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Maylandia livingstonii

by Takis Tsamis

Water in lake Malawi becomes very clear, especially during the low rain season. Under these conditions you can see the various habitats in the Lake and notice the difference between the coast and the deeper habitat. This difference is what had led to the astonishing diversion of the cichlid species in this Lake. It is true that most hobbyists keep mbuna, which is the rock fish living very close to the coastal rocky habitat. However, some mbuna species inhabit the intermediate zone between  the rocky and the sand habitat. In this special flock, some members utilize the shells of Lanistes nyassanus to protect their fry. Maylandia livingstonii belongs to this group.

Actually, M.livingstonii is the best known shell dweller from Lake Malawi. Since they are widespread in the Lake there are some color morphs too. Their adult  size is just 6 to 7 cm, which classifies them amongst the smallest cichlid species. Their small size however is a great advantage since it allows them to use the shells as their home for a substantial part of their lives. Shells are abundant in the lake and due to the moderately high GH do not dissolve. In the open waters of the lake where there are no rocks or other shelter, those shells are the only protection available. Of course, adult M.livingstonii canít use the shells anymore and have to join larger groups or retreat to the rocky habitat. In contrast, the fry will stay in the region and use the shells when they need protection.

Their needs for shelter is something that we should take into account if we intent to keep this species. Thus, the minimum tank size is about 1 meter in length which is enough to house a colony of 4-6 individuals. Maylandia livingstonii are territorial fishes but due to their reduced aggression can be housed in a community tank. A small sized gravel is essential and we need to create a rock pile at the back and (if possible) at the sides to, in order to take care of their need to hide. We can also introduce some plants like Anubia sp. And Microsorum pteropus. In such an environment the fish will soon arrange their territories. The are not dedicated diggers and usually the aquascape will stay as initially planned but sometimes they do dig. It is recommended that all stones are secured in place and if possible placed on the bottom of the tank.  

As far as feeding is concerned, M. livingstonii are easy goers and they donít require any special care. The males are a little bigger than the females and the colors are more vibrant especially during spawning. Both sexes carry eggspots on their anal fins but the one found on males are bigger and more pronounced. Spawning takes place in the open space of the tank. After spawning the female will take the eggs in its mouth and will retreat in her own place. She will keep the eggs for approximately 19 days. If the fry is released in the main tank, then the survival rate will be low unless there are many hiding spots. If we want to raise the fry it is preferable to transfer the female to a new tank which doesnít need to be larger than 15 liters. This tank should have sand and some empty shells. If we canít find shells of the Lanistes genus, we can always use the shells from terrestrial snails. Depending on the size of the female the brood may be 15-50 fry which can be immediately fed Artemia nauplii or baby food.

Text and photos by Takis Tsamis (used under permission)

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