Lake Malawi haplochromine
cichlids of the genus Aulonocara (aka "peacocks") rank amongst the most
popular African cichlids. The vibrant coloration of the adult
males coupled with a low to moderate level of aggression attract many
hobbyists to this genus of cichlids. Interest and prices remain
relatively high on these species despite the drab and similar coloration
of adult females and juveniles. Determining the sex of juvenile
peacocks is an oft asked question and thus the topic of this article.
There are several anatomical and coloration
cues which may assist in determining the sex of a developing juvenile
Aulonocara. Coloration and anatomical cues often begin to develop in
juveniles between 2-3 inches in total length thus juveniles should at least be
in this size range to begin examination for determination of sex.
The most consistent early clue in nearly all species of Aulonocara
is development of a white margin on the dorsal fin. This features is
present in males of most species and absent in all females. The
development of this feature also often precedes development of any
conspicuous coloration or pointing of the ends of the dorsal and anal fins
thus often serving as the first consistent indication of a developing
Juvenile male Aulonocara baenschi
50 mm (2 in) TL
The second set of features generally
indicating a developing male are the pointing of posterior tips of the
dorsal and anal fin and the beginning of conspicuous coloration on the
fins. The appearance of these features varies with species and these
features may be slow or fail to appear in the presence of another male
(particularly males of the same or closely related species).
Aulonocara jacobfreibergi " mamelela"
Male 60 mm
Further maturation often produces, depending
upon species, other conspicuous features of pattern development sometimes
including egg spots on the anal fin and the development of colored
striations in the caudal (tail) fin and coloration of the body. One
must be cautious interpreting these features however, especially the egg
spots and spotting of the dorsal fin. The development of egg spots
on the anal fin and spotting and light bands of coloration in the dorsal
fin can be
misleading as many adult females, such as the one pictured below, will
also develop some of these features.
Aulonocara sp. "lwanda"
Female 75 mm TL
Male Aulonocara only begin development
of coloration between 2-3 inches in length. Hobbyists would be
advised to carefully scrutinize offerings of this size Aulonocara
with full coloration, especially if all the specimens are colored as
males. Certainly mature wild caught specimens can sometimes be
smaller in size and display full coloration due to limited food resources
in the natural environment, however domestic raised fish are not often
subject to these food limitation and most lots should at least contain a
few females at that size.