Why You Should Consider a Malawi Peacock Tank
By: Holly Harrington

Let’s say you have a nice 55+ gallon tank sitting around and a tap water with a pH that leans hard and alkaline. Now let’s further presume you’ve done the planted tank thing and don’t want to mess around with fancy lights and CO2 and timers again. And, maybe, you’d love a saltwater tank, but really don’t know much about that and don’t want to learn.

Under such circumstances, you should strongly consider setting up a Malawi peacock tank. The reasons above were all mine, and led me to these fabulous fish. First some quick background: peacocks are African cichlids in the genus aulonocara. They are native to, and found only in, Lake Malawi, in Africa.

They come in a huge variety of colors (at least the mature males do) and are considered relatively peaceful, certainly as compared to their fellow mbuna, also from Lake Malawi. Most of them remain relatively small, no more than five or six inches, so a huge tank is not necessary.

Lake Malawi from space

First and foremost, peacocks are simply outstanding to look at. They come in a great variety of colors with somewhat confusing and overlapping names. Some of the most popular and easily attainable include: Aulonocara hansbaenschi (red shoulder), Aulonocara stuartgranti ngara (flametail), and Aulonocara Maleri (sunshine). There are many others. The lookers in this genus are the males. They begin, as do the females, drab and plain. As they grow and mature, their colors begin to show. Fully mature males can be brilliant yellow with blue fins, brilliant orange/red, brilliant blue with yellow fins, etc. The females remain mostly drab.


Aulonocara hansbaenschi


Secondly, peacocks are relatively easy to care for. Keep the temp at about 78 or so and the pH around 8 or a bit more. I also add cichlid salts. And I advise using special cichlid gravel and lace rock to decorate your tank as both will help keep your pH and hardness up. Using the lace rock, you build a series of caves and passageways, while still leaving an open space for swimming. Plants are completely unnecessary. You will need very good filtration with peacocks as with all African cichlids (I have a Marineland C-360), and be prepared to do frequent partial water changes to keep the water pure.

They are good eaters. I feed mine twice a day with New Life Spectrum, which I highly recommend. There are other specialty foods for African cichlids as well. Care must be taken not to give into their begging and silent “feed me, please” pleas as Malawi bloat is always a possibility. Like other cichlids, peacocks do seem to recognize their keepers and will come to the front of the tank to look at you. (OK, I confess that I actually talk to mine.)

Aulonocara stuartgranti ngara

Consideration must be taken when stocking your new tank. Peacocks can be kept with some other mild-mannered African cichlids, particularly “haps” and electric yellow labs, but they must never be combined with the more aggressive mbunas. Since peacocks also readily cross-breed, you must decide whether or not you will include females in your tank. It is possible to have an all-male peacock tank (this is the route that I took).

In such a situation, you must choose your peacocks carefully, making sure you select individuals that will look different as they mature. It also helps to combine them when they are relatively young (showing just enough color to determine they are males) and let them grow up together. If you choose this route, you must also be prepared to remove any that become too nasty to their tank-mates.

If you choose to include females, you will be restricted as to how many different species of peacock you keep together in order to avoid hybrids. There is some controversy related to this and if you’re choosing this route, a lot of research is necessary. Generally, you’ll stock several females to each male. In this kind of tank, you may very well want to add yellow labs, p. acei or other benign Africans to keep the tank colorful. (Remember, the females are drab.) Also, synodontis catfish, of which there are many varieties, are a great addition to the tank. I personally like the synodontis multipunctatus.

synodontis multipunctatus.

Many of the more common species of peacock are fairly available in LFS, at least in the Washington, D.C. area, although fish store employees who would be considered African cichlid experts are less available. So it’s up to you to do your research first. Never impulse buy with African cichlids! There are also many online sources for peacocks, and many different local cichlid clubs can be a great source for hobbyist-raised peacocks. The American Cichlid Association, , is a good place to start.

Aulonacara nyassae

One warning, these puppies ain’t cheap. Small, barely coloring up male peacocks will range at the LFS from $10-$20. Larger peacocks, over 3″ or so, can easily run $50 or more apiece. Ordering online is cheaper, but shipping reduces that savings. In the end, though, they are worth it. You can’t beat 15 or so vividly colored peacocks swimming in a crystal clear tank around artfully built up rocks, with nary a plant in sight!


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