Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara)—The Best Fish Tank Set-up, Size, Care

Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara)—The Best Fish Tank Set-up, Size, Care

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Peacock cichlids are undoubtedly the coolest, most-colorful fish in the world. They are endemic to Lake Malawi in East Africa and sold in the aquarium pet trade under either of these names: Peacock cichlids, Aulonocaras or simply peacocks.

In aquariums, the fish are best kept with other medium-sized, non-aggressive cichlids from Lake Malawi.

That said, there is a large variety of peacock cichlids ranging from the brilliant orange blotched peacock (OB), strawberry peacock, blue peacock cichlids to larger species like the African butterfly peacock and small species like the Nkomo-Benga peacock (new yellow regal peacock).

The are over 20 species of peacocks, the majority of which have stunning-coloration. The colors range from blue, red, yellow to orange with some species like the OB having more than one prominent shade.

The most popular species is the blue Aulonocara Nyassae.

Generally, the fish need to be maintained in a medium to a large tank (55-gallons on average) with plenty of decorations including driftwood, rocks, and caves.

Peacock cichlids are subtly-aggressive and exhibit mixed compatibility meaning they can live in a community with some aquarium species but not others.

Read on to find out everything there is to know about keeping peacock cichlids (Aulonocara) in an aquarium. We’ll look at types, care, tank size, setup and tank mates, breeding, fish size, lifespan, and more.

Peacock Cichlid Overview

Aulonocara more commonly referred to as peacock cichlid is a genus under the cichlid fish family native to East Africa Lake Malawi to be precise, which is part of African Great Lakes.

The lake lies between the Malawi-Mozambique border and Malawi-Tanzania border toward the Northern Eastern stretch of the water mass.

Although peacock cichlids are semi-aggressive, they are more hospitable than the Mbuna counterparts, and thrive in warmer water that has a slightly basic ph.

The fish’s natural habitat in the lake is characterized by alkaline water with ph 7.7 to 8.6, and warm with a typical surface temperature between 75°F and 84°F.

Usually, deeper water temperatures are fairly cooler at 72°F, but low oxygen level restrict the over 700 species of cichlids (including peacocks) found in the lake to the upper layers.

Uniquely, Aulonocaras are maternal mouthbrooders and sexually dichromic meaning the male and female fish exhibit clear differences in appearance beyond the difference in the sexual organs.


Like most cichlids, peacocks have brilliant colors, probably more than any other fish known to aquarium fish keepers.

They are some of the most brilliant fish you will find with colors ranging from blue, gold, orange to yellow depending on the species and breeding history.

Moreover, their colors are more appealing since they are permanent and are not dependent on the fish’s mood. Plus the hues are, in fact, iridescent as opposed to matt like in other ornamental species.

Even so, Aulonocaras colors can vary widely depending on the region of Lake Malawi the fish came from, though commonly juveniles and females are usually a drab grey.

Male peacock cichlids, like in betta, wear more vivid colors and as a result, are more appealing when kept in an aquarium.

Peacock Cichlid Size

Peacock cichlids usually range in size with the average being anywhere from 4 to 6 inches, which means the fish can fit in a tank that is between 45 and 55 gallons.

However, the cichlids are extremely variable in length with some growing up to about 8 to 9 inches long. A species like the African butterfly peacock cichlid has some of the largest fish in the Peacock family. While New yellow regal peacock form part of the smaller variants.

Peacock cichlids have a lifespan of about 8-years and can live for up to 10-years with proper care and a healthy diet.

Peacock Cichlid Behavior—Aggression

Peacock cichlids are generally peaceful, but they have a reputation for showing occasional aggression. Males are especially territorial and can be fierce if they feel intimidated.

Like most cichlids, peacocks are also infamous for snacking on small fish and inverts like shrimp and especially love to hunt close to the substrate as they are largely bottom-dwelling.

For this reason, keep them with large fish like African catfish that are fast and can defend themselves. Any small fish such as tetras will become a meal sooner than later.

Aulonocara sport mild appetites for live plants as well, which further limits plants options in your peacock tank considering the fish require water chemistry that kills most aquatic plants.

Moreover, the fish have a tendency to dig and reposition plants, so in case you successfully manage to grow any in your fish tank, make sure they are anchored firmly in the substrate.

Overall, peacocks are active swimmers that are mostly peaceful cichlids and generally make good community fish.

Peacock Cichlid Types

Currently, there are at least 20 recognized species of peacock cichlids, though not all are available in the aquarium hobby. Even so, those present in the trade all have unique patterns and coloration, so there is one to suits everyone.

Some of the most popular types are Nkhomo Benge peacock (yellow), African butterfly peacock, flavescent peacock, strawberry peacock (red), blue peacock, Aulonocara Nyassae blue and the legendary OB peacock (a hybrid cross between pure cichlid species).

#1 — Strawberry Peacock Cichlid

This is a hybrid with colors that vary from strains of strain raging from a bright-solid-reddish color to an orange -colored-red often on a white background.

The male strawberry peacock cichlid is mostly the stunning fish displaying beautiful hues as an adult.

Females, though less colorful than males, are also really nice looking compared to other lady peacock cichlids in the trade.

#2 — Blue Peacock Cichlid

The blue peacock is a bright-blue-bodied and blue-headed variant of the Aulonocara family.

Blue peacocks may also have metallic-blue to bright-yellow hues, and during breeding season the color becomes more enhanced.

Plus female blue peacock cichlids are a grey color.

#3 — Red Peacock Cichlid

The red cichlid peacock comes from years of breeding hence it is not a naturally occurring strain.

It has red coloration and the same form as other peacocks. The variant is, in fact, a member of the flavescent peacock group and may retail under other names including ruby red peacock cichlid.

The Ruby Red peacock was imported into the USA by Peter Rubin. It features a bright red body with a dazzling metallic blue color covering most of its face.

The German Red Peacock is another popular variant of this cichlid which may develop a lighter red color.

OB Peacock Cichlid

OB peacock cichlids, like the red and strawberry types, are a crossbreed, this time between Mbuna and the peacock cichlid.

The breed has been in the hobby for around 15 years and wears a cocktail of colors and shades. However, the meaning of OB is orange blotched.

Males are brightly colored with a brilliant metallic head, but the body may be dominated by blue or orange to yellow cast. Egg-spot are common on males as well.

Females OBs lack the blue head and are often a pale yellow with the spots.

How Do You Take Care of Peacock Cichlid?

To ensure your peacock cichlids are well taken care of, you will need to pay attention to their natural habitat when setting up your fish tank and also replicate their wild diet to ensure the fish remain healthy.

Peacock Cichlids Tank—Condition, Size,Setup

As we’ve already established, all peacock cichlids are native to Lake Malawi in Equatorial East Africa (though some crossbreeds are not directly from the lake).

Therefore, when establishing your peacock tank, it is crucial you replicate the Lake environment in the aquarium.

For instance, Lake Malawi is widely considered to be an alkaline water body, and the tropical climate keeps the surface temperature warm.

For this reason, keep your peacock cichlid tank fairly basic with a ph of about 7.7 to 8.6 and a water hardness of 10 to 20dH.

Pet stores sell rift lake salts (African cichlid salt) which contain calcium and bicarbonate and can be used to buffer water alkalinity and hardness to mimic the African great lakes conditions.

You should keep the water temperature between 75°F and 81°F as well, meaning you will want a heater for your aquarium especially during the colder months.

Also, the lake is known for its water clarity and is extremely stable in terms of its ph and other key parameters. Ergo, try to keep your water chemistry within the acceptable range, with minimal to no spikes.

Another aspect of the lake that is imperative to mimic is the sandy and rocky areas in the water where peacock cichlids live.

Peacock Cichlid Tank Size

Before you get to set up your Aulonocaras aquarium, you will have to select a tank. I recommend you go with a 55-gallon, though any tank size from 45-gallons will be adequate.

Of course, the size of your tank will also depend on how many fish you plan on keeping, and whether yours will be a community or a species only aquarium.

That said, remember all cichlids exhibit some aggression and territorial tendencies, which means you may want a bigger tank if you have other aggressive species.

Otherwise, add lots of rocks and driftwood to break the horizontal line of sight, and provide refuge spots for vulnerable fish as well.

Lastly, peacock cichlids are active swimmers, so a horizontal tank is preferable as it gives the fish more swimming space.

Peacock Cichlid Tank Setup

When you set out to put up your peacock cichlid aquarium, you will first need to add a sandy substrate and a lot of rocks to replicate their wild habitat.

This is especially important because Autonocaras are bottom-dwelling hence the base of your tank plays a part in keeping the fish comfy and settled.

You may want to avoid gravel substrates because sharp pebbles can easily cut the fish gills as they swim and feed near the bottom.

Even so, sandy substrates are known to get blown up into freshwater aquarium filter intakes and damage them.

Because of this, it’s sometimes advisable to consider using the finest aquarium gravel you can find. Plus make sure when you add decorative rocks, they will easily sift through the substrate.

Some people recommend using crushed coral as a substrate in peacock tanks to help harden the water, which can work, but putting the coral in the filter would be much better.

If you like, you can add live plants in your peacock cichlids tank, but although the fish won’t exactly feed on your plants, they are infamous diggers and re-decorators. Therefore, you will need hardy species like Java fern and anacharis which will grow deep root in the substrate.

You can add driftwood in your aquarium as well, albeit the need to exercise caution because natural wood, like peat moss, will release tannins into the water and lower the ph in your tank.

Peacock Cichlids Water Condition (Quality)

Like most African cichlids, peacocks will probably be the fish that test your filtration because they are big active fish hence feed more and produce a lot of waste.

Consequently, canister filters are the best to use in Aulonocaras fish tanks as long as you clean the enough; at least once per month.

Moreover, whatever filter you purchase, make sure the rating is at least double the actual volume of your tank to ensure the water stays crystal clear akin to the clarity of Lake Malawi.

A Fluval FX5 or FX6 filter should be sufficient for an average peacock tank.

One final point about water quality; when doing your water changes, you can either opt for frequent, little changes or a big, occasional change.

I recommend small-frequent changes to keep your aquarium water chemistry stable considering cichlids come from a unique natural setting.

However, you can try to compare both chops in your tank to see which works best for your fish and schedule.

What Do Peacock Cichlids Eat? (Diet and Feeding)

In the wild, peacock cichlids are omnivores meaning they eat both meat and plant matter.

However, the fish exhibit predatory tendencies in nature and feed on insects and small invertebrates a lot. Typically, peacocks dive close to the sand substrate to retrieve the food.

Therefore, in the aquarium, you should feed them adequate fleshy foods, but for a daily treat, quality cichlid pellets should be the core of their diet.

A properly constituted diet is especially because the fish grow fast and big and need to maintain a healthy immune system and a bright coat.

For the meat diet, you can feed your cichlids with brine shrimp (live or frozen) or frozen daphnia. You should avoid tubifex worms and all mammal meat as it can cause Malawi bloat.

You can feed your peacocks fish flake, but make sure it is suitable for cichlids.

Aim to give the fish several small portions throughout the day instead of a single large feeding. Also, make sure the fish can eat the whole portion in less than 5 minutes to keep leftovers from accumulating in the tank and cause water quality issues.

Moreover, make sure you feed your fish with sinking pellets as peacock cichlids are bottom-dwelling and will rarely come up to the water surface to feed.

Peacock Cichlid Tank Mates

Most cichlids have a reputation for being aggressive and having an outright bad attitude. However, peacock cichlids are more amiable hence can live better in a community aquarium than most of their cousins.

Even so, the fish can occasionally get belligerent and are infamous for snacking on small, low ranking fishes in the tank. Plus they will grab inverts like shrimp right off the substrate and devour them when given a chance.

Consequently, good peacock cichlid tank mates are mostly big fish that can cope with a cichlid’s aggression, and won’t get snacked-on.

Having said that, you’ll also want to make sure your peacock companions will survive in the same water as your cichlid given that they have somewhat unique aquarium water requirements.

Most Aulococara fish keeper hence choose peacock tank mates who are also native to Lake Malawi.

Good peacock companions from Lake Malawi include more gentle Haplochromis like Copadichromis, Placidochromis, Nyassachromis, and Sciaenochromis.

Even so, avoid keeping your fish with other active or aggressive Lake Malawi cichlids like the Mbuna, Petrotilapia, Labeotropheus, and Pseudotropheus.

It is also not uncommon for hobbyists to maintain African rift lake cichlids in their aquariums. However, I would exert some caution when mixing peacocks with cichlids from other African water bodies like Lake Tanganyika because they thrive best in slightly different conditions.

Peacock Cichlids Breeding

Breeding cichlids in a captive environment can be difficult, but with the proper information and environment, you can breed peacock cichlids in your aquarium.

For you to breed peacock cichlids successfully, you will need to set up a breeding tank and once your fish spawn, raise the fry in a tank separate from the parents.

How to Set Up Your Peacock Cichlid Breeding Tank

The peacock cichlids breeding tank should be at least 50-gallons in size and should be adequately filtered.

Moreover, the temperature should remain between 75°F and 84°F, meaning you will need to have an aquarium heater. A 200W heater set at 80°F should be fine for an average breeder.

Also, because the breeding tank is just meant for the breeding peacocks before you put them back in the normal aquarium, a 2X air-powered sponge filter should be enough.

Fill your breeding tank with sand or fine gravel substrate and add large rocks and caves. Use 2 or more large slates (cray or grey) or flat stones.

To prepare the fish for breeding, you can feed them live or frozen food, but avoid tubifex and bloodworms.

Daphnia, brine shrimp, chopped earthworms, and white worms are all good foods to prime the fish. Give them the live food every other day alongside the normal fish food.

Once your tank is fully set up and the breeding pair introduced, male cichlids situate themselves outside the rock cave to attract the female. It typically looks like the male is making quick sudden movements and darting to get her attention.

For the best results, use a ratio of 1 male to 3-5 female peacock cichlids.

As mentioned before, male peacocks tend to be territorial and solitary, so if you have more than one male in your breeder, make sure each fish has their enough space to prevent conflict.

The Breeding Process

Watch your male peacock cichlid for signs of breeding behavior. Usually, the fish will dig a shallow ditch in the substrate and begin to make display to attract the female and lure her to a plant chosen for the eggs.

Once you moved the breeding fish into a breeder, the male and female should make several passes over the selected area then the female cichlids will drop the eggs which the male will fertilize.

The female fish will then gather the eggs into her mouth where they will develop over the next few weeks.

You will want to monitor the female during the holding period and make sure there are plenty of hiding place in your aquarium for the fish to hide.

Also, the female will eat less and may avoid opening her mouth at all, therefore add only small amounts of food if you must to keep the water quality safe.

After 2 to 3 weeks into the holding period, move the female to a fry tank (at least 10-gallons with a heater and sponge filter) and allow it to remain in there for 2 to 3 days after releasing the fry.

To care for your peacock cichlid fry, feed them a diet of liquid fry food and newly hatched brine shrimp. You can supplement their diet with finely crushed flake food as well.

Maintain your fry tank by performing weekly 5 to 10 percent water changes and keep the temperature steady and with adequate filtration and aeration.

In conclusion; sexing your peacock cichlid should not be hard. Usually, the males will have larger bodies with splendid colors such as blue, red, and yellow, while females are smaller and duller normally silver, grey or brown.

Have fun keeping the amazing peacock cichlid (Aulonocara)

Eddie Waithaka

Resident Content Creator and Marketer at AquariaWise who talks about aquariums and fish and aquascapes a lot.

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