How to Care for Livingstonii Cichlids?

The Livingstonii Cichlid is also known as Nimbochromis livingstonii, Livingston’s Cichlid, or Livingston’s Hap. It is a piscivorous Haplochromis, native to Lake Malawi in the Great Rift Valley region.

This fish species has a unique hunting behavior. It plays dead to draw the attention of potential prey. As the prey (smaller fish) gets closer, the Livingstonii Cichlid gets into action immediately to devour it.

Besides its unusual ambush-style hunting technique, the Livingstonii Cichlid has a spotted coloration. Its distinctive color pattern forms contrast against prominent dark blotches, particularly on a silver, bluish or yellow background.

Four dark lines radiate outward from a star-like pattern in its eye. This feature creates an excellent camouflage to help the fish blend perfectly with its natural habitat. Thus it allows it to swim safely among aquatic plants while preying on smaller fish undetected.

The fish can grow to about 10 inches (almost 25 centimeters) in length. Its impressive size, behavior, and attractive color patterns make it a must-have aquarium fish among hobbyists.

When it comes to dimorphism, male Livinstonii Cichlids differ from females in many different ways. The male has an elongated anal and dorsal fin. But the female retains her short, well-rounded fins.

A mature male develops a light blue tint at the forehead. The female, however, retains her usual plain, spotted coloration. The male Livisngstonii Cichlid grows bigger than their females, but this is not always the case when the female is about to reproduce.

Livingstonii Cichlid Natural Habitat

Livingstonii Cichlids are found in different kinds of habits. But they mainly occupy vegetated regions of the sheltered bays and shallow lakes.

The fish thrives well in muddy bottoms and purely rocky environments. This explains why the species is endemic to Lake Malombe, Lake Malawi, and the upper Shire. It is widespread and can be found in depths of more than 300 feet.

Livingstonii Cichlid Tank Requirements

If you want to keep livingstonii cichlids, there are a couple things to consider such as tank size, decoration and substrate

Tank Size

Make sure to set the tank requirements that replicate their habitat in the wild. Their ideal tank size should be at least 125 gallons for adults and 70 gallons for young ones.

The same tank must be at least 6 feet in length and well aquascaped. You can also leave open expanses for a certain amount of sand and a few rocky areas.


Make sure that the tank is well decorated to mimic the natural habitat where Livingstonii Cichlids thrive. Decor such as ocean rocks is a good choice for building sturdy structures within the tank.

These structures can stretch from the bottom of the aquarium to the water surface. When constructing them ensure that you create as many crevices as possible for your pet fish to explore its living space.

The same structures should keep the rocks at the tank bottom stable throughout.


The best substrate to use in this particular tank is coral sand or Aragonite. This type of substrate is highly recommended to keep tank water hard or alkaline.

However, Livingstonii Cichlid prefers darker substrate in order to feel safer and display their colors better.

You can place coral sand or Aragonite into mesh bags and keep them inside the tank’s external filter system. This substrate will enhance buffering.

Livingstonii Cichlid Water Conditions

The  Livingstonii Cichlids will not survive long in poor water conditions. That is the reason you need to set the right parameters in their aquarium. To achieve this feat, you must know the conditions under which the fish survives in the wild.

For example, the streams flowing into L. Malawi are usually high in mineral content. When combined with evaporation, these minerals form alkaline water that’s highly mineralized.

Despite all that, water in Lake Malawi remains clear and stable in terms of pH and other chemicals. So you can realize the importance of comparing water conditions in the Livingstonii Cichlids natural habitat and the tank parameters.

Most Livingstonii Cichlids require hard alkaline water although brackish water is not part of their wild habitat. You may use salt as your buffering agent in the tank water to boost the alkalinity. Salt will also increase carbonate hardness within the aquarium environment.

This fish species can easily tolerate salt, meaning that you can keep them in slightly brackish tank water conditions. It can withstand salinity levels as high as 10% of the normal saltwater tank.

Even though Livingstonii Cichlids thrive best in both freshwater and brackish water, they also need a good flow of water. Excellent and reliable filtration is another requirement that you should consider.

Keep the pH levels in the tank water slightly above neutral. This fish species can tolerate any pH levels above neutral. But the suitable pH for your Livingstonii Cichlid should range from 7.7 to 8.6 with a water hardness range of 6 to 10 dGH.

The ideal water temperature must be 75 and 79 °F or 23 to 28 °C.  Such temperature is recommended because these fish exist in warm places. 

Regular water changes need to be done to control ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite buildup. Make sure to change 10% to 20% of tank water once a week depending on the bioload.

Livingstonii Cichlid Diet and Feeding

The L. Cichlids are omnivorous. In the wild, the fish feeds on some small fish that is why they are considered a piscivore. In captivity, they enjoy eating high protein foods.

So you can provide them with plenty of live or frozen food, pellets, freeze-dried krill, or any other high-quality fish food for piscivores.

Include feeder fish and mysis to their diet but in small amounts and moderation. Be careful when giving them feeder fish because it can easily initiate hunting instincts, leading to more cases of aggression. They also need some herbivorous foods to help them meet their dietary needs.

When feeding your L. Cichlids, pay attention to their ages. The young ones (up to 4 inches) can be provided with flakes in small quantities. Mature fish will do best with frozen foods.

Do not overfeed them because their stomachs can become distended. Their feeding schedule should be frequent for the juveniles and 2 to 3 times a week for adult fish.

Livingstonii Cichlid Tank Mates

The Livingstonii Cichlids are solitary fish, which means they cannot do well in a community tank. They are moderately aggressive and predaceous. As a matter of fact, they are more likely to eat anything small including other fish species.

These fish are best kept in a species aquarium or alongside other cichlids. They are peaceful but can become very territorial during spawning time. This is the time they are breeding and will do anything to keep their territories safe throughout.

Don’t keep them with Mbunas in the same tank environment. At the same time, don’t let them get closer to other peaceful cichlids because they will prey on them.

The best you can do is to keep your Livingstonii Cichlids singly in the tank. Or you may place one male with a group of females in one tank to see how they will relate to each other. A single male with a harem of male L. Cichlids in a tank will ensure peaceful coexistence.

When choosing tank mates for this fish species you should be extremely cautious. Suitable tankmates could include several large Great Rift Valley Lake species like the Fossorochromis rostratus, Dimidiochromis, large Synodontis catfish, and other sizeable Nimbochromis or Haplochromis species.

Livingstonii Cichlid Breeding

The Livingstonii Cichlids are maternal mouthbrooders. At the time of spawning, you will notice some changes in their bodies.  The coloration of males will intensify to attract females.

The males will look for a suitable place and clean it in preparation for spawning. Their ideal breeding site could be a small depression dugout in the substrate or a flat rock.

Once they have prepared the site for breeding, males will try to entice females fish to breed with them. Then the females will proceed to lay several eggs before swimming away. The males will fertilize the eggs and let the female fish take them into their mouths.

Almost 100 eggs may be incubated for a period of 25 days to hatch into small, free-swimming fry. Females will take care of their larvae and young fry until they come of age to be on their own. In most cases, you may see them taking their eggs and fry in the mouth during the night or whenever there is danger. 

Young L. Cichlids are usually large enough to feed on brine shrimp shortly after they are released. They can also eat finely crushed flakes and cyclopeeze. At this age, the young fish can swim away and be on their own.


The Livingstonii Cichlid is a popular tank fish among different hobbyists. The fish is suitable for both experienced and intermediate cichlid keepers. Despite being highly predatory, the fish is considered one of the most peaceful cichlids when sharing the tank with its own kind.

The L. Cichlid needs a relatively large aquarium because it is a large fish. As an aquarist, you must carry out frequent water changes to maintain the right water parameters.

In addition to that, provide them with appropriate tank mates and diet. In a proper tank set up, your fish will easily adapt to its new environment away from the natural habitat it is used to.

African Cichlids   Updated: September 16, 2021
avatar Hey, I'm Fabian, chief editor at Aquarium Nexus. I really enjoy the aquarium hobby and love sharing my experience with others. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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