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Malawi African Cichlids

Zebra Cichlid

Lake Malawi Mbuna African Cichlid

Zebra Cichlid - Common Names

Blue Zebra Cichlid, Metriaclima estherae
Blue Zebra Cichlid

The Zebra Cichlid originated in deep rocky waters of Lake Malawi in Africa. It is also known as the Red Mbuna, the Cherry Zebra, the Pearl Zebra, the Cobalt Blue Zebra, the Red or Orange Blotch Zebra (OB). The word “Mbuna” means “rock fish”, which refers to its habitat. The Zebra Cichlid is sometimes referred to by the scientific name Pseudotropheus Zebra, but subsequently has transitioned through the name Maylandia to end up being called Metriclima. The authority on Metriaclima estherae is Ad Konings and the name estherae refers his friend Stuart Grant's wife, Esther.

Cobalt Blue Zebra - Identification Confusion

Zebra Cichlids originally had stripes similar to the unrelated Convict Cichlid. The dark banding is faintly apparent on some zebra cichlids . There is much indentification confusion surrounding the Cobalt Blue Zebra. In our pictures we show a variation which has faint vertical banding, while a solid blue specimen is more likely to be Metriaclima callainos.

Female OB Zebra with two month old OB fry
Female OB & Fry

Zebra Cichlid - Sexing

Information on the sexing of Metriaclima estherae shows a variety of opinon. Most frequently, references indicate that the males are blue, while the females are orange or orange blotch. Some sources indicate the color variation is apparent already in the fry. Anal fin egg spots are a good indication of a male zebra cichlid, but this isn't always the case. There is an abundance of confusion on the topic though, so feel free to send in your opinions.

Ice Blue Zebra, Metriaclima estherae
Ice Blue Zebra

Zebra Cichlid - Aquarium Setup

Mbunas are very territorial, aggressive fish, even more so than Haplochromis Cichlids like the Electric Blue Ahli. So, Zebra Cichlids should only be kept with other mbunas. A grouping including more than 10 mbunas is recommended, as this will spread out aggressive behavior. The tank should be 75 – 100 gallons. The aquarium tank should have rocks and hiding spaces to provide escape from aggression of other tankmates. Some gravel should be present, as mbunas keep very busy rearranging it. Zebra cichlids enjoy plants, but will destroy them. We've had some success keeping Brazilian Ivy floating in their tanks. Plastic plants floating at the surface can provide areas of safety for females and smaller males. Zebras will eat flake foods, spirulina flakes and cichlid pellets. They also enjoy romaine or other lettuce products. Zebra Cichlids should not be fed live worms, as these can bloat and kill the fish.

Red or Cherry Zebra Cichlid, Metriaclima estherae
Red or Cherry Zebra Cichlid

Zebra Cichlid - No Underground Filters

Clean water and proper pH are important in maintaining an mbuna tank. Although some recommend using underground filters, external filters and bio-wheels simultaneously to maintain quality, our experience is that underground filters are not suitable for mbunas. They build nests by picking up rocks in their mouth and moving them, so underground filters are quickly exposed in an mbuna tank.

Zebra Cichlid - Compatibility

The Zebra Cichlid is compatible with other Mbuna Cichlids such as the Auratus, Cobalt Blue, Johanni, Lemon Yellow, Pindani, Tropheops, and Kenyi. The Zebra Cichlid can also be kept with synodontis catfish. The Zebra Cichlid is too aggressive for Haplochromis and Peacock Cichlids.

Red or Orange Blotch Zebra Cichlid, Metriaclima estherae
OB Zebra

Zebra Cichlid - Mouth Brooder

Zebra cichlids are extremely aggressive to their own and other species. The dominant male will continually keep harassing and killing off the weakest members of the tank. For this reason, a male Zebra Cichlid should be kept with several females in a very large tank. The Zebra Cichlid is a mouth brooder and the spawning process is intriguing. The male will establish a territory and its colors will become enhanced when it is ready to breed. A female that is ready to spawn will then enter the territory and the two will interact aggressively. They may even lock jaws.

The female zebra cichlid then releases a couple of eggs into a gravel pit. She picks these up in her mouth. Meanwhile the male displays his anal fin “egg spots”. These spots are the same size and color as the real eggs. The female then nips at his anal fineggs spots. As the female nips at the eggs spots, the male releases his sperm. The male's sperm reaches the females mouth and fertilizes the real eggs that she has previously picked up. The process is then repeated until the female has a brood of between 10 and 50 eggs in her mouth.

Female Red or Orange Blotch Zebra Cichlid and 2 month old OB Zebra Fry, Metriaclima estherae
OB Zebra and Fry

Zebra Cichlid - Raising Fry

Although you may not see the spawning activity, the swollen cheeks of the female, her disinterest in food and her desire for isolation are all indications that she has bred. It's a good idea to remove her to a separate tank at this point. The female zebra cichlid keeps the eggs in her mouth for more than a week until they hatch. The female zebra cichlid can stay in the breeding tank with the young while they grow up. She will not eat during this time. After hatching, the female may occasionally scoop them into her mouth for protection, but generally the fry hide from their parent. At two months the fry will start compete with their mother for food. She will then drive off aggressively, as if she is eating them, but this is simply a warning that she now has priority over them for food. That means it's time to move her out of the fry aquarium.

Be careful when returning a female to the main aquarium tank after raising fry. A female who has previously been living for years in a tank with other Zebra Cichlids can be killed by them in a matter of hours after returning to the tank. The other Zebra Cichlids have no recall of her former status in the tank and will attack her as a newcomer.

Zebra Cichlid - Profile

  • Scientific Name: Metriaclima estherae

  • Family: Cichlid

  • Temperature: 22 - 28 C; 72 - 83 F

  • pH: 7.5 - 8.5

  • Size: 10 cm; 4 inches

  • Life Span: 10 years

  • Breeding: Normal, Egg Layer, Mouthbrooder