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SubscribeMbuna - Some Helpful Hints ...
Calilasseia
 
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I've recently acquired from my local library a loan copy of the book The Interpet Bumper Guide To Tropical Cichlids (Consultant Editor : David Sands). This book is organised by geogrpahical origin of the featured Cichlids, with one section covering South American species, one covering Meosamerican (Central American) species, and a thrid covering African Cichlids. Within these sections, there are sub-divisions, related to colour-coded maps of the requisite continental masses, covering for example the African riverine Cichlids of the equatorial West, the Cichlid fauna of the northern Lakes (Victoria, Albert etc) and of course the Rift Lakes (Malawi and Tanganyika). It is in connection with the Rift Lakes, and particularly Malawi, that I ammoved to write this article, because the book contains useful information for those embarking upon the potentially fraught business of keeping Mbuna for the first time.

The term 'Mbuna' arises, according to the book, from the native language of the Tonga people, who live on the western coast of Lake Malawi, and roughly translates into English as 'rockfish'. The Mbuna are Haplochromine in origin, and as the book says, became popular because many are brilliantly coloured, indeed some rival marine coral reef fish in vibrancy of colour. However, the comparison with Damselfishes does not only relate to colour: aggression is a well-documented feature of marine Damselfishes, and the Mbuna can exhibit frightening levels of violence toward each other. However, this is related (as in the case of Damselfishes, which are closely related taxonomically to Cichlids anyway), to territorial activity.

Mbuna defend a territory not just during spawning: these fishes defend a more or less permanent resident site in the wild, an area that the book describes as a 'multipurpose territory' providing food, shelter and a placewhere courting and mating can take place. Thanks to the topography of the rubble that forms the rock faces of the typical Mbuna habitat, certain sites are more desirable than others, and competition for these is, quite literally, cut-throat. Some species even have territorial females, that defend similar regions of their own, overlapping conveniently with those of suitable males, principally to provide a food source for themselves and for any fry resulting from mating. Consequently, Mbuna have a highly developed sense of 'land ownership', as it were, and disputes over desirable sites usually result, in the wild, in the biggest and most dominant males securing the most desirable sites, males lower in the pecking order being relegated to what may be termed 'less desirable suburbs'. Moreover, the size of each of these territories in the wild is considerable, bigger certainly than the acreage available in all but the most colossal aquaria, and consequently, male Mbuna in particular are highly intolerant of other males of their own species, and indeed of fishes of other species whose appearance resembles that of conspecific males. Several Mbuna species will also attack ecological niche competitors (fishes whose requirements overlap their own significantly), as a means of eliminating competiton for resources in the wild. The fact that food is effevtively unlimited in the aquarium is obviously something that cannot be communicated to the fishes via dialogue (much as some of us wish it could be!), and the wild behaviour manifests itself in the aquarium in the form of vicious internecine warfare between incompatible aquarium residents.

The trick with these 'ruffians' is to choose species carefully. First of all, only one male of a given species should be kept, as two males (especially in the case of Pseudotropheus elongatus, for example) will fight to the death in all but the hugest aquaria. Second, species mixing should be performed with caution: do NOT mix fishes whose males are of similar appearance, as combat will result between these. Dither fish are usually superfluous in an Mbuna aquarium, as the Mbuna themselves will act as their own dither fish, and any other fishes introduced (e.g., as bottom feeders) need to be chosen very carefully indeed. Ideally, if one is to keep catfishes, for example, alongside Mbuna, these should if possible be species that coexist naturally with Mbuna in the wild, and are therefore adapted to cope with the strongly developed territorial instincts of the latter.

An additional phenomenon to deal with in the case of Mbuna is hyperdominance. A hyperdominant male will not only harass other males of the same species, but males of other unrelated species, frequently with such severity and belligerence that these males are prevented from exhibiting territorial behaviour or mating with their own females. Females of several species will respond to the hyperdominant male, including females of different species, making hybrids (usually unwanted) a possibility. This phenomenon is usually seen in aquaria where species with greatly differing levels of aggression are crowded together: the most aggressive species become hyperdominant, and the remaining species are suppressed. This is unlikely to happen in the wild, of course, where the 'losers' in the territorial battles have a large volume of water for escape, and far larger areas of rock rubble to find havens from attackers, but is a recognised phenomenon in the aquarium.

The book divides Mbuna into groups in decreasing order of aggression, and makes several recommnedations. The groups are defined as follows (the species lists comprise widely available species: additional research will be needed to decide which group an unlisted species belongs to):


Group 1 : These are fishes that will behave aggressively even in aquaria greater than 180 cm (72 in) long, and are likely to kill or injure unwisely chosen companions in smaller aquaria. Think of species in this list as the 'hard nuts', the serious criminals that should be kept by the experienced and those with the facilities to mitigate any outbreaks of warfare. The species in this list include:

Genyochromis mento
Melanochromis chipokae, M. loriae, M. melanopterus, M. simulans
and M. 'lepidophage'
ALL members of the Genus Petrotilapia
Pseudotropheus brevis, Ps. hajomaylandi, Ps. lucerna, Ps. tursiops
Members of the following 'Pseudotropheus complexes' : Ps.crabro, Ps. elongatus, Ps. williamsi


Group 2 : These are fishes that forego serious aggression in aquaria greater than 180 cm (72 in) long, although large specimens are likely to injure or kill incompatible companions in aquaria less than 150 cm (60 in) long. The species in this list include:

Labeotropheus fuelleborni
Melanochromis auratus, M. paralellus, M. vermivorous
Pseudotropheus aurora, Ps. greshakei, Ps. heteropictus, Ps. lombardoi, Ps. cf. livingstonii
and members of the Pseudotropheus zebra complex (now renamed Metriaclima zebra)


Group 3 : These are fishes that forego serious aggression in aquaria greater than 150 cm (60 in) long. Large specimens can pose a variable degree of risk to companions in aquaria less than 120 cm (48 in) long. Species in this list include:

Cyathocromis obliquidens
ALL members of the Genus Gephyrochromis
Labeotropheus trewavasae
Melanochromis interruptus
and members of the M. johanni complex
Pseudotropheus barlowi, Ps. elegans, Ps. gracilior, Ps. lanisticola, Ps. minutus, Ps. cf. microstoma
Members of the following 'Pseudotropheus complexes' : Ps. macrophthalmus, Ps. socolofi, Ps. tropheops


Group 4 : These are fishes that usually forego serious aggression in aquaria more than 120 cm (48 in) long.

Iodotrohpeus sprengerae
All members of the Genera Cynotilapia and Labidochromis.


The book makes the following recommendations:

[1] Rpresentatives of adjacent groups (e.g., groups 2 and 3) are more likely to coexist than those in disconnected groups (e.g., 1 and 3);

[2] Within a particular group, fishes in the same Genus are more likely to be incompatible than those in different Genera;

[3] Among members of a given Genus, members with similar body shapes and colouration are more likely to be incompatible than those with significant colour and morphological differences;

[4] Regardless of the grouping above into which fishes are placed, those species whose male courting colour schemes are closely matched will be incompatible in the same aquarium.

The book notes in addition that mixing Labeotropheus fuelleborni and Labeotropheus trewavasae is likely to prove disastrous for one or the other species, and hyperdominance will be likely if these species are mixed. One serious omission from the book concerns Pseudotropheus lombardoi : this is an Mbuna species with 'reversed' sexual colouration, in which males are orange and females are blue: I suspect that the compatibility of this species with some of the other Mbuna is fraught with difficulties - tangerine morph Metriaclima zebra, for example. Males of this species may well mistake the females of Ps. lombardoi for conspecific males, and consequently, I would advise great caution when mixing Psuedotropheus lombardoi with other Mbuna!

Newcomers to the world of Mbuna are advised to begin with fishes from Group 4, with possibly one or two of the less pugnacious species from Group 3 in addition. As experience is gained, one can move up to the more aggressive groupings, provided that facilities to handle any outbreaks of warfare are available. While Mbuna have a reputation for being reprobates in the aquarium, this is usually the result of mixing badly chosen species, or mixing species in too small an aquarium. While a certain amount of 'crowding' tends to be recommended in Mbuna circles, principally to spread any aggression among as large a population of individuals as possible, an alternative approach is to choose species carefully (one male per species remember!) and give them space, or better still, restrict the aquarium population to a single species, one male and a harem of females (the book cites this latter approach as the ideal way of keeping any Mbuna species if one wishes to avoid warfare breaking out!).

Mbuna are, despite their reputation for being ruffians in the aquarium, very popular indeed. Intelligent, active, brilliantly colourful, and regularly bred in the aquarium, Mbuna are among the aquarium's 'catwalk stars'. But, like catwalk stars, they can have their temper tantrums! Hopefully the above guide will help to keep all those egos in check in your aquarium!

Enjoy!




Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile Homepage PM Edit Report 
macbeth
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Thanks Calil...
Will search for the book at my local library.
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
nano reefer
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i have a book like that but mine is by a difrent person thats
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile Homepage MSN PM Edit Delete Report 
Calilasseia
 
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Mbuna Guide Part 2

As an indication of what to expect, here is a quick rundown of the likely aggression levels and compatibility of various Mbuna:

Iodotropheus sprengerae - this one is possibly the ideal "Beginner's Mbuna", as it displays little aggression compared to most other Mbuna, is hardy, small and easy to breed in captivity. One of the few Mbuna that allow the keeping of more than one male per aquarium, provided suffiicient space is provided: males only become territorial for a brief period leading up to spawning, and most of the antagonism between males is ritualised. Unlikely to display hyperdominance in captivity. Should NEVER be kept with aggressive Mbuna (Group 1 in my original post). Suitable companions include Labidochromis species, but be careful, as Labidochromis vellicans shares a similar colouration. Iodotropheus sprengerae is sexually precocious, reproducing at an early age.

Labeotropheus fuelleborni - Males extemely aggressive toward conspecifics, will largely ignore other species' males, with one important exception - NEVER keep this species with the similar Labeotropheus trewavasae, or all-out warfare will result! Large males apt to exhibit hyperdominance, especially if crowded. A plethora of colour morphs available: avoid keeping different morphs together to prevent unwanted hybrids.

Labeotropheus trewavasae - less aggressive than the previous species, and seldom displays hyperdominance (especially if given space). Several colour morphs available.

Labidochromis zebroides - modest territorial requirements, plus modest levels of aggression, make this Group 4 fish almost a "Beginner's Mbuna". Never manifests hyperdominance in captivity. Can be housed with larger Mbuna if species are chosen with care, and plenty of cover is available to the Labidochromis. Similar remarks apply to other Labidochromis.

Melanochromis auratus - possibly the Mbuna with the longest vintage in aquarium circles, one of the first kept and bred successfully (as long ago as 1965). Males intolerant of each other, may exhibit hyperdominance if crowded, but one of the most adaptable of Mbuna due to the plethora of tank-bred specimens in circulation. Likely to be surprisingly compatible with other Mbuna, provided they are chosen to be significantly different in appearance: this rules out ANY compatibility with Pseudotropheus fuscus (or whatever it is now called!) because males are similar to those of Melanochromis auratus. Temperament variable: some specimens relatively sociable, while others can border on the psychotic, may be a function of inbreeding in some cases.

Melanochromis johanni - seldom displays hyperdominance, but males are completely intolerant of each other when mature. Best kept with other carefully chosen Melanochromis, but its small size may put it at risk among larger fishes. Incidentally I've seen this fish in action at a dealer's - in a small dealer aquarium, even juveniles can cut up rough with each other, so be prepared to intervene in cases of all-out warfare!

Pseudotropheus lombardoi - I've already commented on the fact that this is a species with reversed sexual colouration, and consequently, keeping this species with certain other Mbuna may prove problematic, as females of this species resemble males of other Mbuna. Companions should therefore be chosen with particular care.

Pseudotropheus macrophthalmus - this species complex appears in a wide range of morphs, that may eventually be separated into distinct species. Males likely to be aggressive toward conspecifics, particularly in the run-up to spawning, but not given to hyperdominance.

Pseudotropheus minutus - relatively mellow by mbuna standards, this Group 3 fish may, if space is sufficient, be kept with more than one male to an aquarium. Similar in shape to Pseudotropheus elongatus, but the similarities end there!

Pseudotropheus elongatus - an extremely aggressive Group 1 fish, that is unusual among Mbuna because a male and female pair will ferociously defend a territory against all comers. Described in one book as having "a lurid reputation as an aquarium terrorist" because of this! Supplanted by the similarly coloured and much mellower Pseudotropheus minutus in the trade (which should come as no surprise!), it is still available to specialist Cichlid keepers through Cichlid societies, but this fish is best left to the advanced aquarist.

Pseudotropheus socolofi - the remarks for Pseduotropheus minutus above apply almost identically to this species also. Juveniles in dealer aquaria appear placid, and even full-sized adults are not considered a major risk compared to some of the real reprobates.

Pseudotropheus lucerna - similar in appearance to Ps. socolofi above, but there the similarity ends. This species is extremely aggressive, a Group 1 fish, and likely to exhibit hyperdominance when crowded. May prove compatible with other reprobates such as Pseudotropheus elontatus above, but only in very large aquaria.

Metriaclima zebra - an enormous complex of colour morphs makes choosing companions something of a challenge, not least because it is one of the most aggressive Group 2 fishes, apt to become hyperdominant if crowded, and will not only exhibit complete and violent intolerance of other males of its own species, but males of other species bearing similar markings. Likely therefore to be completely incompatible with Pseudotropheus lombardoi, as females of that sex-reversed species can resemble some Metriaclima zebra males. Do not mix morphs otherwise unwanted hybrids will certainly result. Selectively bred albino variety in existence dating from around 1975, this should be restricted to a species aquarium to prevent it being mauled by other Mbuna. Remember, this species defends a territory over 2 metres square in the wild!

Petrotilapia tridentiger - a pity this is one of the Group 1 reprobates, as it is a gorgeous shimmering purple in colour. But, a reprobate it is. Put two males together and the resultant fighting will be frenzied and vicious. However, its unusual shimmering purple solid colouration means that it is likely to be compatible with striped species from Group 1, but again, with care!

Pseudotropheus tropheops - this Group 3 fish is likely to be only moderately aggressive. Again, a complex of morphs exists, the first one to enter the aquarium hobby being an orange-yellow one with black vertical bars and a brilliant lemon-yellow dorsal edge (way back in 1966). A possible companion for Iodotropheus sprengerae and Labidochromis species if colour morphs are chosen to be distinctive. Do NOT mix with members of the Pseudotropheus macrophthalmus complex unless the colour morphs of each are distinct.

Cynotilapia afra - known as the Dogtooth Cichlid (its dentition is clearly visible), the Cichlid book I referred to in the first post places it in Group 4, yet back in the 70s, TFH magazine regarded it as a quarrelsome fish that is best kept on its own. Similarity in appearance to Metriaclima zebra may make for some interesting compatibility issues with certain other Mbuna. An interesting 'eduardi' morph available with a yellow and black dorsal fin. Observed feeding on plankton in the wild.

Remember, check the specific details of your chosen species BEFORE going out and buying them, plan ahead, and make sure that you don't mix fishes that will regard each other, for one reason or another, as enemies to be eliminated ! With expensive fishes in particular, prevention of trouble is infinitely preferable to cure! And if you intend on keeping any of the 'reprobates', I would advise doing this only if alternative housing is available to separate combatants should even the best laid plans somehow go wrong.

Meanwhile, enjoy your Mbuna!





Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile Homepage PM Edit Delete Report 
wee davey
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Thank you so much for this article. When I am ready to add more fish in about 3 weeks, I will consult this article and of course a forum here for suggestions on what to stock. I have to yellow labs and they are soooo cooool.
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csboo
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Thank for that article. I have found recently that the 2 fish I have are labeotropheus trewavasae. The female is yellow with speckles on her and looks like she has glitter rounding her dark eyes. Very pretty. Took forever for me to place her. Just went to all forum pics till I found her exact twin. They also referred her to a thumbi West, but bring that origin up I saw marbled fish with huge ring spots. The male I thought was and may still be, a powder blue, but the male on the trewavasae looks like him more. They came from the same tank as young so probably the same species. When my tank is up I do want to add a few more. How can you really tell male from female? I sure don't want to get a tank full of males. My blue ones bottom front fins drag long, really pretty, finns are all tipped in black. Huge almost orangey egg spots, yet the yellow has no tipped coloring on her fins.Smaller spots,yet more of them.
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Calilasseia
 
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As far as I am aware, tehre is a BIG difference between trewavasae males and females.

This link should help:

Labeotropheus trewavasae with male & female photos

Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile Homepage PM Edit Delete Report 
JazzyB
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I actually own the book in question. Interesting read, but a bit dated now.

Just curious if you actually keep African cichlids Cal?
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile MSN PM Edit Delete Report 
Hoa dude_dude
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...
well done
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csboo
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Thank you for that articule. I had it sent to me before and learned a lot from that. I do not have 2 males of the same species. I have a red zebra, 1 blue socofoli one albino socolofi,(know spelling is not right), one laprodopheus and one unknown(begins with a c cause I looked her up on pics. Caladermious or somethin like that. She has faint yellow background, black stripping and black tipped top fins. Mine are over a year old right now except for my albino. All go great , chasing once in awhile but I don't know what is male or what is female.I hear so many different answers.
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Nizzo
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Hi Cal,

I am just doing research & homework as to what charges I should choose to inhabit my new mbuna biotope.

THANKYOU SOOOO MUCH!

I have got down to a shortlist of 'usual suspects' and have found your post very informative and helpful.

Neil.
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questor
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Terrific article! Thanks for posting it. I've already printed it and will certainly be consulting it when I start to stock my 110 in the coming months!
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:20Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
wish-ga
 
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First of all, only one male of a given species should be kept,

Yep I had two auratus and two electric yellows. Down the track was down to one of each. Musta lucked with two males. Seem happy to be solo. Learned my lesson. Will group in five or so or just the one.

Need more stock in my tank, and to buy some food and to buy some more substrate too. Better stay away from the lfs sounds like a dangerous shopping trip!

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Post InfoPosted 02-Mar-2006 04:12Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
mughal113
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Thank you so much for such an informtive article. I believe thats what i was looking for when my cew cichlid tank is cycling and i was just getting worried about stocking it.
Thanks again.
Post InfoPosted 20-Jun-2006 14:03Profile MSN PM Edit Delete Report 
Jimmy22
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yes very well done indeed
Post InfoPosted 25-Jun-2006 03:56Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Victoria K
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read all the articles and responses posted excellent info, anyone have an idea what i can do with a red forest jewel and a cobalt zebra that were friends to start with now battering each other, could i put Zeb in with 2 electric yellows?, i have five tanks going at the moment,dont want another if i can avoid it!!

Victoria K.
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toxic69
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for the person who wanted to know how to tell what sex there fish are ,its really hard with mbuna when they are young as both sex's have the same coloring when young but the males change color when older also males will have more egg spots on the anal fin, with some tho the only way to tell is to vent them or wait till they breed.
Post InfoPosted 25-Feb-2008 15:44Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
shellz
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Hi just wondering, I'm new to breeding but two of my haplochromis borleyi began brooding only two weeks apart. I have an 8 foot tank and a 2 foot but now the first female has spat 11 fry in the 2 foot. I bought a net to put the other female into, She is soooo big so I put her in early but, she doesn't look happy. Can I put her in with the fry of the first hap (She is back in the main tank) or do I have to keep her in the little box
Post InfoPosted 26-Aug-2008 11:57Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
kdwilson972
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i've had mbuna for years now and this book was a help to me when i started. i ended up buying tons of books on the topic because mbuna are such interesting fish to keep. one note on auratus; mine have been in huge tanks as well as little ones and they are just plain hateful. my dominant male tries to kill everything put in the tank (72" with him. he has killed several females who didn't seem interested in breeding with him. i'd recommend some type of afra, as they are quite colorful and seem to posses a better disposition. or, if you live near NC, i have a free auratus for you
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2009 22:57Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Burrito.L
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EditedEdited 20-Nov-2016 14:55
Fantastic article. I just got mbuna and was looking for decent information.
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