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African biotope, the fishes of the great lakes

The African biotope is another of the great aquariums that we can represent in aquarium hobby, although African fish are not as well known nor have they proliferated as much as Asian or Amazonian fish, fundamentally because they are mostly larger cichlids, which require more specific care. than the rest of the tropical fish of the other biotopes and that they are also generally aggressive.

There is also less proliferation of the African aquarium among amateurs because, in my opinion, while we can usually find Asian and Amazonian fish in any store, it is not so common to find African species unless it is a really specialized store.

On the other hand, African cichlids, the most common tropical fish of this biotope, are significantly more expensive to acquire and maintain, since the high PH levels they require make it necessary to touch the chemistry of the water constantly. , with the increased cost and time involved.

In this post we will see the main characteristics of African fish and their microbiotopes.

Characteristics of the African aquarium

As with the rest of the biotopes, the extension of this area of ​​the planet is enormous and although we focus mainly on the great lakes Malawi, Victoria and Tanganyika, the very extension of each one of them supposes an enormous number of microbiotopes even within each one of them; without forgetting the African river fish, another biotope by itsef.

Therefore, within the African biotope we are going to distinguish between African fish from Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria and African river fish.

Within the great lakes, Malawi and Tanganyika are relatively similar to each other, since they are very deep lakes reaching more than 1400 meters of maximum depth. In addition, the species are endemic to each of the lakes, and there has been no contact or exchange of water between them.

Lake Victoria is a different lake, much shallower, which has caused environmental changes to affect its flora and fauna to a greater extent, with a large number of species of tropical fish having become extinct and also having some invasive species.

African fish from Lake Malawi

Some 300 different cichlid species have been recorded in Lake Malawi, although it is estimated that there may be more than twice as many, so a large number of species are not yet recorded.

They are extremely colorful fish, some of them being able to compete with tropical marine reef fish.

Within Lake Malawi we can distinguish two microbiotopes, let us remember that due to its own extension it is impossible to generalize, but broadly speaking we can separate the biotope in rock cichlids and that of free water fish.

The African rock cichlids are fundamentally the Mbunas, possibly the best known African fish endemic to Lake Malawi. Mbuna literally means rock fish, so all is said.

This microbiotope is characterized by having numerous rocks, obviously, they are used so that the Mbunas can feed on the algae that grow on them as they are vegetarian fish and so that they can use them as a refuge. However, they are quite active and aggressive fish, needing a large aquarium with lots of light, despite the practically total lack of plants.

Underwater Lake Malawi

On the other hand, free-water fish need a larger aquarium for swimming, being larger species than their lake neighbors, as well as being carnivorous and needing a higher protein intake. They also require a soft sandy bottom to build their nests. The most famous fish of this microbiotope could be the Aulonocaras or sand cichlids.

In any of the cases, either African rock cichlids or free-water fish, due to their size and aggressiveness, it will be necessary to have a good-sized aquarium.

The water parameters of Lake Malawi are as follows:

AP: 8.5

GH: 7

KH: 10-12

African fish from Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is an exponent of aquatic diversity, in its waters we can find the largest and smallest cichlids, the first is the Boulengerochromis microlepis that can reach 90cm; while its little brother is the Lamprologus kungweensis of only 3.5cm.

Within the Tanganyika we can highlight two biotopes similar to those of Malawi, of rock cichlids and free waters.

The first ones have abundant rocks and practically no vegetation, here the Tropheus proliferate, although there is controversy as to whether they can be considered exclusively rock fish like the Mbunas or included in the group of free water fish. In any case, these African fish are exclusively vegetarian and very aggressive, and the aquarium must be saturated with fish to balance said aggressiveness between them. If we only put a few Tropheus, some would be attacked to death, as there is a large population, said aggressiveness is distributed among all.

The open water microbiotope is very similar to that of Malawi, abundant rocks, fine sand, very few if any plants and plenty of room to swim. Cyprichromis, Lamprologus or Xenotilapias proliferate in these areas.

In addition to these two microbiotopes, there is a very particular third. The smallest tropical fish have known how to adapt to their environment and protect themselves from their bigger brothers by literally living inside shells. Here they remain as if it were their home, fighting for the best shells and “decorating” them to attract females and reproduce inside them.

Lake Tanganika underwater

As they are small fish, a large aquarium would not be required to maintain this microbiotope.

The water parameters of Lake Tanganyika are as follows:

AP: 8’5 – 9


KH: 17

African Fish of Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is a lake with different characteristics than Malawi and Tanganyika, it is much shallower with a maximum of 80m compared to the more than 1400 of Tanganyika. This implies that environmental changes affect it much more than its neighboring lakes and, therefore, human activity has exerted significant pressure on the lake’s endemic species.

The Nile perch has been considered an invasive species and additionally there have been a significant number of extinctions of tropical fish endemic to Victoria.

Due to this situation, in aquarium hobby it is one of the least used African aquariums, having fewer species to choose from and less known. If one had to be considered, it could be the Mbipi, rock cichlids similar to the Mbunas (hence their name).

African river fish

Last but not least, in Africa there are many rivers and they are obviously populated by tropical fish, fish different from those of the large lakes due to the nature of the water itself as well as the abundant vegetation in contrast to the lakes.

Thus an African river aquarium could have logs, abundant aquarium plants as well as softer waters.

Among the best-known African river fish, we could highlight the Congo Tetra or the Puffer Fish, as well as some cichlids such as the Nannochromis.

African River´s biotope

Even so, it is necessary to take into account the multitude of different habitats that occur in the rivers themselves, and can be further divided according to whether they are rapid or swampy rivers.

The most common African aquarium

As can be seen, if we opt for an African biotope, it will be far from focusing on a Malawi or Tanganyika fundamentally or on a fluvial one.

In any case, an African aquarium is commonly represented by a large urn, with a multitude of rocks, no vegetation and fine sand; populated mainly by Mbunas being the best known African fish.

We remind you that due to its size, aggressiveness and price, it is not advisable for a beginner to start an aquarium hobby with an African biotope; In addition, with such a high PH, it will be necessary to constantly touch the chemistry of the water to keep our tropical fish in optimal conditions.

African aquarium plants

The African biotope gives us some of the most common and beloved plants by aquarium enthusiasts, fundamentally they are river plants since vegetation is scarce in the great lakes.

Some of them are as famous and well-known as the Anubias, included in the list of Easy Aquarium Plants for Beginners, as well as the Water Lettuce or the Vallisnerias.