The eye-catching Maingano is a Lake Malawi African cichlid with a striking coloration!

The Maingano Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos is a newer arrival as a recognized species. It was scientifically described as recently as 1997 by Bowers and Stauffer. It is endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa, but is found in a very limited area. It occurs only at Likoma Island situated the halfway point of the lake, but on the eastern side close Mozambique.

It belongs to a group of cichlids called Mbunas. There are 13 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities of Mbuna cichlids. The name Mbuna comes from the Tonga people of Malawi and means “rockfish” or “rock-dwelling”. This name aptly describes the rocky environment these fish live in as opposed to being open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps” . Some other common names this fish is known by are Melanochromis Maingano, Maingano Cichlid, and Mangano Fish or Mangano Cichlid.

This cichlid is not as aggressive as other Melanochromis species, but is a typical Mbuna in size and shape. It has an elongated body and rounded snout along with a continuous dorsal fin. It will only reach about 3 inches (7.5 cm) in length in the wild but is a bit larger in the aquarium, reaching just under 4 inches (10 cm).

With beautiful coloration and a small size, the Maingano is a ‘must have’ for cichlid enthusiasts who have smaller tanks to fill. Both the male and female are very pretty. Their natural coloring of electric blue horizontal stripes against a dark black to blue body makes these guys a gorgeous fish for any hobbyist. The females are very similar, but with a lighter blue belly. This fish has long been bred in captivity resulting in many captive strains that are far cry from the wild caught coloring.

They can easily be mistaken for their close relative, the Electric Blue JohanniMelanochromis johannii. Some people mistakenly call this fish an Electric Blue, but don’t confuse the two. Although these two are members of the same genus and very similar in appearance, the M. johannii. is a distinct and separate species. The female Electric Blue Johanni is not going to be confused because it is distinctly different, having a golden-orange body coloring. But the male M. johannii and both sexes of the Maingano have dark blue to black horizontal bands that runs across the back, but on the M. johannii they are often broken up with spots of light blue. When obtaining either of these fish, it is best to know the scientific name as well as the common name to make sure you get the species you want.

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced aquarists. It is moderate to easy in care, depending on the aquarists willingness to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. To house one male and several females in a specimen tank, the minimum recommended tank size is 30 to 40 gallons and 36” long. Lots of rockwork providing plenty of hiding places is needed for success. A much larger tank is needed for a mixed African cichlid tank.

Scientific Classification


Maingano – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:30 gal (114 L)
Size of fish – inches3.0 inches (7.49 cm)
Temperature:73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Maingano Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos was described by Bowers and Stauffer in 1997. They are endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa were they are found at Likoma Island between Mbako Point and Membe Point. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (VU) because it is endemic to Lake Malawi and only occurs in a very restricted location at Likoma Island. Other common names it is known by include Melanochromis Maingano, Maingano Cichlid, Mangano Fish, and Mangano Cichlid.

They are commonly found over small and medium sized rocks at depths between 10 – 33 feet (3 – 10 m). They feed on zooplankton, epibenthic invertebrates, and Aufwuchs. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. “Loose” Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton.

  • Scientific Name: Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos
  • Social Grouping: Varies – This is a polygamous species that forms mixed harems with one dominant male and several females. Other non-breeding males, females, and juveniles may be found alone or in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: VU – Vulnerable


The Maingano Cichlid is elongated with a rounded snout and a continuous dorsal fin. They have incisor-like teeth that are closely spaced, designed for feeding on aufwuchs in nature. They reach just under 3″ (7.5 cm) in length in the wild, but can get a bit bigger in the aquarium reaching just under 4″ (10 cm). They can live up can live to around 9 years.

The wild colored Maingano has a body that is torpedo shaped with golden colored eyes. There are only two light blue thin horizontal lines on the body but with it also having two more thin lines on the dorsal fin, from a distance it can appear to have several of these thinner lines. There are what also appears to be thicker dark blue horizontal stripes in between, three on the females and four on the males.

When describing this fish based on the light blue stripe appearance; the first stripe is on the edge of the dorsal fin, the second is at base of the dorsal fin, the third at the level of the eye, and the fourth runs along the bottom just above the belly. When describing based on the darker color, the first dark blue stripe is in the center of the dorsal fin, the second is along the top of the back, third is right down the middle, and on the male the fourth would be his darker belly. The females belly is lighter, making it look like she has only 3 dark blue horizontal bands. Her pelvic fins are typically shorter.

They can easily be mistaken for their close relative, the Electric Blue Johanni Melanochromis johanni, and there are many captive strains that are far cry from the wild caught coloring. Try and keep the different species blood lines pure.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.0 inches (7.49 cm) – In the wild they only grow to just under 3″ (7.5 cm) but are slightly larger in the aquarium, reaching a length of just under 4″ (10 cm),
  • Lifespan: 9 years – They have a lifespan of about 9 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It must be kept in a quality environment, and is susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. It is a moderately aggressive cichlid, but not a community tank specimen that can be kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. In a proper setup and maintained aquarium it will adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Maingano is an omnivore that feeds on zooplankton, epibenthic invertebrates, and Aufwuchs in nature. They will accept frozen or live brine shrimp, mysis, high quality flake, pellets, spirulina, and other preparations for omnivore cichlids. Foods like beef heart are to be avoided as they can promote digestive problems, also proteins from mammal may contribute to the disease “Malawi bloat”.

It is always better to feed them small amounts several times a day instead of one large feeding. This keeps the water quality higher for a longer period of time. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.

Aquarium Care

Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. As these are messy fish, do water changes of 20 to 50% a week depending on bio load.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 20-50% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.

Aquarium Setup

The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.

Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

A 30 or 40 gallon aquarium, with a minimum of 36″ (91 cm) in length, is suggested for a single fish or a species tank with one male and several females. A larger tank of 100 gallons or more would be required if mixing these cichlids with other African cichlids. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration.

Their natural habitat has sand. A marine sand makes a good substate and the addition of crushed coral can help keep the pH up. A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved. Crushed coral or aragonite sands do tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish. Provide lots of passageways and caves formed with piles of rocks. Some open space is appreciated as well. They like to dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) – A 30-40 gallon tank with a length of at least a 36″ is the suggested minimum for a single fish or species tank, with 100 gallons or more for a mixed group of Mbunas.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 7.7-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 6 – 10 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Maingano is not considered to be a community fish. They do best in a species specific tank. They are best kept in groups of one male and several females. They are also aggressive toward similar looking males of a different species. They can be kept with other less aggressive cichlids from Malawi that are not similar in coloring/shape.

Tank mates can include cichlids such as the Cobalt Zebra, Red Empress, African Butterfly PeacockAulonocara jacobfreibergi, Electric YellowLabidochromis caeruleus, and Lemon CichlidNeolamprologus leleupi, and Cuckoo catfish Synodotis multipunctatus. Do not put with other Melanochromis species as they will attack and/or interbreed, which is not suggested.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with several females, 2 males will fight.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sexual differences

The male will seem to have more “dark” stripes due to his darker belly. The female has a lighter belly and shorter pelvic fins.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Maingano is polygamous in nature with a male attending several females, and they form a matriarchal family. This cichlid has been bred in captivity and like other Mbunas, will spawn in the male’s territory. When spawning the male changes his color, it becomes an intense exaggeration of his original coloring that almost looks like a double exposed picture.

The females lay 10 to 60 eggs and then immediately take them into their mouths before they are fertilized. She then stimulates the male to discharge sperm (milt cloud) by mouthing his vent or eggspots on his anal fin. She inhales of cloud of “milt” which then fertilize the eggs in her mouth. In 21 days at about 82° F, the eggs are developed.
The released fry can eat finely powdered dry foods and brine shrimp nauplii.

The female will guard her young for a few days, even taking them into her mouth if there is a perceived threat. As long as you have plenty of hiding places, the young will have an easier time surviving until they are too big to eat. Maingano young start to show their colors within a few weeks and are ready to breed at 1.5″. See the description of how cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Malawi bloat is a typical disease for the Maingano Cichlid, especially if their mostly herbivorous dietary needs are not met with quality foods. They are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.

As with most fish Mainganos are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


Mainganos are sometimes found online and are moderately priced, but prices vary depending on whether they are male, female, or juvenile. They are sometimes found in fish stores, and they may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season. When acquiring a Maingano, with all the different hybrids that have formed in captivity, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer.



Featured Image Credit: Vojce, Shutterstock