Lake Tanganyika Cichlids – A Stunning Diversity of Freshwater Fish
Lake Tanganyika is one of the oldest and largest lakes in the world. It is also the second deepest lake in the world, having a depth of approximately 4823 ft (1420 m). It hosts more than 150 cichlid species belonging to more than 50 genera. These species are classified in twelve groups, eight of which are endemic to the lake.
Lake Tanganyika cichlids display a surprising variety in terms of body shape, preferred habitat, prey and social behavior. This is due to the great diversity of habitats that can be found in the lake, which allowed the evolution of many different species. The shorelines of the lake and especially the upper zone of the water comprises the surge zone, which is rich in oxygen and plankton and is the unique habitat where gobby cichlids can be found. The rocky shores of the lake, with their steep drop-overs and strong zonation provide different micro-habitats for a variety of cichlids, including mainly small species with strong color patterns that allow them to camouflage in between rocks, as is the case for the frontosa cichlid (Cyphotilapia frontosa).
Sandy bottoms host a number of sand dwellers which scoop the sand in order to find their prey. Some of these species display schooling behavior while others hide in snail shells which can be found in great numbers at the lake bottom as the high levels of calcium prevent their decomposition. Muddy bottoms, poor in oxygen but rich in organic matter provide food to bacteria and subsequently small invertebrates which consist the perfect prey to cichlids, adapted to these extreme conditions. Lastly, the large water column hosts a number of zooplanktivorous and piscivorous schooling species, feeding on zooplankton and fish respectively.
Because of this stunning diversity, which is unique among African cichlids, species from Lake Tanganyika are extremely famous among aquarists and fish lovers. Their maintenance in the aquarium requires a stable temperature between 76 and 78 °F (24 and 27 °C), a pH between 7.5 and 9.3 and hardness between 10 and 12 dH. Selecting the right substrate for each species is very important and food type strongly depends on the species.
Moreover, some Tanganyika cichlids can be extremely aggressive towards each other, or towards other species. Consequently, a research on species requirements is highly recommended before selecting the species and setting up the fish tank.
Konings, Ad. Tanganyika Cichlids. Holland: Verduijn Cichlids, 1988. Loiselle, Dr. P.V. The Cichlid Aquarium. Germany: Tetra Press, 1994.