African Butterfly Peacocks are cichlids that are highly variable in color, but each individual is bright and breathtaking!
The African Butterfly Peacock Aulonocara jacobfreibergi is one of the most colorful of the Peacock cichlids. It is also one of the most variable, with natural color strains that can be very different between populations. These cichlids are some of the largest members of the Peacock family, though size too depends on the location they are from. They can range anywhere from 4 inches (10 cm) in length up to about 9 inches (23 cm).
Peacocks are a very popular group of cichlids from Lake Malawi, Africa. They are members of the Aulonocara genus which has only about 23 species, but with many subspecies. It is the brilliant colorations of blues, reds and yellows that have given rise to the well deserved name of “Peacock cichlids”. Most members can be recognized by the tiny wrinkles around the head. These are sonar sensory pits that allow them to locate small crustacean prey that hides in the sand.
The great variability of this African Butterfly Peacock, the A. jacobfreibergi strain, has led to many common names for individual populations. But as a group they are known by other common names like Malawi Butterfly Cichlid, Eureka Cichlid, Fairy Cichlid, Freiberg’s Peacock, Jakes or Jake Cichlid, and Mamalela Peacock. This species is one of the most “finny” of the Peacocks, and they have a distinct feature that separates them from other butterfly peacocks, which is a deeply forked tail fin. Thus they are sometimes referred to as “Swallow Tail” peacocks as well.
The Aulonocara genus, along with the Utaka Cichlids of the Copadichromis genus and other non-Mbuna kinds of cichlids, are all members of the Haplochromis group. Haplochromis is the type genus of free-roaming browsers sometimes call “haps” or “happies”. They live in the 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.
These cichlids are not only beautifully adorned, but are easy to care for, thus making them a desirable pet. They are enjoyed by beginning cichlid keepers and experts alike. Provide them with open space for swimming and a lot of caves in which to hide, sleep, or breed. This comfortable decor along with regular water changes makes for a stress-free environment. Being one of the most carnivorous of the cichlids they enjoya meaty diet. They are almost puppy like in their excitability when being fed, thus adding to their appeal.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Cichlidae
- Genus: Aulonocara
- Species: jacobfreibergi
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
- Size of fish – inches: 9.0 inches (22.86 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L)
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0Â° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The African Butterfly Peacock Aulonocara jacobfreibergi was described by Johnson in 1974. They are endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa and are found inhabiting Otter Point as well as Nkudzi, Monkey Bay, Nankumba, and the Domwe Islands. There are 23 Aulonocara species, though other subspecies exist.
This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, its populations are widespread throughout the southern part of the lake and there are no major recognized threats.There are many common names for individual populations of A. jacobfreibergi, however common names this species is collectively known by include Malawi Butterfly Cichlid, Eureka Cichlid, Fairy Cichlid, Freiberg’s Peacock, Jakes or Jake Cichlid, Mamalela Peacock, Swalllow Tail Peacock.
In general the Peacock cichlids inhabit deeper waters than other Malawi cichlids. Depending on location, the more northern populations prefer rocky habitats among large boulders, and the southern populations are found in more intermediate habitats mixed with rocks and sand. Breeding can take place over rock or sand. Males will hold territories in caves with larger caves housing several breeding males.
In the wild they feed on zooplankton, specifically larvae and will also eat crustaceans from the substrates. Peacock cichlids have special sensory pores on their jaws that help them locate the crustaceans in the sand. These are sand sifters thatuse their sonar sensors to search for prey. Once prey is located in the sand they will quickly scoop up a mouthful. Then they sift the sand through their gills while retaining the food morsel in their mouth. Very effective and efficient!
- Scientific Name: Aulonocara jacobfreibergi
- Social Grouping: Harems
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The African Butterfly Peacock cichlids are quite variable in size depending on the location they originate from. They include some of the largest Peacocks. They can grow from lengths of 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) up to about 8 – 9 inches (20 – 23 cm). With proper care this fish may live up to may live 8 to 10 years.
These are the most variable and colorful of all the Peacock cichlids. Natural strains can be very different between their own populations as well. Drastic color differences between males of this species have often led to their mistakenly being thought of as new species. All females however, are quite drab. The females have a white to grayish-brown body coloring topoped with vertical bands of gray/brown to beige. They have a rounded anal and dorsal fin which can be faintly colored.
This species also has a distinct feature that separates them from other butterfly peacocks. This is a deeply forked tail fin, inspiring the name “Swallow Tail” peacocks. Some of the varieties are referred to by individual names as well, often relating to the local where a population originated. Then there are man made variations as well. These are selectively line bred fro a particular color, such as the “Eureka Red”, which was developed for a more intense red coloration.
A few of the variations of African Butterfly Peacock are described below. These are all males that were wild caught in Lake Malawi and categorized by location. Some have female descriptions as well:
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Eureka”
The Eureka Cichlid is a naturally occurring strain and grow to 6″ (15 cm). The Eureka Red Peacock is a captive bred color form. Its natural color is a combination of orangish yellow and metallic blue. Most of the body is blue with a “dusting” of orange at the top of the head, behind the head, and along the back. The top fin and caudal fins are light blue. The anal and pelvic fins are orangish yellow with ice blue trimming on the front edge. The anal fin on this one has few in any egg spots.
The female is very drab in white with dull gray/brown vertical bands and clear fins. The anal fin is rounded with a light gold coloring in the front two thirds and white/clear near the back, closest to the tail fin. The pelvic fins are also light gold with the tips being white/clear as well.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Eureka albino”
The Aulonocara jacobfreibergi Eureka Albino, also known as the Albino Eureka Peacock, is one of the smaller strains, only growing to between 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) in length. It has a tangerine colored back, anal fin and pectoral fin. The forehead and face as well as the bottom part of this fish is white. The pectoral fin also has white trim on the front ray and there are no egg spots on the anal fin. The dorsal fin has a little tangerine in the bottom part close to the body, but the rest is a very light blue ice color. The tips of the tail fin have this blue ice color too. Females are basically white and both sexes have yellow eyes with tangerine pupils.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Undu Reef”
The Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi Undu Reef is is a naturally occurring strain found at the Undu Reef of Tanzania. It is also known as the Mamalela Peacock, Lemon Jake, and Lemon Jacobfreibergi.
The males reach up to about 7″ (18 cm) in length with the females reaching about 5″ (13 cm).It has a base color of bluish lavender on the body with a vertical band of yellow, mixed with the base color, just behind the gill area. The dorsal, anal and pelvic fins are all yellow with the anal fin not having egg spots. The tail fin is a mix of the base color and yellow.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Otter Point”
The Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi Otter Point is a naturally occurring strain that grows to 6″ (15 cm). However there are hybrids and/or captive bred color forms that are also sold under the same name.
This fish is a combination of electric blue and orangish red. and gets up to 6″. The body is electric blue with faint dark blue vertical bands. The top of the head and part way at the top back of the body is orangish red. The chin (below the eye) is the only area that has an almost blue-turquoise color. The tail fin has a mix of the two primary colors near the body with the second half being blue. The dorsal fin is blue with the very bottom near the back having a smidgen of gold along the fin. The anal fin is more of an orange with ice blue trimming. The pelvic fins are burnt red/brown with the front edges trimmed in orange/red. There are no egg spots on this male.
The female has alternating vertical bars of a beige coloring that is a little thicker and white. The eye is yellow and the fins are clear except the pelvic and anal fins. The anal fin is orange/yellow and rounded and the pelvic fin is also orangish yellow with a little trim in blue at the tip.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Hongi Island”
The Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi Hongi Island is a naturally occurring strain found near Hongi Island. It grows to 6″ (15 cm) in length. This Peacock has orange fins, except for the pectoral fin, and a metallic blue face. The body has several vertical bands that alternate between light blue and dark bluish black. The tail fin, near the body has a little of this darker color. This fish is found near Hongi Island.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Cape Kaiser”
The Aulonocara jacobfreibergi Cape Kaiser, also known as the Cape Kaiser Peacock, is a naturally occurring color strain that gets to about 7″ (18 cm) in length. This fish has longer fins and all are yellow with ice blue at the tips or edges. The forehead is dusted in yellow as well. This fish also has an electric blue chin and the rest of the body alternates from ice blue to dark blue/black vertical bans.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Tsano rock”
The Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi Tsano Rock is a naturally occurring color form. It is also known as Aulonocara jacobfreibergi Tsano Rock “Swallow Tail”. The body of this Peacock has alternating colors of light blue and black, but they are faded in areas under the gold coloring that runs along the top two thirds of the body. The dorsal fin has blue ice edging on the very top and yellow the rest of the way down to the back. The tail fin blue with some yellow. The area under the eye and the chin are electric blue. The pelvic and anal fins are lighter blue with yellow egg spots on the anal fin. Females are light with brown/gray vertical bars and fins are light blue with the anal fin having egg spots.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi “Cape Maclear”
The Aulonocara jacobfreibergi Cape Maclear has almost identical coloring as the Tsano rock, except there is a little orange where the back and dorsal meet, as well as the anal fin’s egg spots being orange.
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi â€œNkudzi”
The Aulonocara jacobfreibergi Nkudzi is a naturally occurring strain. The body behind the head has light blue and dark blue/black alternating vertical bands. The head has an electric blue and is a yellowish gold on the forehead, below and above the eye, and extending along the back to the first third of the dorsal fin. The dorsal fin is ice blue on the top part and yellowish gold as it gets closer to the body. It is also yellowish gold in the pelvic and anal fins with both having a trimming of light blue on the edges. The tail fin is a mix but the tips are ice blue with the rest being mottled with yellow/gold and dark blue/black.
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: 9.0 inches (22.86 cm) – These cichlids are extremely variable in length, ranging from 4 – 6″ (10 – 15 cm) up to about 8 – 9″ (20 – 23 cm). This group has some of the largest cichlids in the Peacock family.
- Lifespan: 8 years – They have a lifespan of 8 to 10 years with proper care.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
These 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
The African Butterfly Peacock is primarily a carnivorous cichlid. In the wild they feed on zooplankton, specifically larvae and will also eat crustaceans. In the aquarium provide them with a quality cichlid flake or pellet food as their main staple, and provide meaty supplements.
Pelleted, frozen, live, and/or freeze-dried meaty foods such as 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 – Their diet is primarily carnivorous and although they feed on zooplankton which can contain some vegetable matter, 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.
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.
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 fora singlefish, but 75 gallons or moreis suggested for a group. They do fine in either freshwater or slightly 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. They prefer subdued lighting. Yet 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.
- Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – A 55 gallon minimum is suggested for a single fish, with 75 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 82.0Â° F (22.8 to 27.8° 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: Middle – These fish will swim in the bottom and middle areas of the aquarium.
The African Butterfly Peacock is best kept singly in a smaller 55 gallontank, or as a group of one male with 4 – 6 females in a larger tank of 75 gallons or more. They are peaceful toward those of the same species as long as there are not 2 males. The exception to keeping more than one male is only if the tank is very large and can support different territories for each harem.
The African Butterfly Peacock is best kept with other medium sized Malawi cichlids that are not overly aggressive. Itwill get along with all other Peacock Cichlids of the same genus. They will also tolerate those cichlids of a different genus as long as they are peaceful and of similarly sized, though they must be different in shape. However aggressive cichlids and the Mbunas are not good tank mates for this species.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Can be kept in groups of 1 male with 4-6 females, 2 males will fight.
- Peaceful fish (): Monitor
- Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
- Plants: Monitor
Sex: Sexual differences
Males are more colorful than females. The back part of the male’s dorsal and anal fins are longer and sharper as well. Females are drabber in color with rounded anal and dorsal fins.
Breeding / Reproduction
The African Butterfly Peacock has been bred in captivity. They reach sexual maturity around 4″, which is 1/2 the adult size. Keep 4 – 6 females with one male for the best breeding success. 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 55 to 75 gallon tank is suggested. The male will display an intense coloration to attract the females.
It is difficult to witness a spawning of African Butterfly Peacock because it is done secretly in a cave. These cichlids are mouth brooders. 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. 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
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 86Â° F (30Â° 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.
Pure strains of the African Butterfly Cichlid are sometimes found online and they range in price from moderate to moderately expensive. They are usually available in fish stores, though may just be listed under “peacock”, so for a particular strain you hav to know what you ae. They may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Dr. RÃ¼diger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 1, Publisher Hans A. Baensch, 1991
- George Zurlo, David Schleser, Cichlids (Complete Pet Owner’s Manual), Barron’s Educational Series, 2005
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- Richard F. Stratton, The Guide to Owning Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2002
- David E. Boruchowitz, The Guide to Owning Malawi Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2003
- Mark Phillip Smith, Lake Malawi Cichlids, A Complete Pet Owners Manual, Barron’s Educ Series, Inc. 2000
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi (Johnson, 1974) Fairy cichlid, Fishbase.org
- Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Marc Elieson, “Aulonocara jacobfreibergi”, Cichlid-Forum.com, Referenced online, 2007
- Jim Stigliano, “Aulonocara jacobfreibergi”, Greater Chicago Cichlid Association. Referenced online, 2007