Breeding Mbuna Cichlids

Breeding Mbuna Cichlids

Mbuna cichlids are native to Lake Malawi in Africa. The word Mbuna means rock dweller in one of the local languages spoken around the lake, and it is truly a suitable name for these rock living cichlids. Mbuna cichlids are popular in aquariums due to their beautiful look – most species display very striking colours – and their fascinating behaviour. They are very aggressive and should not be kept with more timid fish. Mbuna cichlids will claim territories and defend them violently. They should ideally be kept in a well stocked aquarium, since this will cause the aggression to be spread out over many individuals. One inch of fish for every 8 square inches of water surface is a good rule of thumb when it comes to Mbuna cichlids.

It is not hard to get Mbuna cichlids into spawning condition. Just provide them with the same care and conditions as you would provide non-breeding Mbuna cichlids with. This article will provide general guidelines that are true for most Mbuna cichlid species, but it is always advisable to research your particular species as well before you attempt to breed them. Also remember that Mbuna cichlids from different species can and will cross breed. If you keep several species together and they produce offspring you should not sell the fry since the mixed DNA will ruin the bloodlines of the true species when people use the crossings for breeding purposes.

Keeping one male with at least 2-3 females is a good ratio. As mentioned above, the Mbuna cichlids should be kept in a well stocked aquarium. This means that you might have to add extra aeration and filtration, and perform water changes quite often. Your Mbuna cichlids will not breed if you allow the water quality to trop. Lake Malawi is a large lake with a stable environment, and Mbuna cichlids to not appreciate rapid changes. Keep the pH in the 7.5-8.5 range and the KH as well as the GH at 12. The levels of ammonia and nitrite should be zero, and the nitrate should never rise above 15 ppm. The normal temperature in Lake Malawi is 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you want to breed you Mbuna cichlids, it is important not to over feed them. They will eat virtually everything you give them and can easily become obese which is bad for their health. Very large Mbuna cichlids also means that you will be able to keep fewer individuals in your aquarium, and the amount of aggressive behaviour will therefore increase. Violence will make the fish stressed and they are less likely to breed under such conditions. In the same time, it is important not to overcrowd the aquarium, since this will hamper the breeding as well. The natural diet for Mbuna cichlids are algae and insects. If you feed you Mbuna cichlids prepared food, you should always include some vegetable/algae matter such as Spirulina.

Since Mbuna cichlids are rock dwellers, it comes as no surprise that they like to spawn among rocks, caves and crevices. Mbuna cichlids should never be kept in an aquarium without plenty of hiding spaces created by rocky decorations, and if you want them to breed this is even more important. During the initial stage of the breeding period the male will claim a small territory which he thinks is a suitable spawning site. He will then start to show him self in front of the females. He will ‘dance’ for them by vibrating his whole body and erecting his fins. His colours will also become much more vivid than normally. If a female is in spawning condition, she will eventually accompany the male to the spawning site. The couple will swim close to each other in a circling fashion, and the female will start depositing eggs at the spawning site. When a few eggs have been deposited, she will quickly pick them up with her mouth to guard them. Mbuna cichlids are female mouth brooders and will keep their offspring hidden inside the mouth of the mother. The male is equipped with some egg-shaped spots on his anal fin, and when the female Mbuna tries to pick them up as well she will instead receive a mouthful of sperm that fertilizes the eggs inside her mouth. She will then continue to deposit eggs at the spawning site, and the procedure is repeated over and over again until all the eggs are fertilized and resting inside her mouth.

Pseudotropheus marmalade cat - an easily breed mbuna cichlid
Mbuna cichlids like this Pseudotropheus Marmalade cat is easy to breed. Copyright

When all eggs has been fertilized, the male Mbuna will chase away the female from his territory. It is unadvisable to remove the female from the aquarium at this stage, since the stress from being netted and moved can cause her to spit out the eggs. If you have filled the aquarium with a lot of small hiding places for the fry to seek refuge in, you can let her stay in the aquarium and let the fry grow up together with the adult fish. Some fry will be eaten, but at lest a few will survive. Their instinct will make them seek shelter among rocks and stones just like they would do in the wild. If you want to ensure a higher survival rate, you can move the female to her own aquarium approximately 7-10 days after spawning. She is less likely to spit her eggs when she has kept them in her mouth for such a long time. The fry is usually spit out after 4 weeks of brooding, but you should not move the female later than 10 days after the spawning since a late move can hurt the fry.

When the Mbuna fry are released they are already comparatively large and you can feed them Cyclops, brine shrimp or powdered flake food. One batch of Mbuna fry will typically include 25-35 individuals. Let the female stay with her fry for a while and give her plenty of nutritious food. She needs some time to regain her strength before you move her.

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