Stocking Mbuna

What type of mbuna I can put in my 60-gallon tank?

Q. I’d like to know of what type of mbuna I can put in my 60-gallon tropical fish aquarium. The aquarium is 4 feet long by about 12 inches wide and about 20 inches tall. I really like yellow Labidos and Pseudotropheus saulosi. I’d like to add a peacock and some type of Synodontis, too. I have a power filter with biowheels. I have a couple of nice rock piles in the aquarium, one on each side. My water is hard right out of the tap.
Dave Freson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

A. You’ve certainly selected some beautiful fish to put in your fish aquarium. Virtually all cichlid fish from Lake Malawi are maternal mouthbrooders, meaning that the female fish picks up the eggs in her mouth and carries them until they are ready to be released as young free-swimming fish.

Yellow labs or Labidochromis caeruleus are very popular and for good reason. This bright yellow fish is quite stunning and also fairly mild-mannered, as far as mbuna go. Pseudotropheus saulosi is another beauty. Males are usually pale blue with dark blue bars. They have yellow egg spots on their anal fin, and the pale blue and dark blue plan is consistent through the body and unpaired fins. A really neat thing is that the females and juveniles are totally different in coloration from the males. Females are a bright yellow or yellow-orange. They may have just a hint of a dark mask, body stripes and a stripe in the dorsal fin, particularly when brooding eggs or fry in their mouths. As fry and young fish, yellow labs all look like females. The males change color as they mature. While they’re a relatively small mbuna (up to 3½ inches), they can be somewhat aggressive. However, they’re small enough that they should be just fine with the yellow labs in a well-aquascaped aquarium. Avoid the larger and more aggressive mbuna as tankmates for either of these species.

In particular, avoid Metriaclima lombardoi. Metriaclima lombardoi are, for some reason, widely available in the hobby. They can also get huge in the home aquarium, much larger than their normal lake size of 5 inches. I’ve seen them at close to twice that on several occasions in pet stores. While they’re quite attractive, they’re also very aggressive and would create havoc in your aquarium.

A 60-gallon aquarium is a bit small for too many territorial cichlid fish, so adding a group of peacocks may be pushing your luck. However, if you can find a single male peacock, he could be a colorful addition to this tropical fish aquarium. Any of the Aulonocara stuartgranti are quite stunning and are large enough to hold up in your mbuna aquarium.

With regard to the Synodontis catfish, just about any species would do well. Consider avoiding the larger species; they just won’t look right in this aquarium with smaller cichild fish. Consider Synodontis nigriventrisSynodontis multipunctatusSynodontis ocellifer or any of the mid- to smaller-sized Synodontis cats, and you should have no trouble.

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Fish · Freshwater Fish