Lake Tanganyikan Cichlid Community Aquarium
What makes Tanganyikans different from keeping Lake Malawi cichlids is the ability to create a so-called
"community tank." This unique trait can make keeping cichlids a rewarding experience. In this article we will
discuss what a community tank is. In order to understand how to create a Tanganyikan community tank we will explore
why this community concept is difficult at best with Lake Malawi cichlids. We will then discuss how a Tanganyikan
community tank is supposed to work. Finally, we will conclude our discussion with a few examples of community
Setting-Up A Tanganyikan Cichlid Community Tank
First of all, what is a community tank? In the broadest sense a community tank is an aquarium in which the
plants and animals therein are all compatible. This means the tank inhabitants won t normally fight with each other
nor eat one another. In other words, you have a harmonious environment where all plants and fishes are compatible
with each other and should survive and even reproduce over a sustained period of time.
The number one barrier to harmony in any aquarium is aggression. Aggression in cichlids is usually the result of
competition for (1) territory or (2) food. If food is plentiful, and it is in a home aquarium, the question of
territory is the only real concern for the aquarist wanting to create a community environment. This is a real
problem when trying to keep cichlids from Lake Malawi. Let me explain with some examples.
Living among large piles of rocks along the shoreline of Lake Malawi is a group of cichlids called "Mbuna" (the
native name for these fishes). In the aquarium, mbuna all inhabit the same niche the rocks and caves.
Realistically, only a few mbuna will be permitted to claim a residence among the rocks in an aquarium because there
is a limit to space. Those mbuna left without the protection of a cave make for easy targets by the more dominant
and aggressive fishes. Subdominant males will be less likely to reproduce without a claimed territory of their own.
Brooding females will become overly stressed without the safety of a cave and their longevity is in jeopardy.
Plants are rarely considered in an aquarium with mbuna because they have a tendency to eat or uproot any plants. As
you can see, creating harmony with mbuna is challenging.
While the haplochromines of Lake Malawi (e.g., Cyrtocara moori, Placidochromis electra, Protomelas steveni,
etc.) are sometimes compatible with a few select plants, the "Haps" of Lake Malawi don't lend themselves to a
community environment either. The different Hap species have a strong tendency to cross breed. Furthermore, the
Haps normally stick to the open water, as opposed to the mbuna who take to the rocks. This is problematic because
space quickly becomes scarce. For spawning to take place, spawning sites must be staked out and nests built. If the
tank is overcrowded, spawning is less likely to occur.
Okay, you're probably thinking, why not mix a few mbuna with some Haps. The reason why this is not recommended
(and why it would not make an ideal community tank) is due to a few reasons. First of all, mbuna are aggressive
eaters while Haps are usually more relaxed eaters. Mbuna can outeat Haps if kept together. The mbuna will get fat
while your Haps thin out. Even if this dietary incompatability could be overcome, differences in temperament make
these two groups of cichlids poor tank mates. As already suggested, mbuna have a more aggressive temperament, and
some would even say obnoxious. Haps on the other hand are generally milder. If the mbuna out size the Haps, then
they will stress the Haps.
If the Haps on the other hand are larger (Haps outgrow mbuna by several times when mature) they may prey on the
mbuna. And assuredly, the fry of the mbuna will be preyed upon by any Haplochromine tank mates.
Sure, these fishes can be mixed and maybe even co-habitate peacefully but the resultant environment is not one
of harmony where all fishes will survive and even reproduce over an extended period of time. Only with Tanganyikan
cichlids, I propose, can a truly holistic community tank be established.
Remember, the two main barriers to creating a community tank are agression from (1) lack of food and (2)
territory disputes. These barriers are easily removed with a Tanganyikan setup if approached correctly. Unlike
other east African cichlids, the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika adhere strictly to particular habitats. (This is
somewhat of an oversimplification, but holds true for all practical purposes in the aquarium.) Several popular
species are immediately excluded from the "community" because they are compatible with only a few select tank mates
for reasons we will not discuss here. These include Frontosa, Tropheus, and Petrochromis.
The various habitats are easily recreated in the aquarium. In the aquarium, these habitats are reduced (and
simplified) to 4 primary niches: open water, rocks & caves, shells, and open sand. The open water niche is
filled by genera like Cyprichromis and Benthochromis. The rocks & caves niche is generally inhabitated by
lamprologines, Julidochromis, and the gobies. Shells are occupied by the smaller lamprologines and Telmatochromis.
The open sand is then claimed by sandsifting Xenotilapia, Ectodini, and Callochromis.
There are many ways to fill each of these niches! Deciding what fishes to mix is one of the most exciting steps
in maintaining a community tank, so we won't steal all of the fun. However, i did want to provide a few
specific examples to get you started.