African Cichlid

(multiple species from family Cichlidae)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in freshwater and brackish water habitats of tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. The majority of cichlids are found in the Great Lakes of East Africa (Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika).

Size: 4-6 inches long

Wild Diet: Different species are adapted to eat different foods, such as insects, fish, and algae.

Predators: Humans, other fish

Reproduction: Brightly colored males attract females to their territory to breed. Lake Malawi cichlids are immediate mouthbrooders, meaning that females collect and hold fertilized eggs in their mouths until they hatch—or longer. Sometimes, eggs are fertilized in the mouth. In some species, males brood the eggs instead of females.

Behavior: Parents use a variety of behaviors to help their young develop from eggs to wrigglers (newly hatched) to fry (free-swimming but still dependent). For example, parents may clean their eggs by swishing them around in the mouth and discarding fungus-ridden eggs. To help wrigglers feed, parents may hold up leaf litter to allow the young to forage underneath (“leaf-lifting”) or dig into substrate to expose buried prey (“fin-digging”). Fry may be allowed to feed on mucous secreted from the parents’ skin, a behavior called “micronipping.”

Conservation

IUCN Status: Dependent on species

Some cichlid species are critically endangered due to over-fishing and pollution in Lake Malawi. Others are classified as Least Concern.

Did you know?

  • Many cichlid species are endemic to their habitats, meaning that they live nowhere else. Lake Malawi cichlids are specially adapted to different habitats within the lake. For example, some cichlids hunt in open water, while others live among rocks and graze on algae.
  • There are over 2,000 species of cichlid, with new species discovered every year.
  • Lake Malawi is incredibly diverse, containing the greatest number fish species of any lake in the world!