Cichlid Room Companion

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Breeding Malawi mbuna

By , 1995. printer
Ted Judy, 2004

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Malawi.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1995-Oct-04 "

Apistogramma says: Tonight we are going to discuss breeding Malawi cichlids

Horus says: blast away on the mbuna discussion!

Apistogramma says: Good idea. Folks, for those who do not know, the PA system will allow the speaker to be heard, but none else. Roger will be keeper of the microphone, so if you want to speak 'tell' him to hand it over. You can also ask questions of me using the 'tell' command

Rgrmill has turned the PA system ON

Apistogramma says: Welcome to this weeks Cichlid meeting. Last week we searched long and hard to find a good topic and a qualified speaker and were not I am going to tell you a little about my experience breeding Malawi mbuna

Apistogramma says: I am not as organized as Juanmi and do not have prewritten paragraphs to paste in, so please be patient and I will keep it brief

Apistogramma says: I prefer Q and A anyway

Apistogramma says: I STOPPED breeding mbuna as a money making venture a year and a half ago. At that point I was (with a partner) producing and selling about 500 bred and butter Africans a month in the Louisville Kentucky area

Apistogramma says: We bred about ten common mbuna varieties as well as a few odd balls, and came up with a pretty good system for doing it quickly, efficiently and cheaply. I would like to take a moment to express what I feel are the most important considerations in breeding mbuna....water chemistry is the easy part so we will ignore it until q&a time

Apistogramma says: First....Colony size....Mbuna are all polygamous mouth brooders. This means that only the males tend to defend territories in the lake, though the females might in an aquarium. We found that large tanks with large, crowded colonies of one male for every five or six females facilitated increased spawning and decreased brutality on the females...males are another issue, but they are easily replaced

Apistogramma says: We usually kept at least 15 females and three males in a bottom 55 gallon or 40 breeder tank with PVC caves

Apistogramma says: Second...Temperature....Believe it or not, we had more success at 75 degrees F than at 80 degrees. Malawi is a pretty large, deep lake with a lot of current. Ad Koning's book about the lake mentions that the average temperature is near or even below 20 Degrees C. We really cut back our occurrence of Malawi bloat at the cooler temperatures. Noted exception is the fry, which grew faster at 80

Apistogramma says: The PVC caves are eight inch long, 2 inch diameter pieces of pvc glued together to form pyramids up to the top of the tanks

Apistogramma says: Third......FOOD....For the breeders, moderate to heavy feedings of a HIGH VEGETABLE PROTEIN flake or pellet, and daily baby brine shrimp. Peacocks and Haps get a fish meal flake added once daily for increased protein, but I am not convinced that this was necessary...whenever we had only the veggie or spirulina flake the 'carnivores' did fine on it

Apistogramma says: The fry get a brine flake plus spirulina flake at least five times a day and live brine once daily. The flake is crushed to size

Apistogramma says: Fourth...grow out space and Water changes...For the fry specifically, to get optimum growth we did a 20% change in all growing tanks every third day religiously. For the first month of the fry's life. it exists in a 20 gallon with about 100 fry. Then it goes for a month in a forty breeder with about 400 fry. The whole batch from that 40 breeder goes into a 100 gallon plastic vat (tub) for another month, at which time they are sellable and get moved out to make room for the batch behind them

Apistogramma says: Adult colonies get a 20% change weekly. All tanks get salt added at changes to increase hardness and buffer alkalinity

Apistogramma says: lastly...light...24 hours a day. No plants involved so no problem there. The long light period keeps them active and feeding all the time. During the day the lights over the tanks go on, and at night they go off, but the room lights are on ALL OF THE TIME

Apistogramma says: That's all the basics as I see it. Let's go for questions...I hope there are a lot to fill in the gaps

rgrmill says: Ted, could you tell us about the water parameters you used?

Apistogramma says: We used tap water dechlorinated as it enters the tank

pH of at least 7.8 and a hardness of at least 500 ppm. We maintained this using a salt mix that I can put on the screen in a few minutes

Apistogramma says: If anyone has a question, grab the mic

Rgrmill gives the mic to Melissa

Apistogramma says: Yes Melissa?

Melissa says: I was just wondering if the chemicals for the salt mix could be food grade and could you please repeat the formula for the mix

Melissa gives the mic to rgrmill

Apistogramma says: I think that food grade would be fine. We use reagent grade because we bought them in 50 pound bags and mixed 100 pounds at a time

Rgrmill has turned the PA system OFF

Dev says: assuming I wanted to set up a tank for maintenance and not necessarily breeding, what would be a suitable substrate?

Apistogramma says: Here it is: 4 parts Mg Sulfate, 2 parts Ca Carbonate, 2 parts Sodium Bicarbonate, 2 parts NaCl, 2 parts Iodized salt, and 1 part Potassium Chloride. Dosage was 1 TBS per five gallons for Tanganyikans and 1 Tbs per ten gallons for Malawi

Apistogramma says: For a display I suggest a dark color gravel...shows color better. If pH is an issue, use crushed coral or dolomite

Dev says: regarding those two substrates- I have soft water so I will use crushed coral- but I would also prefer a darker gravel- could I put a layer of the dark gravel over the crushed coral?

Melissa says: And how much did this seem to raise the hardness and pH of your water?

Roger says: ok, I have what may be a silly (and somewhat off topic) question

Roger says: how do you pronounce "mbuna"?

Jasonw says: umbuna

Roger says: is it EM-buna, or Ma-Buna?...

Jasonw says: em boo na

Roger says: ok, that's what I thought, but I've never heard anyone ever say it

Jyching says: not sure if you said it or not. Do you leave the females with eggs in the same tank with other females and the males, or do you have to remove them? Did you strip the eggs/fry from the moms?

Arcadia transports into the room

Arcadia says: Hi all. This is Ted. Sorry, but my screen went blank and I got kicked off

Arcadia says: were there any questions that I missed?

Dev says: I wanted to know if I could add a dark color layer of gravel over some crushed coral

Arcadia says: When you do water changes and sweep the gravel you will end up just mixing it in

Arcadia says: Plus mbuna dig A lot, so if you do not mix it in they will

Dev says: I would separate the layers with a mesh

Melissa says: Do you know how much the salt mix raises the hardness and pH?

Arcadia says: That dosage took the pH from 7.6 to about 8.0 and the hardness from 300 ppm to about 500 ppm

Arcadia says: Dev, is this over and UG filter?

Dev says: I probably wouldn't bother with an UG filter if the fish dig

Melissa says: Hum, my water is only 7.4 and 100ppm. Should I add more to get it up to that level?

Peter says: If you put the coral over the UG, then the mesh, then the gravel, you're fine

Arcadia says: Then the mesh would just cause a dead space for anaerobic bacteria to go. Without water running through the coral the pH buffering capacity is severely decreased

Arcadia says: If you are keeping Malawi mbuna Melissa you should increase the hardnees. pH will usually take care of itself if the Hardness bufferieng agent you use includes a carbonate in it

Arcadia says: Yes Dev that should work

Jasonw says: when you talk of hardness do you mean KH DH or both?

Arcadia says: TH.. total hardness I guess. I have always talked in the American terms of parts per million

Arcadia says: I have never learned teh DH KH TH stuff

Dev says: what's in Sea Chem's "buffer mix" versus their "salt mix"?

Jyching says: Ted, I wanted to know if you had to isolate the females with eggs, or did you wait until the eggs hatched and stripped the fry instead?

Arcadia says: Getting the fry depends upon your preference. We did it two ways. With the really hardy zebras and stuff we let the females stay in the breeding tank until we could see eyes, then we stripped half developed fry into net brooders with airstones. Rare or fragile stuff we stripped the eggs and tumbled them in an egg tumbler of our own design

Apistogramma appears in the room

Apistogramma says: I'm back

Apistogramma says: Our tumblers use a Ginger sponge filter that has a 1 inch lift tube and a carbon cartridge 9 just the empty cartridge

Apistogramma says: Sorry, just the empty carbon cartridge from a lee's mini UG filter that you can by empty from Ginger

Apistogramma says: The carbon cartridge is used as the egg chamber. It is hard to describe written. Delores Shear at Wet Thumb Aquatics sells a really good tumbler for about 7 bucks

Apistogramma says: Sometimes we just put the females in the 20 gallons and let them spit

Apistogramma says: Have I completely confused everyone yet?

Melissa says: Yep :)

Apistogramma says: Usually when I do this talk I have slides :)

Melissa says: That would be a little difficult to do here

Apistogramma says: This is the first time I have done a remote talk...not really efective for my format...oh well...better next time

Melissa says: Do you know if accidentally getting the air flow cut off to a brine shrimp hatchery will affect the nauplii (maybe make them die?)? I woke up this morning and it wasn't bubbling. At most it was off for 6 hours

Jasonw says: that can happen Melissa

Apistogramma says: Well if none else has anything to discuss I think that it was an interesting talk Ted..

Dev says: good info, Ted- thanks very much

Apistogramma says: Ciou, thanks


Judy, Ted. (May 27, 1996). "Breeding Malawi mbuna". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on October 17, 2017, from: