The Sunshine Peacock stood out as one of the most popular African cichlids. If you are new to the aquarium hobby and want to hop into the cichlid game, this species is a fantastic way to start.

Aside from their charm, Sunshine cichlids have a more laid-back temperament, unlike their cousins. So read on and learn everything about these beauties!

Sunshine Peacock Stats

Scientific Name Aulonocara stuartgranti
Family Cichlidae
Genus Aulonocara
Size of Fish 5 – 7 inches
Colors & Patterns Yellow body, iridescent blue face
Diet Omnivore
Min. Tank Size 75 gallons
Temperature 74 – 82 F
pH 7.8 – 8.6
Hardness 6 – 10 dGH
Lifespan 6 – 10 years
Temperament Territorial but mostly passive (males)

Aulonocara Stuartgranti Background

Scientifically known as Aulonocara stuartgranti, it is a haplochromine cichlid described by Meyer and Riehl in 1985. The Aulonocara stuartgranti still has a wide distribution 36 years later. As of July 2020, the Aulonocara group has grown to 22 members. However, only four of these 22 species are readily available in the aquarium trade today.

– Where Do They Come From?

The Sunshine Peacock is a gem found in the waters around Maleri Island, Lake Malawi. It is one of the four greatest lakes of Africa that sits between Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Lake Malawi is over 10 million years old. Unsurprisingly, the denizens of the deep have evolved and created a diverse array of fish species.

– Why Are These Fish Called Peacocks?

All members of the genus Aulonocara are referred to as “peacock cichlids.” The group flaunts brilliant shades of blue, yellow, and red, thus earning their well-deserved name.

– Are They Getting Extinct?

Today, the Aulonocara Stuartgranti is listed as Least Concern (LC) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its overall population faces no major threats. Unfortunately, many of the Aulonocara species are in imminent danger of extinction due to overfishing. If these practices are left unmonitored, some of their kind could be lost forever.

Sunshine Peacock Appearance

I have seen other members of the Cichlidae family, such as the Nicaragua and Convict cichlids. Believe me, cichlids have got to be the most vibrant freshwater fish in the hobby! And of course, a great example is the Sunshine Cichlid.

– How Big Does a Sunshine Cichlid Get?

The Sunshine Peacock size is anywhere between five and seven inches in length. As with most fish, males tend to be much bigger than females.

– Colors and Patterns

The fish is absolutely gorgeous with its striking yellow body, which is accented by an electric blue face.While the yellow body is matte, the blue patch is pearlescent. The dorsal fin also features a neat white line throughout the edge.

As you may already know from your elementary art class, blue and yellow are at opposite quadrants on the color wheel. So if you want something that brings a pop of color to your tank, the Sunshine Cichlid is the way to go!

The colors stay permanent, whereas other fish change based on their mood and breeding status. On a side note, juveniles and females are not as colorful as adult males. So make sure to buy an adult male if you are looking to add a splash of color to your tank.

– Color Morphs

These beauties may exhibit minor differences, depending on the locality in which they were collected. Specimens from Malari Island may mostly have a yellow face, while other strains may have more blue in them. Those collected from Chipoka also tend to have a deep indigo head. Captive-bred Sunshine cichlids, on the other hand, appear halfway between orange and yellow.

Sunshine Cichlid Behavior and Temperament

These yellow Peacocks can be found at depths of six to 40 meters in Lake Malawi. In an aquarium setting, they are considered mid-level swimmers.

– Decoding Sunshine Cichlid Behavior

Aside from their brilliant colors, Sunshine Peacocks give life to your aquarium with their lively character. These cichlids hang around decorations, swim through plants, and search for yummy treasures beneath the sand. While these fish won’t need to sift through the substrate to acquire food, they may still do it out of instinct.

– Are They Aggressive?

All African cichlids exhibit varying levels of aggression. Territorial disputes can occur from time to time between the same or different species. However, the Sunshine Peacock is a far cry from the other members of the Cichlidae family.

These yellow beauties don’t use aggression to establish dominance or form hierarchies. In short, they are not bullies! Aggressive interactions only take place when males are competing for mates or when protecting their young.

But if you have no plans to breed, you may keep an all-male Sunshine Cichlid tank, and in so doing, make for a colorful, active tank. Otherwise, maintain a male-to-female ratio of 1:3. Having more males than females only spells trouble!

Sunshine Peacock Care

The Sunshine Peacock lifespan is anywhere between six to 10 years, provided that you give your pet fish the appropriate diet and a clean, healthy environment.

– Sunshine Peacock Diet

Sunshine cichlids are omnivores. In the wild, they feed on insects, meat, algae, and plant detritus to survive. These cichlids would loaf near the bottom and lie in wait for small crustaceans to pop out. When kept as pets, you’ll need to provide them a high-protein diet in the form of flakes, pellets, and granules.

Carnivore pellets would be the best choice between the three, as they sink into the bottom. As mentioned earlier, your fish will be hovering above the substrate looking for dinner. In terms of feeding frequency, you’ll want to feed your pet fish a few small portions throughout the day instead of a large, one-time meal.

A word of caution: some sources may suggest feeding your Sunshine cichlids Tubifex worms, bloodworms, and beef heart. While large Malawi cichlids may eat worms and mammalian meats without a problem, these foods may cause indigestion to peacock cichlids and other smaller members of the Cichlidae family.

As omnivores, your fish will benefit from eating blanched vegetables or chopped fruits from time to time. Feeding your peacock cichlids a carnivore diet can lead to digestive problems that give parasites a foothold in your pets’ health. On the other hand, feel free to give your peacock cichlids brine shrimp and chopped tilapia as occasional snacks.

– Water Parameters and Maintenance

These yellow beauties will do best in an environment that emulates the conditions of their native habitat.

For starters, you’ll need to keep the temperature between 74 to 82 F. Sunshine cichlids live near the lower-lying lakeshores of Lake Malawi, which is often warm and pleasant. The ideal pH level is anywhere between 7.8 to 8.6.

  • Temperature: 74 to 82 F
  • pH: 7.8 – 8.6
  • Hardness: 6 – 10 dGH
  • Water Changes: 20 – 50 percent per week

Since Sunshine cichlids are kept at high pH levels, ammonia spikes can be more lethal to your fish. Therefore, regular water changes are vital. The tank will need 30 to 40 percent water changes each week.

Moreover, it is a mistaken belief to use salt in an aquarium housing African cichlids. This popular misconception will not harden the water or raise its pH, but rather it increases the risk of Malawi bloat.

What makes tank water alkaline or “hard” is the combination of dissolved calcium and magnesium. Using quality commercial buffers, such as SeaChem’s Cichlid Salt, is the safest and most effective way to increase the hardness of your water.

– Health Risks

As with other African cichlids, Sunshine Peacocks are predisposed to a condition called Malawi bloat. This disease manifests in the form of symptoms, such as:

  • abdominal inflammation
  • labored breathing
  • loss of appetite
  • inactivity
  • discolored feces

Malawi bloat can also lead to liver and kidney damage. If the disease progresses to this point, the affected fish may die within three days or less. The root cause of Malawi bloat remains highly disputed, but vets have identified these factors relevant:

  • improper Diet
  • depriving your Sunshine cichlids greens and fiber
  • overfeeding your fish
  • poor Water Conditions
  • inappropriate use of salt (sodium chloride)
  • frequent or prolonged exposure to elevated levels of ammonia
  • stress
  • catching and transporting fish
  • insufficient number of hiding places
  • unsuitable tankmates

The first step in treating Malawi bloat is to remove any activated carbon filter, conduct 90 percent water changes, and medicate the water with Metronidazole (MNZ.)  Popular brand names are Flagyl, Metrogel, Noritate, and MetroCream. Unfortunately, most fish that are already suffering either from organ failure or intestinal blockage is beyond help.

Sunshine Peacock Breeding

All Aulonocara species are mouthbrooders that form a matriarchal society, and the Sunshine cichlid is no exception. If you wish to breed these fish, you will need one male and at least two females to ensure breeding success.

– How Do I Know If My Cichlids Are Mating?

The male Sunshine peacock cichlid will not change its color during breeding but will become more saturated. Males would flash off their intensified coloration and perform a dancing ritual to attract females. If there is a willing female, she will respond by following the male. Eventually, the two will dance together.

The female will then lay her eggs and pick them up using her mouth. After that, she would poke her mate’s anal fin, suggesting he produce milt or sperm. The female will continue to carry the fertilized eggs in her mouth until they hatch. Until then, the female will hide and eat next to nothing.

– How Do Sunshine Cichlids Care for Their Offspring?

Peacock cichlids have a knack for parenting, which is one of the many things I adore about these fish. As discussed earlier, females exploit the mouthbrooding strategy to protect their offspring. More impressively, males would guard the youngsters until they are strong enough to fend for themselves. Other fish species would give this responsibility a brush-off or, worse, eat their fry!

– Why Should I Separate My Pregnant Cichlid?

If you are serious about breeding these critters, you will want to set up a species-exclusive breeding tank. Peacock cichlids are a cinch to breed since they tend to their young and help them grow. However, keeping a couple in a community aquarium is a recipe for disaster!

The couple will not hesitate to take on any fish — even if it is just a tiny, unassuming tetra who happens to pass by their den. Likewise, the fry will have a greater chance of survival when they are separated from potential predators. Most importantly, separating your Sunshine cichlids from other similar-looking peacocks is the best way to keep bloodlines pure.

Regardless, inbreeding may still cause color mutations to occur in the long run. A limited gene pool causes the Sunshine Peacock cichlid to develop deeper blues and orange colorations instead of yellow.

Sunshine Peacock Tank Mates

The Sunshine cichlid, as the name suggests, has a sunny disposition. Although males may squabble when they are hitting on females, they will not fight to the death, unlike other species.

Besides, keeping two males or more is not a problem, provided there is ample space and decorations in which they could hide. To keep the peace, you will either keep a harem or an all-male Sunshine Peacock tank.

Generally speaking, Sunshine cichlids are peaceful, and they make excellent residents to a community aquarium. While the best options are non-aggressive to semi-aggressive Lake Malawi cichlids, these fish should do fine with any medium-sized species that share similar temperament and water conditions as them. Here’s a short  selection:

  • Botia kubotai (Polka Dot Loach)
  • Sciaenochromis fryeri (Electric Blue Hap)
  • Copadichromis borleyi (Redfin Hap)
  • Macropodus opercularis (Paradise Gourami)
  • Melanotaeniidae (Rainbowfish)
  • Phenacogrammus interruptus (Congo Tetra)

It is not advisable to house Sunshine cichlids with other Aulonocara species; otherwise, you risk hybridization.

Mistaken Identity

Be careful not to confuse the Sunshine Peacock with the Nkhomo-benga Peacock. Scientifically known as Aulonocara baenschi, this cichlid also has a vibrant yellow coloration throughout its body and a bright blue hue on its face.

– Sunshine Peacock vs Nkhomo-Benga Peacock

But however much the Benga resembles the Sunshine cichlid, you will know they are two different species if you have a sharp eye. Benga Yellows have larger, more rounded eyes, and their heads are much more curved. Additionally, the Nkhomo-benga does not grow to be as long as the other, only getting to a maximum of five inches.

– Hybridization Is a Problem

If you don’t get your fish from a reputable dealer, you might risk acquiring a hybrid. Hybridization has become an increasing problem in the aquarium hobby as more people are selling crossbred fish as line-bred fish.

A little bird told me that you could breed Sunshine cichlids with Nkhomo-benga cichlids. People often mistook the latter as the other and vice versa due to their many similarities.

The resulting offspring between the Benga and Sunshine cichlids will exhibit a blue face and a bright yellow body. Then the breeders would sell off those yellow fish as “African Sunshine Peacock cichlids.”

Sunshine Cichlid Tank Setup

– Tank Size

Let’s begin with the tank size. For a group of three (ideally one male and two females), you will need a short, wide tank that can capacitate 75 gallons of water. If you wish to add a couple of cichlid-friendly fish in the future, then you will need a larger tank that can hold at least 125 gallons or more.

Contrary to common belief, a large tank is not necessarily a chore to maintain compared to smaller ones. One advantage of a large tank is a stabilized water chemistry. When there is more water, ammonia spikes and other chemical changes will not cause a drastic shift.

Moreover, you want the tank to have more width than height as these fish love to swim and hang out in the bottom. A horizontal orientation provides more water surface area, thereby equating to better oxygen exchange.

– Substrate

A combination of fine sand and some gravel on the side is desirable for these African cichlids. Crushed corals and seashells will leach carbonates into the aquarium, thus helping raise the water pH.

– Plants and Decorations

Real and artificial plants both provide decoration and hiding places for your fish. Plastic ones are a cinch to maintain as they don’t have special lighting requirements. But if you prefer live ones, here’s a shortlist of cichlid-proof aquarium plants that might interest you:

  • Anacharis
  • Anubia
  • Cryptocoryne usteriana
  • Green Cabomba
  • Hornwort
  • Java Fern
  • Java Moss

Peacock cichlids won’t be able to dig and disturb these plants since you can cultivate them on rocks or leave them floating. The biggest benefit that real aquatic plants provide for your aquarium is that they produce oxygen and absorb the carbon dioxide and ammonia that your fish generate.

Moreover, stack rocks and place them around your tank. Sunshine cichlids instinctively feel secure in a rocky biotope. Males like to hang out at the bottom to defend a favorite part of an ugly rock.

– Equipment

The checklist below shows the items you will need when caring for the Sunshine Peacock cichlids.

Heater: You will need a heater for your tropical fish so that the tank doesn’t get too cool. A heater will keep the temperature steady throughout the day, even when the room temperature declines at night or during inclement weather.

A heater of roughly 2.5 watts per gallon is sufficient if your room is never eight to 10 F cooler than your target tank temperature. Otherwise, you will need up to five watts or more per gallon if the differential is higher.

You have the option to choose between a submersible heater and a traditional heater. A submersible heater can be placed horizontally along the bottom of the tank so that it doesn’t get exposed while doing partial water changes.

Adding to that, it keeps the temperature uniform when the heat rises. With the traditional design, you must unplug the heater before doing water changes.

Thermometer: You have two options: the traditional bulb thermometer, which works the same as the ones you use for a house, and a flat model that you stick right outside the aquarium. Aquarium thermometers are never 100 percent accurate, but they are good for verifying that the water temperature is not too far off.

Filter: Every tank should have a biological and mechanical filter. Biological filtration is the cheapest and most effective way to break down ammonia, while mechanical filtration traps particles, such as plant detritus, uneaten food, etc.

Typical filters usually perform these two filtration types, while others include chemical filtration. But unless you have a very good reason to use chemical filtration, it is best to avoid it. Chemical filtration, such as activated carbon, is useful for removing medications, purifying tap water, and so on. However, it isn’t necessary to use chemical filters when you have a healthy tank.

Test Kit: You will need to have several test kits on hand for measuring ammonia concentrations.

Availability

This variant is one of the more available peacocks. So it is likely you will find them in national pet store chains, such as Petsmart and Petco. If you are lucky, your local fish store may have them, as well. But first, here is a warning. Just because the label says it is a Sunshine Peacock, it does not mean it is legit.

Conclusion

With its beauty and mellow nature, it is easy to see why the Sunshine Peacock is a hobbyist’s little ray of sunshine.

  • Sunshine cichlids are easy to breed in an aquarium environment under the right conditions. Keep two or more females for every male to ensure breeding success.
  • A high-protein diet is what these cichlids prefer, but they also benefit from eating blanched vegetables. Avoid overfeeding to prevent Malawi bloat.
  • Optimizing the water chemistry is as crucial as choosing the right food.
  • Since cichlids tend to live in sandy lakes, sand substrate tends to make them more comfortable. In addition, cichlids do most of their feeding by scavenging in the sand, and small grains they ingest during the process serve as a dietary aid.

Now that you have a better understanding of the Sunshine Cichlid species, how about you get into the cichlid game and give it a shot? Also, feel free to send your suggestions on ways we can improve this care guide.

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