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Red Zebra Cichlid (Maylandia estherae)

The Red Zebra Cichlid, scientifically known as Maylandia estherae or Metriaclima estherae, is a popular freshwater fish among aquarium enthusiasts. Originating from Lake Malawi in Africa, these cichlids are renowned for their striking colors and dynamic personalities, making them a captivating choice for any aquarium.

Red Zebra Cichlid Facts

Scientific Name Maylandia estherae
Common Names Red Zebra Cichlid, Esther Grant’s Zebra, Red Zebra Mbuna, Red Mbuna Cichlid
Origin Lake Malawi, Africa
Average Size Up to 5 inches (12.7 cm)
Lifespan Approximately 10 years
Water Temperature 74-82°F (23-28°C)
pH Range 7.5 – 8.6
Temperament Aggressive and territorial, especially during breeding
Diet Omnivorous – Requires a mix of commercial cichlid pellets, spirulina, and frozen treats
Breeding Mouthbrooders – Females carry fertilized eggs in their mouth until they hatch
Compatibility Best kept with other African cichlids of similar size and temperament
Tank Requirements Minimum 50 gallons, decorated with rocks and caves; sand or fine gravel substrate

Red Zebra Cichlid Profile

The Red Zebra Mbuna typically grows to about 5 inches in length. They have a life expectancy of around 10 years with proper care. These fish are known for their territorial nature, especially during breeding. They thrive in a water temperature range of 74-82°F and a pH level between 7.5 and 8.6.

Red Mbuna Cichlid Coloring

One of the most striking features of the Red Zebra Cichlid is its vibrant coloration. Males usually display a bright red or orange color, while females are predominantly orange. The intensity of their color can vary based on diet, health, and mood.

Red Zebra Cichlid Habitat

The African Cichlid Red Zebra originates from Lake Malawi in East Africa, thriving in its rocky, sandy-bottomed shoreline habitats. This environment is characterized by clear, alkaline water with plenty of hiding spaces among rocks and caves. The lake’s unique ecological conditions have shaped the Red Zebra Cichlid’s behaviors and adaptations, making them suitable for similar aquarium setups.

Red Zebra Cichlid Aquarium Setup

Creating the ideal environment for red zebra mbuna in your aquarium is crucial for their health and wellbeing. This setup guide covers all the necessary aspects to mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible.

  • Tank Size

The minimum recommended tank size for Red Mbuna Cichlids is 50 gallons. If you plan to keep a community of cichlids, a larger tank is necessary to provide ample space and reduce territorial aggression. A larger tank also helps maintain stable water conditions, which is vital for the health of these fish.

  • Water Conditions

Red Zebra Cichlids thrive in warm water with a temperature range of 74-82°F (23-28°C). The pH level should be maintained between 7.5 and 8.6, with moderate to high hardness. Regular water changes and a good filtration system are essential to keep the water clean and free from harmful toxins.

  • Substrate and Decoration

The substrate should consist of sand or fine gravel to resemble the sandy lakebeds of Lake Malawi. Decorate the tank with an arrangement of rocks and caves to provide hiding places and reduce aggression among the fish. Make sure the structures are stable to prevent any accidents.

  • Lighting and Plants

Lighting should be moderate to highlight the vivid colors of the Red Zebra Fish. While plants are not a natural part of their lake environment, they can be added for aesthetic purposes. Hardy plants like Anubias or Java Fern that can be attached to rocks are good choices, as they do not require substrate planting.

  • Filtration and Water Movement

Strong and efficient filtration is crucial to handle the bioload of these fish and to keep the water clean. Red Zebra Cichlids are used to moderate water movement in their natural habitat, so a filter that creates a gentle current is ideal. Regular maintenance of the filter is essential to ensure its effectiveness.

Red Zebra Cichlid Breeding

Breeding African Cichlid Red Zebra can be a rewarding experience for aquarium hobbyists. Understanding their breeding behavior and providing the right environment are key to successful breeding.

Breeding Environment

To encourage breeding, replicate the natural conditions of Lake Malawi as closely as possible. A separate breeding tank is recommended, with a capacity of at least 40 gallons to provide enough space for breeding pairs. The water temperature should be slightly higher than in the main tank, around 78-82°F (25.5-27.8°C), with a pH level maintained at 7.8 to 8.5. Add plenty of hiding spaces with rocks and caves to mimic their natural breeding environment and to provide shelter for the female from the male’s advances.

Spawning Process

The spawning process begins with the male displaying vibrant colors and performing a mating dance to attract a female. Once a female is receptive, she will lay her eggs on a flat rock or in a cave, and the male will fertilize them. Immediately after fertilization, the female scoops the eggs into her mouth for protection, a process known as mouthbrooding.

The female carries the eggs in her mouth for about 21-28 days until they hatch. During this period, she may not eat and can appear reclusive. It’s crucial to provide a stress-free environment for the brooding female, as stress can cause her to prematurely release or consume the eggs.

After the fry are released, they can be fed with specially formulated fry foods. Initially, the mother may take the fry back into her mouth if she senses danger. Over time, as the fry grow and become more independent, the mother’s protective instincts will wane.

Red Zebra Mbuna Diet & Feeding

African Zebra cichlid are omnivores. Their diet should include a mix of commercial cichlid pellets, spirulina, and occasional treats like brine shrimp or bloodworms. Overfeeding can cause health issues, so it’s important to feed them in moderation.

Red Zebra Cichlid Compatibility

Red Mbuna Cichlids do best with fish of similar size and temperament. They should not be kept with small, peaceful fish. Ideal tankmates include other African cichlids, clown squeaker, bristlenose pleco, and cuckoo catfish. Always monitor the tank dynamics to ensure a harmonious environment.

Red Zebra Cichlid Common Diseases

Red Zebra fish are susceptible to typical freshwater fish diseases, especially if water conditions are poor. Common ailments include Ich or White Spot Disease, caused by parasites, and bacterial infections resulting in fin rot or mouth fungus. Malawi Bloat, a type of gastrointestinal disease, is also a concern, often linked to diet. Regular water quality checks and a balanced diet are crucial for prevention.


The Red Zebra Cichlid is a fascinating and beautiful fish to keep in a home aquarium. With proper care, setup, and understanding of their nature, these cichlids can be a delightful addition to your aquatic family. Remember to pay attention to their dietary needs, breeding behaviors, and compatibility with other fish to ensure a healthy and vibrant aquarium.