Tuesday, January 2, 2007


Mbuna is the common name for a large group of African cichlids from Lake Malawi. The name mbuna is translated as rock fish. As the name implies, mbuna are the cichilds that live among piles of rocks, as opposed to living in the open water like many other haplochromines.
These cichilds are some of the most colorful freshwater fish for the home aquarium. Mbuna, pronounced with only one syllable, are very aggressive and territorial fish, although they are suitable for beginner fishkeepers who have researched their needs. A suitable aquarium setting includes many rocks, caves and hiding places; plants may be uprooted so they are best avoided but a small number will work well in the aquarium. These include Java fern, which may become the object of mbuna aggression but will not be eaten due to an undesireable taste.
Sand or gravel is the ideal substrate. The hobbyist will want to mix in some sort of so-called "live rock" as a pH buffer. However, crushed coral and specially mixed bags of substrate will do. Generally, tanks of no less than 55 gallons are required for mature Mbuna; 29 gallon tanks will work beautifully for juvenile fish but will need to be upgraded as they mature, grow and become more aggressive and territorial (this will occur in just a matter of weeks or months).

These cichlids are usually kept in well filtered, heavily stocked mbuna-specific aquariums. Over-crowding helps spread out the aggression and no particular individual gets picked on to death. They are maternal mouthbrooders and breed readily in good conditions. Mbuna are mostly herbivorous and their diet should consist of low fat foods. Many species will require spirulina, but worms, beefheart, and meaty foods are best avoided.

There is a wide array of literature out there concerning African cichlids (including references to mbuna in more general aquarium guides and scientific texts). There are subtle but important differences from book to book (and especially from internet site to site). Differences include whether or not to attempt an under-gravel filter and specific species compatibility. Make sure that you double check any recommendations with a second or third shopkeeper, experienced aquarist or printed text. The time and monetary investment required for a 75 gallon or larger aquarium demands it.
Many mbuna cichlids are regularly stocked and sold by pet shops. Some of the most common ones are bumblebee cichlid, auratus cichlid, electric yellow cichlid, red zebra cichlid, and johanni cichlid. Cichilds belonging to any of the genera listed below is usually considered mbuna.

An electric yellow cichlid, Labidochromis caeruleus.

Labeotropheus fuelleborni
Cyathochromis Trewavas 1935
Cynotilapia Regan 1922
Genyochromis Trewavas 1935
Gephyrochromis Boulenger 1901
Iodotropheus Oliver & Loiselle 1972
Labeotropheus Ahl 1926
Labidochromis Trewavas 1935
Maylandia Meyer & Foerster 1984.
Melanochromis Trewavas, 1935
Petrotilapia Trewavas 1935
Pseudotropheus Regan 1922

The list below includes groups of non-mbuna mouthbrooding cichilds from Lake Malawi.
Peacock cichilds

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