Lake Malawi Species • Male to female ratios in mbuna

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Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby fishboy75 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 3:31 pm

I started this thread not to cause controversy or refute the great advice given on here on a daily basis but rather to offer a different opinion and share some advice I have been given by a very knowledgeable person in the cichlid community. I won't name names but this person is a very well respected vendor that has been recommended by many fishkeepers on this forum and I believe is also a sponsor here. I have been emailing back and forth with him about placing an order for a couple different species of mbuna and brought up the male to female ratios that have been recommended here. I asked how many juveniles did he think I should purchase if wanted to end up with one male to five females. He responded by saying he thought those ratios were more widely accepted during the 60's and 70's when acquiring these fish was more difficult and they were very expensive. Fishkeepers weren't able to afford keepng the fish in large enough groups. He agreed those were good ratios if you intended to breed the fish but for a mbuna community he said ratio didn't matter. His opinion and experience is that its better to have multiple males so they take out their aggression on each other and are better adept at handling the aggression than females. The caveat is that there needs to be a decent sized group and not just a few fish. At least 8-10 seemed to be ideal. I said what if you wind up with 7 males to 1 female and he said in that rather unlikely situation, he would still leave the group together. The males would much rather fight with each other than the female and would only remove a fish it was really causing problems or significant damage. While I think its probably ideal to have one male to five plus females, the reasoning behind having other males in there to take the brunt of the aggression makes sense. I also like the fact that I'm not buying extra fish that I have to rehome or set up another tank to keep them in. Instead of buying a dozen fish and possibly still not getting the exact ratio recommended, I can potentially save money by buying the exact number I want. I'm curious to hear some feedback on this. Thanks, Jim
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby sir_keith » Thu Sep 03, 2020 5:01 pm

This should be interesting. Personally, I think this whole sex ratio thing amongst Mbuna on this Board has gotten out of hand, one of those 'if you say it enough times it will become true' phenomena. I kept and bred Mbuna extensively for more than 30 years, and I concur with virtually all of the comments made by your anonymous source. That said, I'm sure there will be a diversity of opinions, perhaps as diverse as the Mbuna themselves. Let the fun begin! :o
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby fishboy75 » Thu Sep 03, 2020 5:20 pm

Haha, well I didn't start this thread to cause any trouble. I just like to post information that I find valuable from other sources as well so people can make their own decisions with as much info as possible. I certainly don't think the ratios suggested here are wrong. I just find it hard to accomplish easily without spending extra money and having extra tanks or homes for unwanted fish. It was stressing me out so I figured i would ask my vendor what he recommended that's all. Its to his credit that he didn't say I needed to buy a dozen of each because I would have listened and he would sell more fish.
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby DJRansome » Thu Sep 03, 2020 10:34 pm

I have heard that theory and the person you talked to is not the only one who believes it to be true. Personally I have not found it to work well with mbuna other than labs and acei (and sometimes not even then) unless I have a large tank. I do have multiple males in my 72" tank, but there is also a large number of females and the haps and peacocks are more peaceful in general.

Certainly if you buy 10 unsexed juveniles and you end up with 3m:7f and the fish color up and all is peaceful there is no reason to rehome the extra males.

On the other hand, if all is NOT peaceful, problems would not be unexpected so better for a newbie to have a plan for contingencies.

Maybe it comes from hanging around the Illness forum too much and helping people cure sick fish and make stock changes to manage aggression.
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby noki » Fri Sep 04, 2020 1:22 am

You can keep mbuna more like a Tropheus group. Suppose many people usually want to have multiple mbuna species, so they don't want a dozen of one species, especially if most of the fish do not color up, so they try to go for ratios of each to maximize the variety. Also tank size is an issue with mbuna, less than 100 gallon tanks may not work. If you have a huge tank, you can do a lot more.

You can have a group tank with multiple males of different species, with various females, but then you may get hybrid or unknown fry. Just don't save fry.
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby SenorStrum » Fri Sep 04, 2020 11:43 am

DJRansome wrote:I have heard that theory and the person you talked to is not the only one who believes it to be true. Personally I have not found it to work well with mbuna other than labs and acei (and sometimes not even then) unless I have a large tank. I do have multiple males in my 72" tank, but there is also a large number of females and the haps and peacocks are more peaceful in general.

Certainly if you buy 10 unsexed juveniles and you end up with 3m:7f and the fish color up and all is peaceful there is no reason to rehome the extra males.

On the other hand, if all is NOT peaceful, problems would not be unexpected so better for a newbie to have a plan for contingencies.

Maybe it comes from hanging around the Illness forum too much and helping people cure sick fish and make stock changes to manage aggression.



Hi DJRansome, how does your answer change if the tank is 10 feet long? If somebody wanted an active Mbuna tank, how would the size change the game? How many species, if figuring that one is going to be Demasoni? (I'm assuming that there will need to be a LOT of Demasoni, probably around 30?
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby DJRansome » Fri Sep 04, 2020 8:01 pm

I have never done demasoni in anything bigger than 72". Even in a smaller tank they do well with 3m...kind of an oddball exception.

Trust me mbuna tanks are active whether they have 1m:4f or 3m:12f.

I always had 20 (after removing extra males) in 6 foot so maybe 30/40 in a 10 foot tank? You want them to run into each other everywhere they turn.

IDK how you get much more than 5 species that look nothing alike. But again I like 5 species in a 6 foot tank...I would try 7 species in a 10 foot tank.

I would hate to do demasoni in a 10 foot tank...a LOT of work tearing down the tank to remove extra males and holding females.
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby BC in SK » Sun Sep 13, 2020 3:51 pm

DJRansome wrote:I always had 20 (after removing extra males) in 6 foot so maybe 30/40 in a 10 foot tank? You want them to run into each other everywhere they turn.

I am not sure where this math comes from, but I don't agree with it what so ever. If large numbers are required to make it work in a small tank, it does not follow that this ratio of so many fish per gallon is required in the larger tank. The larger numbers are required because the tank is small. And no, you don't necessarily want them to run into each other all the time as that infuriates the dominant male and make it more aggressive, though in a small tank you may have little choice but to pack them in to spread the aggression as they are always close by and in the line of sight. You might need 12+ to make demasoni work in a 29 gal., and that would be a challenge, but a bigger tank gives you the option of stocking lower numbers. A trio of deamsoni has worked just fine in my 180 gal. for almost 6 years now. Another example, Fogelhund had only 2 in a 6 ft. tank. I've linked many times to a thread from another site where the majority of people succeeding with demasoni stocked in lower numbers. We've had people on this site start with 18 .....and end up with none, so I don't think there really is much truth to the so called minimum 12 rule. It's not even a rule of thumb, let alone some kind of iron clad law. I'm breaking this 12 minimum rule for almost 6 years in a 180 gal; for almost 6 years in a 125 gal.; for almost 6 years in a 75 gal.; and did for over 4 years in a 90 gal. as well as a couple times for over a year in a 29. gal. Not once, not twice, not even just 3 times, but 4 times long term. Over 20 years of it if you add up all 4 tanks. If a trio works in a 6 ft. 180 gal.......it has many, many times greater chance of working out well in a 10 ft. tank. Bigger the tank, the better able females are of staying out of the males way.
All these numbers and ratios being advocated are just one approach to keeping these fishes. One way, one approach. There are literally thousands of other ways that have proven successful in our hobby. No doubt, the vast majority of successful African cichlid tanks over the last 50+ years don't follow any of these "rules" about numbers and ratios. They could be general guidelines to start out, but not really a whole lot more .
Keeping African mouth brooders harem style, one male to so many females is an approach/method of keeping them in captivity. The constrains of a small glass box. Nothing to do with their natural habitat as none of these Malawi cichlids are actually polygamous but rather many of them are the opposite, polyandrous. If they were truly polygamous animal we would expect the male to be 2-3 times larger then the females (like actual polygamous species, Gorillas for example) in order to out compete rival males and monopolize the available females. But that's not how Malawi ciochlids work. The female breeds with one male, then will often go over a short distance to the next territory and breed with another male; some times breeding with many males in the same spawn.
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Re: Male to female ratios in mbuna

Postby sir_keith » Sun Sep 13, 2020 6:25 pm

BC in SK wrote:I am not sure where this math comes from, but I don't agree with it what so ever. If large numbers are required to make it work in a small tank, it does not follow that this ratio of so many fish per gallon is required in the larger tank... etc.


Well said; I agree with you completely. As I tried to indicate earlier in this thread, all of these so-called 'rules' are not rules at all: they are just opinions. And trying to extrapolate those 'rules' from one setting (e.g. small tank) to another (e.g. large tank) is just plain silly. Biology doesn't work that way.

This kind of dogmatism is even worse in the Tropheus community, where you will encounter hard-and-fast 'rules' concerning just about everything. Sure, I followed many of those rules early one, and some of them are useful, but none of them are hard and fast. In the 20+ years that I have been keeping these fishes, I think it's fair to say that I have broken just about every 'rule' in the book at one time or another, often to good effect. For me the fun of this hobby is figuring out what works best for your particular fishes in your particular environment, and seeing them thrive under those conditions. That's not something you can look up in a rule book. =D>
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