you name it, and anything exists as a Mbuna. Of course, the most common colors are orange and yellow, but they come in every hue you can think of.

There are around 100 species of Mbunas in various colors of blue. There’s one more spot where these fish have struck gold. Males in most species are brightly colored, whereas females are dull. 

What Is Mbuna Cichlid’s Diet? 

Except for the Labiochromis cichlids, all Mbuna cichlids are herbivores. These fish eat aufwuchs in the wild. Aufwuch is a type of rock growth that consists of strands of algae, biofilm, and microscopic animals. They will even eat zooplankton that grows higher up in the water during specific seasons.

The underslung mouth of these cichlids allows them to easily reach and pull off the greatest algae growth in stormy waters while maintaining their bodies flat against the rocks.

You may feed them commercial pellets, flakes, and granules created particularly for herbivorous animals kept in captivity. Of course, seafood wafers and freshly blanched vegetables are also excellent choices.

Ensure that you do not feed a protein-rich and fatty diet for South American carnivorous cichlids.

Each Mbuna species employs its specialty in the natural, whether it’s for consuming long algae, short algae, insect larvae, invertebrates, or eggs. However, in captivity, these specialties are rarely used.

Constantly nibbling on rich and fatty foods typically results in the famed Malawi bloat, while other factors like excess salt and stress can also contribute.

Malawi bloat is characterized by stomach and neck bloating. In addition, the eyes bulge. This illness is deadly if not treated promptly.

How To Breed Mbuna Cichlid Fish?

How to Breed Mbuna Cichlids!! Source: Youtube/Ricky Kenerly Cichlids

All mbuna species are polygamous, meaning the male will mate with many females within a single mating season. Mbunas reproduce fast in captivity as well. Mbunas attain sexual maturity when they are around 3 inches long, normally on their first birthday. Males are larger and more brightly colored than females. The dominant male in the region will have the most vibrant hues.

The beginning of the mating season is signaled by the male claiming a small area that he believes would be the best spawning spot. He will show himself off to the girl once the location is determined. As he seeks to entice the female to the nesting site, he will dance, shimmy, vibrate his body, and erect his fins.

If the female is spawning, she will finally agree and accompany the male to the nesting site. There, the pair will have a meeting and swim in a circular motion near to one another. The female will then deposit eggs on a flat surface and instantly scoop them into her mouth.

While the female is picking her egg, the male will display the egg spots on his anal fin. The unassuming female believes it is her eggs and follows the guy behind him to get them. At this point, the male will discharge milt straight into her mouth, fertilizing the eggs efficiently. When the eggs hatch, the male chases the female away – ungrateful!

The mother will incubate the eggs for approximately 4 weeks. A single batch of Mbuna fry typically has 25-35 individuals. They rely on the nutrient-dense yolk sac for sustenance for the first several days. They’re big enough to eat young brine shrimp, crushed flake food, and cyclops by the time they’re free-swimming.

How To Care For Mbuna Cichlids?

  • Tank/Aquarium Size: A 30-gallon tank will be fine for smaller Mbuna, such as the Electric Yellow cichlid, but a 40-gallon or bigger tank is preferred. A significantly bigger tank, up to 55 gallons, may be required for larger Mbuna, such as the Blue Dolphin Moorii. Although cichlids live alone, it is best to keep at least a breeding pair or more to allow them to thrive.
  • Water Chemistry: Mbuna cichlids prefer temperatures ranging from 77 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, but they may survive in water as cold as 73 degrees Fahrenheit. These fish require somewhat alkaline water, with a pH of 7.5-8.5. Alkaline water can be created by adding crushed coral, baking soda, or commercial items.
  • Substrate: Sand is the greatest substrate for Mbuna cichlids because it allows Mbuna cichlids to scavenge and dig without getting cut on sharp edges. They may, however, exist in tanks with gravel and other rough substrates. Cichlid-specific substrates are commercially available, so you can easily purchase them. 
  • Plants: Plants attached to rock or driftwood are ideal for Mbuna cichlid aquariums since they prevent the fish from uprooting them. Java fern, Anubias, and mosses are all viable choices. Other plants, such as Vallisneria and Cabomba, may survive the fish’s uprooting attempts. In addition, floating plants, such as Hornwort, are also viable possibilities. Keep in mind that the alkalinity of the water restricts the number of plants that may thrive in the tank.
  • Lighting: Mbuna cichlids have no particular illumination requirements outside of the usual day/night cycle, which is required for health and immunity.
  • Filtration: Mbuna cichlids require a lot of filtration, especially if they’re housed in overcrowded aquariums. Canister filters are an excellent choice, particularly when paired with biological filtration such as a sponge filter.

How To Manage Mbuna Cichlid Aggression?

Mbunas, particularly males, are well-known for their rage — and for all the right reasons. That rage stems from a desire to be the sole male haplochromine in all of Lake Malawi, to fan their fins on the nicest territory, and to have a sexually excited female visit every hour or so.

In our little tank, a male will surely have multiple conflicts with competing males and non-sexual females within the four walls of an aquarium, much to his chagrin! As a result, there are bloodbaths and sexual assaults. 

Therefore, fiddling with the decors is the first step in regulating hostility in mbunas. Add a lot of rocks. Rocks provide mbunas a feeling of purpose in their life, as well as a sense of belonging. It is not even exaggerating to say that since it’s where mbuna cichlids eat, sleep, and reproduce.

Also, don’t forget to stack the rocks so that the females, fry, and subdominant males may hide in the crevices from the dominant male. You may pile the pebbles even higher to block your view across the aquarium totally. Making visible borders will allow two men to cohabit happily as they each reign over their limited territory.

Also, sometimes, you can overcrowd the aquarium with fish of equal size and age. Ensure that each male is outnumbered by at least two females so that the unfortunate girl isn’t singled out and bullied. The way overstocking is helpful since the furious male can’t stay away from his rock for very long, chasing and harassing females and submissive males, since another fish may simply take his place when he’s gone. The absolute minimum number for overstocking is 20. You might even be able to maintain 30 or 40.

What Are Mbuna Cichlids’ Tank Mates?

Assorted Mbuna Cichlid
Assorted Mbuna Cichlid

Mbunas are tough fish that can live in a variety of water conditions. But it doesn’t imply they can be paired with just any fish. When choosing appropriate companions for them, you should constantly consider their aggression. Below are the lists of best tank mates for Mbuna Cichlids.

Omnivore Mbunas Are Compatible With:

  • Lake Malawi Herbivore Mbunas
  • Lake Victoria Haplochromis 
  • Lake Malawi Aulonocara, haps, and peaceful predators
  • Lake Tanganyika Herbivores 

Herbivore Mbunas Are Compatible With:

  • Omnivore mbunas
  • Lake Victoria Haplochromis 
  • Lake Victoria haplochromis 
  • Lake Victoria Haplochromis 
  • Lake Tanganyika Herbivores (the tank should be large enough)

Mbunas Are Incompatible With:

  • Lake Tanganyika Carnivores (They nip on fins, even devour smaller mbunas)
  • Giant predator fish

You may also be interested in: Top 15 Best Betta Tank Mates & Companions

What Mbuna Cichlids Are Best For Your Tank?

Several species of mbuna cichlids are for sale; however, popularity does not always correspond with ease of care. Melanochromis auratus, for example, is, in my opinion, the most well-known mbuna in the fishkeeping world. They are, however, one of the most aggressive species, and will go to any length to control and harass your tank. Furthermore, as adults, they lose much of their lovely humbug patterns and remain a somewhat dismal hue. As a result, what appears to be a smart decision on paper may not necessarily be the best choice for you.

Don’t worry, and the listings are below.

Here is top beginner-friendly mbuna cichlids for your aquariums:

  • Chilumba Cichlid (Tropheops chilumba)
  • Perlmutt Cichlid (Labidochromis perlmutt)
  • Freibergi Cichlid (Labidochromis freibergi)
  • Livingstonii Cichlid (Pseudotropheus livingstonii)
  • Perspicax Cichlid (Pseudotropheus perspicax)
  • Dialeptos Cichlid (Melanochromis dialeptos)
  • Maingano Cichlid Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos 
  • Pearl of Likoma Cichlid (Melanochromis joanjohnsonae)
  • Yellow-tail Acei Cichlid (Pseudotropheus acei)
  • Electric Yellow Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus)

Bigger and more aggressive cichlids might be a challenge for inexperienced keepers. 

Here is a list of mbuna species to avoid since they are huge and aggressive:

  • Blue Mbuna Cichlid (Labeotropheus fuelleborni)
  • Bumblebee Cichlid(Metriaclima crabro)
  • Ice Blue Cichlid (Metriaclima greshakei)
  • Kennyi Cichlid (Metriaclima lombardoi)
  • Pindani Cichlid (Pseudotropheus socolofi)
  • Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis auratus) 

All mbuna cichlids are made equal – yet not all are suitable for all situations if that makes sense. As a result, there will undoubtedly be a list of the “best mbuna cichlids” based on popularity, looks, and behavior. 

The following are some of the finest mbuna cichlids:

  • Bumblebee Cichlid (Pseudotropheus crabro)
  • Yellow Lab Cichlid (Labidochromis caeruleus)
  • Clown Lab Cichlid (Labidochromis chisumulae)
  • Blue Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia callainos)
  • Golden Cichlid (Melanochromis auratus)
  • Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis auratus)
  • Red Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae)
  • Yellow Tail Acei Cichlid (Pseudotropheus sp.)
  • Elongatus Jewel Spot Cichlid (Pseudotropheus elongatus)

You may also be interested in 10 Pike Cichlids’ Fin-Tastic Facts You May Not Know

Mbuna Cichlids: The Final Thought

Mbuna cichlids are brilliant, intriguing fish that can give a splash of color to any aquarium. However, their specialized water alkalinity requirements and affinity for rocks over plants may be inappropriate for most tanks. They are picky about water quality, so when you bring Mbuna cichlids home, ensure you have a well-cycled tank ready for them. Otherwise, you risk having ill or dead fish.

Mbuna cichlids may flourish in a low-stress environment with suitable water conditions. They may survive for years if properly cared for, requiring an investment of time and work. Mbuna cichlids need a significant time investment that is not suitable for everyone. Even the most seasoned fish keepers may find them difficult. However, if you understand their optimal environment, these fish will add a splash of color to your freshwater aquarium.

To know more about other tropical fish and how to take care of them, you can visit our Tropical fish section. We provide all comprehensive guidance on taking care of popular freshwater fish such as plecos, tetras, and gouramis. Also, you can get some useful tips on creating a healthy fish tank community and much more!

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