Imperial cichlid

In nature, imperial cichlids grow up to 18 cm long. In the aquarium they usually remain smaller. Their life expectancy is about 12 years.

What distinguishes the imperial cichlid?

Imperial cichlids live endemically in Lake Malawi in East Africa.
Here they cavort at a depth of several metres in the transition zone from rock to sandlitoral. Therefore they belong to the NonMbuna species.
The fish live peacefully in groups. Only during the mating season the alpha male vigorously defends its territory.

The appearance of the imperial cichlid

Imperial cichlid © Marc Kohl

Imperial cichlids occur in blue and red site varieties. Only around the island Likoma there is a blue form with a red belly.
They have an elongated body, which is slightly dented at the sides. Their head is typically perch-shaped with broad lips and a pointed mouth.
The colouring is individually different, partly depending on the mood. On the dorsal and ventral fins the fin seams are lighter coloured. The dark horizontal stripes on the body are differently pronounced. In some animals they are completely missing. The females can be recognized by their grey/brown body colour with dark horizontal stripes.
In both sexes the bright yellow iris is noticeable.

In the meantime imperial cichlids have been bred in different colours, with more or less stripes or dots.

Keeping conditions

It is best to keep several imperial cichlids as a group. A harem group is ideal. This can be a male with several females, better are larger groups of 3 males with 8 to 9 females.

You can keep imperial cichlids together with other peaceful fish that are about their size. Well suited are other NonMbuna species of Lake Malawi.
The small, agile mbuna, on the other hand, are not suitable. They live in the deeper, rocky areas of Lake Malawi and are partly on the menu of the carnivorous NonMbunas.

Gender differences

The males are more conspicuously coloured and larger than the females. If the animals are kept in a group, the lower ranking males are more inconspicuous. They are then not attacked so violently by the alpha male.

Water values for imperial cichlids

The fish are used to clear, unpolluted and hard water from their home.

  • Temperature: 25 to 27 degrees
  • pH value: 7.5 to 8.3
  • GH: 10 to 15° dGH

Feed and nutrition of cichlids

Imperial cichlids are carnivores. In nature, they feed on microorganisms and invertebrates that they dig out of the sand.
In the aquarium they eat:

  • Live food or frozen food with Tubifex or shrimps
  • Fish pellets
  • Flake food for ornamental fish
]Sometimes the perch cost of algae growth. Therefore always leave some algae on the stones when cleaning the tank.

The ideal aquarium for imperial cichlids

The aquarium should have a size from 400 litres. If you keep several animals as a group, you must adjust the tank size accordingly. The fish need an area with stones and caves and a free area with a sandy bottom for swimming and digging. A sand layer of 3 to 4 cm is sufficient. With a grain size of 0.5 to 2 mm the fish can dig unhindered and let the grains of sand pass through the gills.

The stones create visual protection and possibilities for the perch to hide. If you use perforated rock, you must make sure that the holes are large enough. The fish must be able to swim through unhindered. Alternatively, the animals like to accept plastic caves.

As plants, you put plants to sit on, like java fern in the basin. Plants that grow in the sand dig the fish out again quickly. The plants improve the water quality and the aquarium looks better. Use a good mat filter to keep the water clear.

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