If you are familiar with Mbuna Cichlids, then you will love the Maingano. They may be significantly shorter compared to regular varieties, but the vivid and contrasting shades of blue stripes more than make up for it.

They are a favorite of people who like to mix and match different Cichlid species and keep them together in a tank.

Even though Mainganos sometimes show hostility, they generally bode well in a community tank with other Cichlids.

Getting used to their behavior can sometimes be a bit challenging, as they are known to show mood swings.

All about the Species

Quick Species Facts
Scientific Name Melanochromiscyaneorhabdos
Other Common Names Mangano Fish, Mangano Cichlid
Family Cichlidae
Origin Africa
Lifespan 8 to 9 years
Max. Length 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm)
Type Freshwater

Distribution & Habitat

Maingano cichlids are native to Lake Malawi (or Lake Nyasa), which is a big freshwater lake in the eastern region of Africa, situated between the Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania regions. (reference)

They have been spotted in large numbers on the northeastern coast of Likoma Island, between Membe Point and Mbako Point. However, they seem to occur at specific locations.

Their natural habitat consists of a lot of rocks and stones, hence they have been awarded with the title of “rock-dwellers”.

They have also been reported to live in depths of 10 to 33 feet (3 to 10 m) on these rocky coastlines. (reference)

They have also been included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2018, as critically endangered. (reference)

How Big Do Maingano Cichlids Get?

Comparatively, their size is much smaller than the average Cichlid, growing merely about 3 inches (7.5 cm) total in the wild.

However, if proper care and diet are maintained, they can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) maximum in an artificial setting.

What Do They Look Like?

Structural Features

The Maingano Cichlid has a curved head, with a torpedo-shaped body. The dorsal fin is long and runs along the spine.

Their fins also have spike-like protrusions, especially the dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins. They help in fending off potential predators.

They have a moderately-sized mouth, with a set of sharp teeth, designed to rip and tear through hard food substances (especially aufwuchs).

Moreover, teeth are also present in their pharyngeal cavity to aid in breaking down chewy food.


The first thing you will notice is their crystal blue striped pattern. Their bodies have a darker shade, whereas the stripes come in a lustrous hue of light blue ( pearlescent).

There is an irregular pattern of light blue lines that runs across the upper body, just over the first stripe. This feature has earned them the name “electric-blue”.

There are about two distinct light blue lines running across their bodies, starting from the dorsal fin, all the way up to the tail.

However, the lower section of the dorsal fins has a lighter shade than the upper part.

All of their fins have a light-colored lining at the ends, and the tail also has this lining in-between the striations.

Their eyes are black with a golden tint along the border of the iris.

Interesting Fact: The nostrils of these Maingano Cichlids are special. There is only one on each side, as compared to two sets in other fishes. They act as receptors for detection of prey like taste buds. They take in water from one side and expel it from the other.

Maingano Cichlids are sometimes mistaken for Electric-Blue Johanni (Melanochromisjohanni). They are related, as you might have guessed from the scientific name.

Although their color patterns are strikingly similar, theJohannis are slightly larger than the Mainganos.

What’s Their Life Expectancy?

Considering their size, they live a long life. In general, they live for approximately 8 years in the wild. In captivity, it is a tad-bit longer; about 9 years.

Optimal water conditions are a must if you wish to keep them for a long time.

Sexual Dimorphism

You must look closely if you wish to separate males from females, as both of them have nearly indistinguishable features.

The thing that sets them apart is the body color. Males have a darker base blue color which is slightly lighter than their counterpart.

The bottom region of a female’s belly is considerably lighter, making it look like they have an extra set of stripes, in addition to the remaining two.

Furthermore, the overall size and the pelvic fins of the male fish are slightly bigger than the female.

Another technique to determine gender is venting. It is very accurate but requires knowledge about vents (anal opening) of fishes.

Availability & Price

Maingano Cichlids are found worldwide, mostly imported from Africa. A single individual is priced around $10 – $11.

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Most shops sell them in groups of 3 – 10. And interestingly, you get a discount in bulk buying.

Complete Care Guide

Quick Care Facts
Care Level Easy to Moderate
Breeding Moderately difficult
Social Temperament Semi-aggressive
Diet Omnivore
Hardiness Moderate

What Do Mainganos Like To Eat?

The diet of Cichlids varies with species, and this species is particularly vegetarian. But, Mainganos do eat tiny crustaceans and worms.

In the wild, they generally feed on plants, zoo- & phytoplankton, aufwuchs, and smaller invertebrates that live near the bottom of the lake, etc.

It is recommended to provide them with a balanced diet of plants and protein-rich foods.

If you are giving them vegetables, it is better to blanch or boil them for a while beforehand. This will ensure proper digestion, relieving the fish of constipation.

You should always provide leafy vegetables as the major portion of their diet. However, you can also give them boiled tap roots such as carrots, or even peas, cut into smaller parts.

For the protein part, the best ones are small crustaceans such as Brine Shrimps, Mysis Shrimps, and possibly Krill. Besides these, worms are a good option as well.

Bloodworms &Microworms are most commonly found in local pet shops and are inexpensive as well.

People can also include Spirulina (flakes or pellets) in their diet because it is rich in protein (even though it is only an alga) and helps keep the immune system strong.

However, if you do not want to run into trouble, simply use commercial Cichlid flakes. But fresh food will always be better than flakes or pellets.

Author Tip: Feed them small quantities multiple times a day (eatable under 3 minutes). This will ensure that they are not overfed and that the nitrogen levels in the water are under control.

Temperament & Behavior

Cichlids are typically aggressive fishes, and Maingano is no exception. However, Maingano can be kept in a community tank, but with other cichlids.

Nevertheless, they do show territorial behavior towards their own kind, especially if both are males. Fishkeepers like to keep a single male with two females.

However, if you want to keep more male fish, then you would want to pump up the number of females quite a bit.

This will ensure that the male Cichlids do not fight over the competition, especially during mating season, and can freely choose whichever female they want to breed with.

Breeding Maingano Cichlids

If you are experienced with breeding Cichlids, then breeding Mainganos will be easy for you. For the uninitiated, it may be slightly difficult as they are finicky about the water parameters.

Pre-Spawning Requirements

Before you start breeding, you need to find a compatible pair. You can distinguish females from males using the methods described above.

Now, once you have accomplished that, there are a few things that you should get before progressing further:

  1. A separate breeding tank
  2. A water heater (optional)
  3. High-quality protein food

Once you have acquired all these, it is time to set up the tank with a fine sandy substrate. If you wish to add a few decorations, restrict yourself to the ones that will provide some utility. Flat rocks or boulders with big crevices should be the preference.

Egg Laying

Firstly, replenish the tank with freshwater and keep the temperature slightly warmer. If you are living in a cold region, it is better to use a heater for this purpose. Feed the pair protein-rich food to induce a good mood.

Now put the breeding pair inside, dim out the lights and wait for the best. The male will find a suitable spot, clean up the location and signal the female to lay her eggs there.

It may take a few days for the female to spawn, so keep your eyes peeled for any changes.

Once the spawning has commenced, the female Maingano will take the eggs into her mouth.

Do not be alarmed, as it is a very common practice among Cichlidae. By the way, the number of eggs can vary between 30 to 60, depending on the female.

The male will then spray his milt near the mouth of the female, which is taken up by her to fertilize the eggs. Keep the temperature around 82 °F during this time for proper incubation.

Rearing of Baby Maingano

It may take around 3 to 4 weeks for the eggs to develop and hatch into sac-fry. At this moment, it is best to shift the male to a different tank so the babies don’t get eaten by him.

The female will again take the babies in her mouth and carry them till they are old enough. During this time, you can feed the female normal food which is mentioned in the diet section.

During the first few weeks, you can feed the baby powdered adult fish food, or Infusoria (tiny freshwater fauna). The latter is the preferred choice as it is richer in nutrients.

Also, keep replenishing 30-40 % of the water weekly as you don’t want the nitrogen levels to spike.

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After a few weeks of care, the babies will be big enough for the female to carry them in her mouth.

At this time, you can transfer the female to a different tank and keep on rearing the babies till they are a few weeks old.

Once they start showing coloration and adult-like features, you can move them to their parents’ tank, and care for them as you normally do.

Common Diseases

Although the Maingano Cichlid is a moderately hardy and strong fish, it is also susceptible to several ailments that plague other Cichlid species.

In this section, you will discover the causes, treatments, and possible preventative strategies to cope with them.

Malawi Bloat

Commonly as just Bloat, the belly of the fish gets heavily puffed up.  The main reason behind this is deteriorating water parameters, or nutrient deficiency.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should feed them hefty amounts. Too much food is always bad for the fish and the water.

If you are feeding them more meaty foods, consider giving them some plant-based matter once in a while.

The minerals and dietary fibers in vegetables help keep the bloating situation under control.

Swim Bladder Disease

This disorder is particularly seen in Maingano Cichlids. Swim bladder disease causes issues in the abdominal sac, which is responsible for floatation control.

This hinders their ability to swim properly, which in turn, makes them unable to reach the bottom or stay in a particular section of the tank.

Sometimes, the swim bladder disease can be linked to constipation issues in the fish. If that’s the case, then it can be solved with the inculcation of more fibrous matter in the diet.

However, if there is some sort of injury in the abdominal area due to trauma or the formation of tumorous growth, it could be difficult to treat.

In that case, it is best to take them to a professional and have them checked.


If you are an experienced fishkeeper, you might have already faced this problem before. This disease is caused by a ciliate parasite, also known as the fish louse.

The first thing you will notice is the presence of small white dots (about 1mm in size) all over the fish’s body and fins. All these dots are a single parasite on their own.

But do not worry as they can easily be treated using malachite green or copper-based medications.

If you are not sure about what is best for them, then it is better to take them to a fish doctor.

Tank Recommendations

Quick Tank Facts
Water Temperature 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
Minimum Size 30 gallons
Water Hardness 6 – 10 dGH
pH Level 7.7 – 8.6
Nitrate Content <20 ppm
Lighting Moderate
Specific gravity 1.0002 (10 %)

Tank Size Requirements

Even though Maingano Cichlids are small, they are incredibly active for their size. In the wild, their habitat has a lot of open space. So, keeping a few would require a bigger tank than usual.

A 30-gallon tank would suffice for a single individual or a few juveniles. If you want to keep a pair or two, you’ll need at least a 50- to 60-gallon tank.

Quick Tip: Keep in mind that a tank with a wider area would be more useful than a tank with more height. Maingano Cichlids spend most of their time scouring the bottom and just above the substrate, so the top section won’t matter to them.

What to Include When Setting Up a Tank

There isn’t much need to fill up your tank with too many plants or decorations. Having too much will result in less open space, which in turn, will make them unhappy.

Whatever you decide to put in your tank, make sure most of them are on the sides and corners of the aquarium.


There are a few plants that can be considered, among which is the famous Anubias Nana and its petite variety.

These plants complement the fish’s color and have strong roots to uphold themselves in the substrate.

Water Wisteria and Java Ferns are also fine options as they can be attached to a hard surface, easier to maintain.

But, try to avoid carpet grass plants as they will be easily uprooted by these habitual diggers.

Tip: Along with these, if you are considering putting other plants in the tank, make sure they have strong root systems. The digging habits of Maingano can prove devastating if they are not sturdy.

Lighting Needs

They do quite well in normal or moderate lighting. Although they also like to dwell along the bed of lakes, they are accustomed to low lighting as well.

Many people like to use white or daylight fluorescent lamps in their tanks. This helps to bring out their eye-popping electric-blue colors and accentuate their beauty even more.

Some also prefer to use two-mode lighting. This is a special setup that consists of a daytime light setting and a blue nighttime light.

The blue light at night further enhances their contrasting body colors against the background.

Best Substrate

Their natural habitat comprises mostly lake sand, along with the average rocks and gravel. So, it is best to use a sandy substrate for your tank to make them feel more at home.

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It is good if you can get your hands on something like marine sand. Aragonite sand can also be a wise choice because it can gradually increase the pH of the water, preferably by the fish.

Another similar substrate that can achieve similar results is coral, which has been finely ground to give it a sand-like texture.

Author Note: If you are using pH-altering substrates, make sure to periodically change the water to keep alkalinity under control.

Other Decorations

For the sake of the fish, it is better to use low-lying decorations. Smaller decorations will ensure more swimming space is available to them.

More natural decorations,such as big boulders with cave-like openings, can provide them with resting places if they ever feel stressed or agitated.

But make sure to keep these at the sides, or maybe at the back section of the tank.

Filtration & Aeration

Maingano Cichlids prefer a moderate flow in their water. This can be done using strong filters and air pumps, placed at a side.

But if you want to get a bit fancy, then you can opt for Wavemakers or Powerheads. These apparatuses are designed to create a constant current in the water and have strong control over the flow.

Tip: If you are introducing new Mainganos to your existing tank, ensure to slightly lower the flow of the water until they are settled in.

Optimal Water Parameters

Their natural habitat, Lake Malawi, has a very unique property. It receives a lot of mineral content from its connecting streams, which has resulted in a high concentration of minerals.

This, along with evaporation caused by the harsh African sun, has made the water somewhat alkaline. So, all their fishes, along with Maingano Cichlids are habituated to high pH.

You can use pH meters and chemical buffers to help you keep the pH favorable.

Moreover, they prefer water at room temperature, so it is best to install a heater if you live in a cold region.

Keep the water hardness close to what you would see in freshwater lakes. You can choose carbonate salts as a buffer option if you suspect a change in the hardness. Having said that, they prefer hardness somewhere in the range of 6 to 10 dGH.

Due to the adaptation to strong alkaline water, Maingano Cichlids have developed tolerance to slightly brackish water as well.

This is great for people who would like to keep them in a brackish/marine setting. However, remember that the salt concentration does not go over 10%.

And finally, keep the nitrate levels as low as possible to avoid any sort of disorders or diseases.

A high-efficient filter, along with periodic 20 – 30% water replenishment, will keep the nitrogen levels under control.

Compatible Tank Mates

Similar to other Cichlids, the number of potential companions is low because of their demeanor.

The list narrows down to fishes that are bigger in size than Mainganos, especially the ones that can hold their own.

Preferred Companion

You can consider other Cichlid species that are similar in size or larger, but ensure that those varieties are from a different genus, with non-identical coloration and patterns.

Potential candidates are Lemon Cichlid, African Butterfly Peacock, Cobalt Blue Zebra, Red Zebra, and Yellow Electric Cichlid.

There are also a few catfish species that can be considered potential tank mates like Cuckoo Catfish, Giraffe Catfish, and a few more. These are generally bigger than the Maingano Cichlid, which is a great thing as they will remain unbothered.

Tank Mates To Avoid

Try to avoid these species in particular; Acei Cichlid, Saulosi Cichlid, Demasoni Cichlid, and a few more belonging to African & South American families.

The main reason is the above-mentioned varieties look similar to the Maingano. So, there is a chance that they might show territorial aggression or, even worse, breed with one another, which is not recommended.

Also, DO NOT house smaller fish species like Bettas, Tetras, or smaller catfish varieties with them.

No matter if they are peaceful, or bottom-dwelling, they will get bullied by the Mainganos.

Quick Tip: The best way of maintaining harmony in the tank is by keeping 1 male with at least 4 to 5 females in a large tank. This has been a general rule for aggressive fish species. However, do not even think about putting another male in it, as this will cause unnecessary fights, leading to serious injury.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you keep Maingano Cichlids with Oscars?

No, these two are not considered suitable tank mates. Their nature and water parameter requirements make them incompatible.

Both Oscars and Cichlids have aggressive personalities, so there is always a likelihood of fighting. Plus, their water parameters are very different, so it becomes difficult to accommodate these two together in a tank.

Is the Maingano Cichlid a type of Mbuna Cichlid?

Yes, they are. This group has many members, originating from Lake Malawi, Africa. All the Mbuna Cichlids are referred to as “rockfish” because their habitat mainly consists of rocks and boulders.

Conclusion: Should You Get Them?

Cichlids are among the fanciest fishes you can go for. The variety of colors they come in is just astonishing.

But if their beauty doesn’t grab your attention, their playful and active nature will surely captivate you.

The attractive electric-blue color of Maingano gives your tank a sight to behold. Plus, their omnivorous diet is much easier to maintain.

Even if you face difficulties gathering enough protein for them, they can thrive on veggies alone.

About the Author

Shelby Crosby

Shelby is a passionate fishkeeper who has been writing about fish for over 5 years. She is a pro aquarist and holds a BSc Honors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. She creates her own beautiful aquarium layouts and loves to share her knowledge of tropical fish with other hobbyists.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

  • BSc Honors in Wildlife and Fisheries in 2011 (University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Completed her undergraduate thesis on the effects of zoochlorella supplementation on the growth and health of fish.

Writing Experience

Miss Crosby is a Freelance blogger; many of her articles are posted online on various blogs. She has also written a few short articles for "Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine" in the past. She is a regular contributor to FishParenting.com. Her education, first-hand experience with fishkeeping, and in-depth knowledge in aquaculture make her one of the most competent writers in the industry.

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