What's the best Malawi cichlid for beginners?

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Going for a Malawi set-up? Jeremy Gay has some advice on stocking.

Before stocking up you must first decide which type you would like to keep. Malawis split loosely into the rock-dwelling mbuna, open water utaka — and then all the Aulonocara and fish formerly known as 'haps' in between.

For the classic Lake Malawi community look go for mbuna as your first attempt.

First choose a suitable set-up. A 1m/39” should be the absolute minimum, though a 240 l/53 gal, 120cm/48” long aquarium is better.

Lighting is not important as no plants will be grown, though either go for colour-enhancing pink light tubes or marine blue and white to create the full deepwater lake effect.

Excessive lighting will cause algae, though mbuna are algae-grazing cichlids so this should be seen as an added bonus.

Filtration should be powerful, as should aeration, as these fish will need to be overstocked to suppress aggression.

As far as species choice goes, Labidochromis are some of the most peaceful species and should be added first. Yellow 'labs' (pictured above) are also very colourful and pleasing on the eye.

Pseudotropheus acei isn’t that colourful, though is peaceful and even shoals, performing a role a bit like Green chromis in marine tanks.

Apart from that, stock all fish as juveniles — they are less aggressive — build up stocks quickly to a minimum of 20 (but fishless cycling first) and avoid Melanochromis auratus and Metriaclima lombardoi as they are aggressive.

Alternate coloration and patterns as similar-looking rivals are the most likely to fight.

This article was first published in the Christmas 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.