What rocks should I use for Malawi cichlids?

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Tufa rock used to be popular with Malawi cichlid owners, but it's falling out of fashion now. What rocks are recommended for mbuna?

The natural habitat for rock dwelling Malawi cichlids is very large boulders, sometimes metres across, with fine sand on the bottom.

In the aquarium huge boulders are impractical, but a rock pile made up of large rocks up to 30cm across will be the most biotope correct. Choose dark, rounded stones, available from aquatic shops, garden centres and landscaping suppliers.

In soft water aquariums the rock decor can also be used to buffer pH and hardness, and raise both to a level that will suit these hardwater loving fish. Limestone is best as it is also available in large chunks, though calcareous ocean rock and tufa rock are also commonly used for buffering.

The issue with ocean rock and tufa rock are that they give the tank a marine-like appearance, though some people actually like that. Once covered in a layer of algae it won’t really matter.  Avoid lava rock as it is very abrasive, and these fish like to graze.

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