Lake Malawi Biotope
Lake Malawi is an African Great Lake located on the East side of the continent. The lake is about 375 miles (604 km) long by 53 miles (85 km) wide, making it the third largest in Africa and the eighth largest lake in the world. This large rocky lake is home of the well known African Cichlids which are endemic to the lake. A total of 280 cichlid species have been described, although biologist have reasons to believe there might be up to 500 cichlid species living in the lake.
Malawi cichlids are divided into two groups: the haplochromines which are those commonly seen in the aquarium trade and the tilapiines. Within the first group, Haplochrominae, there are two subgroups. Both subgroups require different environments which is something that you should consider when setting up the tank. The first one, known as Haps, consists of open water and sand dwelling species. The second subgroup is known as mbuna, which means “rockdwellers”. The Mbuna fish are smaller, and both sexes are often brightly colored, though in some species the females may be brownish overall. The second group, the tilapiines, consists of the only substrate-spawning species in the lake (Tilapia rendalli), and four species of chambo (Nyasalapia).
The water in Lake Malawi is slightly alkaline with a pH ranging from 7.7 to 8.6, a dH of 6-10, and a conductivity of 210 to 285 µS cm. Given its tropical latitude, the water of this lake is generally warm, having a surface temperature that ranges from 75 to 84 °F (24 to 29 °C), with a deep water temperature of about 72 °F (22 °C ), year round.
Mbuna cichlids will require a tank with a built up rocky environment as they use caves for breeding and as boundery markers to mark their territory. Some good rocks are river rocks, slate and limestone (limestone will buffer the water). As a substrate, sand and and/or gravel can be used but it is better to use a sandy substrate rather than gravel as it gives a more natural environment.
Haps cichlids will require plenty of open swimming space with just a few boulders or rocks scattered on the floor of the tank. They less aggressive then Mbuna cichlids and do not need caves. Again, sand would make a perfect substrate.
Lake Malawi cichlids
Vallisneria species are the only available plants I know (Vallisneria is native to both Malawi and Tanganyika). Those willing to bend the biotope rules a little could also add some annubias.
Here is a nice video showing what Lake Malawi looks like:
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