by Paul Chassé
Aulonocara are not found in many fish/pet stores in my area, and when they are their purity and quality is often doubtful. The staff at these places just don’t seem to know what species of peacocks they actually have, or that it matters! Most likely it is a result of peacock’s drab coloring as juveniles that they don’t generate more interest among the local merchants (and the ‘average’ Customer). I’d had the inclination to try a species of peacock for some time though, and it was settled when, during one of my infrequent visits further afield to a dedicated African Cichlid importer’s shop, I saw a wild-caught male Aulonocara Sp. Lwanda. The fish was stunning, with a brilliant metallic royal blue face, a beautiful pattern of alternating blue and copper vertical barring along the body (as it turns out, the fish was in breeding dress), and magnificent finnage: dorsal and caudal fins in the same blue with a broad orange-yellow trim; ventral fins an orange-coppery color with hints of blue marbling . In non-breeding dress the fish is almost as impressive, the main difference being that the body, instead of a vertical barring pattern, sports a broad yellow ‘collar’ that fades into the blue coloration rearwards.
Wild Caught Male & Female Spawning (Wild caught Synodontis multipunctatus cuckoo spawning with them).
Females, as with other Aulonocara species, are an unexciting beige color. There was only one wild-caught female available, but I took her as well as the male despite knowing full well these are not pairing fish. The two cost me a pretty penny, which earned me some questioning looks from those around me who still believe the lifespan of most aquarium fish is measured in days or weeks.
The fish were initially put in a 4’ tank with a moderate amount of rock work and decor. The only other fish were a dozen or so juvenile Labidochromis caeruleus that were growing out. I quickly understood that the beautiful vertical barring pattern I’d first seen on the fish was breeding dress, as the male almost immediately started courting the female with a great show of flashing and dashing about. Awesome stuff to try out my new camera on! The next day the female appeared to be holding. I was somewhat concerned for her safety, her being the lone female in a sparsely populated tank. The male did continue to harass her for some time, and her finnage became slightly tattered, but nothing too serious as there was adequate cover for her to hide in when necessary. On that subject, A. Sp. Lwanda is a cave-dweller by nature. Once properly settled in, Lwanda will frequently tour the open areas of the tank, but some cover to retreat to is always appreciated.
F1 Male and Females
A. Sp. Lwanda is considered to belong to the Aulonocara jacobfreibergi complex, which are a bit larger, more robust and more aggressive than most other Aulonocara species. Male Lwanda can attain 6” or so, with a slightly higher and stockier body profile than the smaller species. 4” to 4.5” seems to be a typical size for adult females. Because of Lwandas’ reputation for being able to handle a little more aggression from tank mates I determined after a few months to try to introduce the two to my show tank, which was populated mainly with mbuna. The introduction was a success, and they have been living happy lives, showing good color, breeding and not getting pushed around, for going on two years now. There are several key points to note in the success of this introduction:
- This is a 6’ tank, with a good amount of rock work and caves, mbuna-style, which also rather suits the Lwanda.
- The mbuna species were all of the (relatively) milder variety, including Labidochromis caeruleus, Pseudotropheus acei, Labidochromis sp. Mbamba, Melanochromis cyaneorhabdos, Cynotilapia afra, and Metriaclima estherae.
- The group of L. caeruleus that had been growing out with the Lwanda in the 4’ tank were added to the 6’ tank at the same time; this technique of spreading the attention around to multiple newcomers can be invaluable in getting past the first few critical days, when a fish added to an established adult mix is at the most risk. I’ve even gone so far on occasion as to remove some fish from the target tank and put them in with the new fish in the quarantine tank for the last stage prior to introducing the new fish to the target tank (with it’s new buddies). That way there are multiple ‘new’ fish.
- Finally, and I’m not 100% sure of the significance of this one, but as mentioned the Lwanda were wild-caught. Now I know that to the wise, wild-caught can mean wild-caught or it can mean pond-bred somewhere in Africa, and it’s difficult to be sure that what you’ve got is straight from the lake. That being said however, fish that are truly wild-caught are often reputed to be somewhat more aggressive and temperamental. I may be reaching here though, and it’s entirely possible that the first three bullets above have much more to do with the success of this mix.
W/C Male in Mixed Malawi Tank.
On the subject of temperament, what I have observed, both in my original wild-caught fish and in offspring I’ve subsequently raised and kept, is that their inter species aggression level is quite low, but at the same time that they are not that easily intimidated. I have seen them stand up to and back down a number of the aforementioned mbuna tank mates, sometimes in the way of the classic push-me-pull-you invisible rope tug-of-war mbuna like to engage in.
I have not, under normal circumstances, seen them harass fish of other species of their own initiative. By normal circumstances what I mean is basically that everyone has females of their own. I have seen my w/c male Lwanda give quite a beating to a male Copadichromis borleyi larger than himself after the C. borleyi females were removed from the tank. The two had co-existed just fine for over a year previously. When the C. borleyi was healed up and re-introduced with his own females all was well, as if nothing had happened. On another occasion, the female Lwanda had been out of the tank for a few months (I was giving her a break from breeding, and myself from raising fry). During these months I had introduced into the tank a beautiful male Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Eureka Red”, of similar size to the male Lwanda. All was well, these two beautiful male peacocks co-existing in blissful indifference to each other for these months. The day I re-introduced the female Lwanda (not to breed, but because I needed the other tank space) the male Lwanda immediately set about the Eureka, beating him so badly I couldn’t save him.
W/C Female Retrieving Egg
As Aulonocara thrive on a diet higher in protein than is wise for most mbuna some thought to how to feed such a mixed tank was required. In the end my solution was handed to me by the fish themselves, and sounds too obvious to work, but does. All fish in this mixed 6’ tank get a staple diet consisting of New Life Spectrum for breakfast (a high-quality pellet food with a modest protein content) and Spirulina flakes for supper. At supper however, while the mbuna are swarming after the spirulina flakes, the few haps and peacocks have learned to “look for open water” similar to a football receiver trying to get in the open, knowing I’ll drop a higher protein pellet or two right in front of their faces. On the occasion where the treat is krill it’s even simpler. Again the haps and peacocks will try to get in the open, where I can hand feed them the treat, or pull it back if the mbuna are onto them. Obviously there is a certain amount of conditioning involved here, and part of the reason this works is that there are actually only a few fish in the tank requiring this special treatment. I can single them out and make sure they get their share, and get them used to expecting it that way. The Lwanda, for their part are a bit too slow to compete evenly with the mbuna for food. They employ a learned feeding strategy even at breakfast: instead of trying to join in the maelstrom of mbuna and NLS pellets they go wait in the upper left corner of the tank and watch my motions, and are rewarded with a portion of their own which is mostly gone by the time the mbuna arrive.
As with most Malawi cichlids, A. Sp. Lwanda require no special attention to get them to breed, just clean, stable water quality and tank mates that don’t intimidate them. Ideally at least two females should be kept per male, however in a large enough (6’), well populated tank with good cover I’ve managed to keep just one female successfully with a male on a more or less permanent basis, and she appears to be in continued good health. More than one male is not advised as they can be quite hostile to each other. Two colored-up adults placed in the same tank will fight, quite likely to the death. The one time I tried this resulted in a same-day med-evac, even despite using the ‘multiple new fish’ introduction technique described above.
Early Color (15 weeks)
Young males grown on together will begin to color up, then all but one will color down while the dominant fish’s color continues to intensify. While the juvenile color may not draw much interest, that one ‘special’ one will look stunning (and likely fetch a good price). Remove that one and another will soon take over. Spawn sizes tend to be in the 20-35 range. The young are not exactly fast growers, taking about three months to grow to a size where the first hints of color begin to show on the fringe of the dorsal fin, and another two to three months to a point where a dominant male has clearly emerged.
A Dominant Male has Established Himself (six months of age, 2.5").
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful species of Malawi peacocks, Aulonocara Sp. Lwanda is a very rewarding fish to keep if one makes allowance for its slightly more aggressive temperament (relative to other peacocks) and offers some flexibility (and some limits) in the choice of tank mates.