Dietary needs One must always take into account that mbuna need vegetables (herbivores) while non-mbuna mainly feed in high protein, frozen and even live foods (omnivores, carnivores or piscivores). Failing to comply with the specific needs of your Malawis may cause the Malawi bloat disease which is extremely difficult to be treated and usually fatal. Hence, the recommendation for keeping mbunas in their own tank. Good quality pellets and flakes will do the job. Do not feed the same food all the time, alternate as often as possible. I feed them 3 different foods daily and I currently have 10 different kinds of food. Tubifex and bloodworms should be fed sparingly (once a week). Especially tubifex worms should be avoided since they are reported to carry many microorganisms which may harm your fish. Leave them without any food at least once a week.
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Spawning needs Good news on this one. If the water recommendations are followed, good quality food is supplied and filtration rate is OK, your Africans will readily spawn. In fact they will spawn very often and soon you will find your home with lots of small tanks with fry in it (if you plan to raise it). I personally select which species I want and remove the carrying mothers while letting the rest release the fry in the main tank. Most of it is eaten by adult fish but still a 20% manages to survive. At a rate of one spawning per month per species, a 500 liter tank gets full of fish in less than a year. My mbuna started to spawn 7 months ago. I now have at least 50 juveniles (four different species) swimming around.
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Mouthbrooding Cichlids from Lake Malawi are generally mouthbrooders. The female will lay the eggs on a rock or on the sand which are then fertilized by the male. The female will take the fertilized eggs in her mouth and incubate them well beyond hatching. She will release the fry after 18-25 days (depending on the species and the water temperature). The fry when released will swim freely and are able to feed themselves (most fry will be around 1 cm in length when released). Depending on the species the mother may take care of the fry for several days after release. Usually the fry will spend the nights (or run for shelter when threatened) in their mother's mouth for some time after release. This is why it is very easy to breed the African Cichlids from Lake Malawi.
Following the spawning you will be able to detect the carrying mother even if you didn't actually see the spawning. She will refrain from eating, her mouth will seem full and she will make some "chewing" movements every now and then. You can leave the carrying mother in the main tank for 14 days and then remove her to a separate tank (if you intend to raise the whole fry) or you can "strip" her. Females that come from stripped mothers usually swallow the eggs prematurely - this is a very good reason not to strip your females. A female can also swallow or spit the eggs if threatened or while you try to catch her with the net. If left in peace with her eggs, she will take them back in her mouth. Since the carrying mother will eat almost nothing for three weeks it is a good idea to leave her in her own tank for 10 days feeding her with high quality, high protein foods in order to gain weight and be conditioned.
Stripping of females In an effort to increase the number of spawns (the frequency of spawning) of the female and to return her to the male the soonest possible some people use to strip the females. They wait for 14 days (when the fry is old enough to survive) and then net her and open her mouth so the fry comes out. This is necessary when the female is ill and needs to be treated with medications or has a long history of swallowing the eggs after the 14th day and you badly want the fry in order to keep some of it. Otherwise one should not strip the females for many reasons. Some reports claim that females coming from stripped mothers will not hold the eggs and swallow them, too. Males coming from stripped mothers have been reported to have duller colors, grow much more slowly, are much weaker and less resistant to diseases. Mouthbrooding is a far more complicated procedure and it took nature millions of years to perfect it. It is definitely much more than just incubating and aerating eggs and fry. It is also rotating, arranging, teaching and protecting. Moreover, it is the natural way to get fry. I personally prefer to lose the fry till my female manages to keep it and release it normally. Most of the times this works. I am in this hobby for the joy of it and not to make profit.
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Raising the fry Raising the fry is quite easy. Most authors recommend Artemia nauplii or newly hatched brine shrimps. I am sure these foods can work miracles. However I do not have the time to set up hatching and feeding systems every now and then and my aquariums need most of my time for maintenance. I have found that feeding them Tetra's Baby Food (the "E" type for egglayers) five times daily for ten days is a good start. Then I feed them two times Baby Food and three times Tetra's Growth food per day for a month. After that, I just feed them crashed flakes and pellets (the same food their parents eat) four times daily. At that point I usually rely on an automatic feeder to take care of that.
If you are raising many fries at the same time it is better to use your time for water changes and conditioning then feeding all day. With this sort of feeding, too much food is left over and the waste load is tremendous. I always have an extra couple of sponge filters working in my main tanks, so I have a colonized filter that can work instantly as a mature biological filter. This is enough to be on the safe side but massive and frequent water changes are a must. I change 90% of the water twice per week for the first couple of weeks. Then I change 80% of the water for another two weeks. As the fish grow they are more able to find the food so you can adapt the doses and the left over (and decaying) food is greatly reduced. During the second month I perform two 50% changes per week. Following that I do two 35% changes till I raise them enough to be donated or enter my main tanks.
Taking ammonia readings is absolutely essential. Sparkling clear water may be full of ammonia. If ammonia readings are high I perform 90% daily changes till the level drops to 0. Then I gradually come to the figures given earlier. Following these simple (but time consuming) steps I have had less than 1% losses (till the fry reach the 7th month). Most of these losses were because of fry entering the sponge filters and dying from starvation.
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