Part 1: Lake Tanganyika

The continent of Africa is home to Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi, and Victoria, three enormous bodies of water which house a huge variety of fascinating cichlids. These lakes are situated within the East African Rift (EAR), an active continental rift zone which first began developing approximately 25 million years ago. The EAR is a divergent tectonic plate boundary, wherein the African Plate is in the process of splitting into two. Depressions have formed as a result, and over time have been filled with water, creating lakes. In approximately 10 million years, one of the two tectonic plates will break off, and a new ocean basin will be formed.

The EAR consists of two main branches, the Eastern Rift Valley and the Western Rift Valley. The Eastern Rift Valley cuts across Ethiopia and then south across Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi to Mozambique. Lake Malawi lies in the Eastern Rift branch. The Western Rift Valley runs along the eastern border of Zaire and is home to Lake Tanganyika and several other smaller lakes. Lake Victoria is not located within one of the main branches, but rather between them.

The Rift Valley lakes are some of the world’s oldest, deepest, and largest lakes. Lake Tanganyika is the second-deepest (1,470 m) and third-largest (18,900 km3) lake in the world, whereas Lake Malawi is the sixth-deepest (706 m) and fifth-largest (7,725 km3) lake in the world. Lake Victoria, on the other hand, is quite shallow (84 m), but has an enormous surface area (68,870 km2) and as such is the ninth-largest (2,700 km3) lake in the world.

In the first part of this article, we’ll be providing an overview of cichlids from Lake Tanganyika.

Lake Tanganyika Cichlids:

Setup and care:

Lake Tanganyika cichlids can be housed together in a variety of different combinations. It is generally recommended to combine species that live together in the wild, as this allows the aquarium to be set up more naturally and facilitates feeding, given that the fish will have more or less the same diet.

Tanganyika community tanks usually incorporate rock as the main feature. Due to the digging habits of cichlids in general, care should be exercised when constructing rock structures. Carefully place the largest support rocks on the bottom glass of the aquarium, and add sand or fine gravel afterwards. This will help guarantee the stability of the rock structure, and avoid potential collapses and damage to the aquarium.

When purchasing African cichlids, it is recommended to choose groups of young fish to facilitate pair formation and to allow for better adaptation to aquarium conditions. Tropheus in particular should always be purchased in groups of at least six.

Water conditions and maintenance:

Lake Tanganyika cichlids prefer basic, hard water: pH values of 8.5 to 9.0 and GH values of approximately 200 to 280 mg/L are recommended. The water temperature should range from 24 to 26°C (77 to 80°F). Highly-efficient biological filtration is essential, considering the higher pH values (nitrogen compounds are more toxic at higher pH levels). Water changes should be in the range of 25% every week – large-scale water changes are often not well tolerated by these species, especially by fry.

Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika can be classified into three main groups:

Rock Grazing Cichlids:

  • Genera: Eretmodus, Petrochromis, Spathodus, Tanganicodus, Tropheus
  • Tank size: 75 US Gal. / 300 L minimum
  • Aquarium setup: dense rock work (piled high towards rear of aquarium), relatively bright lighting to stimulate algae growth on rocks
  • Behavior: aggressive, quarrelsome, territorial
  • Core diet: herbivorous

Rock & Sand Dwelling Cichlids:

  • Genera: Aulonocranus, Cyathopharynx, Cyprichromis, Lestradea, Ophtalmotilapia, Paracyprichromis, Xenotilapia
  • Tank size: 75 US Gal. / 300 L minimum
  • Aquarium setup: rear and side rock walls, some patches of stones and pebbles, potted Vallisneria, large areas of open sand
  • Behavior: somewhat aggressive
  • Core diet: carnivorous

Rock & Cave Dwelling Cichlids:

  • Genera: Altolamprologus, Chalinochromis, Julidochromis, Lamprologus, Neolamprologus, Ophtalmotilapia, Telmatochromis
  • Tank size: 25 US Gal. / 100 L minimum
  • Aquarium setup: cave and rock wall structure, upright rocks, potted Vallisneria, empty shells
  • Behavior: aggressive, territorial
  • Core diet: carnivorous