known as Malawi Peacocks, have been a favorite among African Cichlid
keepers for many years. If kept properly, they are relatively
peaceful and males develop some of the most beautiful colors to be
found among freshwater fish anywhere. In this article, I would like
to describe how to properly keep these Cichlids.
One of the first
considerations when keeping Aulonocara should be their diet. Their
diet should be varied, containing some vegetable matter, but
significantly (compared to what you would feed more herbivorous fish,
like mbuna) rich in animal protein. Be careful – when I say animal
protein, I am referring to protein from aquatic animals (fish,
invertebrates, zooplankton, etc.). Meat from warm-blooded animals
(e.g. beef heart) is not recommended for African Cichlids.
Peacocks have not evolved the ability to digest this meat properly,
because there is nothing equivalent to it in their natural
environment; therefore, it can cause them serious health problems. If
you are using store bought fish foods, check the ingredients and
nutritional statistics on the packaging to ensure that the protein
content is at least 40% and derived from suitable sources. Tank mates
should ideally have similar dietary requirements as your Peacocks.
Trying to satisfy different dietary requirements in the same tank
without causing problems can be tricky, and puts further constraints
on what you can feed your fish.
consideration when keeping Peacocks is the water quality you provide
and maintain. The water should be hard and alkaline, similar to the
African Rift lakes. The pH can range anywhere from the mid-7.’s to
the mid-8.’s, but it should not fluctuate. For instance, a stable
7.5 is better than a pH that quickly swings from 7.8 to 8.4 and back.
As with all African Cichlids, the water should be kept well
oxygenated and very clean with no measurable ammonia or nitrites, and
nitrates not exceeding 40 ppm (less is better). The temperature
should ideally be kept in the 76-80 degrees Fahrenheit range.
Stability is crucial.
The aquarium size
required to keep Peacocks at their best health is a topic that
deserves more consideration than we can cover adequately in this
article. Here are a few basic guidelines when housing Peacocks:
A three foot
tank minimum for a breeding group of a single species (e.g. one male
and three females).
A four foot tank minimum for an
all-male mix (more on that later).
Tanks larger than four feet in
length will always allow more flexibility in Peacock selection.
frequently asked is “what can I keep with my Peacocks?” Let’s
refine that a bit to “what should I keep with my Peacocks?”
In actuality, there are quite a few species of fish that Peacocks can
coexist with, but choosing the right combination is important.
Careful selection of these fish is essential to the development of
superior coloration and successful breeding. For starters, tank mates
should have the same diet and water quality requirements as your
Peacocks, but there is much more to consider besides these
In order for a male
Peacock to color up to his full potential, he needs to be “king of
the tank.” This means that no other fish with more aggressive
behavior should be kept in the same tank with the male. In general,
this eliminates Malawian mbuna, the larger and more aggressive Malawi
Haplochromines, and Cichlids from Lake Victoria and the surrounding
basins as possible tank mates for Peacocks.
Here are some
suggestions of possible tank mates for Aulonocara.
suggestion would be the addition of more Peacocks! Of course, this
is not simple as it seems; some important details are in order here.
If you wish to keep multiple males (more color in your tank), then
an all-male Peacock setup is the way to go. In this setup you would
select one male from each different Peacock species. When females
are present, males may fight, possibly until one or the other dies.
This can be true even with males and females of different species;
female Peacocks of different species look physically similar,
resulting in the possibility of males viewing any female as one of
his species. Because of this, if you keep more than one species of
male peacock in the same tank with females, it is quite likely the
species will cross-breed. It is strongly suggested to avoid stocking
selections that make this likely to happen.
On the other hand, if you do want to breed Peacocks, obviously
some females are required! In such a mix only Peacocks of the same
species should be included, for reasons mentioned above. The tank
should consist of one male and at least two, preferably three,
females to disperse the male’s attention. A lone female may be
harassed excessively, leading to fin damage, stress, and in the worst
case, death. Although you are limited to one male within a breeding
group, male Peacocks in breeding dress show particularly vibrant
more peaceful Malawi haplochromines can make suitable tank mates.
Some examples of these fish are of the genus Lethrinops,
Otopharynx (e.g.: lithobates), and some of the
smaller, more peaceful Placidochromis (e.g. electra),
and Copadichromis (e.g. azureus). Although these and
other Hap selections are good choices, there are also many Haps that
will grow much too large and boisterous for the Peacocks. For
example, Copadichromis borleyi or jacksoni grow too
large and aggressive for most Peacocks’ comfort. The same can be
said about Placidochromis milomo and Nimbochromis
livingstonii. This is why it is important to get the scientific
name of the fish (trade names are often unreliable or meaningless)
and research that specific species’ potential size, temperament
and other requirements when considering a potential tank mate for
your Peacocks. Note that many of the Haps that are suitable
tank mates temperament-wise also present the risk of cross-breeding,
just as if they were another species of Peacock. This is because
many females of the smaller Hap species are rather similar in
appearance to Peacock females. An all-male peacock setup including
some of these hap males (but not females) is always an option to
prevent this from occurring.
with similar water requirements make good tank mates for Peacocks.
Certain Synodontis species from Lake Tanganyika (e.g. multipunctatus
and petricola) would fill these requirements.
It is generally not
recommended to mix Peacocks with fish from outside of Lake Malawi,
but there are a few possible choices beyond the above guidelines that
may work due to the particular nature fish species. One example is
Altolamprologus calvus and compressiceps from Lake
Tanganyika. These Cichlids are physically slow enough not to
out-compete the Peacocks for food and tough enough to withstand some
abuse from the Peacocks, without usurping the Peacock’s place as
the dominant fish. Yet further examples are certain species of
Ancistrus that do not grow too large and tolerate Lake Malawi
water parameters (e.g. “Bushynose” and “Rubberlip” Plecos).
As a general rule, it is strongly recommended to complete some
research before attempting any unconfirmed combination. There are
many more poor combinations than good ones.
A limited number of
Peacock species deserve special mention for being a bit larger and
more robust than the rest. These include Aulonocara jacobfreibergi
variants as well as Aulonocara sp. “Lwanda.” If kept in a
large enough tank, preferably 5-6 feet, these Peacocks can usually
stand up to the milder of the Malawi Mbuna and the somewhat larger,
medium-aggressive Hap species, such as Copadichromis borleyi.
They will breed, show fairly good color, and not put up with too much
abuse from such tank mates. Still, they have their limits and should
not be housed with overly aggressive tank mates. These Peacocks
simply provide a little more flexibility to your stocking options.
It should be
mentioned that there is always an element of variability in the form
of the individual fish’s character. It is not unheard of for a
Peacock of any species to turn out to be a terror to the tank mates
it should theoretically get along with. On the other hand, a
certain Peacock can prove to be a wimp when it should be the
dominating force. One can’t plan for rogue personalities; if it
happens, you just have to adjust your tank to it one way or another.
Initially, tank mates should be selected on the assumption the fish
will more or less be typical of their species in temperament. That
is, to assume an Aulonocara baenschi will rise to the occasion
and happily coexist with a Melanochromis auratus will always
prove to be a disaster.
All other things
being equal, an alpha male Peacock of good stock will trump a
subdominant fish, a runt or an otherwise poorly bred fish. Stock
quality is very difficult to judge in juvenile Peacocks that are not
yet showing color. If buying from a breeder, ask to see the parent
stock. Availability can also be an issue. The male Peacocks’
splendid coloration only develops as they mature, and this has the
indirect effect of making them somewhat uncommon in the general fish
keeping hobby, despite their appeal to African Cichlid keepers. This
is in part because many stores will not stock juvenile fish that are
not colorful, fearing they will not sell. If you do get hold of some
quality juvenile Peacocks, they will become quite rewarding as they
transform. If you happen to come across some full grown Peacocks for
sale, you can expect them to be offered at premium prices.
discussed here, including diet, water quality, tank size, tank mates
and stock quality, will have a bearing on whether a male Peacock will
develop his very best color for you. While it may seem like a lot of
complicated compromises are necessary to bring out the best in
Aulonocara, the final reward is worth it! If you have done all this
right, there should be no reason your Peacock(s) should not develop
eye-catching colors and swim about proudly in the open with their
beautiful finnage on display. There is also a certain satisfaction in
knowing you have provided just the right environment to bring out the
beauty in these fish, and that you have selected only suitable tank
mates in order to achieve this goal. In a sense, it is a feather in
your cap as an aquarist.