Most people that keep African cichlids from Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria tend to keep these fish in one of three ways. The most common way is to keep all male peacock and haplochromis in 75 to 90-gallon tanks. A second way is to keep groups of mbuna together. And a third way is to keep these fish in species only tanks primary for breeding. Tanks that are 120 gallons or larger offer another option allowing for the best features of all three of these methods in one tank. That is why I call them “African Cichlid Super Tanks”.
African Cichlid Super tanks allow for a mix of one Peacock trio along with trios of milder, smaller Lake Malawi Haplochromis, and milder Lake Victorians, plus a few groups of six mixed sex milder mbuna. This gives you more of a selection of the fish from two Lakes, (Malawi and Victoria) that can also produce fry similar to those being kept in a species only tank. In addition, these type tanks will also give you more of a flavor of the interaction between the different type fish from both of these lakes than that of a traditional all male tank.
To create an African Cichlid Super tank first you need a tank that holds 120 or more gallons in order to provide enough space for these fish to peacefully coexist. The tank should have plenty of stacked rocks, rock with holes, or ornaments that provide hiding and spawning places for each fish. Peacocks and Haplochromis appreciate a tall structure that they can use to hide out of sight of an aggressor. The also like larger caves for the same reason or to use for spawning. Mbuna like caves to hide and spawn in. Lake Victorian fish like both caves and tall rocks or ornaments to shield them from an aggressor. In addition, all of these fish like a smooth area like a rock surface or the top of a sponge filter to lay their eggs when spawning. In an African Cichlid Super Tank, you should provide a mixture of these type things.
You do not have to keep your rocks, ornaments, etc. super clean. Instead, it is more beneficial to the fish to allow some algae growth on these items along with the non-viewing areas of the glass. Light algae growth helps the tank to cycle nitrates and carbon dioxide making for a healthier environment for the fish, creating a more natural look to the aquarium while providing an extra food source for herbivores and omnivores to pick on between feedings.
Filtration should turn the water of this tank at least eight times per hour. You will also need to add air to the tank using an air pump. Since you need air, I suggest using H-V size or square sponge filters on the end of your air lines rather than air stones to produce extra filtration. The top of the sponge filter will serve the second purpose as a possible spawning spot.
Now the big question is: “What fish can I put into a tank like this.” I suggest you make a choice of one type of peacock cichlid in a trio (one male with two females) that you like the most. Stay away from Jacobfreibergi types which may cause issues. Orange Jacobfreibergi peacocks like Otter point and Eureka Red may get aggressive toward other red or orange color fish. Yellow Jacobfreibergi peacocks like Lemon Jake may get aggressive toward other yellow color fish. Instead, I suggest either a calmer yellow complex peacock like Benga or Maleri Yellow or a calmer orange complex peacock like German Red or Ruby Red. Do not put more than one variety of Aulonocara peacocks in this type tank. Their females all look the same which will cause cross breeding and aggression issues.
There are many choices for Lake Malawi Haplochromis trios (one male with two females) to add to this type tank. Again stay with the more milder types and stay away from larger and more aggressive types, like those in the Nimbochromis family. Do not mix two or more types from the same scientific family. In most cases, haplochromis trios from different family groups can normally be mixed in trios without a lot of risk of hybridization. This allows you to have more than one Haplochromis trio in this type of tank, depending on space available.
Potential choices are Copadichromis Atripinnis, azureus, chrysonotus Mubmo, Kawanga, mloto likoma, or a similar milder fish in this group. Borleyi also may work, but they will get very large and bossy toward the smaller fish in this type tank. Cyrtocara moorii blue dolphin is another possibility; but, that fish can be very difficult to sex, making getting a certain trio a difficult task. Lethrinops are calm fish that act closely in behavior to peacocks; but, are often classified as a Haplochromis. Two of my favorites from this group are Lethrinops Red Cap and Lethrinops Intermediuswhich is also known as Otopharynx tetrastigma. Intermedius are particularly nice since they add the colors green and red your mix. Like peacocks each of these fish has similar looking females, therefore, only one type trio from this family should be mixed in an African Cichlid Super Tank. Otopharynx lithobates yellow blaze is probably the most colorful of the otopharynx family of haplochromis. However, these fish are shy and slow to show the full yellow blaze on their head. There are a number of Placidochromis types to choose a trio from as well. Placidochromis Star Sapphire and white lip Phenochilus types are highly unlikely to spawn in this type environment. Generally, these two types are very shy and only spawn in large tanks in groups of one male with six or more females in a quite place.
The protomelas group of Haplochromis offers many possible choices. Some of the best ones from this group, in my opinion, are Marginatus which offer the color turquoise; but, can be very slow to color and hard to find; Steveni Taiwan Reef, which are a C.A.R.E.S. Program fish; Steveni Taiwan Reef Albino which is a color morph and not a true albino; taeniolatus Red Empress or Super Red Empress. Spilonotus Tanzania Blue Gold, which also has several other names, should work as well.
Mbuna are best kept in groups of six or more and in this type tank they should be the milder types of mubuna that are not similar in color or two closely related to cause conflicts. Aggressive mbuna are a no-no. Those types will destroy your other fish and should be avoided in this type tank. For an African Super tank you want more calm mbuna types like: Cynotilapia Zebroides Cobue, Jalo, Lupingu (purple), Nkhata Bay (yellow blaze), Ntekete; Labidochromis careruleus yellow labs or Nkhata Bay white labs, joanjohnsonase, exasperatus red (hybird), or sp. mbumba (yellow top mbumba). Iodotropheus sprengerae (Rusty) may also work; but, there is a chance of rusty cross breeding with other fish. The key is to pick three groups of different fish from this list that are not too closely related or similar in color that will be compatible. Lupingu is considered a variant of Cobue and the two should not be mixed. Ntekete and Jalo Reef are similar in color and may not mix together. Yellow top mbumba males are some what similar to Ntekete males, but mbumba females are browner compared to Ntekete. Yellow labs and white labs are too closely related and will not mix together. You need to choose between one or the other. Exasperatus red is a hybrid cross between joanjohnase and Labeotrophues red tops. For this reason, exasperatus red and joanjohnase should not be mixed either. My personal preference is, either Cynotilapia Zebroides Cobue or Ntekete with yellow or white labs and exasperatus red to create a nice mix of color.
Milder Lake Victoria cichlids can also be added to this type tank in trios or groups of one male with up to six females. Unfortunately, Lake Victorian cichlids are often over looked in both this type tank and in all male mix type tanks. Lake Victorian cichlids add the color red to your tank. Haplochromis sp. ruby (ruby green), Paralabidochromis sp. fire (Fire Uganda), Ptyochromis sp. salmon (Hippo Point salmon), Xystichromis sp. Kyoga, Kyoga Albino and Xystichromis sp. dayglow are good fits for this type tank. Only one these group of these fish, however, will work in a trio or a group of one male with up to six females because like Aulonocara Peacocks, all these fish have similar looking females. This particular group of Victorian cichlids also can be shy, and the male may hide color at first until it becomes comfortable with its tank mates. Paralaidochromis Chromogynos (black piebald) is a mildly aggressive Lake Victorian that is a good choice for an African Cichlid Super Tank as well. They are a little more aggressive than the other Lake Victorians mentioned above; but, they rarely are a problem with other African Cichlids that are peaceful to mildly aggressive. This fish is best kept in a group of six or more with one male and five or more females since males can be aggressive toward females when spawning. In addition, most Chromogynos females are piebald which means that can be added to one of the other types of Lake Victorians mentioned above, without a lot of risk of hybridization.
What you wind up in an African Cichlid Super tank is a colorful group of fish that are compatible with each other and can produce fry of their individual types. The peacocks are likely to swim into and out of larger hiding place areas. Haplochromis are likely to roam the open areas of the tank. Mbuna will likely to stay near areas with small caves that they can dart into when they feel threatened. Milder Lake Victorians may also tend to act in a similar way to the mbuna. Chromogynos males may swim more freely than their females; but, are not like to stray too far from their females. All this makes for some very enjoyable fish watching.
by Jay Stephan
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