Lake Tanganyika Cichlids

Lake Tanganyika Cichlids

Each biotope in Lake Tanganyika is home to its own combination of fish and animal species. In this article, we will take a closer look at the open water biotope, the rocky biotope and the shell beds of Lake Tanganyika and some of the cichlids that inhabit them.  

The Open Water Biotope

This biotope is home to the popular cichlids from the genus Cyprichromis: Cyprichromis leptosoma, C. microlepidotus, C. pavo, C. sp. leptosoma jumbo and C. sp. "Zebra". These cichlids normally reach 5 inches in length, with the exception of Cyprichromis leptosoma which normally stay below 4 inches. C. sp. "Zebra" is certainly not the only colour variation displayed by these fishes, but it is the most commonly kept one.

If you want to keep Cyprichromis cichlids you must provide them with plenty of open water to swim around in. The males will claim three-dimensional territories and stay away from each other. Unlike most other Lake Tanganyika cichlids, the males will not need any aquarium décor to mark out their territories. This doesn’t mean that they can be kept in completely barren aquariums, because the females will need sheltered spots where they can hide as they cannot get away from the males in the confined aquarium. Floating plants or dimmed lighting is recommended, since strong light can cause the males to loose their striking colors, at least in certain species. A substrate is not necessary, but most aquarists use sand since they wish to mimic the natural conditions in Lake Tanganyika. A substrate colonized by beneficial bacteria will also aid biological filtration.The levels of soluble waste must be kept down and water chemistry and temperature should naturally be similar the conditions found in Lake Tanganyika.   

The Shell Bed

The sandy bottom of Lake Tanganyika is scattered with empty snail shells that serve as both hiding and breeding sites for shell dwelling cichlids. Many of the smallest cichlids in the world are shell-dwellers, since it is hard for big cichlids to find large enough snail shells. They can be kept in comparatively small aquariums and will usually be satisfied with small territories.  It is important to provide shell-dwelling cichlids with a sandy substrate suitable for digging and a large selection of suitable shells. The sand should be at least 1 inch deep.

Shell-dwellers will form colonies and generally tolerate each other in the aquarium even during the breeding period, but they will defend their claimed territory violently. The territory will be around 30 cm across and have a shell in the centre. Do not mix them with bigger fish that may consider them prey.

Rocky Habitat

In the rocky habitat, you will find the beautiful Julidochromis cichlids. The genus Julidochromis is endemic to Lake Tanganyika and these fishes never venture more than a few inches from the rocky shores and reefs of this African Rift Valley lake. The immobility means that during breeding, they tend to breed within their own population. Over time, a large number of distinct populations have therefore evolved and eventually turned into separate species.

Julidochromis cichlids are violent and territorial and their fights can prove fatal in the aquarium. Keeping them together is difficult, and even established couples can retort to serious violence if the pair bond is somehow disturbed. The easiest way of obtaining a pair is to purchase half a dozen of juvenile fish and let them grow up together, but you must be prepared to evacuate all fish but the dominant pair in time. Unfortunately, the evacuation can disturb the pair bond and the dominant pair might turn on each other. It is possible to house several pairs together, but only if the aquarium is really large and well decorated. Young fish is tolerated by the adults until the young ones reaches sexual maturity.

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