Zebra Mbuna Cichlid (Maylandia Zebra)

Zebra mbuna cichlid

Last updated on July 3rd, 2022 at 12:02 pm

The zebra mbuna cichlid (Maylandia zebra) is one of the many stunning species of fish that can be found in Lake Malawi, Africa’s third-largest lake and home to many species of freshwater fish that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

When describing this interesting species of freshwater fish, one word that stands out above all others is its color pattern, which consists of black and white vertical stripes throughout its body—a trait not shared by any other species of fish within its genus, Maylandia (Metriaclima).

Maylandia zebra, synonym Maylandia Mbuna, is a relatively small cichlid of Lake Malawi, Africa, that has been kept and bred in aquariums since the early 1980s. It possesses several key characteristics that have made it popular with fish keepers, including its small size and striking coloration, as well as its relative peacefulness compared to other Malawi cichlids of comparable size.

The zebra mbuna cichlid is an attractive, active, small-sized cichlid fish with blue and yellow coloration. They are native to Lake Malawi in Africa and prefer waters that range from 72–80°F (22–27°C). They can grow up to 4.4 inches (11.3 cm) long in the wild and can live for 10 years with proper care. They are one of the more popular African cichlids among hobbyists and are easy to breed.

This is an ideal fish for both beginners and experienced hobbyists, the zebra mbuna cichlid is an active and extremely colorful species that can adapt to many different environments and thrive in community tanks with other compatible fish species.

Origin and descriptions

Zebra mbuna cichlid

Maylandia zebra is a peaceful Mbuna fish that originates from Lake Malawi, Africa. Zebra cichlids prefer water temperatures between 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit, a ph level of 7.8-8.0, and dH level of 8-20. In addition to these basic requirements, Maylandia Zebra should be kept in groups of 2 or more males with 3 or more females for their entire life span.

They are omnivores, eating small insects when young but switching to primarily algae as adults. With proper care, they can live up to 10 years!

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Species profile

Zebra mbuna cichlid

Maylandia zebra is a small, South African cichlid endemic to Lake Malawi. This species of fish is named for its distinctive yellow and black stripes, which it exhibits during breeding. Wild populations of Maylandia zebra inhabit rocky reef zones at depths between 6 and 15 feet, where males use their vibrant colors to signal their dominance and attract mates.

In captivity, it is important that Maylandia zebra are kept in pairs to ensure they don’t become aggressive toward each other. They prefer aquariums with plenty of covers such as rocks and driftwood; however, care should be taken when choosing live plants due to their preference for rockwork.

Following an 8-week quarantine period, male Maylandia zebra can reach 3 inches in length while females tend to stay smaller at around 2 1/2 inches long.


Zebra Mbuna Cichlids prefer rocky territories, so make sure there are plenty of crevices for them to hide in. They require a slightly alkaline pH level of 7.0-8.0, and moderately hard water; if you plan on adding plants or substrate to your tank, be aware that both of these will soften your water, which could be detrimental to your Zebra Cichlids’ health and can lead to other complications in their aquarium.

Zebra mbuna size

This species can grow up to 4.4 inches (11.3 cm) in length.

Zebra mbuna tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for Zebra mbuna is 50 gallons (180 Liters)

Tank set up

The zebra mbuna cichlid is a tank buster and therefore must be housed in a larger aquarium. Ideally, it should be housed in a tank of at least 180 liters, which is large enough to provide plenty of hiding places. If you only have room for a smaller tank, I would recommend choosing another fish that doesn’t grow as big and voracious as these do.

However, if you are going to house them in such a small space I would highly recommend adding some caves or other decoration that makes it easier for them to hide and sneak up on their prey. Zebra mbuna cichlids are surprisingly good jumpers, so your decorations need to be securely fastened into place or they will keep getting out onto your floor!

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It’s also important to make sure there are no sharp edges or corners because they may scratch their delicate mouths while feeding, causing infections. You should also always make sure that your substrate is soft and fine enough that any sharp pieces get removed before being eaten. This will help reduce any risk of intestinal blockages, a major cause of death in new aquariums.

If you don’t have sand substrate already, then try looking for something like eco-complete or aquasoil.

Zebra mbuna tank mates

Zebra mbuna cichlid

Zebra Mbuna cichlids can be kept with other Mbunas, Tanganyika Lake Malawi cichlids, and other non-aggressive fish. Do not keep them with more aggressive types of fish such as Jack Dempsey’s or freshwater barracuda. They will also eat smaller fish if they get a chance.

Other good tank mates are Red Zebra, Texas Cichlid, Yellow Lab Cichlid, and Lemon Yellow Lab.

Zebra mbuna cichlid breeding

The easiest way to acquire zebra mbuna cichlid is to purchase a male and female from a breeder who specializes in keeping and breeding them. The recommended tank size for each couple is about 75 gallons, which is plenty of room for two fish that only grow to about 4 inches in length.

When you have your adult fish, start with a young group of three or four juveniles. Don’t forget to provide hiding places for these less aggressive fish so they don’t feel threatened by their parents.

Zebra mbunas are hardy enough to adapt well to most water conditions, but pH should be around 7.8-8.0 and nitrates below 10 ppm; make sure you test for both on a regular basis because any spikes will stress out your delicate little friends and can be fatal within days due to fin rot or other complications caused by bad water quality.

Their appetite isn’t very picky, so they require no additional supplements to thrive in an aquarium. The best lighting option for zebra mbunas is fluorescent tubes placed above one side of your tank—enough light will penetrate through the clear glass to keep these shy fish healthy and happy as long as it doesn’t disturb their natural sleeping rhythm.

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Are Zebra mbuna aggressive or peaceful?

Zebra Mbunas have a reputation as being peaceful towards other Mbunas, but they can be very aggressive to other fish in their tank. If they are kept with non-Mbuna fish, they tend to fight and chase them endlessly until those fish die. This behavior is usually attributed to territorial aggression rather than territory defense.

Zebra mbuna care

Zebra mbuna cichlid

This fish is relatively easy to care for, requiring a well-planted tank with neutral to acidic water. It is important that you do not expose it to sudden changes in water chemistry or temperature. The ideal water temperature for Maylandia zebra is 75°F – 78°F, and a pH of 6.0-7.5 at a hardness of 4 dH – 15 dH. Maintain a healthy nitrite level of below 2 ppm and phosphate level below 0.25 ppm.

Zebra mbuna food

Zebra mbunas are omnivores, which means they’ll eat both meat and plants. They feed on crustaceans, worms, algae, plant matter, and other fish. It’s important to note that these fishes need a high-protein diet to ensure proper growth.

Though they will eat flake foods, Zebra Mbunas should also be fed a variety of meaty foods including earthworms, frozen brine shrimp, krill, chopped clams/mussels/oysters, bloodworms, and tubifex worms.

Water parameters

Zebra mbuna cichlid

This is a very hardy fish, and can be kept in a variety of water conditions. However, they prefer cooler water (68-76 degrees), with high levels of dissolved oxygen, and low nitrates.

If you are going to keep them at these temperatures, make sure your filtration is extra efficient; if not, go ahead and increase their tank size as needed to avoid stunted growth and excessive waste build-up. They do not thrive well in warmer water, either; aim for a max temperature of 80 degrees. They also tend to get quite large, so plan accordingly! Avoid extremes in pH, salinity, and hardness.

Zebra mbuna lifespan

The lifespan of a maylandia zebra can be between 6 and 10 years when cared for in an aquarium with optimal living conditions.

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Parasites and diseases

The most common cause of death in these fish is a parasitic infection. The two most prominent are anchor worms, which bore into and eat away at their flesh, and flukes (trematodes), which attach to their gills and feed on blood. Improper water conditions can also lead to disease.

In addition, these fish tend to be killed or seriously injured by larger tank mates with aggressive tendencies such as African cichlids. Many times, however, zebra mbunas succumb before developing any type of parasite or illness—they simply drop dead for no apparent reason.

This makes breeding them successfully difficult because it’s impossible to discern whether any given individual might have an undetected disease that could spread to other fishes if mixed together.


They should not be kept with large or aggressive fish due to their size and diet. They will fall prey to larger tank mates. Larger tetras, barbs, and livebearers are all capable of eating them. As well as large catfish species like tiger shovelnose and plecostomus that have a liking for smaller fish. Fast-moving peaceful bottom dwellers work well for them like rainbow sharks, synodontis catfish, gouramis and others of their kind are good tank mates.

Do Zebra mbuna make good pets?

Yes. Maylandia zebra cichlids make good pets. They’re a very easy fish to care for and breed, so they make a perfect addition to any aquarium.  However, there are some serious problems with keeping Zebra Mbunas that you need to be aware of before bringing one home.