Lake Malawi cichlid in exhibit

Lake Malawi Cichlid

Scientific Name
Geographic Range
Lake Malawi, East Africa
Varies with species (includes plants, animals, and plant detritus)
Lake Malawi cichlid in exhibit Endangered Status Graph - Not Listed Endangered Status Graph - Not Listed

More Information

Cichlids are a large, varied family of bony freshwater fish. They generally require a temperature warmer than about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. They can vary in length from 2 inches to 3 feet and come in many different colors. In fact, they have a lot of diversity, which is fascinating because hundreds of species live together in the same populations.

Cichlids live together in large groups of many species. Different species have different behaviors based on their habitat: rocks, open water, or sandy beaches. However, in general they are territorial and may be aggressive toward other cichlids—especially ones that have similar habits, diets, or colors. Unlike most fish, cichlids care for their offspring. In some species, females lay eggs in substrate and those are fertilized. Other species incubate eggs in their mouths.

Did You Know?

  • There are more than 1,000 species of cichlids around the world, and most of them can be found in Lake Malawi. These fish have evolved into 850 species within that one body of water in less than 2 million years.
  • The fast evolution can happen because cichlids have incredibly exact sexual selection; some females may seek out males with very specific color patterns, while others prefer males that move sand in a certain way or perform distinct courtship dances. This preciseness allows new species to evolve in 20 generations or less.
  • It is estimated that at least 300 species of cichlids have gone extinct. Overfishing, pollution, and capture for the pet trade are major threats.
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