The dazzling Sunshine Peacock is attractive, easy to care for, and highly favored by African cichlid keeper!

The Sunshine Peacock Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” is a relatively small sized Peacock cichlid from Lake Malawi, Africa. It only reaches about 5 inches (13 cm) in length. It is a striking yellow in color highlighted with icy blues, especially on the dorsal fin. Captive bred color morphs can also be orange.

This cichlid is a member of a very small group of fish from Lake Malawi, Africa known as the Peacock Cichlids, and they are very popular with aquarists. The Peacock Cichlids are placed in the Aulonocara genus which contains only about 28 species, but with many subspecies. It is the brilliant colorations of blues, reds and yellows that give this group the well deserved name of “Peacock”.

The Sunshine Peacock is one of the well known varieties of the Flavescent PeacockAulonocara stuartgranti. This bright sunny variety is also commonly known as Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri”, Orange Peacock, and Yellow Regal Peacock. It is widely distributed in Lake Malawi and there are a number of natural color forms.

The color forms of this variety are distinguished from one another by the place where they are found, and then named accordingly. They include the Aulonocara Stuartgranti “Maleri” (Chidunga Rocks), Aulonocara Stuartgranti “Maleri” (Chipoka), Aulonocara Stuartgranti “Maleri” (Maleri Island), Aulonocara Stuartgranti “Maleri” (Nakantenga Island), and Aulonocara Stuartgranti “Maleri” (Nankoma Island). Captive bred varieties have also been developed for particular colors. These will often be called by descriptive names such as Aulonocara stuartgranti “Marleri Gold” and Aulonocara stuartgranti “Marleri Red Flash”.

The Aulonocara Peacock 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.

Along with their beautiful colors these cichlids will quickly adapt to the aquarium, thus making them a desirable pet. They will eat a meaty diet and have an almost puppy like excitability when being fed, thus adding to their appeal. Provide open space for swimming and a lot of caves for them to hide and sleep in, and for breeding. Frequent water changes will help in keeping this cichlid.

The fish pictured above is captive bred and has a more orangish coloration than wild caught varieties. Due extensive inbreeding, captive bred fish also tend to have more blue than the pure species. The fish shown here has lots of blue in its dorsal fin while pure breeds just have an ice blue edging on the top of that fin. This variety was also intentionally bred to enhance its orange color.

Like all Peacocks cichlids, the Sunshine Peacock may be so inbred that true strains can be hard to find unless the specimen is wild caught (and they are not currently being collected) or from a reputable dealer. Be careful not to confused this fish with the Nkhomo-benga PeacockAulonocara baenschi, which is also sometimes called the Sunshine Peacock. Although both these peacocks have a strong yellow body coloring, the Nkhono-benga Peacock can be distinguished by the solid bright blue coloring on its head.

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: stuartgranti
Sunshine Peacock – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish – inches: 5.1 inches (13.00 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&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Sunshine Peacock Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” is a variety of the Flavescent Peacock, also known as Grant’s Peacock Cichlid. Aulonocara stuartgranti was described by Meyer and Riehl in 1985. 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.

The Flavescent Peacock cichlids 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. The Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” is found at the Maleri, Nankoma, and Nakantenga Islands, Chidunga Rocks, and Chipoka.

Common names this cichlid is known by include:

  • Sunshine Peacock, Orange Peacock, or Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” (Chidunga Rocks)
  • Sunshine Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” (Chipoka)
  • Yellow Regal Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” (Maleri Island)
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” (Nakantenga Island)
  • Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” (Nankoma Island).

Many of the Flavescent Peacocks will 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). They are sometimes very shy individuals hiding caves but are also found in large schools over sandy areas. 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


The Sunshine Peacock is one of the smaller varieties of Aulonocara stuartgranti. It only grows to a length of about 5 inches (13 cm). It has a life span of about 6 to 10 years with proper care.

The body of the male is bright yellow with faded darker vertical bars, and with ice blue lines in-between towards the back. Behind the head forward, the lines are yellow. The dorsal fin is yellow with ice blue edging on the top and a few “squiggly” lines at the back end. This pattern at the back of the dorsal is repeated on the tail fin. The area below the eye is a mix of ice blue metallic and yellow, but the blue is not solid. The anal fin is yellow and the pelvic fins are yellow with a very fine trim of ice blue on the front edge. Orange versions of this fish are captive bred color forms All females are quite drab and much smaller with dark vertical bars that are sitting on a background body color that is browish-beige.

With different coloring depending on location in Lake Malawi, some of the other popular varieties of this species include the Maulana Bicolor PeacockAulonocara stuartgranti “Maulana”, the Flametail Peacock Aulonocara stuartgranti “Ngara” and two in-line bred colorforms of the Aulonocara stuartgranti “Chipoka”; the German Red Peacock and the Rubin Red Peacock.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have. 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)
  • Lifespan: 6 years – They have a lifespan of about 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

Although the Sunshine 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 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. 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&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: Bottom – These fish will tend to swim in the bottom areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Sunshine Peacock are much more peaceful than other Malawi cichlids so are best kept with their own kind. Mbunas are not good tankmates for the Sunshine Peacock. If they are kept with unsuitable tankmates they may be eaten, especially the small females, or they will not get enough to eat.

This cichlid is best kept alone, or as a group of one male and two females. They are peaceful toward those of the same species as long as there are not two males. More than one male works only in a tank that is very large and can support different territories.

Try to not house with other Aulonocara species to prevent hybridization. This cichlid 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. You can use dither fish such as Rainbowfish Melanotaenia sp. and/or Congo TetrasPhenacogrammus interruptus, because sometimes they can be very shy fish.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – One male can be kept with 2 females in a large (100 gallon+) tank. Two males will fight.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • 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 Sunshine Peacock has 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.

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. If this does not happen, pure strains can be lost permanently, unless more are wild caught, thus depleting our natural resources. 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.


Pure specimens of the Sunshine Peacock or Aulonocara stuartgranti “Maleri” are sometimes found online or in fish stores. Just be sure you know what you are looking for, because they may be just listed under “peacock”. They may also be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.