Mbuna - kings of the fish tank


Mbuna the kings of the tank! What do you think in your mind when you hear "mbuna"? Well this word means,"rock-dwelling" in the language of Malawi. Which I'm trying to learn, but it is difficult though. Well I discovered these fish about 2 years ago at a pet shop. I wanted to get them but the guy wouldn't let me buy them because he told me about their aggression. I was highly interested in these fishes at the time and am still. Then I bought my first one, which was a Pseudotropheus Zebra. The fish didn't do much at first, but began with its aggression. I had to get rid of it, but I decided to get rid of my other South American fish. This has been my best choice I have made till this day. Hopefully one will read this article and learn as much as one can.

Setting-up the aquarium

First you must find the perfect tank for the fish. The smallest fish tank acceptable is a 55-gallon tank nothing less. Once one has found the tank they can go and find their supplies. First thing one should do is find the kind of tank style that one I looking for. Such as rocky habitat or open water habitat. Maybe even both like half-rocky and half-open. Like I have it. This isn't always the best choice like I said its up to oneself on how he wants his fish tank. After this one should go out to their local pet shop and find the type of rocks the aquarist wants to purchase. For example I have Limestone boulders which you find here in Florida very frequent or easily. The aquarist then sets up how he wants his rocks to look and secure them safely on the substrate. Talking about substrate you should buy pea sized gravel because of the reason that your fish will dig no matter what you do! The fish will dig and keep on digging. One should buy dark colored gravel because it creates a safe feeling for them. Don't ask me why but that's how it is.

One should then notice that you would need a filter. I personally suggest a biological filtration system or a wet-dry. A Fluval or Magnum are acceptable but will increase the maintenance jobs. The biological filter works just like magic. What this system does is that it continuously cleans the tank retaining the harmful bacteria. As it continues to retain these bacteria it turns it into compounds of good bacteria. So in other words keeps the water a lot more alkaline than usual.

I suggest no plants even if they are the robust African Ferns. They'll eat it anyways because they are vegetarians.

The chemical composition of the tank is highly unusual. These fish live in high alkalinic values. These fish thrive on soft, salt-free, yet alkaline waters. You can make these values go up or down by just buying products like peat and carbonate buffers increases.


These fish must be kept I in these water conditions. To maintain them in it one must do water changes. Of about 25% to 30% depending on how long you've done your last water change. One must supply Chlorine remover and Stress Coat, which are water conditioners.

One must never feed them protein rich foods such as worms, brine shrimp, protein pellets, and especially live fish!!! The best thing to feed them with is (Spirulina) this is a powerful algae type of plant that is a great food and color enhancer.

One shouldn't clean all the algae off the fish tank except for the walls since this is where you see the fish from. Leave it on the rocks! They need algae in their diet for their survival. One will witness these fish scraping the algae off the rocks to eat it!

It is also very important to buy a PH tester than measures the alkalinity of the water. One should do this frequently to notice when you must begin on a water change or find out any drastic pH changes which can kill the fish.

Picking out one's Mbuna and maintain them happy

One must notice that one has no fish in the tank. After about a period of 2 weeks keeping the tank in these conditions it is time to buy your fish.

Think about it who do you want as your king or fish, which will dominate the tank completely. This fish is usually the one, which will breed more, eat more, dig more, and have the biggest territory in the tank! You must buy this fish wisely because of the reason if you do not like him after a while and want another king he will kill the new fish whom you want to be king. To do this you must first place him in the tank by himself with at least 3 females! Wait about a week and continue to buy your species.

The ratio of the caves or hiding places to a male is about 2:1 two caves to one male. The females will not need any caves except to hind in because of the male chasing them. The ratio of females to males in the wild is 56:1, but this isn't Lake Malawi, right? So the best you can do is buy about 3 to 4 females to one male.

The Mbuna family consists of Pseudotropheus, Melanochromis, Petrotilapia, Labidichromis, Cynotilapia Labeotropheus, Iodotropheus, Gephyrochromis, Cyathochromis, and Genyochromis. There are also non-mbunas that live in the same lake. The best suggestion I can give one is that you should never mix mbuna with Aulonocara, because the mbuna will come out as the victorious fish.

My fish (Mbuna)

My fish consist of Pseudotropheus, Cynotilapia, Labidichromis, Labeotropheus, Iodotropheus, Melanochromis, and Dimidichromis and Cyrtocara.

Pseudotropheus zebra ( Metangula )

1 male, 3 females This fish is my king of the tank. The male is a beautiful peach pink like color. It isn't really aggressive, but if someone messes with him they will lose. He owns about 20% of the tank to himself. And has dug a huge pit where gravel use to lie. He has breed many times and I have tried to mix him with other color morphs of his own species. He has quite a big appetite and loves to mess round with my catfish. he only shows aggression to the fish he doesn't like.

Melanochromis johanni ( Chilumba )

1 male , 2 females He is 3rd in line to my king and his name is Johanni. My male is black with elongated electric blue spots. He isn't the Electric Blue Johanni, which is easily confused with him. He also has a large appetite and hates everyone's guts. No matter who the fish is he begins to get in a territorial fighting frenzy! He dug a small sized pit in his inverted pot and is my most successful breed fish yet. I do no recommend this fish to a beginner he is extremely aggressive.

Melanochromis auratus

2 juveniles Auratus is extremely aggressive and when I mean extremely I mean it to the very last word. I have never seen such a fish with such an aggressive urge to fight and kill. I used to have a male, but unfortunately died because the Metangula chalange him to fight for king and killed him. At that time the auratus was the king of the tank. He was very successful in breeding with his 4 females. He had hundreds of babies. And out of those two of his children survived hopefully they'll take his father's place one day!

Labeotropheus trewavasea ( Red-Top )

1 male , 2 females This fish which I call "overbite" is very aggressive about his territory and is the 3rd most aggressive fish in the tank rank. This fish has adapted well in its evolutionary track he has an extended lip, which goes over his bottom lip. they use this lip as a shovel to scrape off algae off the rocks! He owns about 10% of the tank. he has dug a medium sized pit in the back of the tank. He has two females, but I haven't been successful in breeding him. I recently have noticed that he has been trying to attract his females it's his cave. But I haven't seen any results. This fish is very delicate to nitrates and pH changes so be careful. He is also extremely aggressive to other fish. He even fights with the king.

NOTE: Do not keep thiese fish with Mbuna! They are meat-eaters and can easily kill Mbunas!

Dimidichromis_compressiceps ( Malawi Eye)

1 male , 2 females My male Malawi Eye-Biter is incredibly aggressive imagine a fish owning about 30% of the tank and is 2nd most aggressive in rank in the tank. He isn't the king ,but he owns the entire open water region of my tank. All he has is a rock, which he has only bred once. He has been trying frantically to breed with any of his two females. He always fights with the johanni since their territories are right next to each other ,but separated by a boundary. They do not cross it! I do not recommend you this fish unless you have about 40% to 50% of the tank open water.

NOTE: Do not keep these fish with Mbuna! They are incompatible!

Cynotilapia_afra ( Orange Back )

1 male , 1 females My male Orange Back tends to be very aggressive with the majority of the fish except the top 4 most aggressive. He is also very nasty towards the new fish that I introduce into my tank. He is quite sometimes, but suddenly turns into a demon with a tangerine orange right across the dorsal fin. He hasn't tried with the female to breed. He hasn't dug a pit , but does protect the side of his rock with a cave. I recommend this fish for a beginner because of its beauty and not as high aggression toward other fish.

Labidochromis_caeruleus ( Electric Yellow )

1 male , 1 females Is the last one in the aggressive list like around 8. he isn't as aggressive as all the other fish but is probably the most beautiful one in the group. He has an electric yellow glow on his body. With jet black fins. He isn't territorial except he does fight anyone that messes with him. So he doesn't sit there and gets beat up. I recommend this fish greatly to the aquarist because of its less aggressivness rate.

Lodotropheus_spregerae ( Rusty )

1 male , looking for females ?

This fish is does not fight but hide a lot when he has to fight he does but usually loses. I like this fish a lot but I need to find females to see if he wakes up and becomes a dominant male.

Well these fish aren't the only ones that exist and aren't the fish that you should buy. I have learned a lot from these fish. Not only are they beautiful, but also are intelligent and inquisitive. They find every nook and cranny ad location to concentrate their territory and are extremely aggressive in their unique ways. Every species has their very own type of behaviour and personality. Remember that the first fish in the tank will usually be the most dominant or will be the king! Don't forget make a cave for every fish since they all need their own territories even the females.

To introduce a new comer to the tank after the tank is been established. You should leave the bag with the fish inside for about 15 minutes. Then take out all the rocks out before you but the fish in. this will neutralise the fish by not giving them a territory to defend. After this feed them and turn off the light! Then the next day you put back all the rocks. Giving him a chance to retrieve a territory and defend himself from other fish.

Breeding Mbuna

Breeding these fish will bring the aquarists best thoughts about these mbuna. They breed in a unique way. That is extremely different from the other fish of the world.

The main way mbuna breed is by the (egg-dummy method). This is a very complicated process in which these fish breed in. What really happens is that the male influences the female into his cave. he does this by darting out at her and throbbing his whole body in front of his mate. He does this when he is in his (Breeding Dress) this is when a male is attracted by a female and has a special pigmentation that changes her colour into a bright , shiny , and magnificent glow. Even when he enters a dark cave you can see the male almost glowing in the dark. This is a sight that only an advanced aquarist sees. After the male throbs in front of the female for a while. She either excepts his dance or ignores him when the male is ignored, she is chased ferociously away from the territory! If she excepts she is led to a flat surface where the male begins to shiver. showing off his eggs making them looks 3-dimesional. All males have well defined eggs on their anal fin. Except for some species. Well as he is shivering the female approaches her mate as if biting his eggs. She does this because of the reason that she thinks that she laid her eggs. This egg display stimulates her to lay real eggs. So after the male does this for a couple of seconds she begins to do the same. As if mimicking the male, but as she is doing this. She is really shaking the eggs out of her genital region. Then as the process is continued she begins going for the male's eggs again and so on so forth!

See , but the beauty doesn't lie in the quivering, but as she picks up her eggs. She begins to go after the male's eggs, which she thinks, are hers. What she is really is doing is swallowing sperm which is released from the males genital next to the anal fin. So this is how the females eggs are fertilised!