Lake Malawi Cichlids

History Of Lake Malawi Cichlids

The beautiful ancestors of Malawi’s Indigenous East African cichlids  is probably  thought to have originated in Lake Tanganyika, the eldest of the lakes in the region’s so-called rift valley.  Numerous publications suggest that Lake Tanganyika is between eight and 10 million years old, and it served as an evolutionary reservoir for Lake Malawi, together with the other nearby lakes and rivers.  So, the best educated   estimate is that cichlids have inhabited Lake Malawi from between two to five million years.  And much of the present-day diversity is thought to have evolved in the last ten- 100 thousand years. Lake Malawi Cichlids are also believed to have started being exported to Europe and America 50-80 years ago. Today Lake Malawi cichlids have become one of the most popular aquarium fish kept by hobbysits.


Cichlids belong to a large family of fish called Cichlidae.  No one knows how many species of cichlids collectively exist in nature.  The best estimate is somewhere between 1,300 and 3,000 species.  Cichlids can be as small as 2.5 centimeters in length and as long as nearly a meter.  Several species are actually quite well known.  Malawi’s Tilapia,(locally known as Chambo )for example, is a cichlid species that people like to eat.  And people with aquaria at home certainly are familiar with the angelfish, discus, and oscar.  They’re cichlids, too. Cichlids inhabit fresh waters, and many species are endemic to isolated lake environments and Lake Malawi Provides such a great place for them to thrive. The fact that no genera occur on more than one continent illustrates the degree of endemism in this family.

Geographic Range

Historically Cichlids are known to mainly be found in the lowlands, freshwater areas of tropical and subtropical regions. How ever seventeen of the most primitive species, which are found in Madagascar and Asia inhabit brackish waters. Some other areas with brackish-water species include coastal India and Sri Lanka, Cuba and Hispaniola. The great majority of colorful and vibrant cichlids are found in the Great Lakes of East Africa (Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, and Lake Tanganyika), where between 800 and 2100 species are thought to exist. Nearly all of these species are endemic, meaning that they have evolved in and confined to a particular place of the lake they inhabit.


Historically Most cichlids tend to flourish in  the sluggish areas of Lake Malawi, Cape Maclear is an example of this. But generally Cichlids are known for being great at adapting to certain environments. There are a few tropical cichlid species that have successfully adapted to swift flowing streams, which includes some Crenicichla species. Species in the genera Teleocichla and Retroculus, distributed in the highlands of Brazil and New Guinea, are also rheophilic (prefer flowing waters). In lake Malawi there are few habitats cichlids do not occupy and there is an abundance of species filling virtually every ecological niche in some areas. For example, deepwater cichlids from Lake Tanganyika, Africa are able to survive in the permanently deoxygenated water layers for short periods. Individuals from the genera Tilapia and Oreochromis are also able to withstand low oxygen concentrations. In the same manner some cichlids are tolerant of brackish waters. Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia are able to migrate along coastlines between Lake Malawi and Shire river while some species, such as Oreochromis mossambicus, have become established in brackish and marine waters.

Lake Malawi’s Cichlids that live in the wild areas of Chilumba and Cape Maclear rarely fight. Of course there is predatory among themselves but they do this to defend their territory or become aggressive during mating seasons. In the wild aggression is mostly  accompanied by the spreading of their fins and that is good enough to ward off any challengers. When you put them In an aquarium at home, this is not a common scenario. While many will mislead you into believing that Tropical Cichlids from Malawi will pretty much just get along, Care should be taken to make sure that you get a good mix of tolerant species.

Due to confinement without the ability to escape, the domesticated Cichlids’s territorial instinct is greatly intensified. Therefore, keep only one male Cichlid in a fish tank. Other fish can accompany him, but they should be very docile, peaceful fish.

Normally it is safe to keep many female Cichlid fish together. On occasion you will notice some fin nipping or aggression even may be eating of the eggs when the others are breeding, but it usually is short-lived and peace will soon be back in your aquarium.

In conclusion, the history of Lake Malawi’s Cichlids is one that is filled with patched researches from across the lift valley which dates back into millions of years, some  stories are full of myths about how this fish evolved into one that displays dazzling colors and a unique personality after cross breeding . One take away from this elegant, colorful and resilient species is once a normal looking fish—if it was in an aquarium today, you wouldn’t give a second look. Through successful breeding and a little luck, hobbyists all over the world now enjoy the fish we all appreciate today and if you are just contemplating of getting one for birthday am sure you will not regret it.

Author: editorial

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