Aulonocara is one of the genera that make up the family Cichlidae. Aulonocara cichlids are native to Lake Malawi in Africa. Due to historical reasons, Aulonocara cichlids are often referred to as “Haps”. The numerous cichlid species living in Lake Malawi are usually divided into two major groups: Mbuna cichlids that live among the rocks and Peacock cichlids that inhabit the open water regions. Earlier most non-Mbuna cichlids were counted as parts of a genus named Haplochromine, and the name “Haps” is an abbreviation of Haplochromine. Today, a lot of these species have gone trough reclassifications and many of the earlier Haplochromine species have been moved to the genus Aulonocara. The old name, “Haps”, is however still often used in every day speech.

A male Aulonocara is typically remarkably colourful, while the female Aulonocara is silvery or brownish. Aulonocara fry share the more camouflaging colouration of the female. Aulonocara cichlids are often kept together. They are generally much less aggressive than Mbuna cichlids, and a 150 litre aquarium with a length of 100 cm is usually enough. Try to make the aquarium décor resemble the natural habitat of your Aulonocara cichlids. A majority of the Aulonocara cichlids inhabit the region of Lake Malawi where rocky cliffs meets the sand bottom. Some Aulonocara species, e.g. Aulonocara gertrudae live only on the sandy bottom and stay away from the cliffs. The opposite is also possible; the Aulonocara jacob-freibergi prefers the cliffs and will rarely venture into the sandy bottom areas. For most Aulonocara species, an ideal aquarium set up should include a bottom covered with sand and an abundance of rocks and caves. To arrange plenty of places for hiding and sheltering is very important. You can usually include plants in the setup if you wish, since Aulonocara cichlids aren’t very found of digging.

Keeping different Aulonocara species will usually result in interbreeding. You can minimize this risk by choosing Aulonocara species where the females have very different looks. Aulonocara species where the female is brown can for example be combined with Aulonocara species that has silver coloured females. If you want to keep several male Aulonocara cichlids, it is very important that you decorate the aquarium in a way that makes it possible for each mail to claim his own territory. Male Aulonocara cichlids are usually only aggressive when defending their own little territory. As mentioned above, a lot of hiding places are also important, particularly during spawning. A lot of aquarists combine Aulonocara cichlids with peaceful Malawi cichlids from the genus Haplochromine. More aggressive cichlids, like the Mbunas, should be avoided since they will harass your Aulonocara cichlids violently. Keep in mind that some Haplochromine species are very aggressive and thus unsuitable companions for Aulonocaras.

Cover the bottom of your Aulonocara aquarium with fine sand, and use plenty of rocks and stones when you decorate. An abundance of hiding places should be created for the fish. You can usually include plants in the set up without any problems, since Aulonocara cichlids aren’t very found of digging.

Aulonocara cichlids are carnivore, and hunt during the day. One feature shared by all Aulonocara cichlids is a sensor system that makes them highly aware of even tiny movements. They used this to notice small movements caused by tiny crustaceans hiding under the sand. When a Aulonocara cichlid hunts for prey it will hover right over the sandy bottom, and make a quick attack as soon as they notice any movements. The large Aulonocara mouth will dig down into the sand and trap the crustacean as if in a cage. The Aulonocara will chew on the prey as well as on the sand, but the sand will be conveniently deposited through the gills of the fish. Your Aulonocara cichlids will happily eat most food types, but they are carnivore and require meaty food to sustain. Cyclops, Artemia or similar food is recommended. Aulonocara cichlids kept in aquariums will usually grow much larger than they would in the wild, since they are provided with more nutrition in captivity. An overfed Aulonocara cichlid is less likely to spawn. Female Aulonocara cichlids in Lake Malawi are typically smaller than 7 centimetres, while the males reach a maximum size of 11 cm.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi
Aulonocara jacobfreibergi. Copyright

All Aulonocara species are mouth brooders. Sand-dwelling Aulonocara cichlids will usually deposit their eggs in a pit dug in the sand by the male Aulonocara. They size and depths of the pits vary a lot and the diameter can exceed 60 centimetres. Cliff dwelling Aulonocaras will usually pick a cave or a crevice as breeding site. The distinction between sand-dwellers and rock-dwellers is however not at all sharp, and a sand-dwelling Aulonocara can choose to deposit the eggs in a cave and vice versa. One batch will typically consist of 30-90 eggs. When the eggs have been deposited and fertilized they will be picked up the female Aulonocara and protected inside her mouth. In Lake Malawi, larger groups of brooding female Aulonocara cichlids can often be seen since they like to stick together. Aulonocara fry are released while they are still comparatively small and must be given food small enough for them to consume.

Aulonocara baenschi
Aulonocara baenschi. Copyright

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