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Malawi Mbuna Cichlids

Compatibility with other fish

The territorial and aggressive temperament of these cichlids makes them totally unsuitable for general community tanks. This may also make them less suitable for mixing with other cichlids, including Tanganyika cichlids. The only Tanganyikan's which are fairly compatible with mbuna are the Tropheus species, which are reasonably aggressive and need a similar, mainly herbivorous diet. Other Tanganyikan's, and many American cichlids, require a meatier diet which is unsuitable for mbuna. This factor also makes the non-mbuna Malawi cichlids less suitable for a mbuna tank - smaller specimens might also be bullied by the feisty mbuna.

The other cichlids are also less suited to the crowded stocking of a mbuna tank, as many tend to form permanant pairs (unlike the polygamous mbuna), which defend a permanent territory, so they are unlikely to show their natural breeding behaviours in a crowded mbuna tank.

Other fish may sometimes be included as "dither" or so-called "target" fish. The idea of dither fish is that they are confident shoaling species which will encourage more shy fish to come out in the open. Mbuna will be anything but shy once they have settled in, so "dither" fish are completely unnecessary. "Target" fish are sometimes added to aquaria to provide an alternative target for the aggression of a male cichlid when breeding pairs are kept together, as is common with American cichlids and some Tanganyikans. This tactic may also help to strengthen the 'pair bond', because they have a common 'enemy' to defend their territory against. Usually these target fish are quick and robust fish such as danios, barbs and rainbowfish - but they may still lead a somewhat stressful life and in a mbuna tank they are completely unnecessary - keeping the tank well stocked with other mbuna should serve the purpose of reducing specific aggression towards indiviual fish.

There are certain catfish which usually do well in mbuna tanks. The most obvious of these are the Synodontis catfish which live in the Rift Lakes - at least four in Tanganyika and one (S. njassae) in Lake Malawi. The most commonly available of these is the striking S. multipunctatus (pictured right) from Tanganyika. In the wild, these fish actually involve the cichlids in their breeding, depositing their eggs among spawning cichlids so that the eggs and fry are mouthbrooded by the cichlids - this has earned this fish the common name of cuckoo catfish.

Picture of Synodontis multipunctatus

Suitable algae-eating catfish are often sought for Malawi setups. Although the cichlids themselves will eat algae, they will not clean the aquarium glass, etc in the manner of certain suckermouth catfish. Most of the useful algae-eating catfish come from the softer waters of South America, but hardier species should be fine at a pH value up to around 8.0 - the best choices would be either the common plec (for very large tanks), or the bristlenose catfish (Ancistrus species) for tanks of 4ft or less. More exotic plec species, whiptails and otocinclus catfish are all likely to be a little too delicate for a Malawi tank. The Chinese algae eater/sucking loach is not a suitable algae-eater for community tanks, because they can become aggressive and grow a little larger than many realise. Neither of these factors are likely to be a problem in a Malawi tank, and they can be kept with Malawi's for this purpose. Note however, that they may be less inclined to eat algae as they get older, and are generally not as efficient an algae eater as the plec species.

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