Peacock Cichlid Care: Types, Size, Tank Mates & More!

Peacock Cichlid care guide

Peacock Cichlids are some of the most colorful freshwater fish in the world, so it’s no wonder why they share the same name of a bird that’s also vibrant and chromatic. Their relative docility and beauty is difficult to resist. Peacock Cichlids are a friendly and peaceful addition to any aquarium.

Even though they’re easy to care for, brand new aquarists should practice with different fish. If you’ve been tinkering with aquariums and want to start on something larger, the Peacock Cichlid is perfect.

Peacock Cichlid Overview

The Peacock Cichlid is a freshwater fish from the Aulonocara genus. They’re an ancient species of mouth brooders who serve an important role in the ecosystem. They come from a small area of Africa, but reside in the world’s ninth largest lake.

Natural Habitat

Their main home is Lake Malawi in Malawi, Africa. This ancient body of water sustains 22 types of Peacock Cichlids. They’re bottom dwellers and can live between depths of around 19 to 131 feet.

They’re skillful, active swimmers who are always on the lookout for prey. They live in warm, deep water close to the bottom to stay as near to food as possible. They hunt into the sandy substrate beneath them and eject sand out of their gills.  When hunting for food, they hover above to detect movement from possible prey or dig their snouts around in it.

Appearance of Peacock Cichlid

Peacock Cichlids are among the highest ranked freshwater fish in regard to their visual appeal. But, unlike many of their cousins, their color isn’t dependent on their mating status or mood; although these things can enhance their coloring.

They come in a great range of colors but all are iridescent. What’s interesting is that the part of Lake Malawi they originate from will determine their coloring. Females and juveniles are dull gray or mousy brown but, males, as they age, come in stunning shades of purple, black, blue, gold, orange, red and yellow.

Types Of Peacock Cichlids

Each variety is distinct in color and unmatched by other freshwater types. Even though Peacock Cichlids are a huge family of fish, only a handful of these species can make for wonderful pets in home aquariums:

  • Nkhomo-benga
  • African Butterfly
  • Flavescent
  • Maulana bicolor
  • Fort Maguire
  • Blue Gold
  • Sunshine

Although there are over 20 different types of Peacock Cichlids, here’s a list of the most popular found in home aquariums:

Blue Peacock Cichlid

As the name suggests, this Peacock Cichlid is blue all over with dark, elongated stripes from the front of the dorsal fins to the end of the caudal peduncle. The brightness and shade of blue depends on their location, age and gender.


Also known as the Emperor Cichlid, some varieties come in yellow. Most Blue Peacock Cichlids live at the southeastern end of Lake Malawi. These are one of the more popular varieties people keep as pets.

Dragon Blood Peacock Cichlid

Often confused with Strawberry Peacock Cichlids, the Dragon Blood variety is a bright, pinkish-red.

OB Peacock Cichlid

These are primarily red with patches of dark royal blue everywhere. The patches on their faces are brighter which extend into their dorsal and caudal fins. These are often hybrids and crossbreeds, which can present their own set of problems.

Red Peacock Cichlid

This is a variety of Flavescent Peacock Cichlids, often called Ruby Red or Rubin Red. They’re a manmade breed and the most popular type of cichlid. But, they’re beautiful with a vibrant red hue with bits of electric blue in the fins. It stands out in any tank and is breathtaking to look at.

Strawberry Peacock Cichlid

This stunning type of Peacock Cichlid is a vibrant candy reddish-pink with light spotting on their fins. These are some of the most rare to find. The dots on the fins is what separates this type from the Dragon Blood.

Yellow Peacock Cichlids

Yellow Peacock Cichlids have many other monikers: Nkhomo-Benga, Benga, Sunshine, New Yellow Regal or Baensch’s. The come from the western parts of Lake Malawi and favor shallower waters. They usually don’t go any deeper than 20 ft.

They are a bright, rich yellow with neon blue splotches and dots over their entire bodies. Some may have midnight blue bands on their sides.

Size

Males tend to be around six inches long while the females are no bigger than four inches long. Both sexes develop an oversized lateral line when they reach maturity. If you can mimick the conditions of Lake Malawi combined with consistent quality care, a Peacock Cichlid can grow bigger than the expected average.

Lifespan

Peacock Cichlids live for around six to eight years as long as they have everything they need. This includes maintaining water conditions, water quality and a well-balanced diet.

There are some reports of Peacock Cichlids living as long as 10 or 15 years. That means if you take your ownership of one seriously, there’s a great potential for them to be with you for a long time.

Behavior: Social Graces

Most species of Cichlids are aggressive but the Peacock is more docile and peaceful. The males tend to be territorial loners while females often gather in schools. If you plan on keeping them, the males can overtake other, more non-confrontational fish.  This will be especially true if there aren’t enough caves, space or females.

Mating

Although the males will often be alone, they are polygamous when it’s time for breeding. Once a male has claimed his bit of territory, the courting ritual can begin. He digs a nest near the entrance of his cave.

The male then begins to move in a dance-like pattern to get the attention of willing females with darting and quick, sudden movements. When one comes along, she enters his lair, lays her eggs and he then fertilizes them.

Once the female collects her eggs in her mouth, she remains in the cave for incubation, which takes about a month. After that time, a fry between one and four dozen emerge; anywhere from 12 to 50 hatchlings can appear.

Peacock Cichlid Care

Those who want to deepn their aquatic hobbies will find Peacock Cichlids agreeable to start. They’re low maintenance and very calm. But, they are sensitive to environmental changes, so it’s crucial to understand their ideal living conditions. You must dedicate yourself to keeping water conditions consistent.

Tank Size

The tank size you need will depend on how many Peacock Cichlids you’re going to have. A 55-60 gallon tank or larger will be sufficient for Peacock Cichlids. This is because they need enough room to practice swimming and hunting.

If you plan on having more than six Peacock Cichlids, you will need a 100 gallon tank or larger. Also make sure you have a horizontal tank rather than a vertical one. This will give the Peacock Cichlids the room they need to move, swim, hide and hunt.

Water Requirements

The water in Lake Malawi is warm and alkaline all year round. This means you should keep the tank temperature between 74°F and 82°F with the aim of maintaining the water at around 80°F. Maintain a pH level between 7.5 and 8.6 with a water hardness range of four to six.

To ensure the conditions stay constant, get a quality water test kit. The water must remain alkaline, clean and clear or the fish’s health will suffer.

Decorations

Only add plants that are hardy like hornwort, anacharis or java ferns. You will have to anchor these. Peacock Cichlids are famous for digging, so they’ll disturb the roots of most foliage.

Floating plants are also another good option to consider for your aquarium. Peacock Cichlids won’t eat them like other species will; it’s just their digging that’s disturbing to plants.

Substrates

Add some driftwood, rocks, caves and sand for them to hide and hunt. This will also prevent territorial aggression with other males in the tank.

Never use gravel because this can cut their gills. Anything soft and sandy will be best.  If you plan on having many varieties of Cichlids in your aquarium, ensure that you accommodate all their favorite things and conditions. Some species will like more rocky terrain while others will enjoy more silt and sand.

Ideal Domestic Conditions

The idea is to recreate, as best as possible, their native wild habitat. It is wise to study the conditions and environment surrounding Lake Malawi to make sure you get as close as possible. This includes light, season changes and fish mating habits.

One aspect to Lake Malawi is that it’s very big, very deep, very old and very warm. Because it’s a lake and not the ocean, the conditions don’t change much, including the chemistry that involves pH balance and water hardness. The water is very clear, alkaline stable and unpolluted.

If you are able to meet the conditions of their natural habitat, you will mitigate any stress a Peacock Cichlids can experience. This will contribute to a long, happy life for the fish.

Peacock Cichlid Food and Diet

You can feed pellets and flakes to them along with other meat and veggie supplements. They’ll eat live or frozen water fleas, Daphnia or brine shrimp. Don’t feed tubifex worms or mammalian meat as these can make Peacock Cichlids very sick with a condition called Malawi bloat.

A quality pellet designed for Peacock Cichlids should be the center of their daily feeding. Use meat and veggies as supplements and treats. Any flakes you give them should be appropriate to Cichlids, like spirulina flakes. Incorporate blanched vegetables such as spinach, zucchini and lettuce.

Avoid Overfeeding

To avoid overfeeding, give them several tiny servings each day. This will help maintain healthy water requirements and prevents obesity. Large amounts of organic material can alter the pH balance, water hardness and other parameters. Plus, Peacock Cichlids will eat anything and they can suffer from overweight problems if you feed them too much. They’ll lose their coloring and can even die.

Breeding

Peacock Cichlids are omnivorous but they’re also impressive predators. They enjoy diving into the watery depths to sift through rocks and sand for invertebrates. They feast on things like insects, zooplankton, larvae and crustaceans.

If you’re looking to breed Peacock Cichlids, you need to have special, dedicated rooms for each male in your aquarium. Claiming space is part of the mating behavior. If there’s not enough room, territorial fighting will occur with other males.

This can end in disaster. So, if you’re going to have more than one male, make sure they each have their own caves or other kinds of hiding spots. The easiest way to work around the males going into combat is to have only one male. This makes success more possible because tension is low.

Since most spawning occurs in warmer water, raising the temperature to the top end of their limit (around 82°F) will help encourage breeding. But do this in slow increments because of how sensitive Peacock Cichlids are to the slightest change in their environment.

Peacock Cichlid Tank Mates

If you want some tank mates for your Peacock Cichlids, you have many options. Because they’re so tame and peaceful, any nonaggressive fish should house well with them. Although the males can be territorial, if there’s enough space for them to claim, there shouldn’t be too many problems.

Ensure the friends you want to add can handle the water parameters that the Peacock Cichlids require. Your best choices in that regard are other, nonaggressive Cichlids. The most adaptable is the Haplochromis Cichlid. There are several types:

  • Copadichromis
  • Nyassachromis
  • Placidochromis
  • Sciaenochromis

Additional Considerations: The Botia Loach is another species you can try too because they have a good temperament and require similar water conditions. But, anything that comes from Lake Malawi will make for good tank mates, for the most part.

Avoid some species of fish though, like Mbuna, Pseudotropheus, Petrotilapia and Labeotropheus. They are not friendly with Peacock Cichlids.

More Females than Males

It’s important to have more females than males in your tank to prevent territorial wars and encourage natural social interaction. Ensure you have three to four females to one male in the tank. This helps to create schools.

Common Possible Diseases

Like all aquarium fish, Peacock Cichlids are susceptible to certain diseases and health issues that can develop in the tank from overfeeding, underfeeding, changes in water conditions and other stressors.

Environmental Stress

Odors can stress Peacock Cichlids. This can come from anything like perfumes, sprays, cooking, construction and etc. If enough gets into the tank, it can change the water conditions.

Sounds and vibration can affect Peacock Cichlids because of how deep they go into the water. Their caudal fins means they’re very sensitive to sound and electricity when swimming around. This also makes them sensitive to changes in pressure provided by vibrations.

Lighting can also present a problem for Peacock Cichlids. If there’s too little light, they won’t be able to see their food. If there’s too much light, it throws them off because of how they prefer darkness.

Malawi bloat

Malawi bloat is a fatal condition that happens because of excessive meaty food. Abdominal inflammation, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing and staying at the bottom of the tank longer than usual are all symptoms of Malawi bloat.

Severe cases can harm the liver, swim bladder, kidneys and even cause death in less than three days. So, it’s crucial to take care of this the moment you see it.

Swim Bladder Disease

Intestinal gas or parasites that infect the bladder causes Peacock Cichlids to experience Swim Bladder Disease. Floating at the top of the tank and not remaining close to the bottom is the main symptom to look for.

Avoid feeding the fish too much dried food and protein but give them more vegetable fiber. This will help prevent the disease.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is very infectious and can decimate your entire aquarium in a brief period of time. Frayed fins, sunken abdomen, lack of appetite and white blotches all over the body are symptoms of fish TB.

The moment you think one has TB, remove all other fish to another tank of clean water with an antibiotic. Quarantine the sick fish in its own smaller tank. Clean and disinfect the old tank or buy a new one altogether.

About Antibiotics

Make sure you purchase a prescription from the vet to treat any diseases with antibiotics. Anything of lower quality may hurt your fish and further worsen conditions in the tank.

Peacock Cichlids in Your Aquarium

Because of their tame, peaceful demeanor, having Peacock Cichlids in your tank can be an entertaining and beautiful spectacle. Their beauty and easy-going temperament combined with easy care is great for anyone wanting to expound their experience with an exotic aquarium.

But, if you’re not comfortable with or are unsure that you’ll be able to maintain the water parameters they need, then Peacock Cichlids may not be right for you. Try practicing on other fish to hone and build your skill before getting these little beauties.

Michele Taylor
Michele Taylor

Hello, fellow aquarists! My name is Michele Taylor, and I am a homeschool mother of six children, which includes five boys and one girl. Growing up, our family had a large aquarium with angelfish, goldfish, and lots of different varieties of neons.

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