The Auratus Cichlid is an extremely striking eye-catcher, but this Golden Mbuna can be rather intolerant with tankmates!

The Auratus Cichlid Melanochromis auratus has a gorgeous golden coloring with stripes of black and blue. However the males and females have opposite coloring. Females and juveniles are yellow with stripes of black and white on the part of the body. Males are just the reverse, having a black or dark brown body with the stripes being light blue or yellow.

Having opposite coloring makes keeping both sexes in the aquarium desirable, but while females are moderately aggressive with tankmates, males are highly intolerant. A solution if you are not planning on breeding, is to only have several females. Females are less aggressive and have the uncanning ability to change their coloring to appear as males if there is no male present, but without changing sex. The dominant female will usually assume the male coloration while the others will retain the female appearance. Males will very rarely change to female coloring.

This fish is one of the first cichlids introduced into the aquarium trade. It belongs to a group of cichlids called Mbunas. There are 13 genera full of very active and aggressive personalities of Mbuna cichlids. The name Mbuna comes from the Tonga people of Malawi and means “rockfish” or “rock-dwelling”. This name aptly describes the environment these fish live in as opposed to being open water swimmers like the Utaka cichlids and other “haps” . Some other common names this fish is known by are Golden Mbuna, Golden cichlid, Malawi Golden Cichlid, Golden Pseudotropheus, and of course Mbuna.

Auratus are considered moderately difficult in care and not suggested for beginners. These fish, especially the males, are territorial and aggressive. They are belligerent even beyond that found in other types of Mbuna’s. Often novice aquarists purchase this fish only to find it killing off the fish that are already in their tank.

These Golden Mbuna are medium sized cichlids, reach up to about 4 inches (11 cm) in length. Sometimes they will grow even larger in the aquarium. A minimum of 50 gallon tankis suggested forone male and several females, or for a group of just females. The malesare totally intolerant of other males of their same species or other fish that look like them. There will need a lot of hiding placesto successfully keep this fish. Some suggest addomg dither fish, such as the fast moving rainbow fish, to distract the male. This will help to keep itfrom focusing its attention and aggressionon only one or two other fish.

These cichlids have an elongated body with a rounded snout and a somewhat narrow mouth. Their teeth areincisor-like and closely spaced, a design that works greatfor scraping aufwuchs and algae from the rocks in their natural habitat. They will extend this natural habit towards taking care of any algae that forms in the tank, thus minimizing the need for large plecostomus or other types of algae eaters. These fishare also easy to breed in the home aquarium, but because they are very aggressive they do need a lot of room and lots of places for retreat.

Auratus Cichlid Fish

Scientific Classification


Auratus – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:50 gal (189 L)
Size of fish – inches4.3 inches (11.00 cm)
Temperature:73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Auratus Cichlid Melanochromis auratus was described by Boulenger in 1897. They are endemic to the rocky shoreline of Lake Malawi, Africa. These fish occupy the southern part of the lake from the Jalo Reef and then north of Nkhota Kota, and south along the western coast to Crocodile Rocks. They are not found on the eastern shore.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). Although it is endemic to Lake Malawi, it is widespread throughout the southern part and has no recognized threats at present. Other common names it is known by include Golden Mbuna, Golden cichlid, Malawi Golden Cichlid, Golden Pseudotropheus (from its previous scientific name Pseudotropheus auratus), and Mbuna

This Mbuna cichlid primarily inhabits rocky areas. In the wild they are polygamous species that forms a matriarchal family, the dominant male will have a harem of several females. Females and non-territorial males can occur singly, or they are found in small groups of about 8 to10 individuals. They feed on aufwuchs, nibbling and picking at it on the biocover, as well as some plankton. Aufwuchs refers to tough stringy algae that is attached to rocks. “Loose” Aufwuchs can contain insect larvae, nymphs, crustaceans, snails, mites and zooplankton.

  • Scientific Name: Melanochromis auratus
  • Social Grouping: Groups – This is a polygamous species that forms mixed harems with one dominant male and 8 – 10 females. Other non-breeding males, females, and juveniles may be found alone or in small groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Auratus Cichlid is elongated with a rounded snout, narrow mouth, and continuous dorsal fin. They have incisor-like teeth that are closely spaced, designed for feeding on aufwuchs in nature. They reach up to about 4 1/3 inches (11 cm) in length, but can sometimes get a bit bigger in the aquarium. Males are slightly larger than females. They can live up to about 5 years.

In coloring, the male has a much different appearance than the female. The back is a golden yellow to a faded yellow and the remainder of the body is black. He has a somewhat transparent yellow dorsal fin with black specks that form almost a horizontal “line” through the top. A thin yellow line edged in neon blue runs horizontally through the middle of the body from behind the gill area to the caudal fin. The tail fin is black with yellow at the outer most edge. The anal and pelvic fins are black with neon blue trimming.

The female is basically golden in color with a black dorsal fin edged in gold. The back is black and the balance of the body is golden. A white/blue trimmed black line run horizontally through the middle of the body from behind the eye to the caudal fin. The tail fin is white with black spots on the upper part, and the bottom is golden. The rest of the fins are golden as well.

The juvenile has a golden belly and the upper body is white with 3 black horizontal stripes. These stripes are located down the middle, along the back, and one through the top of the dorsal fin. The tail fin is colored similar to the female though sometimes it has a few diagonal stripes instead of spots. (stripes at around 3 to 5 months) The juvenile keeps the female coloring until they are 6 months.

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: 4.3 inches (11.00 cm) – The Auratus grows to a length of 4 1/3″ (11 cm), though sometimes larger in home aquaria, with males being a bit larger than females.
  • Lifespan: 5 years – They have a lifespan of about 5 years with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This is a fish best kept by intermediate and experienced cichlid keepers. It is an aggressive cichlid, especially the males, and not a community tank specimen. It cannot kept with fish other than cichlids, The aquarists must be willing to provide a properly set up aquarium with appropriate tank mates, and be willing to do frequent water changes. It is susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. In the proper setup it will easily adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise as well.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Auratus Cichlid is an omnivore but has a very herbivorous diet in nature, so may eat any plant you put in the tank. They need to be fed small meals of dry, fresh and frozen foods that are rich in vegetable matter several times a day. Spirulina is highly recommended as a staple food. These foods will help keep the colors bright. Foods like beef heart are to be avoided as they can promote digestive problems.

It is always better to feed them small amounts several times a day instead of one large feeding. This keeps the water quality higher for a longer period of time. Of course, all fish benefit from added vitamins and supplements to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore – Although this fish is an omnivore, its has a highly herbivorous diet.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – Offer several small feedings a day, what they can eat in about 3 minutes or less, rather than a single large feeding.

Aquarium Care

Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if their mostly herbivorous dietary needs are not met with quality foods. As these are messy fish, do water changes of 20 to 50% a week depending on bio load. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 20-50% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load. If overstocking is used to reduce aggression then several partial changes a week may be necessary.

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. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.

A minimum of 50 gallons is suggested for a single fish, though 120 gallons will be needed when keeping them in a group or with other compatible fish. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. A crushed coral substrate can help keep the pH up, or a regular gravel for freshwater fish can be used.A very slow acclimation to different pH levels can sometimes be achieved.Their natural habitat has sand. Crushed coral or aragonite sand can also increase the water’s carbonate hardness, and 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.

Provide lots of passageways and caves formed with piles of rocks, but not plants as they will snack on them. Some open space is appreciated as well. Like other Mbunas, they may dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate. In a larger tank with mixed species, arranging the rocks in a manner to make many different”territories” will help ease aggression.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – A minimum of 50 gallons is the suggested for a species tank, with 125 gallons or more for a mixed group of cichlids.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg 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: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

This fish is not considered to be a community fish. They do best in a species specific tank. Do not put this fish with peaceful cichlids. They can be kept with some other aggressive Mbunas, just be careful that they are not similar in shape or color or they will be attacked. They are aggressive toward similar looking males of a different species. Some other species of Mbunas will not even spawn until after the Golden Mbunas are removed.

The Auratus is best kept in groups of one male and several females. They will attack and kill any other males in the tank. In less than 120 gallons (450 liters), a dominant female will even seek out and kill subordinate males. The males will sometimes even kill females in smaller tanks. Females become aggressive near the time their eggs have developed and are near releasing.

  • Temperament: Aggressive – Should only be housed with other aggressive tankmates.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with several females. The male will attack and kill any other males, even female will attack non-dominant males if the tank is too small.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sexual differences

Males have gold and neon blue stripes over a black background and females have black and neon blue stripes over a golden background.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Auratus Cichlid is polygamous in nature with a male attending several females, and they form a matriarchal family. This cichlid has been bred in captivity and like other Mbunas, will spawn in the male’s territory. When spawning the male changes his color, it becomes an intense exaggeration of his original coloring that almost looks like a double exposed picture.

The females lay around 40 eggs and then immediately take them into their mouths before they are fertilized. She then stimulates the male to discharge sperm (milt cloud) by mouthing his vent or the eggspots on his anal fin. She inhales of cloud of “milt” which then fertilize the eggs in her mouth. In 21 days at about 82° F, the eggs are developed.

The released fry can eat finely powdered dry foods and brine shrimp nauplii. The female will guard her young for a few days, even taking them into her mouth if there is a perceived threat. As long as you have plenty of hiding places, your young will have a easier time surviving until they are too big to eat. They will reach 1″ within 3 months and males show their colors between 6 and 9 months. See the description of how cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

Malawi bloat is a typical disease for the Auratus Cichlid, 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.


The Auratus or Golden Mbuna are often found online for very moderate prices. Prices vary depending on whether they are male, female, or juvenile. They are sometimes found in fish stores, and may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.

When acquiring a Golden Mbuna, with all the different hybrids that have formed in captivity, there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting unless it is from a reputable dealer.



 Melanochromis auratus – Türkisgoldbarsch ♀ (Image Credit: 5snake5, Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0 Universal)