Livingstonii Cichlids Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Jul 18, 2021

livingstonii cichlid care guide

Image credits: Maciej Ciupa on Flickr under Creative Commons license

A laterally compressed fish with a big mouth – livingstonii cichlids have a personality as unique as their appearance. These freshwater mouthbrooding cichlids call Africa’s Lake Malawi their home, where they live in the lake’s inshore areas over the sandy substrate. 

The German name for livingstonii cichlids translates to ‘sleeper.’ And there’s a very special reason behind this – their sly, predatory behavior of ‘playing dead.’ 

These fish prefer swimming at the bottom, where they’ll occasionally lie flat on the side for several hours. And when small, unassuming fish jump at the chance and come to take a few bites off the ‘carcass,’ the cichlid will grab the fish at lightning-fast speed using sideways motion of head and mouth. 

So, how do these predators fare in a community tank? Are they suitable for novice fishkeepers? 

We’ll tell you all about it! But, first, let’s begin with a quick intro. 

Introduction To Livingstonii Cichlids 

Name Livingstonii
Scientific Name Nimbochromis livingstonii 
Other Names Kalingono, Livingston’s Hap
Origin Lake Malawi
Temperament 73-82°F (22-27°C)
Diet Omnivore 
CareModerate
Breeding Moderate
Temperature  73-82°F (22-27°C)
pH Level7.7-8.6
Water Hardness 6-10 dGH
Water MovementModerate 
Minimum Tank Size 70 gallons 

Livingstonii cichlids were first described in 1894 – belonging to one of the original haplochromis groups. And although they’re listed as ‘least concern’ (LC) on IUCN’s list, their population in the lake’s southern past is dwindling due to trawl fishing. 

Livingstonii cichlids are not too hard to care for as long as you, as a fishkeeper, understand their predatory nature and need for ample space. They are well-suited for intermediate to experienced aquarists. 

Livingstonii Cichlid’s Lifespan 

With proper care, livingstonii cichlids can live up to 10 years in an aquarium. 

Livingstonii Cichlid’s Appearance 

“File:Nimbochromis livingstonii by MKOliver.jpg” by Dr. Michael K. Oliver is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Livingstonii cichlid is a big and unique-looking fish that can grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length in captivity. Its appearance is characterized by a long stocky body and a large mouth. It also has prominent dark blotches against a blue, yellow, or silver background. These blotches are randomly connected to each other vertically or horizontally. 

However, juveniles have white and brown spotted patterning. 

Four dark lines are radiating from the eye that creates a star-like appearance. Also, the dorsal fin is decorated with blue and reddish-orange bands, often accompanied by a white line. 

Livingstonii cichlids also have faint yellowish spots on the pectoral fins, whereas the anal fin is often orange or red. 

Males are known to change their color often to camouflage better. They can transform into brilliant shades of green, blue, and even pale golden. Then, when mating, they’ll completely change to a dark blue color – obscuring the blotched patterns. 

Their overall look offers excellent camouflage in the wild against predators. Reportedly, their coloration mimics that of a dead fish, perfectly aligning with their hunting strategy. 

There’s a well-developed set of pharyngeal teeth in the throat, in addition to regular teeth. They also have spiny rays in the pelvic, dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins for protection. However, the front region of the fins is soft, which helps them with better swimming abilities. 

And lastly, like most cichlids, they have one nostril on each side. 

Sexual Dimorphism In Livingstonii Cichlids 

Male livingstonii cichlids are a tad bit bigger than their female counterparts. However, the latter will develop a more rounded and swollen appearance when gravid. Likewise, a male will grow elongated dorsal and anal fins, while the female will retain short, rounded fins. 

In maturity, males will develop a slight blush tint near the forehead, which is missing in females. And lastly, females also lack the yellow ‘egg spots’ on the anal fin present in males. 

Livingstonii Cichlid VS Venustus Cichlid 

Livingstonii is often confused for venustus cichlids, but the former often lack the deep blue coloration seen on the latter’s head. 

Livingstonii Cichlid VS Polystigma Cichlid 

Livingstonii and polystigma cichlids look pretty similar, given they both have large dark blotches. However, polystigma cichlids also have small dots across its body that’s missing on livingstoniis. 

Livingstonii Cichlid’s Diet 

Livingstonii cichlids are omnivores, but they’re more inclined to snack on small fish in the wild, given their predatory prowess. Thus, it’s safe to call them piscivores. In their natural habitat, they mainly feed on small fish called lethrinops. 

In captivity, they do best when given a protein-rich diet. You can choose from both live and frozen options. Here are some foods you can provide:

  • Feeder fish 
  • Dried krill 
  • Carnivore pellets 
  • Brine shrimp
  • Insect larvae 
  • Aquatic insects 
  • Tubifex worms 
  • Earthworms 
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Mysis
  • Blanched vegetables like zucchini and lettuce 

As evident from the list above, there’s a wide range of food you can feed your livingstonii cichlids. However, feeding live food can come with a few caveats. 

For starters, it could encourage their hunting instinct which inevitably will be channeled at your tank’s smaller but valuable members later. Second, most feeder fish are bred under unhygienic conditions, which could cause them to be carriers of deadly parasites and pathogens. 

If your young livingstonii cichlids are around 3 to 4 inches in size, you can give them flakes. However, as they get older, feeding flakes will get too messy and will make the water dirty. Thus, pellets would be your best bet at this point. 

As for feeding frequency, juveniles should be fed daily to aid growth, but adults should only be fed 3-4 times a week. These cichlids are known to eat food to the point their stomach gets distended – so make sure they’re not overfed. 

Livingstonii Cichlid’s Temperament 

Livingstonii cichlids are large active predators with their own distinct and deceptive way of hunting down small fish. These are solitary fish that don’t do too well in a community tank. 

They can be quite aggressive and have a strong predatory instinct. So they’ll most likely try to eat anything smaller than them. 

Also, they get even more hostile and territorial during the breeding season. They will go as far as killing the other male of the same species to keep the competition low for breeding. 

However, most problems only start if there’s not enough space in the tank. If the tank’s large enough, they’re only moderately aggressive. 

Thus, you should make very calculated decisions when adding new fish to their tank. If you’re overstocking to control aggression, don’t forget to conduct several water changes.

Tankmates For Livingstonii Cichlids 

Livingstonii cichlids should only be placed with similarly-sized cichlids that can hold their ground during confrontations. Also, they are known to fare well with their own kinds. 

Some compatible tankmates for livingstonii cichlids are:

  • Malawi Haps 
  • Malawi Peacocks 
  • Victorian Haps
  • Synodontis 
  • Blue Dragon Blood 
  • Sunshine Peacock
  • Lethrinops sp. Mbasi 

Besides these, other sizable nimbochromis or haplochromis species, alongside Great Rift Valley Lake species, could make suitable candidates as well. 

Best Male To Female Ratio For Livingstonii Cichlids

an adult male livingstonii
Wen2li3 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Livingstonii cichlids practice harem polygyny, where a male will maintain a territory with several females. Adding two males in the same tank would result in lots of bullying, fighting, and injuries. The idea ratio is 1 male with 3-4 females

Livingstonii Cichlid’s Natural Habitat 

In the wild, livingstonii cichlids are found in Lake Malawi, Lake Malombe, and the upper Shire. They usually reside in muddy bottoms, rocky environments, and vegetated regions like shallow waters and sheltered bays. 

Their population is distributed quite varyingly from shallow lakeshores to deep waters up to 374 feet (114 meters). 

Minimum Tank Size For Livingstonii Cichlids 

The minimum required tank size for livingstonii cichlids is 70 gallons. However, given their large size and aggressive temperament, it’s best to house adults in at least a 125-gallon tank. 

Best Substrate For Livingstonii Cichlids 

Livingstonii cichlids thrive the best in sandy substrates. Crushed coral and aragonite sand make some great options. They help maintain carbonate hardness and dissolve faster than salt. 

Likewise, using saltwater sand will also help to keep the tank’s pH level higher. However, higher pH increases the chances of ammonia buildup. So, be mindful about conducting frequent water changes. 

These fish love to bury themselves and spend some quality time on the substrate. That’s why it’s best to avoid rough substrates and large gravels. 

Decorations For Livingstonii Cichlids 

For livingstonii cichlids, the ideal tank would have many hiding places in the form of plants, rocks, and wood. That being said, they also need plenty of swimming areas. So, you can put most of the decorations towards the back of the aquarium. You can arrange a pile of rocks to make caves. 

These decors should be properly secured to the substrate, so they don’t topple when the fish burrows. 

In their natural habitat, they love to reside among Vallisneria plants. So, make sure to add these plants to give the tank a natural look. Although they burrow, they don’t destroy the plants. 

Also, if you intend to breed livingstonii cichlids, it’s vital to add large, flat rocks to encourage spawning. 

Water Parameters For Livingstonii Cichlids 

Temperature 73-82°F (22-27°C)
pH Level 7.7-8.6
Water Hardness 6-10 dGH
Water Movement Moderate 
Nitrate Level <25 ppm
Phosphate Level <0.5 ppm
Specific Gravity1.0002
Water Region All

The streams and rivulets that flow into Lake Malawi have a very high mineral content. This, coupled with evaporation, results in alkaline and highly mineralized water. Therefore, it’s best to try to emulate the similar water parameters as the lake, although not everything has to be to the T. 

Given the enormous size, the water parameters are almost always stable. That’s why Lake Malawi cichlids don’t take too well to the sudden water changes. Conduct partial water changes of around 10-20% weekly instead of conducting a big one at a long interval. 

Rift lake cichlids require alkaline water but aren’t naturally found in brackish waters. Salt can be used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s hardness. Since these cichlids have relatively higher levels of salinity tolerance, they can thrive in slightly brackish water. They can withstand salinity that’s around 10% of a regular saltwater tank. 

These fish are known to produce a good amount of bioload. So, it’s essential to invest in a sturdy filtration mechanism. Polluted water will result in eye infections, parasitic infestations, and several other health complications. 

As for pH levels, they can withstand any pH level above neutral but will thrive the best at 8 pH. 

The water’s temperature in their native habitat is super stable – so don’t fluctuate the tank’s temperature often. If you’re treating the fish for ich, you can raise it slightly above 82°F.

Our Pick For Top Equipment For Livingstonii Cichlids 

Here’s our cherry-picked list of tank, filter, and heater for livingstonii cichlids. Since these fish are on the aggressive and bigger side, you’ll need to indulge in reliable, well-built equipment to save you the hassle of frequent upgrades and repairs. 

150-Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium

Cascade Canister Filter For Up To 200 Gallons 

Hygger 800 Watts Submersible Heater 

Breeding Livingstonii Cichlids 

Livingstonii cichlids are mouthbrooders that have a matriarchal family. Since the males are polygamous, they’ll mate with multiple female partners. It’s reasonably easy to breed livingstonii cichlids. However, if you’re seriously looking to raise the fry, it’s crucial to get a breeding tank. 

Adult fish are usually hard to purchase. Thus, you might want to buy a pair of juveniles and raise them to adulthood. A breeding group of 1 male and 3-6 females is ideal. 

Often, conducting a large water change and feeding a protein-rich diet would encourage spawning. 

When the female is gravid, she will have a more rounded and swollen appearance. On the other hand, a male ready to spawn will transform into a dark blue-black coloration. ‘

Unlike other fish in the genus, livingstonii cichlids do not prefer digging a spawning pit. They’d much rather spawn on a large, flat rock. However, in the absence of a suitable spot, the male will dig a depression in the substrate. 

Once the male chooses a spot, it will next try to woo the females. The consenting female will then proceed to lay eggs on the selected site. A brood can contain up to 100 eggs depending on the female’s health and age. After laying the eggs, she’ll move away to allow the male to fertilize them. 

And once the eggs are fertilized, she will gently scoop them inside her mouth, where they’ll incubate for around 3 weeks before hatching as free-swimming fry. 

The fry are big enough to eat brine shrimp nauplii the day they hatch. They can also have finely crushed flakes and cyclopeeze. 

The female will not eat while incubating the eggs. You can easily spot the brooding female by looking at its distended mouth and brooding coloration. Females tend to spit out the eggs early when stressed. So, it’s important to channel utmost delicacy when moving her to the breeding tank. 

Note that when females are removed from the main tank for too long, they lose their social status and fall behind on the pecking order. Thus, wait as long as possible before moving her. 

Sometimes, the female will devour the eggs for reasons unclear. If this happens multiple times, you can strip the eggs off her and incubate them separately. 

How To Strip Eggs From Livingstonni Cichlids? 

If you want to strip the eggs from livingstonii cichlids, you need to wait at least 2 weeks from the date of fertilization. If you execute everything correctly, artificial incubation will yield a higher number of fry. 

Start by turning off the light in the main tank. Give the fish 20-30 minutes to get used to the new dark normal. Next, fill a small container with the tank water before gently netting the brooding fish and placing her in the container. 

Once she’s settled, gently open her mouth using your thumb and index finger, so she spits out the eggs. Once she’s done, put her back in her place. 

Now, put the eggs in the rearing aquarium. Mind you, the water parameters should be exactly the same as their previous habitat. In addition, the air stones should be powerful enough to rotate the eggs. Otherwise, the eggs would develop fungi. 

With lots of care and a bit of luck, the eggs should hatch after around a month! 

Livingstonii Cichlid’s Health 

These cichlids are susceptible to Malawi bloat, which is generally characterized by a swollen tummy, rapid breathing, appetite loss, and thin white feces. Ensure the fish is receiving a nutritious, well-rounded diet to avoid this condition. 

Likewise, they’re also prone to ich, which can result from dirty, stale, and less-oxygenated water. You can treat it by increasing the water’s temperature to around 86°F (30°C) for a couple of days. If it doesn’t seem to work, you might want to use the copper treatment. But make sure to remove any water conditioner first. 

While using the copper treatment, make sure to strictly adhere to the guidelines set by the manufacturer, so there’s no any kind of toxic mishap. For best results, you can elevate the temperature and use copper treatment at the same time. 

Besides Malawi bloat and ich, livingstonii cichlids could also suffer from fungal infections, parasitic infestations, and skin flukes. Therefore, always make sure the water parameters are suitable and dietary needs are met to avoid health complications. 

Conclusion: Livingstonii Cichlid Care Guide 

So, is livingstonii cichlid the right choice for you? We hope the guide was helpful enough to help you decide on that. 

As long as you keep track of its predatory aggression, add suitable tankmates, and make sure there’s enough space in the tank, there shouldn’t be any problem. 

If you have decided to bring home a livingstonii, they’re easily found online and offline for moderate prices. The cost slightly varies depending on whether it’s a male, female, or juvenile. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.