Lake Malawi is one of the Great Rift Valley lakes on the African continent, and just like the other Great Rift Valley lakes it is famous for its rich wild life. Aquarists appreciate the myriad of different cichlid species than can be found in Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a 40,000 year old lake and a lot of the cichlid species have developed in Lake Malawi and can be found nowhere else in the world. Lake Malawi is a large lake and contains several different environments: the rocky shores, the sandy bottom and the large open water areas. Malawi cichlids are found in all these environments and they have developed to fit into each niche. When you keep Malawi cichlids in your aquarium it is therefore important that you know which niche they inhabit in Lake Malawi, since different cichlids will appreciate different set ups.
Lake Malawi is 560 kilometers long and 75 kilometers wide at the widest point, which gives it a total surface area of almost 30,000 square kilometers. Three different countries share Lake Malawi: Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. Lake Malawi is therefore known under several different names, including Lake Nyasa, Lake Niassa and Lake Nyassa. The old European name for Lake Malawi is Livingstone\'s Lake. Water enters Lake Malawi chiefly via the Ruhuhu and the Shire River is the major outlet.
Aquarists usually divide Malawi cichlids into two main groups: Mbuna cichlids and Peacock cichlids. Mbuna means rock-dweller in one of the local languages, and it is a very suitable name for these cichlids since they inhabit the shallow and rocky regions along the shores of Lake Malawi. Mbuna cichlids are also found around the shores of the islands in Lake Malawi. Mbuna cichlids will typically display a strong, pastel coloration. The male is more vividly colored than the female, but if you keep only female Mbuna cichlids in your aquarium the dominant female can start to display a more striking coloration. When two male Mbuna cichlids live near each other, the weakest one can dampen his colors and look more like a female in order to reduce aggression. You should never keep two male Mbuna cichlids in the same aquarium unless you have a very large aquarium where they each male can claim his own territory. It is important that create natural territorial borders when you decorate the aquarium and the males must be able to stay out of each others sight. Since Mbuna cichlids spend their lives among rocks, caves and crevices it comes as no surprise that they are cave breeders.
The Peacock cichlids are instead found in the open waters in Lake Malawi. In the wild, Mbuna cichlids and Peacock cichlids hardly ever meet each other and it is not advisable to house them in the same aquarium. The name Peacock is derived from the vibrant coloration displayed by the male Peacock cichlids. Female Peacock cichlids have a duller and more camouflaging coloration. Peacocks are often carnivores, but some of the species feed on zooplankton. Peacock cichlids are ovophile mouthbrooders, which means that they female Peacock cichlid will guard the eggs inside her mouth.