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The successful keeping of Haplachromines
By Jason Hampshire (aka Jas the Ace)

Much like my other article on keeping Mbuna I will be relating the same topics here but to the famous and huge Haplachromines. I will cover the same topics; water quality, aquarium size, filtration, number of fish, equipment and aquarium maintenance.

To start off we will name all the genera of this complex:


Water Quality:

Haplachromines enjoy very high levels of PH and water hardness. Here are some ways you can increase your water hardness:

  1. Add crushed oyster shells from a local feed shop; they should keep the PH at a steady 8.0 - 8.2.
  2. Limestone will raise PH and the water hardness.
  3. You can put crushed coral as the substrate, or even in an external filter, canister sump wet/dry filter etc.
  4. Water buffers

The ideal GH, KH and pH are:

  • pH at 8.4
  • KH above 10
  • GH above 8
  • Temperature at 25-27°C
  • Nitrates below 5ppm

To keep the nitrates in check you must have a ritual of frequent water changes which should occur once per week. I have a 200 litre tank (55 gal) with Haplachromines and Mbuna and I remove around 40-50 litres a week out of it (or 25%).

Water changes are necessary because the fish create toxic wastes in the form of ammonia. Ammonia is converted into nitrites by bacteria and then another bacterium turns it from nitrites into nitrates which are only removed by plants and/or frequent water changes.

Aquarium size

These fish are much larger than Mbuna so the aggression rule of thumb still counts but of course you can pack 20 Mbuna into a 55 gallon and pack 10 Haplachromines into a 55 gallon and have the same amount of aggression.
A 55 gallon would maximum hold 10 max Haplachromines of a reasonable size,
For the bigger Haplachromines I would go for a 90-125 gallon because of their open water requirements. These fish will enjoy half rock and half open water instead of rock all the way to the surface, these fish will swim solo in your tank.
Same as with the Mbuna, be aware of the weight of your tank and what it is placed on.


For Mbuna you could get away with using one single AC 300 on a 55 gal but that will only create half the amount of bacterial growth you will need for Haplachromines.
I would recommend a sump or a canister filter with a large surface area for lots of growth of bacteria which will be beneficial for your water.

UGF (under gravel filters) should not be used in a tank for Haplachromines. Not because they like to dig but for the fact they use the gravel as filter material and water flow would not be enough.
I have had many debates with the idea of not having UGF filters. People say UGF filters are a thing of the past and I agree they are, when used in any cichlid tank.
Also I would recommend the use of Zeolite and Carbon because the Zeolite will absorb the ammonia. But when using these absorption filter material they have to be changed every 4-5 weeks because after some time the Zeolite will start returning the contents back to the water, creating an ammonia spike which is high in nitrates which should be removed by water changes if an ammonia spike ever hits.

Internal filters are good but remember every cubic inch of the aquarium is valuable. In my 55 gallon I have 2 internals. There is one thing I don't like about the internal filters and that is that when the fish are scared out of caves or other hiding places that are "natural" they will seek refuge under the internal filter. I don't like this because it takes away that natural feel to the tank. I recommend that the volume of your tank be turned-over 3-5 times an hour.

How many fish

How many fish for this size? How many fish for that size? Why can't I have this? Why can't I have that? Your tank size.

Think of it like this, big 2ft Black Belt Pacu in a 3 ft tank, that's not going to work, is it?

Then let's think of this; 2 black belt Pacus in a 4 ft. Once again you're going have a big problem with size.

Many Haplachromines are kept in tanks too small for their requirements. You must research your fishes' size that they will reach and then take action to buy the tank to suite them so if you want a fish that is too big for the tank that suites your budget you should wait a little while until you have the money to get he appropriate tank.

For the medium sized Haplachromines, a 55 gal would be the least amount, but for the larger Haplachromines, for example Crytocara, Dimidochromis, Sciaenochromis etc, these should be housed in a 90 gal+ if you plan to keep them forever.

I keep Crytocara Morii in a 55 gal but I will be selling him in about 6-8 months because I got him when he was just 2" big and I wanted to grow him up for the fun and experience.


Equipment for Haplachromines is much like the equipment of any tropical setup.

  1. Heater
  2. Filter
  3. Fish net
  4. Thermometer
  5. Test kits
  6. Algae scrubbing brush
  7. Gravel cleaner
  8. And any equipment that you believe will make your experience of keeping Haplachromines easier and more enjoyable for you.

Aquarium maintenance

To make your tank as much of a show tank as you can there are several procedures you can follow.

Every week change about ¼ of the water in the aquarium and every 2nd week vacuum clean the substrate to remove the fish waste and left over food particles.
If you have terrible algae growing on the glass, I would recommend buying a NON scratch pad from the local super market. I will always use the brand "chux" non scratch for this. This pad is used in kitchens. Wipe down the outside panels of the glass with a wet cloth then with a dry cloth to prevent water spots from appearing on the glass. If you don't have a background, you will probably want to wipe the back glass too because water tends to splash behind the tank, leaving little dried dots of water. It makes a difference when they are not on the back panel.

With Haplachromines, you don't need to change the rocks around as often as you do with Mbuna so every 6-9 months is enough for them. This is because they like to hide and dwell in the rocks at night but during the day they are open water swimmers and will stray away from the rocks more than Mbuna will.
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