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Rift lake cichlids (including Malawi’s) are complex and are renowned for being aggressive, especially the infamous mbuna. When mixed with compatible tank mates, they can live harmoniously, but a that’s mix less than the perfect match will end in disaster.
Malawi and other rift lake cichlids also live in different water parameters from what other tropical freshwater aquarium fish prefer. The ph, kH, and gH requirements for these finnies are much higher than almost all riverine fish.
Nonetheless, if you can have your Malawi cichlids' aggression in check and have a fish that will thrive in their preferred water parameters, you’ll only need to have the right size tank for your community.
Please note it helps to keep more finnies in your Malawi tank to keep aggression level down.
Now, if you are thinking of keeping other tropical fish with your Malawi cichlids, the five species I would recommend are Plecos and Ancistrus, Synodontis Catfish, Redtail shark, Paratilapia, and Jewel Cichlids.
Most American cichlids are compatible with Malawis' as well but only with a compromised water ph of about 7.4.
Here is an extensive list of finnies I might try with Malawi cichlids, but keep in mind the results for each pairing may vary widely.
- Common pleco (Suckermouth catfish)
- Bristlenose pleco
- Botia loach
- Clown loach
- Yoyo (Pakistani) loach
- Synodontis catfish
- Redtail shark
- Rainbow fish
- Silver Shark
- Texas cichlids
- Blue eyed cichlids
- Tinfoil Barb
- Tiger barb
- Scissortail rasboras
Can Lake Malawi Cichlids Live with Other Fish
Essentially, any fish in the list above will live in a tank with Lake Malawi cichlids, though with varying results depending on individual fish behavior.
Of course, there are several species I would recommend you try if you just started pairing your Malawi’s with other tropical finnies and only move on to the others once you’ve honed enough knowledge and skills.
Most of them will adapt to Lake Malawi water parameters and avoid (or stand up to) aggressive tankmates.
- Red tail sharks
- Jewel cichlids
- American Cichlids
Pleco with Malawi Cichlids
Common and bristlenose plecos (Ancistrus) are perhaps the two algae eaters I would recommend adding to your Malawi cichlids tank.
They will readily adapt to your Malawi tank water parameters (pH, kH, gH) despite the settings being different from what they are used to or prefer.
You can also try pairing the other plecos you have with your Malawis' but avoid fancy plecos since they have trouble adapting to alkaline water ph.
Fancy plecos will only thrive in acidic water.
Avoid long fin plecos as well, particularly when you have mbunas in your fish tank. These aggressive menaces will most likely nip the fins on your beautiful bottom-dweller, inducing stress and injury.
Loaches with Malawi Cichlids
Most loaches (especially botias) are fun to have in a Malawi cichlids tank. They will easily defend themselves against hostile finnies and will readily adapt to the water parameters.
The best part about botia loaches is they have a healthy appetite for aquarium snails. So, if you have a snail infestation, they will suck them all up and grow pretty fast.
As for clowns, the other common loaches in the hobby, many aquarists have kept them with Malawi’s successfully, but they do not adapt to Rift Lakes water parameters readily and have a high chance of developing ich.
As such, if you are not eager to go the extra mile with your Malawi cichlids pairing, I suggest you stay clear of clown loaches.
Avoid Kuhli loaches as well because they are somewhat tiny and will likely get eaten up.
Synodontis with Malawi Cichlids
Whether you have Synodontis species from the Great Lakes like Petricola or any other, these catfish are compatible with African Cichlids, including Malawi.
You may need to acclimate Synodontis fish that are not native to East African Lakes a while longer (carefully), but once they get used to the hard alkaline water Malawis love, they should be fine.
Synodontis are bottom feeders and will consume all leftover food at the base of your fish tank. However, they are not algae eaters, so don’t count on them if you are looking for a finny that’ll feed on the unsightly green (or brown) slime on your glass, rocks, and driftwood.
Red Tail Sharks with Malawi Cichlids
Red tail sharks are a species not too common in the hobby, more so among beginners with smaller fish tanks, but they are brilliant fish from Asia that adapt to African Cichlids' water parameters.
They are somewhat aggressive and grow up to 6 inches, meaning you’ll need a lot of space in a big tank, but these traits also make them an ideal fit for Malawi cichlids.
Red tail sharks are no pushover and will stand their ground against aggressive malawis.
Paratilapia with Malawi Cichlids
These fish are native to Madagascar and are considered African cichlids, but not great lake cichlids. They are rare in newer fish keepers tank (same as Redtail sharks), but they are compatible with Malawis.
They can grow to over 8 inches long, meaning they will handle any form of aggression from Malawi cichlids, but it also means you’ll need a substantially large tank to maintain this cichlid.
Jewel Cichlids with Malawi Cichlids
Some aquarists have a lot of success keeping Jewel cichlids with their Malawis. However, since they are persistent nippers, they do best with Mubunas as they are the more bull-headed Malawians.
If you add them with Haps or Peacocks, keep a close eye on them and have a spare tank ready in case you need to rehome them.
As well, it’s helpful to know that Jewels get pretty belligerent when spawning and may even hunt and kill tankmates.
Therefore, I recommend moving them to another tank when they are breeding and reintroduce them to the main tank when they are calm
Can You Mix Malawi Cichlids
Great lake fish are a large group of fish. Among them are Malawi cichlids, which are arguably the most popular. They are priced for their stunning colors and feistiness, though the less than subtle demeanor makes them challenging to companion.
Now, while there are hundreds of different Malawi Cichlids species, all fall under either of three groups, peacocks, Mbuna, and Haps.
And to answer your question, Yes, you can mix different Malawi cichlids, but a biotope setup is much better and easier to maintain. To keep successfully keep different Malawians together, you would need a pretty large tank for a big school to keep aggression down and a generous amount of luck.
Mbunas cichlids are especially notorious nippers and will bully anyone in the tank, even those they don’t match in size. As such, they should be the last of the Malawis you should be considering pairing with peacocks or haps.
However, if you really want to have a mixed Malawi tank and believe you can hack it, the ideal way to start is with the least aggressive species like yellow labs (in the case of mbunas).
As well, it helps to keep your Malawians slightly overstocked and add rocks to break the fishs' line of sight. Having a large school makes it hard for a bully to pick on one tankmate, plus the rockwork will help a target less conspicuous.
With that said, my honest (somewhat solicited advice) is you keep your Malawi cichlids in a specialist aquarium with each species living with its own kind.
Such tanks are less stressful and easier to maintain. You will have better experience maintaining three separate tanks (Mbuna, Peacock, Haps) than having a single mixed Malawi cichlids aquarium.
Can You Mix Goldfish with Malawi Cichlids
Goldfish (and Koi) unfortunately don’t have many fish they are compatible with because they thrive in low water temperatures.
They come from China, where the water temperature is not tropical.
Goldies are also prone to developing fungus and infections because they are often mass bred as feeder fish (and for the trade).
They also produce a lot of waste which can contaminate your tank pretty fast.
See, goldfish metabolism is set around the mid 60 degrees F, but they can survive in tropical water (like Malawi cichlids), but these setting will raise their metabolism. They’ll need to eat more but also excrete more.
Bottom line, goldfish are best kept with their own kind, while cichlids are best kept with other cichlids (and species) of similar temperament and aggression.
Thats all for this post.
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Have fun keeping finnies🐠🐟.