Aulonocara jacobfreibergi male at Otter Point, Lake Malawi. Photo by Ad Konings.
One of the most difficult aspects of the genus Aulonocara is picking which one to work with. Inside the 4 basic groups: stuartgranti, jacobfreibergi, chitande type and the sand dwellers, there is a plethora to pick from. Since the onset of my experiences with this group of cichlids from Lake Malawi, I have always been drawn to the jacobfreibergi group, fondly referred to in the hobby as "Jakes." I know it is because of their great color and beautiful finnage, just one look and it is easy to understand why they are called "Malawi Butterflies."
The genus Aulonocara is undoubtedly one of the most peaceful groups in Lake Malawi and they usually mind their own business. Some have even referred to them as "wimpy: and rightly so, they are not the best choice for a community tank with lots of hyperactive mbuna. And, they don’t do well with the big predator-type haps either; it can be just too stressful having them cruising above. It is their loud colors that make us want to add them to our show tanks, but a bit of research is necessary to make sure you pick the right tank-mates. I think the Jakes have a little more attitude than the rest of peacocks, and this is another reason why I lean towards this group.
In the wild Aulonocara jacobfreibergi occupy the rocky habitat where they prefer to reside inside caves. These caves may be large in which an entire group may live, or they might be in overhangs or larger crevices within the rocks. Since they are primarily found in the northern and southern parts of the lake itself, it is believed that they have been around a long time, thus an older species. This could explain why their sensory head pores are not as advanced as in other Aulonocara species.
In our aquariums their peaceful behavior makes them a joy to work with. However, you should never house more than one Aulonocara species per tank. Not only are the males hard to tell apart, it is nearly impossible to identify females or juvenile species from one another. They will readily cross breed and this is frowned upon in the hobby, it is important that we keep the species clean, as well as the geographical variants.
Most peacocks are easy to breed in our tanks, and that includes the Jake types. They are maternal mouth brooders and breed best harem style where you have many females with two or three males. I prefer to buy 12 - 18 juveniles from a reliable breeder and watch them grow out. With this quantity I will hopefully end up with 8 or 10 females. They are sexually mature around 12 - 14 months old, and so it isn’t long before you will see your first dominate male come forward. You can keep them in a community setting during this grow out period or raise them up in a species only tank. However, when you are ready to breed them you will want to house them alone.
It is best to have a spare tank available and when you are able to identify your first male, move him and this allows the next male to come forward. Juvenile males in a group situation are going to hold the female coloration as long as they can to avoid confrontation and to keep from getting trashed. You can continue pulling the dominate males until it appears that the remaining fish are all females. This allows you to pick your best males for breeding; the first male that comes forward may not necessarily be your best. This is also a good time to look at your females and make sure that they all look like they are suppose to, if one doesn’t then you need to remove it from your group.
I like to put my groups in 227 liters (60-gallon) flat tanks, where I use sponge and box filters. I prefer bare bottom tanks; I think they are much easier to keep clean. You can add sand or gravel if you want to, but you don’t need it to be successful. You’ll still need to provide some cover, and I have found that PVC bundles work well, and a larger flowerpot on its side will make a nice cave. In this type of set up it is easy to observe your females, and tell if anyone is holding, or getting beat up.
I like to keep the pH around 8.5 or higher, temperature around 24 - 26 C (76 - 78 F) degrees, and I am a firm believer in frequent and massive water changes. I prefer to feed them a basic cichlid pellet, once or twice a day, no more than they can eat in about a minute. One of the biggest mistakes that we make is feeding our fish too much. Aulonocara in our aquariums are giants compared to their counterparts in the lake, and obese specimens may have difficulties reproducing. It is really best to keep them on the lean side, fat peacocks get lethargic; too lazy to spawn and it can shorten their life span.
In a group situation the dominant male will try to attract a female to his favorite place in the tank where the spawning will take place. Don’t discount your subdominant males in the group, I often observe them also spawning. Females typically hold the eggs for 21 - 28 days, and they usually retreat into the cover of the tank during this period. It is important to observe your fish, and it is usually when you are feeding that you will notice who is not coming out to eat, and further examination may reveal that a female is holding.
At this point, you have several options, you can remove the female and strip her of eggs at any time you are sure the breeding process is complete and the eggs have been properly fertilized.
Option - 1 - At day 1 - 14, you can place the eggs in a tumbler and hatch them out yourself.
Option - 2 - You can let your females hold for 14 days or so then strip, at this stage the heads and tails have popped out, and tumbling is not required. You can put them in a clean fry tank, and wait while they continue to develop.
Option - 3 - You can let your female hold to term about 21 - 28 days post spawn, and let her spit on her own. The fry will be freeswiming at this stage and ready to take foods. It is best to remove the female from the breeding tank and put her in a holding basket, livebearer basket, etc., the young are prone to be eaten if she spits in the breeding tank with the rest of the group.
It really depends on how hard you want to work at it and how desperate you are to obtain fry. Young females often swallow the eggs a few days post spawn, give them a chance, it just takes a few times before they figure out the whole process.
Remember there is no parental care, and it is possible when the female spits, she will also eat the fry if she is not removed. Likewise, if she spits in the adult tank, it is more than likely that all the occupants of the tank will partake in the eating of the fry. Stripping versus holding has always been a debate. The main argument is: which is worse, the stress from holding or the stress from being stripped. You have to decide what will work best for you.
Fry care is easily accomplished by feeding freshly hatched baby brine shrimp once they begin to free swim, and when they get a little larger they are able to eat finely ground flake foods. The more you change your water the faster they will grow, and it doesn’t take long to get them up to a sellable size. Just remember; never ever mix Aulonocara fry, as you will never be able to tell them apart.
If you like a cichlid with lots of color, and beautiful fins, then consider giving the Jakes a try. Their peaceful nature, and ease in breeding have made them very popular in the hobby for years. I know that I will always have a few around!
- Chin, Gary; 2007; Personal communication
- Konings, Ad; 1997; Malawi Butterflies - The Aulonocara jacobfreibergi Complex. Cichlid News; ;(October)
- Konings, Ad; 2001; Malawi Cichlid In There Natural Habitat, 3rd Edition. Cichlid Press, El Paso, Tx.
- Konings, Ad; 2002; Enjoying Cichlids, 2nd Edition. Cichlid Press, El Paso, Tx.
- Konings, Ad; 2003; Back To Nature Guide To Malawi Cichlids. Cichlid Press, El Paso, Tx.