The Nkhomo-Benga Peacock is very attractive, and is one of the smaller and more peaceful of the Peacock cichlids!
The Nkhomo Benga Peacock Aulonocara baenschi is a relatively small Peacock cichlid that grows to an average length of about 4 – 5 inches (13 cm). It is a real eye catcher with its bright yellows accented throughout the body and head with vibrant blues. It is known by a number of common names including Benga Peacock, New Yellow Regal Peacock, Yellow Peacock, Baensch’s Peacock, Sunshine Peacock, Benga Yellow Peacock, Aulonocara Benga, and Yellow Regal-Buntbarsch.
The Benga Peacock is a part of a small, but popular group of cichlids from Lake Malawi, Africa known as the Peacock Cichlids. They are members of the Aulonocara genus which has only about 28 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”.
This cichlid has a limited range in the lake, so there are not as many color forms as with other Peacock cichlids that have a wider distribution. Like other peacock cichlids, this yellow beauty is easy to breed and captive bred specimens are readily available. However because the Peacocks have been so inbred, true strains are hard to find unless they are wild caught or from a reputable dealer.
The Aulonocara, along with the Utaka Cichlids Copadichromis and other non-Mbuna’s, are members of the Haplochromis group. Haplochromis is the 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.
The fish has a mellower temperament than other peacock cichlids. Even when spawning, they are less aggressive. Consequently there is a greater selection of tank mates you can keep with this cichlid species. They are also easy to care for, thus making them a desirable pet. Provide open space for swimming and a lot of caves in which to hide, sleep, or breed. Water changes that are frequent also help in keeping this cichlid. They will eat a meaty diet and have an almost puppy like 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: baenschi
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
- Size of fish – inches: 5.1 inches (13.00 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L)
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 73.0 to 84.0° F (22.8 to 28.9° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Nkhomo Benga Peacock Aulonocara baenschi was described by Meyer & Riehl in 1985. They are endemic to Lake Malawi, Africa and are found near Maleri Islands, Chipoka, Nkhomo reef near Benga, and Usisya. 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 distribution is now thought to be more widespread than currently recorded and there are major recognized threats.
The species name baenschi is in honor of Dr. Ulrich Baench who founded the company Tetra. Other common names they are known by include Benga Peacock, Yellow Regal Peacock, New Yellow Regal Peacock, Yellow Peacock, Sunshine Peacock, Baensch’s Peacock, Baenschi Peacock, Benga Yellow Peacock, Aulonocara Benga, Benga Aulonocara, and Yellow Regal-Buntbarsch.
They are found in shallower water at about 13 – 19 feet (4 – 6 m), but often they inhabit deeper waters as well, observed at depths of 33 – 52 feet (10 – 16 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. They are sand sifters, using their sonar sensors to search for prey. Once prey is located in the sand, they will quickly scoop a mouthful into its mouth, sifting the sand through its gills while retaining the food morsel in their mouth.
- Scientific Name: Aulonocara baenschi
- Social Grouping: Harems
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The Nkhomo Benga Peacock grows to an average length of about 4 – 5 inches (13 cm) in length, though males may reach up to about 6 inches (15 cm). It can take the male up to 2 years to get its full gorgeous coloring. With proper care this fish may live up to 10 years.
The males are mostly yellow with blue coloring in different areas of the body to some being mostly blue with yellow coloring. They have a curved forehead and nose and large eyes, thus distinguishing them from the other yellow/blue peacocks such as the Aulonocara stuartgranti “maleri” male. Females are a light gray/silver with vertical brown bands running the length of the body with the dorsal, anal and tail fin being clearish ice blue to clear or light brown, depending on location. The females do seem to have a very faint yellow patch in the front middle area.
This peacock cichlid has limited distribution, so there are not as many color forms as other Peacocks. There are said to be four color morphs, but there may be more. These four include:
- Nkhomo Benga
The Peacock from this area is called the Yellow Regal Cichlid, Yellow Peacock Cichlid and the Sunshine Peacock Cichlid. It has the coloring that is the most popular. It is a basic yellow all over with blue pale vertical stripes. The lower half of the head is blue and the back tail does not seem to have much if any marbling.
This Peacock coloring has an electric blue head, yellow forehead, pelvic fins, anal and dorsal fins and body with several vertical lighter blue bands that begin just behind the pelvic fins and alternate with blue to the tail. The tailfin is marbled in light blue and an orange/yellow.
This Peacock coloring is a little different, having a blue head, not just the bottom half. The anal, dorsal, and pelvic fins are yellow as well as the forehead. The body has 13 or more vertical stripes “in the background” that alternate from white and blue. On top of this background are a muted pale yellow. The caudal fin has a mix of blue stripes over an orange coloring.
This Peacock coloring is similar to the Marleri variety, except the vertical stripes are very pale. The dorsal, anal and pectoral fins are very dark blue/black and the tail fin is yellow with blue stripes.
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: 5.1 inches (13.00 cm) – This cichlid grows to an average length of about 4-5″ (13 cm). Males can reach up to about 6″ (15.24 cm) in the wild, but are generally smaller in the aquarium.
- Lifespan: 6 years – They have a lifespan of 6 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
Though the Nkhomo-Benga 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 some vegetable matter in the wild, 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.
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 minimum 40 gallon aquarium is suggested for a single specimen with 100 gallons or more being recommended for a school. They do fine in either freshwater or slightly brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. They prefer subdued lighting.
Some rock decor is good to create hiding places and areas of retreat. Make sure to provide open space that offers plenty of swimming room on the bottom of the tank. A sandy substrate with smoother rocks is good for hiding and staking out territories. Be careful in your selections as their large eyes can be injured on sharp rocks. Gravel is acceptable as well. 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. 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: 40 gal (151 L) – A 40 gallon tank minimum is suggested for a single fish, but a larger tank, 100 gallons or more, is best for a group.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Any
- Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
- Temperature: 73.0 to 84.0° F (22.8 to 28.9° C)
- Range ph: 7.8-8.6
- Hardness Range: 10 – 18 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.
The Nkhomo Benga Peacock can be kept alone, but does better as a group consisting of one male and 6 females in a 100 gallon tank. They are peaceful toward those of the same species as long as it is not 2 males, unless tank is very large and can support different territories.
This fish can kept with their own kind as well as with a mix of other more peaceful similar sized and tempered Malawi cichlids, and a few rainbow fish as well. If they are kept with unsuitable tankmates they may be eaten, especially the small females, or they will not get enough to eat.
Mbunas are not good tankmates for the more peaceful Peacocks. Try to not house with other Aulonocaras to prevent hybridization. They can be kept with Utakas. Good tankmates include friendly Haplochromis like the Blue MooriiCyrtocara moorii, Sulphur-Crested Lithobate or Red-top Aristochromis Otopharynx lithobates, and the Copadichromis species.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They do best in groups of one male kept with 6 females in a large (100 gallon+) tank. Two males will fight.
- Peaceful fish (): Safe
- 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 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 Nkhomo Benga Peacock has been bred in captivity. All Cichlid parents tend to their young, making them easy to breed. Keep 6 females with one male in a 40 gallon tank for the best breeding success. Males are very rough on the females so there is a need to “spread out” the aggression. The male will display an intense coloration to attract the females. They should have their own breeding tank as a couple guarding their babies can be a force to reckon with and this aggression is acted out on other tank mates.
It is difficult to witness a spawning of this peacock because it is done secretly in a cave. They 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 20 to 40 of 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 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.
Pure strains of the Nkhomo-Benga Cichlid are sometimes found online and are moderately priced. 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.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Dr. Rüdiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 2, Publisher Hans A. Baensch, 1993
- 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 Educational Series, 2000
- Aulonocara baenschi (Meyer & Riehl, 1985) Nkhomo-benga peacock, Fishbase.org
- Aulonocara baenschi, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- “Sunshine Peacock (Aulonocara baenschi)”, Aquarium Life. Referenced online, 2007
- “Benga Yellow, Aulonocara Baenschi”, FishInThe.Net, Fish Guide. Referenced online, 2007