Aquarium Tips for Mixing African Cichlids

The following are important aspects to consider when mixing African cichlids:
Water chemistry, diet, and aggression, the last one a familiar trait among cichlids.

Originating from Malawi, Victoria and Tanganyika lakes, African cichlids have evolved to adapt to the different pH found in these waters. Lakes Malawi and Victoria share similar pH levels ranging from 7.4 to 8.6 and can be safely mixed. In contrast, lake Tanganyika has a pH ranging between 7.8 and 9.0 making it difficult to mix these two groups. In addition, avoid combining cichlids coming from surrounding rivers, since they normally enjoy a neutral pH of 7.0

Part of advancing to more complex fish keeping is getting to know and care for their particular nutritional needs. Cichlids like other species can be grouped in three categories: herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous.

African Cichlids Aquarium


Mbuna are typically herbivorous and require a diet of flake foods with a high vegetable content. Supplement their diets with fresh parboiled vegetables, such as romaine lettuce, zucchini, spinach and peas. Carnivorous, these are the “bad boys” hunters by nature, they will pray upon smaller fellows, whether originated from the same habitat or not! Their diet should contain meaty items such as blood worms, brine and mysis shrimp, carnivore flake and pellet foods. Omnivorous will eat most prepared and frozen foods, including freeze-dried bloodworms, tubifex, and ocean plankton, as well as flake food and cichlid pellets.

When it comes to aggression, oh well, we all know cichlids are at the top of the list regardless their dietary inclinations. For them there is one rule of thumb: aggressive cichlids cannot withstand the sight of their own species! Even different fish that closely resemble them in color and shape will cause the male to engage in “mortal combat” and by mortal we mean exactly that! This behavior is rooted in their breeding habits, where typically a male forms a “harem” of several females and jealously guard them as part of his territory. Many Lake Malawi cichlids share a beautiful electric blue color making it hard to mix them. To avoid casualties it is best to keep one single male per aggressive species per tank.

Finally, if you are seriously considering keeping African cichlids, we’d like to recommend a minimum tank of 50 gallons with lots of rocks arranged forming caves and a fine gravel or sandy bottom. Keep one male with 5 females, mixed them with catfish and loaches. With a good filtration system and regular water changes you should have no problem maintaining healthy fishes.

African chiclid (Cichlidae) tank at Napier Aquarium

African chiclid (Cichlidae) tank at Napier Aquarium

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