Many African cichlids are easily identified by a combination of patterns and intense hues not typically seen in other freshwater fish. Originating from three East African lakes, thousands of species exist each with its own prominent coloration, from solid to striped. Lake Malawi boasts more than 1,000 species alone, followed by Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria.
Highly territorial and aggressive, even among its own kind, some species simply cannot live with other fish unless the smaller fish are planned for meals. To reduce aggressiveness, experienced hobbyists maintain larger schools. Although species may vary within the same tank, very few types of fish are blended together. It is not recommended to keep Mbunas with Peacocks, for example, but several variations of Mbunas may live together along with Synodontis Catfish.
In general, the larger and brighter the fish is, the more aggressive it is. Females tend to seek out dominantly bright fish as breeding partners, but preferences differ among the species. One may seek a particular shade of blue while another seeks the male with the largest territory. After eggs are fertilized by males, gestation actually takes place in a mother’s mouth. Incubation can extend as long as a month in the case of some species but usually lasts three weeks. Fry are released once they grow too big to sustain. Young are collectively tended to until fully developed. In the case of danger, a protective mother will carry offspring as she had before birth.
Diets vary among species, with some carnivorous and other omnivorous. The former preys on smaller fish while the latter subsists only on vegetation such as algae and freshwater plants. Other species balance a combination of both types of nutrient needs. All freshwater fish require temperatures that replicate their place of origin. Species that have originally lived within rock formations in an East African lake require colder aquarium temperatures than others who need water heaters. As some types grow quite large, they must live in tanks no smaller than 75-gallons. Others are able to live within 15-gallon tanks. Because African Cichlids require more skill to maintain and breed than livebearers, first-time hobbyists gravitate towards guppies and other easy to keep tropical fish. As one becomes more knowledgeable, and adept, African cichlids are an extremely rewarding choice.
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