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All male Lake Malawi African cichlids aquarium
So you have finally decided to keep Lake Malawi cichlids but have yet to set up a tank that will house these beautiful fish. Well, you have come to the right place. This short article is meant to discuss the main elements of a Lake Malawi cichlid tank and to overview the requirements that these fascinating fish need to stay healthy, display good color and even breed in the home aquarium!
Let’s start with the water, the vital substance your fish will be living in for their entire existence. Malawi cichlids come from a rift lake in East Africa (Lake Malawi) that is very much alkaline (pH 7.5 to around 8.8) yet has relatively soft to medium hard water at best. (4-6 dGH and 6-8 dKH). Therefore, an attempt should be made to replicate these conditions in the homeaquarium.
There are several ways attaining and maintaining a high pH can be accomplished. The easiest, of course, is to have naturally high pH water coming from the tap. Communities with high pH water benefit as higher pH water tends to prevent the corrosion of copper pipes. For the Malawi Cichlid aquarium, this water provides ideal conditions that can be kept stable even during water changes, when most pH changes typically occur. Another method to attain and maintain a high pH in the home aquarium is to use a material that will naturally buffer the pH high. The most common material to use is crushed coral sand/gravel that is either placed in the substrate or in a stocking/container to be placed in the filter(s). The coral leeches minerals that raise the pH and buffer it so it maintains a stable/high pH level. Other materials like crushed shell (like Oyster shell) can also be used.
Another option is to use rocks, like limestone, that also help raise and buffer the pH high. The advantage of this option is that the rocks both provide the decoration, shelter, territorial markers, spawning sites and maintain ideal water conditions by raising and buffering the water to the proper pH. If you find your tap water is not naturally high in pH, and you decide to use the other methods discussed to raise and buffer the pH of the water, you may find it advantageous to raise the pH of the new water added during water changes to the tank by using a product like Proper pH 8.2 or similar products (like sodium bicarbonate) that will raise the pH so that the newly added water will not cause a fluctuation in the tank’s pH. This is obviously not totally necessary if the water changes are kept small at around 25% or less as the change to the tank’s pH will be minimal, but larger changes may benefit from pre-conditioning of the water.
In the wild, Malawi Cichlids live in water temperatures of around 24-26°C or 76-79°F. An attempt should be made to keep the aquarium’s water temperature around these levels. LakeMalawi cichlids do not stand high temperatures very well; an effort should be made to locate the aquarium away from any sunny windows/space heaters, which could cause the water to overheat. Generally speaking, the higher the temperature of the water, the higher will be the metabolism of the fish, hence more food should be provided to maintain their activity level and ensure proper health. Even if you live in warm climates, it is recommended you use an aquarium heater in your homeaquarium as this helps prevent any fluctuations in water temperature which can lead to stress in the fish.
Filtration of the water is as with any fish, there should be enough filters to provide both ample biological and mechanical filtration but also to create surface agitation to maintain gas exchange (O2 in and CO2 out). Malawi cichlids can be messy fish and overcrowding is sometimes necessary so over-filtering a tank is usually a good idea. The variety of filters available is great, however the most popular tend to be HOBs (hang on backs) and canister filters. UGFs (Under Gravel Filters) should be avoided as most Malawi Cichlids are diggers and will most likely expose the UGF plate therefore compromising its filtration efficiency. For much larger tanks a sump may be an attractive option however that is for the owner to decide.
Now, a brief mention about lighting for the Malawi cichlidaquarium. The lights should be fluorescent for three main reasons. Firstly, fluorescent lights provide the correct spectrum of light for healthy growth of the fish. Secondly, they do not generate as much heat as incandescent bulbs that could potentially heat the water to dangerous levels. Thirdly, they bring out the natural color of your fish more. However, thefluorescent lighting should not be too bright as very bright lighting can wash out the colors of your fish in addition to irritating them. I find the whiter the light the better. A 10,000K and up bulb will work best.