Lake Malawi cichlid in exhibit

Lake Malawi Cichlid

Scientific Name

Cichlidae

Geographic Range

Lake Malawi, East Africa

Diet

Varies with species (includes plants, animals, and plant detritus)
Lake Malawai cichlid in exhibit
IUCN Conservation Status: NOT EVALUATED IUCN Conservation Status: NOT EVALUATED

About This Animal

Cichlids are a family of bony freshwater fish, with more than 1,000 species around the world; 850 of these can be found in Lake Malawi. The Lake Malawi cichlids are incredibly diverse considering the relatively short time period of 1 to 2 million years during which they have been evolving, along with the fact that many species live together in the same areas.

Each species has developed its own habitat-specific behaviors. Lake Malawi cichlids may be able to evolve so quickly because of their very exact sexual selection tactics. Females of different species seek out males with extremely specific color patterns, males that move sand in a particular way, or ones that perform distinctive courtship dances. This preciseness allows new species to evolve in 20 generations or less.

Unlike many other fish species, cichlids provide parental care even though none are live-bearing. Some cichlid species lay eggs in substrate, which are then fertilized by males. Other species are mouth-brooders, incubating their eggs in their mouths after fertilization has occurred.

At least 300 species of cichlids have gone extinct, and the status of current species ranges from Least Concern to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Meanwhile, many species have not even been cataloged yet. Overfishing by the large human population around the lake, along with demand from the pet industry and water pollution from agricultural runoff, are their main threats.

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