Aquarium advice

Introduction to Tanganyikan Cichlids - Why These Fish are Becoming More Popular

Frontosa in a Tanganyikan aquarium

Unknown territory


For around half of all fish keepers, African cichlids are an unknown territory, with over half of all fish keepers having never kept them. For a lot of new hobbyists keeping African cichlids can seem rather intimidating as they grow large, cost more than most community fish and are some of the most aggressive tropical fish available. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of new hobbyists off and most opt to start with popular community fish such as Cardinal Tetras and Corydoras. Luckily on some occasions African cichlids are the fish that get new fish keepers into the hobby, African cichlids are some of the most brightly colour freshwater fish, have interesting behaviour, are highly active and easy to breed. The most popular African cichlids in the hobby are form either Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika. That said most hobbyists will have probably at least heard of Malawi cichlids, but possibly not Tanganyikan cichlids. Although in more recent times Tanganyikan cichlids are becoming more popular. Which is great! Tanganyikan cichlids are some of the most interesting and diverse fish you will find in the hobby, there is a Tanganyikan cichlid out there for everyone!


Tanganyikan cichlid take off


So why are Tanganyikan cichlids becoming more popular? Well, I’m surprised they are not more popular! Tanganyikan cichlids have very interesting behaviour, come a variety of sizes and colours and are hardy. To me Tanganyikan cichlids were exactly what I had been looking for, they were the perfect fit for an experienced fish keeper. As someone who had kept and bred most bread and butter community fish, these new and interesting cichlids were exactly what I needed in this hobby. Tanganyikan cichlids open a whole new world of possibilities, some species live in shells and don’t grow to be even an inch, some are bright yellow with feisty personalities, and some get well over a foot long! Did I mention that they are relatively easy to breed!? Over the last 5 years or so I have noticed the hobby is starting to realise how interesting Tanganyikan cichlids are. Content creators have started to showcase these species in a way never done before, boosting their popularity. Shell dwelling fish such as Multifaciatus are becoming common knowledge amongst hobbyists, which is great! Did you know Multifaciatus are the smallest cichlid species in the world? Perhaps shell dwellers have made such a recent impact in the hobby because they don’t need a large tank to breed and thrive and are therefore an option for most hobbyists. Social media has really helped highlight some of the amazing species this Lake has to offer. Because they are so easy to breed you can readily find captive bred specimens for sale or from breeders, although they are a bit more expensive than your typical community fish, they are not going to break the bank and their personality is more than worth it.


A species for everyone


Almost any sized tank from 10 gallon to 500+ gallon can house a species of Tanganyikan cichlid. In general, it is best to keep them in a species only setup although some people have success keeping larger Tanganyikan community setups. Some species dwell in shells, some are rock dwellers, and some are open water swimmers. A small 10 gallon tank can be the perfect home for a few pairs of shell dwelling Multifaciatus as this species stay very small. The snail shells and white sand make a great contrast when compared to a typical planted tank. You will spend all day watching these interesting tiny terrors spar for the best shell, they will endlessly pick up sand and rearrange their aquarium. A shell dweller tank evolves over time like no other type of aquascape, they will happily do all the work for you! A 30 gallon tank or larger can make a great home for rock dwellers such as Leleupi, Brichardi, Caudopunctatus and Julidochromis. Use sand and lots of rock caves for rock dwellers if you want to go the biotope route. For much larger tanks you can start to incorporate open water fish like Frontosa and Leptosoma. In general sand and rock is all you need to create a biotope setup but if you’re not too worried about making your aquascape geographically accurate then you can try adding in some live plants too! I have personally had good experience keeping hardy plant such as Anubias, Cryptocoryne and Microsorum with rock dwelling Tanganyikan fish.


My take on Tanganyikan fish


These fish are yet to develop well known trade names in the hobby with a few expectations such as lemon cichlid for Leleupi and fairy cichlid for Brichardi. Although, you will find most Tanganyikan keepers just refer to them by their Latin name, I have not included their genus in this article to help simplify things for newcomers. I am excited to see Tanganyikan cichlids make their rightful come up in the fishkeeping world, they are fantastic fish! The perfect choice if you are looking for a fish to reignite your passion for the hobby after years of setting up planted tank after planted tank. They should be far more popular, and I believe over the next few years they will continue to grow in popularity. Aquascapes and planted tanks have become unbelievably popular over the last 10 years. For some people plants are a necessity in any tank. The great thing about some Tanganyikan species is that you can keep them with hardy plants. I have personally had great success keeping Multifaciatus, Leleupi, Julidochromis and Brichardi in a rocky planted setup, just be sure to provide them with lots of caves and prepare for them to dig up the sand from time to time. Their behaviour is incredible and the bright yellow colour of Leleupi contrast well against green plants, these are a personal favourite of mine.



Good luck setting up your new Tanganyikan cichlid setup! These fish look incredible with high quality lighting in a rimless aquarium. AQUAnatur provide a range of high quality aquascape products and aquariums. Contact us today if you have a question. Our friendly experienced team are happy to help!

By Alasdair McPhail

Reading next

Low Tech Planted Tank
Neolamprologus Multifaciatus shell dweller in planted tank

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.