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Home » Biotope

Lake Tanganyika Biotope

Submitted by on February 10, 2010 – 7:00 amNo Comment

malawi biotope

Lake Tanganyika is an African Great Lake estimated to be the second or third largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. This large rocky lake is also known to be the second deepest lake (1,470 m) next to L. Baikal in Siberia and the longest in the world (670 km). Almost 1/6 of the world’s freshwater is contained in this 9-12 million years old lake.

Located along the East African Rift, Lake Tanganyika is home to a great deal of fish. According to Widipedia, at least 250 species of cichlid and 150 non-cichlid species inhabit the lake. Almost all (98%) of the Tanganyikan cichlid species exist nowhere else in the world outside the Lake Tanganyika watershed. The lake also contains one of the only freshwater jellyfish, numerous mollusks, sponges, and aquatic snakes that are endemic as well.

Lake Tanganyika is a large lake with many different habitats. The rocky shore, the open water and the sandy bottom are some of them.
The first one, the shallow rocky shore is characterized by the presence of rocks on a sandy substrat. Rocks in this area can vary in size, from small pebbles to bigger rocks like footballs.
Another rocky habitat is the “rocky sediment free habitat” where the rocks are much larger in size. There is no sand for the rocks to rest upon in this habitat and the rocks are often covered with algae which attract many herbivores cichlids.
Deeper in the lake is the sandy habitat where we can find sand-dwelling, shell-dwelling and schooling species. This area is characterized by large sandy surfaces, few rocks here and there and an abundance of abandoned snail shells.
The open water habitat is naturally very big. Huge schools of fish are often seen in this area. A few cichlid species live in the open.

The water in Lake Tanganyika is alkaline with a pH ranging from 7.8 to 8.8 and is medium hard with a dH from 7-11. The water of the lake is generally warm with a surface temperature that ranges from 73 to 88 °F (23 to 31 °C). However, most fish species inhabit areas with a temperature from 75-84 °F (24-29 °C ).

The Tanganyika Tank

Like any biotope aquarium, a Tanganyika biotope, should be as close as possible to the natural ecosystem. As said above, many different ecosystems are present in this large lake. In most cases, Tanganyika cichlids will fall into two or three scenarios: rocky, open water or sandy environment.

For Tanganyika cichlids that inhabit rocky areas of the lake, the biotope aquarium should be built up with plenty of rocks, tunnels, crevices, caves and overhangs to serve as spawning sites and, more importantly, hiding places for harassed fish. Each fish will establish its own territory, thus it is important to provide a shelter for each fish. A coral sand bottom should be used to buffer the water at an alkaline level Julidochromis chchlids are common in this habitat.

For cichlids from sandy bed areas of Lake Tanganyika, the biotope aquarium should have a sand substrate with snail shells where sand-dwelling cichlids will seek shelter and spawn. Here again, coral sand can be used to buffer the water. Some cichlids from this area are Neolamprologus multifasciatus, Neolamprologus brevis, N. occellatus, N. mealegrise, N. caudopunctatus, N. signatus, Altolamprologus compressiceps and A. calvus.

An open water biotope should provide plenty of open water to swim around. Unlike most other Lake Tanganyika species, males cichlids from this environment will not need any decor, rocks or sand to mark their territories. However, female will need some hiding places where they can hide as they cannot get way from the male in an aquarium. A sandy substrate can be used to mimic the natural conditions of the lake. Cichlids from this environment include: Cyprichromis leptosoma, C. microlepidotus, C. pavo, C. sp. leptosoma jumbo and C. sp. “Zebra”.

Whatever you chose to go with a rocky, open water or a sandy biotope environment, all Lake Tanganyika cichlids must be provided with a large open swimming areas. The water chemistry should match that of the lake with a temperature of 75-84°F (24-29°C), a pH from 7.5-9.0, and a water hardness from 7-18 dH.


Lake Tanganyika cichlids including snail shell-dwellers, Synodontis, Afromastacembelus eels, Tanganyika Rainbowfish.


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 Tanganyika looks like:


International Lake Environment Committee
Aquatic Community

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