Lake Malawi Cichlid Profiles – The Mbunas

‘Mbuna’ means ‘rock fish — and is commonly used to describe a group of Haplochromines that are found on the rocky biotope along the shores of Lake Malawi. Ten genera belong to this group. In their native habitat, these fish are highly specialized for feeding on ‘Aufwuchs’ and other algae on rocks, as well as crustaceans that occur in these large algal mats. As a result, their mouths are chisel-shaped, easing picking food off the rocks and from the algae.

 It is thought that Mbunas have evolved from riverine Haplochromis and Tilapia species. The Mbunas’ reluctance to cross open, sandy regions in the lake, has scientists believe that this is how isolation, and therefore differentiation between the species occurred. This kind of evolution, where many different forms result from a single species is called allopatric speciation.

Size: Generally, mbunas grow to about 10-13 cm, and only rarely to 15 cm, which is their maximum size.

Aquarium:  Mbunas, as a general rule, should preferably be kept in tanks around 200 — 250 litres, but definitely not in tanks smaller than 120litres. Cichlid tanks need excellent filtration, preferably even ‘over-filtration’, but no noticeable water current. They also need properly built up rock structures that extend almost to the surface water of the tank. These  must offer lots of hides, caves and retreats – enough for each fish to have a place of their own.  Since these fish will eat them, plants are not recommended for a mbuna tank. Besides, plants other than algae do not occur in their native habitat and should therefore not be part of their aquarium if you wish to accurately mimic their natural habitatat.  Instead, use strong lights to encourage algae growth, as this algae offer the cichlids a valuable source of natural nutrition – and also keeps them occupied and interested between actual feeding times.

Mbunas can easily be combined with each other in a 170-210 litre tank, but, again, be sure to provide enough caves and hiding places so that each fish can have a personal retreat. If the rock structures are properly done, you  can create many more delineated territories that you think! This helps a lot to reduce aggression.

Mbunas are also best kept in large numbers, with a ratio of one male to several females for every species kept. If mbunas are kept in smaller numbers, aggressions between fish will frequently arise.

Cichlids from other biotopes, such as sand and open-water swimmers, can be combined with Mbunas, however this is only advisable if you have a larger tank — 210+ litres at least. Remember though, that in all these cases, only similarly sized fish should be combined.

Expect heightened territoriality during spawning, when males tend to become very aggressive. In some cases it is probably better to remove breeding pairs to breeding tanks, especially if you want the fry to survive. Even then it is usually better to remove the male once the spawning is completed. 

Diet: Lake Malawi Mbunas need roughage that can be found in vegetables and algae. In an aquarium, they are greedy eaters that will accept nearly every food available. You must, therefore, feed them carefully, making sure to include a lot of spirulina, while using vegetables such as peas, broccoli tops, cucumbers, spinach and romaine lettuce as treats. These cichlids have long intestinal tracts, so hold off on foods like brine shrimp unless it comes in a flake or pellet form. In fact, as Spirulina offers them all the protein they need, so why bother with foods that may cause problems?  

Breeding: Since Mbunas are mostly polygamous mouth-brooders, one male must be kept with several females if you wish them to breed. Perhaps more importantly, this precaution also helps protect the females during breeding time. Again the emphasis must fall on enough suitable rock structures that provide sufficient retreats for the females, as the male frequently is extremely aggressive in his mating attempts. This applies to breeding tanks too.  Usually only a small number of eggs, from 10-60, are laid. It is believed that they are generally fertilized via the ‘dummy-egg’ method. The female mouth-broods the eggs until they hatch, after 20-21 days. She will usually continue to care for the fry, some only for days, others for another 1-2 weeks. Start feeding the fry with powdered Spirulina and other foods and newly hatched Artemia.

Breeding for most Mbunas is fairly easy in water with the right conditions. Remember, though, that the spawners will become highly aggressive while caring for their broods.

In Summary: Mbunas are hardy and aggressive fish that are quite beautiful when kept in larger numbers. This also means more frequent water changes and excellent filtration. Do not keep them if you are not committed to the extra care. Their aggression, however, means that they are not suited to communities with fish other than those fromLake Malawi.

Let us look at some of the rockdwelling Mbunas in more detail.


Cynotilapia afra Red-dorsal Afra, Dogtooth Cichlid







This Cichlid has an elongated body with a steep forehead.

Males are usually dark turquoise blue with six to seven navy blue bands, the first starting just behind the gill cover and the last ending near the end of the dorsal fin. Its dorsal fin is elongated, running from the peak of the forehead, back to the base of the caudal fin. The dorsal fin is light turquoise or yellow, depending on the fish. The caudal fin also varies from yellow to turquoise. The pelvic and anal fins range from turquoise to navy blue, while the pectoral fins are transparent. Males usually sport three to four egg spots on the rear part of the anal fin.

Females are light blue to slate grey, and usually have no stripes. Their fins are also more dully coloured, and there are no egg spots on the anal fin.

Males grow to about 12 cm, females to around 10 cm, so they require a large tank, preferably at least 200 litres. The correct ratio is to keep one male with at least three females, as the male may be overly aggressive towards his females during the breeding process.

This Cichlid is found near Likoma Island, swimming in large schools in open water, which is unusual for Mbunas. It is generally considered a hardy, but highly aggressive mbuna that tends to be especially pugnacious among its own species. From this information we can conclude that this species requires properly structured rock-work with plenty of caves and retreats, as well as sufficient swimming space. If you can in addition combine this species with other dissimilar species, its aggression can be greatly reduced.

In nature, Cynotilapia are primarily plankton feeders, but they will readily accept all foods offered.

These fish mature at around 6-8 months. Unlike other polygamous mbunas, the males of this species are agamous, meaning they do not form bonds. Because they are highly aggressive during breeding, their females need sufficient retreats. Once they spawned, the female will mouth-brood a small amount of eggs and go solo in what is known as matriarchal care. Breeders usually remove the male after a successful spawning, as it is easier to rear the young without him. Breeding this species is not difficult in water with the right conditions. 


Labeotropheus fuelleborni — Fuelleborn’s Cichlid, Fuelleborni








This Cichlid is found along the rocky shores of Lake Malawi. Its body is elongated and its upper lip overhangs the lower. The anal and dorsal fins are pointed. The dorsal and caudal fins are usually yellow tipped. Males are usually blue with vertical stripes with yellow egg-spots on the anal fin. The male also has the ability to undergo very rapid colour changes, depending on his mood. Females are frequently very similar to the males, but a morphed form with an orange body with black splotches can also occur and is then known as Fuelleborn’s Marbled Cichlid. (Quite a few other colour morphs also occur, depending on where the species is found. Fish with splotched patterns are generally called ‘Marmalade Cats’. Fuelleborn’s Cichlid has chisel-shaped teeth which are adapted for scraping algae off of rocks.

The Males grow to around 18 cm, the females to about 13 cm.

They require a large tank with sufficient rock structures that offer caves and retreats. Furthermore, a strong lighting system is advised to promote algae growth. Plants are not advisable as this cichlid will eat them. They usually tend to inhabit the middle and bottom part of the tank. The correct ratio is one male to three or more females, and should not be difficult to comply with, as the females, unlike many others, are so attractive.

Fuelleborn’s Cichlids are thought to be very intelligent and are known for their recognition of their owners and their shyness towards strangers. This species also counts among the most peaceful of all mbunas, but they can still be aggressive and territorial at times.

They only form pairs while spawning and they spawn readily in the right water conditions. The female deposits up to 60 eggs on a carefully cleaned rock surface, thereafter picks them up to be fertilized via the dummy-egg method and then mouth-broods them in her buccal cavity. Fry are free-swimming after 20-30 days and can be fed small live foods.

Their food should be heavily biased towards the vegetable side, although they will accept almost all food offered, including live foods. Make treats out of vegetables like peas, lettuce, spinach, cucumber and even some fruit. (Freezing and then thawing these vegetarian bites usually helps soften them up)


Labeotropheus trewavasae —Trewavas Cichlid 









This Cichlid comes from the rocky shores of Lake Malawi, wherever there is an abundance of ‘Aufwuchs’ algal growth on the rocks, and is similarly shaped to Fuelleborn’s Cichlid. The lower jaw of this species is also under-slung for rasping algae off of rocks. Its body is elongated and the anal and dorsal fins are pointed. Male specimen are usually similar in colour and pattern. They are blue with dark bands, and have yellow, to red, to brown anal, caudal, and dorsal fins. The male has obvious yellow egg-spots on his anal fin, while the female has small ones or none at all. Females range in colour from that of the males, to speckled in a number of colours, to marbled orange. In fact, the colour and pattern of these fish vary greatly depending on the area where they are found. In some areas, male specimen may even possess female colours and sometimes have been found carrying the eggs. Many of these colour morphs are named after the islands near where they are found, for example ‘Thumbi’ and ‘Chilumba’.

Both Males and females can grow to a size of around 11 cm, so they need a moderately large tank.

They are known as an aggressive and territorial species and should only be combined with other Mbunas. Males are especially aggressive and should be kept with several females to deflect the attention from any one single female.

As a result, the tank they need must have adequate rock-work with plenty of hides and retreats. Generally this fish is known as hardy and well suited to a mbuna community tank.

Trewavas Cichlids form matriarchal families. Eggs are laid on carefully cleaned rocks and fertilized via the dummy-egg method. The usual batch will contain around 12 eggs, although batches of 40 eggs have been recorded. They are then mouth-brooded by the female for around 21-30 days. The fry are free-swimming after 3 weeks and can then be fed small live foods.

Their diet should be heavily biased toward vegetable matter, ensuring that it also contains pigments like carotene, or their colours will fade. Vegetable treats like peas, lettuce, spinach and fruit are always appreciated.


Labidochromis caeruleus –Electric Yellow Mbuna, Caeruleus,  









Usually found at depths of 3-31 metres, this striking Cichlid has a bright, sunshine yellow, elongated body and a slightly arched forehead. The dorsal fin is elongated, running from the above the gill cover to the base of the caudal fin. The fringe of the dorsal fin is yellow, while the rest of it is black. The pelvic and first rays of the anal fin are also black. The eye often has a small, black stripe running across it. (The Labidochromis family differ from other mbunas by having longer, more pointed snouts.)

L. Caeruleus grows to a maximum size of around 10 cm. The male has a greater arch on its head and may be slightly larger than the female.

This cichlid requires a medium to large tank of between 150 — 200 litres. It also needs rock-work that extends from the bottom of the tank right up to the water surface, with as many as possible caves and retreats. While plants are not part of its natural habitat, this species seldom eats plants, so you can, if you must, use hardy plant species, provided its tank mates are equally uninterested in plants. Frequent partial water changes are required for this fish to keep its stunning colours.

This particular fish is among the least aggressive of mbunas, but still can be combined with other mbuna species if you want a cichlid community tank, provided it has enough retreats, because it is often harassed by dissimilar species due to its conspicuous coloration. It is also more sensitive to water pollutants and harassment than most other Mbunas.

As with all other mbunas, Caeruleus does best when one male is kept with several females. When guarding the brood, the parents become highly aggressive. There are usually up to 20 eggs, which are mouth—brooded by the female for around 21—25 days (matriarchal family)  The fry are sturdy and are free-swimming after 3 weeks, at which time they can be fed small live foods and powdered dry. The female will continue to guard the fry for a week after they are first released from the mouth. Breeding this species is slightly more difficult than with other mbunas.

This fish readily feeds on anything offered, but be sure to offer colour enhancing foods regularly. Like almost all mbunas it loves vegetarian treats like peas, lettuce, spinach and fruit. 


Melanochromis auratus — Auratus, Malawi Golden Cichlid












Auratus comes from the rocky shores of Lake Malawi. Juveniles all sport ‘female colours’ initially — a golden-yellow base colour with three black bands. Each black band has small white stripes running parallel with it. The caudal fin is spotted and the anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins are golden. Females largely retain these colours when they mature.

When the male reaches around 5 cm in length, it begins to develop mature male colours. The female colours are now reversed on the male, resulting in a black body base colour with yellow stripes. Sometimes the yellow stripes are turquoise or blue depending on the original location where the fish is found. The caudal fin is black with a few white stripes and the dorsal fin is yellow. The anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins are black and have a white fringe, with yellow egg spots on the anal fins. A pale blue variation is found around the LikomaIslandsin Lake Malawi.

Males grow to 12 cm, Females to 10 cm, however fish up to 20 cm have occurred

Tanks of around 150 litres are sufficient for these fish if they do not exceed 10 cm in length. Larger fish require at least a 200—250 litre tank. This species requires the typical Mbuna set—up: algae covered rocky structures with plenty of caves and hides.

The Auratus is hardy but quite aggressive, particularly to its own and similar species. Solve the problem by providing at least one cave for each fish, and match only with non-similar companions. The correct ratio is one male with several females. Since the females are ‘prettier’ this should pose no problems. When disturbed, the male can undergo rapid colour change, usually assuming female colours.

These fish are “Aufwuchs” feeders in nature. Their diet should thus be heavily biased toward vegetarian foods.

Breeding this fish is relatively easy, but aggression is a factor. Raise the water temperature to 26-28°C to initiate spawning. Place at least 4 females with one male in a breeding tank as the male is extremely aggressive when breeding. 10-30 eggs are laid and are immediately taken into the female’s mouth. The male should be removed just after spawning is complete. The eggs are incubated for three weeks, until they hatch. The fry remain in mouth of the female for another week, after which they become free swimming and ready to feed on fry foods. 


Melanochromis johannii — Johannii, Johann’s Mbuna









M. johanni is an elongated cichlid with an arched forehead — a ‘typical’ mbuna body shape and is found in rocky areas between large boulders. The colour depends greatly on the sex and age of the fish. In juveniles and females the body is dark indigo blue to black. Three yellow horizontal stripes extend from the gill cover to the base of the caudal fin. The first stripe runs along the back, and is often faint. The second stripe is located just below this and the final stripe below thie second. The male has a similar pattern, but differs in having blue stripes. The intensity depends on the mood and age of the fish. In both sexes, the fins are black with a bright coloured fringe in the same colour as the body stripes. Initially, all juveniles have the colouring of the female. At around 5 cm,  the males develop their normal, adult colours. Several different colour morphs are known. For example, juvenile fish in some areas have bright yellow-orange colouring with no markings at all.

Males grow to 12 cm in length, females only to 10.5 cm.

These fish require the typical Mbuna tank set—up.

This is a hardy, but aggressive species. They are territorial fish but combine well with other mbunas. Several females should be kept to every one male.

 They are mainly vegetarian feeders. 

When breeding, males are overly aggressive in their spawning attempts, which is the reason for several females. Up to 35 eggs are laid and fertilized via the “dummy egg” method. The female mouth-broods the eggs for 18-24 days, and then guards the fry for one week after they emerge from her mouth. The young can be fed on powdered spirulina flakes and artemia. Breeding this mbuna is moderately difficult, due to the aggressiveness of the male during courtship.

Melanochromis parallelus — Parallel-striped Mbuna








Coming from the rocky zones of Lake Malawi, the body shape of M. parallelus is similar to that of the Auratus and the species has been confused with Auratus, but the colouring differs entirely, depending on the age and sex of the fish. Juvenile and female fish have yellow to white bellies, with a broad black stripe that extends through the eye and back to the caudal fin. Above this marking is a yellow to white stripe, which runs below another black stripe. On the crest of the back is another yellow to white marking. The elongated dorsal fin is black in colour, as are the anal and pelvic fins. The male has a black body with three to four indigo blue stripes. The first of these stripes runs from the eye, back to the caudal fin. The second, third, and fourth stripes alternate with black stripes. All the fins are black. 

Parallelus can grow to 13 cm. and requires a relatively large tank with a typical mbuna set—up.

This is a robust and aggressive Cichlid that combines well with other Mbunas. Their tank should be larger. Although these fish are agamous and no lasting bond is formed between the pair, several females should still be kept with one male, and sufficient caves should be provided.

Breeding this Mbuna is moderately difficult. Unlike other Mbunas, the male and female will separate immediately after spawning. The female will mouth-brood up to 50 eggs for 20-25 days. Brood care ends just after the fry are released from the mouth, which means feeding the fry immediately after that.

Melanochromis vermivorus — Purple Mbuna








M. vermivorus has a similar body shape to M. auratus. The body colour is dark blue, with white to turquoise splotches along the crest of the back. The first of these is usually located near the upper lip, while successive ones runs along the top of the back. A similar coloured stripe extends from the eye back through the caudal fin. Another white to turquoise, dotted stripe runs above that. The dorsal fin is elongated and is coloured much like the splotches on the back. All the other fins match the base body colour and are dark blue. Females are distinctly smaller and lack the egg-spots that males possess. This mbuna is not widely available to the hobby at this time

Males grow to 15 cm in length, females to 12 cm.

This species needs a large tank — 200 litres at least. In addition they require large rock structures that reach the water surface. Provide caves and crevices for hiding and preferably use a sand substrate. Also leave large open swimming areas and promote the growth of algae.

M. vermivorus is hardy and more aggressive and intolerant of similar-looking species than other mbunas. Because of this highly aggressive behaviour, especially amongst male fish, at least one retreat for each fish is needed. Keep one male with several females. In a community tank, M. vermivorus is best combined with different looking mbunas. The male becomes even more pugnacious during the spawning season.

The species is vegetarian but will also take other foods.

Breeding is moderately difficult, partly because of the male’s aggressiveness during courtship. Otherwise the breeding process is similar to that of Auratus.

Metriaclima aurora — Aurora Cichlid








The Aurora Cichlid has a sloping forehead and characteristic, large eyes. The head appears smaller than that of other Mbunas. Males are far more colourful than females. Males are usually light blue to turquoise with six to eight darker, transverse stripes. The lower part of the head and the belly are bright yellow, as is the iris of the eye. The fins are all coloured like the body, but have a yellow tinge. A large egg spot can be found on the anal fin. Females are much plainer and duller in colour and the egg spot is alsofainter. Sometimes females may even have a solid, muddy-brown color.

Males grow to a length of 11 cm, females to 10 cm

Because this cichlid comes from the transitional zones between sandy and rocky areas of theLikomaIslandsandMdembaBay, their tank should have a rocky set-up with caves and crevices for hiding as well as a sand substrate. Use strong lights to promote the growth of algae for these vegetarians. Also give them open swimming areas. Frequent partial water changes help these fish to properly display their stunning colours.

This species is hardy, but territorial and aggressive towards all species. Keep one male with several females. Breeding is moderately difficult. For this reason they are probably best bred in a separate breeding tank. Always put several females with the male and provide all of them with retreats. As many as 70 eggs are incubated by the female for 18-21 days. When the fry emerge, they can be fed on suitable fry foods.

Pseudotropheus elongatus — Elongatus










The Elongatus occurs throughout the rocky coasts of Lake Malawi and is  especially elongated for a mbuna. The body is very slender and there is a small hump on the forehead. Several different color morphs are known. Two morphs are more common that the others. The first has a black body with eight transverse bands that are dark blue.The second has an indigo blue body with six to 12 black bands. Sometimes fewer bands are present because they can fade. In most morphs the fins are black in color. Males are larger and have brighter egg-spots on their anal fin.

Males grow to 13.5 cm, females to 10 cm

This cichlid uses the bottom and middle parts of the tank. They need sand, rocky structures with retreats and swimming space. Promote the growth of algae.

The species is territorial and aggressive towards all species, in fact it is considered by many to be the most aggressive of the Pseudotropheus genus and  should only be combined with other aggressive and robust mbunas.

Males are strongly polygamous and will likely kill a single female, so combine the male with at least four females. Retreats will help tank mates to escape when they are pursued. The female is an ovophile mouth brooder who lays as many as 35 eggs. The eggs are incubated for three weeks and the fry are guarded for two to three days after emerging from the mouth. Breeding is difficult, partly because of the male’s aggressive nature.

Metriaclima lanisticola — Snail Shell Mbuna, Shell-dwelling Mbuna








Considered unusual for a Lake Malawi species, this shell-dwelling species has a “typical” mbuna shape, although its mouth is smaller and its head has a smooth slope. It is not very common in the aquarium trade. The body colouration is variable. The upper parts may be rusty brown while scales of the flanks are light blue and edged with copper. The body is marked with several vertical bands that may be apparent, or inconspicuous. Female fish may be yellowish. The fins match the body colour, except for the yellow anal fin. The caudal fin has a base coloration of rusty-orange with blue stripes. Males have brighter egg-spots on their anal fin. 

This cichlid grows to around 7 cm in length  and inhabits empty snail shells in sandy regions of Lake Malawi, therefore will use the bottom of the aquarium. 

The tank should have a rocky set-up with caves and overhangs, a sand substrate and should be provided with several large snail shells for each fish. Leave open swimming areas. Promote the growth of algae, as it is a vegetarian. Also feed accordingly.

This is a territorial species that will guard its snail shell against intruders and will seek shelter in snail shells when danger is present. This species will not usually harm plants and is unaggressive towards other species.

Keep at least three females with the male. The female is an ovophile mouth brooder who lays as many as 60 eggs, which she incubates for three weeks. She continues to guard the fry for a week after they emerge from the mouth after which they must be fed with suitable fry food. This is an easily bred species.

This relatively peaceful mbuna is an excellent choice for a mbuna community tank, but is also attractive for a species only tank.


metriaclima lombardoi









M. lombardoi has a “typical” Mbuna shape. The colouring depends on the age and sex of the fish. Females are pale blue to blue with six to eight transverse, black bands. The bands begin at the crest of the back and fade in colour as they move down towards the belly. The first band runs to the eye and the last is located near the tail. The belly is lighter in colour. The fins are light blue and the caudal fin has some vertical, spotted lines. The dorsal fin has five dark splotches where the longitudinal bands end, and has a black fringe. Males are yellow in colour and may or may not have the transverse bands that the female possesses, and have brighter egg-spots on their anal fins. The fins match the body colour. The sexual dichromatism of the M. lombardoi is exactly the opposite from other Mbunas, where in most cases the male is blue, while the female is yellow or orange. This species is found only around theMbenjiIslandsinLake Malawi

Males grow to 15 cm, females to 14 cm

The M. lombardoi occupies the bottom to middle of the tank, but they need to be housed in a large tank (at least 260 litre) as the adults are very territorial and usually claim large areas to defend. The tank should have a rocky set-up with caves and outcroppings that help delineate territories. Tensions are reduced when there are enough retreats and hiding places, so sufficient retreats must be provided. A sandy substrate is recommended. Also leave open swimming areas and promote the growth of algae.

Already an aggressive cichlid while young, this fish becomes even more belligerent and territorial with age. By combining them with other robust mbunas they can be distracted from fighting with members of their own species. Keep one male with several females.

M. lombardoi will eat almost any food, but is in essence a vegetarian, so feed accordingly. Colour enhancing foods will help bring out the male’s gold body colouring.

Breeding this species is fairly easy in a large tank with a great deal or caves and crevices if the male’s aggression can be taken care of. The male is polygamous, so use several females. Spawning takes place on or above a flat stone. As many as 50 eggs are laid and fertilized by the dummy-egg method. The female then mouth-broods the eggs for 20-25 days. When the blue coloured fry emerge, feed appropriate fry foods.

Pseudotropheus socolofi










P. socolofi has a “typical” mbuna shape and is found on the eastern coast of Lake Malawi and around the Likoma Islands. The colouring of the fish is golden yellow or pale blue to dark blue. On the blue morph, faint bands can sometimes be seen. Usually the blue variant is marked with a black ridge along the upper part of the dorsal fin and a black band on the first rays of the anal fin. Males have three to four, distinct egg-spots on the anal fin and have slightly longer pelvic fins. The yellow morphs are usually not marked.

Males grow to 11 cm, females to 10 cm.

The members of this species are keen swimmer and occupy the upper regions of the aquarium, which means they need rock structures that reach the surface of the water. Provide sufficient hiding places among these structures. Leave open swimming areas, and promote algae growth.

P. socolofi is among the most peaceful of Pseudotropheus species. Although territorial, this fish does well with peaceful mbunas and Peacocks.
Like all mbunas, this fish is also a vegetarian.

The male is polygamous and needs several females — which is not problematic as they are equally attractive.  As many as 60 eggs are laid and fertilized by the dummy-egg method. The female mouth broods the eggs for 20-25 days. When the coloured fry feed appropriate fry foods. They are perhaps better off in a breeding tank as this fish is moderately difficult to breed, and the female should be removed about 6-10 days after the fry are released from her mouth.


Metriaclima zebra  — Cobalt Blue Cichlid, Malawi Zebra









The Zebra Cichlid has a “typical” mbuna shape and comes from the rocky shores of Lake Malawi. The colouring depends on the geographical location, as well as the mood of the fish. The most common variety has a pale blue body with seven to eight, dark blue or black, vertical bands. All flanks are pale blue. Another variety or “mood colouration” is simply pale blue in colour. Albino and white variations are very common, as is a “Red” or “Tangerine” form, and several blotched “OB” varieties. Males have stronger and more obvious egg-spots, and will develop a hump on the forehead with age.

Males grow to 15 cm, females to 13 cm

This species is very territorial and tends to occupy the middle regions of the tank and they require a large tank of at least 210 litres. Arrange the tank as for all other mbunas, with a sand substrate, plenty of rockwork, well delineated territories and many hides and retreats.  

The Zebra Mbuna is an aggressive fish towards both similar and dissimilar species. Tensions can be reduced when the Zebra Mbuna is kept in a large tank will many hiding places, and are combined with other robust, different-looking species and morphs. Keep one male with several females. Also note that the females tend to school. Males usually establish large territories which are vigorously defended.

They need a proper Vegetarian diet.

Breeding of this species is fairly easy. The male is polygamous and thus needs several females. As many as 60 eggs are laid and fertilized via the dummy-egg method. The female mouth-broods the eggs for 20-25 days. The female continues to hide in her cave for many days after the fry are free-swimming and being fed. 


The list of Mbunas can go on much longer, but that is not the point of this article.  I would otherwise not leave you with anything to explore! However, by looking at this inimitable group in a little bit more detail, I hope I have provided you with enough information to give you the enthusiasm and committment these fish deserve! 

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