Malawi cichlids breeding is common question with the aquarists. We talked about their habitat, how to make a suitable habitat for Malawi cichlids, how to feed them properly, and their reproduction comes next. Some aquarists encourage breeding for sale, and there are always those passionate fans of this beautiful species.
We have already talked a lot about Lake Malawi and its fantastic inhabitants. This lake is home to more than 1650 species of the Cichlidae family and is endemic to Lake Malawi.
We have already mentioned that the reproductive strategy of Malawi cichlids is specific in that females collect and lay eggs and larvae in their mouths. She does that until the young develop so that they can survive on their own in the outside world (maternal mouthbrooders). Other aspects of their reproductive behavior, such as establishing territories and complex courtship rituals, are also challenging
How do they spawn in nature?
The mating of African cichlids originates roughly like this: the male digs the female a cave (nest) and lures her by performing a rather funny dance of shaking the fins. Depending on the type of cichlid, there are two ways of fertilizing eggs. One is that she lays eggs in the nest, and he fertilizes them. She then takes the eggs in his mouth and carries them until they hatch. Another way is for the female to release the eggs, and she catches them again and puts them in her mouth. When she picks up the eggs, the male approaches her and deceives her with fake eggs on the anal fin. The female, thinking that they are real eggs, closes them and opens her mouth, and then the male releases the jelly and fertilizes the eggs.
The eggs will hatch between 10-15 days after fertilization. The female then holds the babies in her mouth for another two to four weeks, occasionally letting them out to feed them.
In nature, of course, it goes its own route.
How can we encourage Malawi cichlids breeding in the aquarium?
You must first make sure you have a male and a female. You can determine this by ‘egg spots’. These are yellowish spots on the anal fin, males have more than 4, and females either do not have or should not have more than 3.
They also need to be fully mature. Note that the time of full maturity varies from species to species. For example, Mbuna is fully grown at eight months, while cichlids from the Haplochromis group reach maturity at about 20 months. Puberty is recognized because the males are already almost wholly colored. They get bigger and prepare a place for spawning.
When you notice that the male is ‘spreading’ and spends a lot of time around the female, and the colors are more intense than usual, that is one of the first signs that the female is slowly preparing for spawning.
If you have more females per male, the female getting ready will have a slightly bloated belly. Also a “ring” will appear immediately before the anal fin. It is best to separate that male and the ready female into a separate aquarium.
What to do next?
You have separated the fish, and now the only thing left for you is to wait… The temperature in the aquarium should be some optimal 25-26 °C. Feel free to give them more food because the females will need more energy.
The male performs his dance, starts digging sand intensively, and thus makes a pit. The female enters more and more inside. Relax in 2-3 days, and the whole process will be over.
During the spawning itself, it would be good not to disturb them. And when it’s over, it would be good to return the male immediately to the large aquarium. Otherwise, he will continue to disrupt the female, and if she drops the eggs, he will be the first to eat them.
If you want to know if the process worked, you will see that she will look bloated by the throat.
As we said, females usually keep eggs for 2-4 weeks. During this time, the female eats very little or nothing. The eggs hatch within about a week and develop into a younger ones. About two weeks later, the young have entirely soaked up their egg sacs, which provides them with nutrition in the first stages of life.
And then the female releases the young. It depends on many factors, including age (females), species, health, hunger, water status in the tank, water temperature, etc.
But in most cases, this happens around the 4th week.
There are several methods you can use to welcome new young
With the first method, you can leave the female in the main tank and let her spit out the cubs naturally. Less other adult fish in the aquarium and the more shelters, the greater the chances of survival of the young.
Remember, it is up to you to provide these conditions to increase your chances of survival. This method is the most natural, but the chances of the cubs surviving are small. In addition, this method creates more stress for the female because she has to defend herself from other fish that want to eat her offspring.
Another method is to remove the female from the main tank and transfer her to an uninhabited tank. There she can release the young when she is ready without fear of being eaten by other fish. This method allows you to save most of them and reduce the stress on the female. After entering the tank, the female can spit out the offspring and let them wander around the aquarium.
She could do that for a while until she feels that the younger ones can handle themselves. It is rare for a female to eat them, but this can happen occasionally. It is a good idea to remove her after the baby has spat and return her to recovery tank to regain some strenght. Then you can breed juveniles in their tank without worrying about losing them to other larger fish.
The third method is to squeeze the cubs from the female. Squeezing involves catching the female and transferring her to a bucket half full of her water from the tank. With it in a bucket, gently hold it in the palm of your hand under the water. Make sure you do not cover her gills. Gently open her mouth with a fine tool like a toothpick or pencil pressing on her lower lip. This allows the younger ones to escape from the mouth and into the bucket. You can check that most cubs are outside the female’s cavity by lifting her out of the water and looking into her mouth. Intense light can help you see better.
After the young have taken off, it would be best to return the female to a separate aquarium to recover. This squeezing is best after the female has kept them in her mouth for at least two weeks. In this way, the eggs hatch, and the younger ones are mature enough to care for themselves.
You can transfer them to its tank or a breeding cage until they are large enough to be released into another tank. When the little ones reach some 2-2.5 cm, you can remove them from the litter box into a small aquarium.
Malawi cichlids breeding are fascinating to watch.
First of all, because of the exceptional care that the mother gives to her cubs, she is nothing but noble, and it is beautiful to look at her so dedicated.
Even if you don’t have to do much to lure the cichlids into spawning, you may feel proud when you get your first litter. Although the process is exciting, it can be awkward – many new moms can accidentally swallow a cub. Don’t be discouraged – after a few tries, it will be successful. It is also typical for the first couple of hatches to be 8-10, but with the maturation, the female will soon have about 30 cubs per hatch.