The peacock cichlid is one of the most popular freshwater fishes among aquarists all over the world. While their mellow nature (for a cichlid) and low-maintenance care plan are certainly a draw, there’s one reason for this that rises above the rest:

Their beauty.

These fish are absolutely stunning to look at and have colors you rarely find in the freshwater side of fishkeeping. We’ve found ourselves in disbelief a number of times when looking at these fish in person!

But if you want this kind of beauty in your tank at home, you need to understand their specific needs. That’s why we put together this guide on peacock cichlid care.

It will teach you everything you need to know about keeping these fish happy and healthy, so you can sit back and enjoy their wonderful colors.

Species Summary

Comprising the entire Aulonocara genus of freshwater fish, the peacock cichlid, or simply peacocks, are about the friendliest and most peaceful cichlids you can find to keep in your aquarium.

Native to Lake Malawi in eastern Africa, peacock cichlids live near the bottom of the warm, deep water where it searches for food in the sandy substrate. An active, skillful swimmer, the peacock is ever on the lookout for potential prey.

There are over twenty names types of peacock cichlids, and it’s no wonder every species is found in Lake Malawi, as this body of water is the world’s ninth-largest lake!

Only a few species, however, are commonly kept in aquariums, and these include the African butterfly peacock, the flavescent peacock, the sunshine peacock, the Nkhomo-benga peacock, the maulana bicolor peacock, the Aulonocara Fort Maguire cichlid, and the Aulonocara blue gold cichlid.

No matter what species you’re admiring, you’ll agree that peacock cichlids are some of the most colorful freshwater fish species, and it’s only fitting they share their name with a regal bird. Combine their beauty with their relatively docile behavior, and you’ll find that it’s hard to resist adding them to your tank!

Lifespan

The average peacock cichlid lifespan is around six to eight years when given proper care. This means maintaining the recommended water parameters, water quality, and diet.

Author Note: There have been situations where peacock cichlids have lived as long as 10 or even 15 years! While these are obviously rare occurrences, it shows that there’s potential for a very long lifespan if you take owning one seriously.

Appearance

Like other cichlids, peacocks rank among the most brightly colored of all freshwater aquarium fish. Unlike their relatives, however, the peacock cichlid’s color doesn’t depend on its mood or its mating status.

Aulonocara side profile

Colors vary within the species and depend on which area of Lake Malawi the variety originated. Both females and young fish are a dull gray in color, but males become a stunning shade of iridescent yellow, gold, orange, red, purple or blue as they mature.

Types Of Peacock Cichlids

As we mentioned earlier, there are many different types of peacock cichlids. While it would be excessive to list them all, this section will share some general info about the most popular varieties.

The reason these types of peacock cichlids are so popular is that they’re absolutely beautiful. Each has a distinct vibrant color that can’t be matched by most other freshwater species.

Red Peacock Cichlid

Red peacock cichlids are definitely the most popular type, and it’s obvious why. These fish have a bright red color that stands out no matter what fish they share a tank with. They also have a very interesting bit of blue scattered throughout their fins.

OB Peacock Cichlid

The OB peacock cichlid is probably our favorite. These fish have a primarily red body with interesting patches of dark blue all over. These patches are brighter on their face and continue onto their caudal and dorsal fins.

Blue Peacock Cichlid

The blue peacock cichlid is usually blue all over its body with darker vertical stripes that start at the front of their dorsal fin and end at the caudal peduncle. Their vibrance and coloration can vary based on location, gender, and age.

Strawberry Peacock Cichlid

The strawberry peacock cichlid is absolutely stunning. These fish are a bright reddish-pink and some even have some interesting dots that cover their fins. It can be hard to find a true strawberry, so good luck!

Dragon Blood Peacock Cichlid

Dragon blood peacock cichlids are sometimes confused with the strawberry variety. The main difference to look for is the subtle dotted pattern on their bodies.

Size

The average size of a male peacock cichlid is roughly 6 inches, with females typically maxing out at 4 inches. Their size can be influenced by the quality of their care, but also the location in which they come from.

Other genetic components play a part as well, but they are impractical to test for.

Peacock Cichlid Care

Peacock cichlid care is something that beginning or experienced aquarists should have no trouble with. In general, these fish are fairly low-maintenance and relatively docile.

A colorful peacock cichlid swimming

With that being said, they can be quite sensitive to changes in their environment. That’s why it’s important to understand their ideal care requirements so you can keep things as consistent as possible.

Tank Size

The recommended peacock cichlid tank size is at least 55-60 gallons. This is because these fish are such skillful swimmers and active hunters. It will give them the space they need to live as they would in the wild.

Obviously a larger tank will also provide enough space for the multiple caves needed to prevent territorial aggression. If you keep a large community of peacocks, you may need a tank that holds at least 100 gallons of water to further inhibit their territorial behavior.

Author Note: Some types of peacock cichlids prefer a rocky habitat and others prefer the opposite, so a larger tank can be made to accommodate both.

Water Parameters

Peacock cichlids thrive in a water environment that mimics the conditions of their native Lake Malawi where the temperature is a bit warmer than the water habitat of other cichlid species.

This body of water is very consistent year-round when it comes to parameters and water chemistry. This means temperature, pH levels, and hardness all should be kept as consistent as possible.

  • Water temperature: 74°F to 82°F – aim for the upper half of this range if possible
  • pH levels: 7.5 and 8.5
  • Water hardness: 4 to 6 dH

It’s very important that you keep the water as clean as possible. Peacock cichlids are used to very clear waters in their natural habitat and their health will suffer if you don’t maintain their water quality.

Author Note: Because it’s so important to keep the water parameters consistent with this fish, we highly recommend getting a good water test kit. You’ll need as much accuracy as possible if you want to care for peacocks the right way.

What To Put In Their Tank

Remember that peacock cichlids hunt for food near the bottom of their native habitat, so never use gravel for substrate, as it could damage the fish’s gills. Something soft and sandy is going to be better for your fish in the long run.

It’s a good idea to provide plenty of rocks and driftwood to serve as hiding places to minimize territorial problems. Even though these aren’t super aggressive cichlids, everyone needs their space from time to time!

Lastly, you can add plants for decoration if you choose. However, you should choose only hardy plants such as hornwort, because peacock cichlids have a habit of digging and disturbing foliage.

This is typical cichlid behavior so it’s something you might have been familiar with before. Another option when choosing plants is to go with some of the best floating plants so any disturbances to the substrate aren’t an issue.

Fortunately, peacock cichlids will avoid eating aquarium plants so you don’t need to worry about that (just digging).

Common Possible Diseases

Peacock cichlids can be subject to a fatal condition known as Malawi bloat, which is similar to dropsy and results from eating an excess of meaty foods. Symptoms of this issue include a lack of appetite, abdominal inflammation, labored respiration and the tendency to remain at the bottom of the tank.

This disease is something to take very seriously if you’re an owner. Severe cases result in harm to the liver, kidney and swim bladder and can even end in death within one to three days.

Another issue that can result from a poor diet is swim bladder disease. This problem is caused by intestinal gas or parasites that infect the swim bladder.

A peacock cichlid moving through the aquarium tank

A fish that experiences this issue will float at the top of the tank and be unable to remain near the bottom to search for food. To prevent this disease, avoid feeding your fish an excessive amount of protein or dried food and add more fiber, such as vegetables.

In any event, never overfeed any species of cichlid, as they tend to consume whatever is available. Overweight fish can lose their beautiful coloration and even die prematurely.

Another severe disease that can infect cichlids is fish tuberculosis. Highly infectious, the disease can wipe out an entire tank population within a short period of time. Symptoms of fish TB include lack of appetite, frayed fins, a sunken abdomen and white blotches on the fish’s body.

If you think one fish may be infected, immediately remove the other fish to another tank. Treat the new tank with an antibiotic and either disinfect the old tank or get rid of it entirely.

Food and Diet

Although peacock cichlids are omnivores, they’re born predators and enjoy diving deep into the water and feeding on invertebrates such as insects, both adults and their larvae, and crustaceans.

A quality cichlid pellet that sinks to the bottom of the tank should be the foundation of their diet along with supplements of meat and vegetables. Live insects that sink to the bottom are also good, as are live or frozen brine shrimp and Daphnia, or common water fleas.

Granules and cichlid-appropriate flakes can work fine too if that’s what you prefer. Again, to avoid Malawi bloat, avoid worms and mammalian meat.

To minimize the risk of overfeeding you should feeding peacock cichlids several small meals a day. This will not only prevent obesity, but it will help maintain stable water parameters. This is because you won’t be getting large spikes of organic materials in the tank all at once.

Behavior and Temperament

Although peacocks are territorial, they’re less aggressive than other cichlids. When you compare them to a fish like the Jack Dempsey or flowerhorn cichlid, they’re downright pacifists!

Some specimens are more aggressive than others of course, so it’s on you as an owner to learn and understand the temperament of each individual fish. In general, though, these aren’t fish that you need to worry too much about.

As far as their activity level goes, these fish are very active and spend much of their time near the bottom of their native waters sifting through the sand and looking for any movement of potential prey. You’ll see this behavior in captivity as well which makes them a very fun fish to spectate.

Peacock Cichlid Tank Mates

You actually have a lot of options when it comes to choosing peacock cichlid tank mates. These fish are a tame member of the cichlid family and will do fine with other non-aggressive fish.

Male peacock cichlids can be slightly territorial but should do fine with other fish as long as you give them enough living space and plenty of caves in which to hide to reduce their territorial behavior.

You should make sure that their tank mates are able to handle their precise water parameters. This means the best options are different types of nonaggressive cichlids.

In general, any nonaggressive kind of Haplochromis cichlid (like redfin haps) should be good tank mates for your peacock. If you’re unsure simply compare the recommended water parameters for each to see if there’s any overlap!

Another species you can try is the botia loach. These fish are often used as suitable tank mates for peacock cichlids because of their temperament and similar required water conditions. 

Author Note: Make sure to keep more females than males in the tank. This will prevent aggression and encourage natural social interactions.

Breeding

Although male peacock cichlids tend to travel alone, they become polygamous when they’re ready to breed and will play the field any chance they get!

This means hen you decide to breed peacock cichlids there needs to be dedicated room for each of the males in the tank. A large part of their breeding behavior hinges on them claiming space, and if they don’t have any they will look for other spots to take over (this leads to fighting).

The easiest way to work around this is by only keeping one male in the breeding tank. This ratio is favorable for success and will keep tensions low.

One trick you can try when trying to encourage your fish to breed is to raise the water temperature to the upper limits of their normal window. Do this gradually since these fish are sensitive to sudden changes.

When he’s ready, the male will start to do a mating dance/movement pattern to attract the female. If that’s successful the female will lay her eggs in front of his cave (hence why they males need their own space) so he can fertilize them.

Since these fish are mouth brooders, the female will collect the fertilized eggs in her mouth and go to the cave to incubate them. Don’t panic if you see this happening, she’s not eating the eggs!

The incubation process will last about a month, and you’ll see between one and four dozen fry when the entire process is finished.

Decision Time

You now have a better understanding of peacock cichlid care, and what these fish are like in general.

The combination of their beauty and laid-back temperament makes them a no-brainer for any aquarist who’s been itching to get into the cichlid game.

However, if you’re not comfortable with maintaining a highly stable tank then we can understand if you think this fish isn’t a good fit for you. If this is the case, keep practicing and gaining more experience before you get one!

If you have any questions about these fish or have suggestions on ways we can improve this care guide, send them our way. We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of aquarists figure out the best fish for them, and we’ll gladly do the same for you.

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