How to Manage Mbuna Cichlids in a Fish Tank?

When it comes down to getting Mbuna Cichlids for your home aquarium, even an experienced fish keeper takes some time to decide.

That’s because of their cryptic nature, shyness, and aggressiveness.

No fish keeper would claim that keeping mbunas is a simple task because it requires a subtle touch.

For example, building the ideal tank size, diet plan, and habitat for Mbuna Cichlids takes a lot of work, patience, and repeated trial-and-error.

But to reap the benefits of enjoying these beautiful little fishes…these are the sacrifices you need to make.

Besides, I’ll save some of your time by explaining ways to manage Mbuna Cichlids in your home aquarium.

Let’s get started:

Here’s A List Of Beginner-Friendly Mbuna Cichlids For You:

  • Chilumba Cichlid
  • Dialeptos Cichlid 
  • Electric Yellow Cichlid
  • Freibergi Cichlid
  • Livingstonii Cichlid
  • Maingano Cichlid Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos 
  • Pearl of Likoma Cichlid
  • Perlmutt Cichlid
  • Perspicax Cichlid
  • Yellow-tail Acei Cichlid

What’s the Best Food for Mbuna Cichlids?

There’s no doubt that some mbuna cichlids can be fussy eaters.

This can make feeding them a little challenging, but it is certainly not impossible, and with the right food choice and a little perseverance, you will get there in the end.

The first thing to know about mbuna cichlids is that they are omnivorous.

In their natural habitat of Lake Malawi, they would eat all kinds of things, including algae, worms, shrimps, and snails.

The algae is significant as this fish has evolved in this environment with very few other food sources.

They need a good mix of meaty protein, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, blackworms, tubifex worms, and vegetative matter.

Vegetables such as blanched lettuce, spinach, and peas make excellent additions to their diet.

Mbuna need a high protein diet to stay healthy and grow strong, but too much can be detrimental to your fish.

If you feed them too many pellets or flakes, they will get constipated, which can cause problems in the long run.

Ideal Tank Size For Mbunas Cichlids


The tank size for mbunas is around 4-5 inches.

If you have a 10-15 gallon tank, it may well be too small for your mbuna to have adequate swimming space and a full view of the world.

Try to get a 20-gallon tank or even a 30-gallon tank if you can afford it.

120 cm/48-inch tank will suffice for most people.

But if you can afford a bigger one, then go with it.

You may also want to consider the size of the tank in square footage.

For example, a large 120 x 60 x 60cm/48 x 24 x 24 tank will already contain more than 40 gallons.

This means that the surface area of this tank is significantly larger than that of a smaller 100 x 60 x 60cm/40 x 24 x 24-inch tank.

Therefore, when keeping mbunas, you need to ensure enough swimming space and viewing area for each fish housed in the same aquarium.

The ideal height of the tank is between 60-90 cm/24-36 inches tall, depending on the size of your mbuna.

A good height for holding them is about 70 cm/28 inches tall or slightly lower.

How Much Do Mbuna Cichlids Cost?

You can expect to pay about $5 for a juvenile fish and up to $30 for an adult.

The price may be based on the size of the fish or its coloring.

Some shops will also discount purchasing groups of the same species.

The total cost will depend on the number of Mbuna you want to keep together in an aquarium.

Mbuna are social creatures, so they do best when held in schools.

It is recommended to keep at least six of the same species together.

The aquarium size you choose will also affect how much you spend.

A fish tank of 75 gallons or more is recommended for a school of six, though you could go smaller if you only plan to keep juveniles until they grow larger.

The larger aquariums are more expensive than smaller ones, but they can be cheaper in the long run since your Mbuna will live longer and healthier lives in them.

How To Manage Mbunas in Fish Tank?

Aquarium owners have long debated the possibility of keeping male mbunas (haplochromine cichlids) together in an aquarium.

It has been a widely held belief that the males will fight to the death and must be separated from each other.

The idea of mixing males is not new; it has been practiced for many years in aquaria, with limited success.

The key to mixing mbuna males is understanding their behavior and how this relates to their environment and tankmates.

Mbuna are territorial fish; they defend an area of rockwork in which they live.

This area may also include a cave or hole or other feature that may be useful as shelters, such as under a piece of wood or a large rock leaning against another part of rockwork.

The male will typically drive away any fish that attempts to enter his territory, but only the male of the same species and sex constitute a severe threat to him.

The male usually ignores Non-mating females unless they attempt to enter his territory.

If this occurs, he usually chases them away with little fanfare unless he is breeding with one or more of them at the time.

When managing Mbunas in the fish tanks, the most critical step is setting up their environment.

Before adding them to your tank, make sure you have enough rocks to build plenty of castles and caves.

These are where mbunas hide, sleep, mate, and even feed. The more rocks you add, the smaller the territories become.

For example, if you have a 150-gallon tank with 25 male mbunas, they would need 15 rocks in the tank to create their territories.

This way, they will have less space to fight over and be less aggressive.

While creating castles and caves for your mbunas is a good idea, you also need to make sure that each grotto has an escape route so that fish can find refuge from aggressive males (or females).

While building caves for your mbunas is easy, making sure that each has an escape route is not always easy.

Further Reading

Pistol Shrimps Facts: Are They Suitable for Home Aquariums?

15 Oscar Tank Mates Suitable for Your Fish Tank

6 Easy-to-Handle Tropical Fish for Beginners