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Freshwater African Orange Cichlids

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Confusion surrounds the name of orange cichlids. They have several other common monikers, including the orange zebra cichlid and the red zebra cichlid. to further complicate the matter, the scientific name has changed recently, so sources list it as either Metriaclima estherae or Pseudotropheus estherae.


Orange cichlids comes from Lake Malawi, one of the African Great Lakes. These large freshwater lakes feature tropical temperatures, rocky shores and alkaline water conditions. The majority of the species of cichlids in Africa come from these lakes. African cichlids are generally grouped into "Haps," which swim in open water, and "mbuna," which dwell among the rocks. Orange cichlids fall into the mbuna category, living among the rocky floors of this lake.

Aquarium Setup

Orange cichlids have the standard requirements as other medium mbuna-type cichlids. A pair need a medium-to-large aquarium of at least 35 gallons. Larger tanks are always better. The tank should include lots of rockwork, which may help curb aggression by providing visual barriers. Live plants are a bad idea, since few plants can survive in the water chemistry required by this fish. Even the plants that can tolerate hard, alkaline water have no place in an aquarium with orange cichlids, since this species is an enthusiastic herbivore.

Water Chemistry

Orange cichlids require the standard water conditions for an African lake cichlid. Like other cichlids from Lake Malawi, they require tropical temperatures -- between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit -- to survive. They require hard, alkaline water, with pH between 7.6 and 8.8 and general hardness of 10 to 25 degrees. Above all, these cichlids need clear water free of ammonia and nitrite.

Tank Mates

Orange cichlids are suited for an aggressive community aquarium consisting of other African lake cichlids. Orange cichlids are moderately aggressive for African cichlids. They are robust enough to hold their own against most other African cichlids. However, they will pick on more peaceful African cichlids like peacock and Utaka cichlids. In terms of their own species, orange cichlids should be kept only in male-female pairs. More than one male will fight until the loser is dead.


In the wild, these cichlids mostly eat vegetative matter. Their captive diet should consist of veggie-rich foods like Spirulina algae pellets and flakes. They will also enthusiastically eat grocery store foods including blanched spinach and nori. Their diet should include some frozen invertebrates as the occasional treat, but do not feed them more than a little animal matter, as it can interfere with their digestion.