Hobbyist Gallery - Boyd Higgins

Boyd Higgins, Charlotte, N.C. USA E-mail :

Pictured is my 120 US Gallon Malawi Tank. Primarily it houses Mbuna with a few compatible Haplochromines. This is my second Malawi Tank, my first was ( is ) a 55g which I found very frustrating because of relatively small depth ( front to back) of only 12". This tank is an AGA 120 with 24 x 24 x 48 inch dimensions. It was previously used as a marine aquarium and some of the markings are still noticeable on the overflows. The substrate is a mix of 50 lbs Caribbean Beach Sand, 50 lbs of Silica Pool sand and approximately 15 lbs of local creek sand, this blend of sand was mixed in an attempt to match the rock coloration, the choice of which was based on the coloration of Nimbochromis Livingstonii. The approx 125 lbs of rock is what is locally referred to as pit rock. I am not able to give the correct geological name for it.

Filtration is wet/dry sump with total volume of 50 gallons, water throughput is provided by a Mag 24 submersed pump, which can propel up to 2400 gph, I like to have a turn over of at least 10x tank volume per hour so the pump is restricted with in line ball valves. The disadvantage of this type of filtration is evaporation, I refill 8 gallons every 2 -3 days.

The temperature is kept at a continual 78F, only a 250 Watt Titan heater is required for this as the submersed pump already dissipates energy enough to maintain a temperature of 73F.

Lighting is 4 x 40 Watt Fluorescent tubes, 2x 50/50 Actnic Blue, 1x 20'000K  and 1x 6'700K

pH is 8.0, GH is around 200 mg/L, KH around 85 mg/L, I use a combination of pure Bicarbonate of Soda, Rock Salts and Epsom Salts to maintain these values.

Water changes are done weekly and amount to approximately 25% of the total 160 gallons of water volume, when the sump is emptied and cleaned of any detritus and re-fill with fresh water, the substrate is spot cleaned where needed with a vacuum pump.

The plants in this tank are Vallisneria spiralis and Ceratophyllum demersum, which are the only locally available plants which are actually found in Lake Malawi. I am still on the look out for Potamogeton schweinfurtthi.

The tank is very densely stocked at this point and there will be a few extractions in the future as and when needed. I started off with too many small groups of fish in my 55, my intention with this tank is to maintain larger groups of fewer species of Mbuna. I have resisted introducing any Aulonocara which I feel would not find any peace in the tank.

Tank inhabitants are.

3 Nimbochromis sp. livingstonii             5cm ea.

2 Nimbochromis sp. venustus               8cm and 5cm

2 Dimidiochromis Compressiceps         6 cm ea.

4 Astatotilapia calliptera  (1M / 3F)       6 cm ea.

3 Petrotilapia Nkhata    (1M / 2F)         7 cm ea.

2 Maylandia callainos    (1M / 1F)         6 cm ea.

2 Maylandia estherae    (1M / 1F)         5 cm ea.

4 Labidochromis caereleus                  5 cm ea.

6 Labidochromis sp zebra lundo           4 cm ea.

5 Labidochromis sp hongi red top         4 cm ea.

7 Psuedotropheus sp. acei                   3 cm ea.

1 Labeotropheus sp ?                          6 cm

1 Melanochromis ? (brown)                  4 cm

Recenty removed:

3 Psuedotropheus Crabro


1 lonely M. Callainos 2cm ea.

5 A. Calliptera 2cm ea.

I am aware of the risk of the Labidochromis cross breeding, the L. hongi are temporary residents and will soon be traded with a friend for 2 F M. Callainos, 1 F L. Caereleus. With the addition of Nimbochromis and the Dimidiochromis there is little chance that any fry will survive this tank unless I take the holding mother out. At this point in time one A. Calliptera is holding and both the M. estherae and the M. Callainos are holding.

MCH Verdict

I'd like to start with the strong points: 120 gallons is a good volume for a Mbuna tank, that enables the fish to swim more freely than in the more common 55 gallon. Also the discreet technical equipment (where is the heater?) adds to the natural atmosphere. The rocks are also nicely stacked, but I'd like to see more of them and larger caves for the fish at the same time. Although they don't belong in a Mbuna tank, the plants add a nice color contrast. I'm also not enthusiastic about the light bottom material as it gives the fish a more washed-out look. Dark river sand would be better in my opinion. A last word about the predator in this tank: although it's not likely that the Nimbochromis will eat an adult Mbuna, it's my belief that it doesn't belong there.

Good sized (well at least above average) tank: hence a lot of swimming room is allowed and all techie stuffs are (correctly) hidden in a pleasant - overall - aquascaping. This been said here are the things I dislike: 1) too bright bottom (reflecting light in an unnatural way). Considering the pale, bright “sand” I’d prefer some plants with a dark green hue. 2) A GREAT minus is to be credited for hosting together Haps and Mbuna. This is especially important since we can see in the tank some - when fully grown up - piscivores (Nimbochromis for sure, Dimidiochromis?) 3) Things are made even worse by the lack (or less than enough in terms of number and size) of hiding caves. Any way (IMVHO): there’s – still – some work to do but the tank looks to be on the right path …

As always, there are two ways to look at this tank (as with every tank). The technical part (which answers the question “will it serve as a good example for our visitors”) and the aesthetics part (“would I like to have this tank – as is - in my living room”). The answer to the first question is that the setup of the tank and the maintenance schedule are definitely a good example for any Malawi cichlid keeper. I like the hidden technical stuff.. very much. The livestock needs to be reconsidered in my opinion especially since some renowned piscivores are kept with their prey. The use of a light colored substrate is also a weak point. Not because it is unpleasant for me but because it is unpleasant for the fishes. If the haps are removed, I feel that the tank will become a better place (for the mbuna) to be. Otherwise, some additional rocks should be added, creating as many hiding places as possible. All in all a nice try which has the potential to become considerably better - which answers the second question.


Overall rating by MCH :  60/100

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