Flavescent Peacock

Grant's Peacock Cichlid, Ngara Aulonocara

Family: Cichlidae Flavescent Peacock, Aulonocara stuartgranti, Grant's Peacock CichlidAulonocara stuartgrantiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

The Flavescent Peacock is easy to care for and their appealing colors make them an African cichlid favorite!

The Flavescent Peacock Aulonocara stuartgranti is widely distributed in Lake Malawi, Africa. It is a moderate to large sized peacock cichlid that can grow between 4.5 to 7.5 inches (11 - 19 cm) in length.  Its common name is derived from the term "flavescent", which means yellowish or turning yellow, but this species is quite variable in color. It will range from blue to yellow with many colors in-between. Both the size and the coloring of this very attractive species are dependent upon where it is found. The aquarist has quite a choice of colors that can be combined to make a very attractive species show tank.

The Grant's Peacock Cichlid is another common name for this peacock, reflecting its species name stuartgranti; and by the African people It is known as Ngara Aulonocara. There are a number of other regional common names for it too, such as Cobue, Mdoka, Ngara, and Nkata bay. Then finally with the different colorings dependent on where they are found in the lake, names of each variety are suffixed by its locality. Some of the popular varieties include the Sunshine Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti "Maleri", the Maulana Bicolor Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti "Maulana", the Flametail Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti "Ngara" and two in-line bred color forms of the Aulonocara stuartgranti "Chipoka"; the German Red Peacock and the Rubin Red Peacock.

Peacock cichlids are members of a very small group of fish from Lake Malawi, Africa. They are placed in the Aulonocara genus which contains only about 28 species, but with many subspecies. They are all very richly colored and very popular with aquarists. The well deserved term "peacock" is derived from their brilliant colorations of blues, reds and yellows.

The Aulonocara cichlids, along with the Utaka Cichlids Copadichromis and other non-Mbuna's, are members of the Haplochromis group. Haplochromis is a type genus of free-roaming browsers sometimes call "haps" or "happies". They live in more sandy areas and open waters, and are generally larger cichlids than their Mbuna "rock-dwelling" counterparts. They also are more peaceful cichlids and should not be housed with the highly active and aggressive Mbunas.

Besides their beautiful appearance the Flavescent Peacocks are easy to care for. They make a desirable pet for both beginning and more advanced cichlid aquarists as long as the tank is large enough. Provide open space for swimming along with some caves in which to hide, sleep, or breed. They will eat a meaty diet and have an almost puppy like excitability when being fed, thus adding to their appeal. Frequent water changes will also help in keeping this cichlid. This cichlid has been bred in captivity, and like all Peacocks, true strains are hard to find unless wild caught or from a reputable dealer.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

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Geographic Distribution
Aulonocara stuartgranti
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Aulonocara
  • Species: stuartgranti
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Flavescent Peacock - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 7.5 inches (19.05 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 84.0° F (22.8 to 28.9° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Flavescent Peacock Aulonocara stuartgranti was described by Meyer and Riehl in 1985. They are endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa and range along the entire northwestern coast between Kande and Ngara, the south eastern coast from the Ruhuhu River to Ntekete as well areas in the southern end. There are currently 23 described Aulonocara species, though other subspecies exist. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC), because although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it has a very wide distribution and no major recognized threats to the whole population.

Another common name for this fish is Grant's Peacock Cichlid and it is known as the Ngara Aulonocara by the African people. There are also other regional names such as Cobue, Mdoka, Ngara, and Nkata bay but there are no other terms to separate the different regions in English at this time.

Most often they inhabit deeper waters than many other Malawi cichlids. They are found a depths of 82 feet (25 m) though some have been observed in shallower water at about 10 feet (3 m). Depending on the individual fish they can be permanent cave dwellers or form large schools. Males will have territories in caves among rocks scattered over the sand while the females occur in groups. They feed from the substrate on sand dwelling invertebrates. They have special sensory pores on their jaws that help them locate the crustaceans in the sand.

  • Scientific Name: Aulonocara stuartgranti
  • Social Grouping: Harems
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern

Description

The Flavescent Peacock grows to an average length of about 4.5 - 7.5 inches (11 - 19 cm) in length. The size of each individual depends on the location in Lake Malawi where it is found. With proper care this fish may live 6 to 10 years.

This Peacock cichlid comes in a wide range of colors from blue to yellow and in-between. Each locale where they are found sports its own combination of color as well as size. All females are quite drab and much smaller with dark vertical bars that are sitting on a background body color that is browish-beige.

A few of the other variations of Flavescent Peacock are described below. You can discern by the descriptions that there are variations in color that have formed naturally in the wild. These are all males that were wild caught in Lake Malawi and categorized by location, and some have female descriptions as well:

  • Aulonocara Stuartgranti "Chipoka"
    The popular Rubin Red Peacock and the German Red Peacock are two color forms of the Aulonocara Stuartgranti "Chipoka". These are in-line bred fish developed with extensive inbreeding carried out in Germany. The original form of this Flavescent Peacock is bright orange, and sometimes reddish, with faded darker vertical bars. The dorsal fins are bright orange or reddish, with an ice blue edging on the top and blue "squiggly" lines at the back end. The blue pattern at the back of the dorsal is repeated on the anal fin and the tail fin. The area below the eye has some ice blue metallic coloring, but the blue is not solid. The anal fins and pelvic fins are also orange or reddish and the pelvic fins have a very fine trim of ice blue on the front edge. All females are quite drab and much smaller with dark vertical bars that are sitting on a background body color that is more brownish. This fish may live 6 to 10 years.
     
  • Aulonocara Stuartgranti "Maulana"
    This Maulana Bicolor Peacock or Maulana Bi-Color 500 has a blue body with a wide band of yellow just behind the head that extends into its pectoral fins. There is a wide band of yellow just behind the head that extends into the pectoral fins and there is some yellow in the tail as well. The dorsal, anal, and pectoral fins are edged in white. The females are a quite drab maroonish color with no apparent (or very slightly apparent) darker vertical bars.
     
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti "Ngara"
    The Flametail Peacock is basically the same as Aulonocara stuartgrant "Mdoka" except there is more blue near the top part of the fish and orange/yellow at the belly. The tail fin has a little more orange/yellow with the back of the tail fin "edged" in a black/gray band with no orange/yellow coloring. The anal fin has less blue, and only in the top 1/2 of the anal fin.
     
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti "Mdoka"
    This Flavescent Peacock is mostly an orange/yellow in the body with small vertical electric blue specks throughout the body. The top fin is blue with white edging and near the back of the dorsal is a yellow patch that seems to "match" the tail fin that is yellow with irregular blue horizontal lines. The face is blue as well as the anal fin, though the anal fin has a few orange/yellow eggs spots. There is an over sheen to the blue coloring that almost makes it look "metallic."
     
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti "Cobue"
    This Flavescent Peacock gets to just under 5". They are blue as well, but the area on the top 1/3 (just below the back under the dorsal is a little less "shiny". The darker vertical bars along the body are a little more visible with a slightly duller coloring in-between, yet still "under" the blue body. The top fin is blue and the back fin is a brown/red with blue dots and irregular lines. The anal fin is blue with several yellow "egg spots". The pectoral fins are almost a burnt orange color with black/white trimming.
     
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti "Nkata bay"
    This Flavescent Peacock is honestly the drabbest, with more of a "dull lavender" body, dark vertical bars and only the nose being bluer. The dorsal fin is a plain blue with spots of orange/yellow at the very back. The tail fin is orange/yellow with horizontal lines and irregular lines in this plain blue. The anal fin is dark, an almost burnt red with beige/yellow egg spots. The pelvic fins are a green/gold with white trim on the front part of the fins.
     
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti "Chilumba"
  • The Chilumba Peacock is found at Chilumba in the intermediate zone. They generally reach about 4" (10 cm), though may grow as much as 6" (14 cm). The males are a splendid blue with faded dark vertical stripes while the females are a drab gray with vertical brown stripes.
     
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti "MBenji"
    The Mbenji Peacock, also known as the Blue Regal Peacock, and is found only at the Mbenji Island. This species is now known as Aulonocara koningsi rather than a variant of Aulonocara stuartgranti. It has a deep blue coloring on the entire body and fin areas. This blue is almost a sheen that covers the head and dorsal fin with faint darker vertical bars. They have a white edge at the top of the dorsal fin and at the tips of the tail fin. The "Mbenji" does not have the "egg spots" on the anal fin like other peacocks. They can get to 5.5" to 7" and tend to be very peaceful compared to others. This one is better in a tank by itself as it is easily pushed around and the last to eat.

    Although the adult male looks very similar to the all blue variation of the Chilumba Peacock Aulonocara stuartgranti "Chilumba" it has different juvenile and female color patterning. The females of this species have wide vertical bars on the body and irregular spotting in the middle of the body. The females of A. stuartgranti have several noticeably thinner vertical bars.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish - inches: 7.5 inches (19.05 cm) - These peacock cichlids grow to an average length of between 4.5 - 7.5 inches (11 - 19 cm), the size depends on location the originate from.
  • Lifespan: 6 years - They have a lifespan of 6 to 10 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Peacock cichlids make a great choice for the beginning cichlid keeper, and are appealling to the advanced aquarist as well. They are easy to care for, easy to feed, and relatively undemanding aquarium residents. They are also fairly peaceful, making good inhabitants for the community tank, and will readily breed. The aquarium does need regular water changes. They are susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

Although the Flavescent Peacock is an omnivore it will eat mostly meaty foods. It there are plants in the aquarium it won't touch them. In the wild they feed on a variety of live foods, especially small bottom dwelling invertebrates. In the aquarium provide them with a meaty diet; pellets, frozen and freeze-dried daphnia, bloodworms and brine shrimp are excellent choices. Avoid tubifex worms as they contribute to a disease called "Malawi bloat." You can also use shrimp mixes like the European Shrimp Mix, which costs less than other prepared foods and is just as nutritious.

Feed once a day when young and 5 to 6 times a week when adults unless they are breeding. Avoid the desire to feed this fish more often than it needs, as this will keep the water quality higher over a longer time.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore - Although they may feed on zooplankton which can contain some vegetable matter, their diet is primarily carnivorous and they mostly seek out meaty foods.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet - Avoid tubifex worms, and do not offer mammal meat, as they may contribute to a disease called "Malawi bloat".
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily - Juveniles can be fed daily, but adults need only 5 - 6 feedings a week.

Aquarium Care

Peacocks are hardy fish, but like all Malawi Cichlids, they will deteriorate under poor water conditions. The Malawi fish are usually kept at a higher pH, which means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must. They are also a messy fish because they eat mostly protein foods, which puts an additional biological load on the filtration system. The tank will need water changes of between 20 - 50% a week, depending on the bio load.

  • Water Changes: Weekly - Suggested water changes of 20-50% a week, as these are messy fish producing a heavy bio load.

Aquarium Setup

The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.

Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Still salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water's carbonate hardness. Forturnately this cichlid has some salt tolerance. It can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions, however it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a low salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, which means a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

A 55 gallon aquarium is okay a single fish, but 100 gallons is suggested when keeping more than one. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Gravel makes a good substate and the addition of crushed coral can help keep the pH up. Crushed coral or aragonite sands do tend to dissolves easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.

Some rock decor is good to create hiding places and areas of retreat, just be sure to leave open spaces along the bottom of the tank as well. These fish need plenty of swimming room on the bottom and in the mid portions of the tank. A nice thing about these guys is they do not damage plants as much as other cichlids, so you can add some to your decor if desired. They prefer subdued lighting.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) - A 55 gallon tank minimum is suggested for a single fish, with 100 gallons or more for a group.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting - They prefer subdued lighting.
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 84.0° F (22.8 to 28.9° C)
  • Range ph: 7.7-8.6
  • Hardness Range: 6 - 10 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes - Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% - a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom - These fish will tend to swim in the bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Flavescent Peacock is best kept alone in a 55 gallon tank, or as a group of one male and two females in a 100 gallon tank. They are peaceful toward those of the same species as long as it is not two males. More than one male can only be kept in a tank  that is very large and can support different territories.

These fish are much more peaceful than other Malawi cichlids so are best kept with their own kind. They can be kept with Utakas that are similar in size, but avoid female Utakas that are similar in appearance to the Aulonocaras as they will cross breed.  Mbunas are not good tankmates for the Flavescent Peacocks. Also try to not house them with other Aulonocara's to prevent hybridization.

If they are kept with unsuitable tankmates they may be eaten, especially the small females, or they will not get enough to eat. Sometimes they can be very shy fish, so you can add dither fish such as Rainbowfish Melanotaenia sp. and/or Congo Tetras Phenacogrammus interruptus, to help divert attention away from them.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - One male can be kept with 2 females in a 100 gallon tank. Two males will fight.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat - is aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are more colorful with the back part of their dorsal and anal fins being sharper. Females are drabber with darker vertical bars and rounded anal and dorsal fins.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Flavescent Peacocks have been bred in captivity. Keep two females with one male for the best breeding success. The male will display an intense coloration to attract the females. All Cichlid parents tend to their young, making them easy to breed. They should have their own breeding tank. A cichlid couple guarding their babies can be a force to reckon with and this aggression is acted out on other tank mates. A 100 gallon tank is suggested.

It is difficult to witness a spawning of Flavescent Peacocks because it is done secretly in a cave. They are mouthbrooders. This is where the females will lay the eggs and then pick them up in their mouths. After that they pick at the male's anal fin to get him to produce "milt" or sperm. The female will then take this milt into her mouth and the eggs are fertilized at that time. She will carry them in her mouth until the fry are old enough to be able to feed on their own. With other Peacocks this takes around 21 days so it is assumed the same is true for this fish. She will nibble and eat next to nothing during this time. Never house fry from different strains in the same tank, as it will be almost impossible to tell the fry and juveniles apart (until they grow).

Try and keep the different species blood lines pure. If this does not happen, pure strains can be lost permanently, unless more are wild caught, thus depleting our natural resources. The Flavescent Peacock has different coloring depending on location in Lake Malawi (See description above). To prevent cross breeding, make sure if you have more than one type of Cichlid and that they are very different in shape. See more information on breeding cichlids in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Malawi bloat is a typical disease for African cichlids, especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. They are susceptible to other typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.

As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Availability

Pure strains of the Flavescent Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti are sometimes found online. They vary in price with juveniles being moderately priced and adults more costly, all depending on coloring. They are always found in fish stores as long as you know what you are looking for. Often times they may just be listed under "peacock" to the uneducated eye. They may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.

References

Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Carrie McBirney
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