Peacock Cichlid | A to Z Guide – Care, Tank Mates, Size, and Diet

Peacock cichlids are indeed one of the most vibrant and colorful fish globally, with over 20 unique varieties. Cichlids are native to Lake Malawi and recognized for their “tamer” behavior in the same genus.

Besides their vivid appearance, peacock cichlids are easy to keep, making them a popular choice for new and experienced fishkeepers.


The peacock cichlid (Cichla ocellaris) belongs to the Aulonocara fish genus, comprising at least 22 different cichlids native to eastern Africa’s Lake Malawi (the world’s 9th largest lake). However, only several types of peacock cichlid can be kept in an aquarium.

Nevertheless, they are considered the friendliest and calmest cichlids. You can find most of them living near the bottom of deep and warm water, scavenging and digging for food in the rocky and sandy substrate. Their relative size makes them powerful moving fish against prey in the wild.

With lots of species to choose from, peacock cichlids are a great addition to your home tank with their colorful, vibrant appearance.


Peacock cichlids are stunning groups of fishes known for their vivid colors. Depending on their breeds, their colors range from orange to blue, gold, and yellow. Their colors also vary on the part of Lake Malawi where they originated.

Peacock species encompass the same body style: long-bodied cichlids, permanent color, prominent dorsal fins, fan-shaped tails, and elongated rays.

Yet, it’s worth noting that male species are more iridescent as they reach maturity than females. Male peacocks somewhat “change” in color when viewed from a different angle, unlike females that are dull gray in color. Nevertheless, there’s no way their mood or mating status affects their color, unlike their relatives.

Behavior & Temperament

Are peacock cichlids peaceful?

Malawi Cichlids are sure to have aggressive behavior. Still, the peacock cichlids group is one of the most peaceful cichlids with semi-aggressive traits.

Moreover, peacocks are active-dwelling fish at the bottom. Male peacock cichlids are naturally inclined to territory creation, but they can make a peaceful community fish provided that the aquarium’s size, tank mates, and quality of care are considered (we’ll delve into this later).

They are free-swimming cichlids that form schools as they dig zooplankton out of the sand. If you’re into breeding, you can keep a male or two cichlids with several females in a tank. Males are polygamous in nature, meaning they can mate with more than one female cichlid.

When digging out foods, cichlids hover above the sand and strike once a movement is noticed. They can easily prey on any invertebrates, thanks to their dart precision abilities.


How long do peacock cichlids live?

Depending on the quality of care and treatment, peacock cichlids’ lifespan lasts between 7 to 12 years.

Common diseases

Peacock cichlids are generally healthy and have a good lifespan. Yet, contributing factors to most common aquarium diseases include poor water quality, territory fighting, and stress. Diseases common to African cichlids involve:

  • Ich or white spot. It’s commonly caused by ich or ick, wherein cichlids develop small, blister-like lesions spotted on their skin or fins.
  • Fin rot. This disease is commonly caused by a bacterial infection called Pseudomonas fluorescence, resulting in a fish’s fins fraying.
  • Body slime. Stressed cichlids may develop body slime. Poor water conditions or overcrowding causes fish to produce mucus, which can suffocate cichlids if not treated.
  • Swim bladder disease. Also known as a swim bladder disorder or flip over, it is primarily caused by buoyancy. Cichlids might suffer or struggle to maintain a normal position while in the tank.
  • Malawi bloat. Peacock cichlids might suffer from a swollen abdomen, rapid breathing, and discolored feces. The Malawi bloat also causes fish to lounge at the tank’s bottom part.
  • Tuberculosis. Fish TB is another disease to look after. It’s caused by a bacterial species within the Mycobacterium genus. Moreover, improper processes (transferring fish without sanitation) and infected plants are some of the causes of tuberculosis in fish.
  • Cotton wool disease. Signs of a cotton wool disease-infected cichlids include rotting fins and black patches. It can lead to difficulty in movement and breathing.
  • Head and lateral line erosion (HLLE). Known as hole-in-the-head disease, this can cause severe infection among cichlids. Once a fish is infected, it loses its appetite and becomes ill. The worst cases result in death.
  • Gill flukes. Gill worms are dangerous parasites lodging at the gills. 

To avoid these diseases, opt for added precautionary measures. Ensure the tank water is clean with a pH kept at 7.5 to 8.6 level (the same as Lake Malawi’s). The water used should be fresh and free from any saltiness as well.

The external environment must be free from sounds, which can disrupt peacock cichlids. Once you’ve noticed a disease’s sign, create a hospital tank where you can isolate an infected cichlid.


How big do peacock cichlids get?

The average size of a male peacock cichlid is around 6 inches (15 cm.), while females are maxed at 4 inches (10 cm.). Their growth also depends on the quality of care but is highly influenced by its origin.

How many peacock cichlids can be kept together?

Since peacock cichlids are fast and active swimmers, you’ll need a tank that can provide them enough room for movement. Yet, the number of cichlids that can be kept together relies on how big the tank is.

The minimum tank size is a 50-gallon tank, while the optimal is a 100-gallon tank size; the latter lets you keep a community of 10 peacock cichlids or so.

For a 30-gallon tank, you can keep a maximum of three African cichlids. If you have a bigger aquarium, say a 50-gallon tank, five cichlids would do.

Peacock Cichlid Care

Tank Size

As mentioned, the suggested tank size for keeping a colony of African peacock cichlids would be 50 to 100 gallons being the better. 

Keep in mind that cichlids are active and fast swimmers. The preferable setup would be a horizontal tank, a large tank size but low in height, giving your fish plenty of room to explore and swim in.

Tank Setup

Considering the tank size, you can set up a cichlid community with one male alone. They are territorial and polygamous in nature, so you should be fine. The larger your tank, the lesser the territorial issues you’ll have.

Peacock cichlids love sand, rocks, and substrates that likely match their territory. This characteristic contributes to them being a “hardy” species, meaning they tend to dig on hard surfaces. So if you’re planning to decorate your tank, make sure to use only hardy plants. You can also opt for a cave or rock formation when doing tank aesthetics.

For mixing varieties of cichlids in a single tank, ensure to accommodate each fish’s need precisely. Learn how each type differs, their preferred environment, and issues with mating.

Additionally, here are the things you’ll need to effectively cater to a community of peacock cichlid:

  • Filtration. Cichlids prefer a cleaner environment; larger tanks require more filtration. It’s always better to have more than less.
  • Adequate lighting. Any type of lighting works well with peacock cichlids. To enhance the tank’s aesthetics, you can install a system that dims or lightens the aquarium. This way, you’ll mimic and match their native habitat.
  • Substrate. As stated earlier, place substrates that are finer in form. Peacock cichlids can filter thin substrate through their gills, unlike coarse ones, resulting in gill damage. These should be regularly combed to prevent debris buildup.
  • Driftwood. This is optional, but cichlids would enjoy a tank setup that has one.
  • Stones. Aside from substrate, scatter smooth and small rocks that let cichlids feel their natural habitat.

Plants serve as a decorative and natural filtration. If you plan not to have one, invest in premium-quality filtration systems.

Water conditions

Aside from tank size and setup, considering the water conditions is necessary when keeping peacock cichlids. Any aquarist knows the importance of a tank’s water parameters: temperature, pH range, and hardness (dH).

  • Temperature. Cichlids originated from Lake Malawi, known for their warm attributes. To keep them active and healthy, maintain a temperature between 75° to 82° Fahrenheit (24° to 28° Celsius).
  • pH range. The preferred pH range for cichlids to grow is between 7.5 to 8.6. The water tank must be free of any saltiness as well.
  • Hardness (dH). Since cichlids are considered “hardy,” the water’s hardness should be maintained between 4 to 6 dH. It will provide an effective cave-like environment for your fish.

Keep in mind to keep the water tank clean at all times. Replace it once you noticed the pH has changed to an alarming level.

Diet and Feeding

What do peacock cichlids eat?

Peacock cichlids are omnivores; they can literally eat anything (meats, plants, and manufactured foods). Other experts say that Peacock cichlids can also be herbivores. They are flexible enough when it comes to food, so you don’t have to worry much about feeding them. Yet, a varied meat diet would be beneficial in keeping your fish’s health and vivid appearance.

Since African cichlids love to hunt, feeding them with some live food is preferable. They love scavenging for foods deep near the sandy bottom (also referred to as bottom-dwellers). It will help if they’re offered foods that sink at the bottom of the tank.

Here are some foods you can try:

  • Insects
  • Larvae
  • Bloodworms or earthworms
  • Food pellets
  • Granules
  • Fresh and frozen foods
  • High-quality fish flakes

On an important note, avoid mammalian meats when feeding peacock cichlids. These foods are among the causes of Malawi Bloat.

How often should I feed my peacock cichlids?

Fish food can disrupt water chemistry. Consider multiple, small portions for feeding instead of one large feeding in a day to maintain its health. This process also helps you avoid overfeeding, which affects the fish’s health negatively. Disseminate food so that it lands in different areas.

How long can peacock cichlids go without food?

Tropical fish can go on seven to ten days without food. As such, matured peacock cichlids can survive for a week without feeding them, whereas baby cichlids should be fed every other day.

Tank Mates

Peacock cichlids tend to be more “disciplined” compared to other members of cichlids native to Lake Malawi. They’re much more peaceful to keep in a tank despite their semi-aggressive behavior.

Peacock cichlids don’t like to share their space with other fish. So, consider tank mates that aren’t bottom-dwellers. Aquarists mostly prefer other fish species from Lake Malawi, so the same tank setup and water conditions are maintained. Examples of fish that can live with peacock cichlids include:

  • Plecos
  • Botia loaches
  • Haplochromis cichlids (Copadichromis, Nyassachromis, Placidochromis, and Sciaenochromis)
  • Synodontis catfish
  • African red-eye tetra
  • Acei cichlids
  • Electric blue acara

Nevertheless, not all fish species native to Lake Malawi go along with peacock cichlids well. Prevent placing active fish (and those with aggressive behavior) in the tank, as it might result in a conflict between the two species. These species involve:

  • Mbuna
  • Labeotropheus
  • Petrotilapia
  • Angelfish


Peacock cichlids are among the best breeders; they’ll readily breed in any given environment (provided the water conditions). 

Male cichlids are polygamous. In fact, you can breed a community of fish by placing one male and several females in a 100-gallon tank. A male cichlid tries to entertain a female by showing various movements. The latter comes to the male’s territory to lay eggs

Peacock cichlids are known as maternal mouthbrooding species. Females hold the fertilized eggs in their mouths until they hatch. After these eggs hatch, a female cichlid leaves the fry alone. This is the best time to separate newly-hatched cichlids and feed them regularly. Once they mature, you can move them into the main tank.

Interspecies breeding is a common phenomenon in this case. Meanwhile, a hybrid occurs when a peacock cichlid is bred with other species. Yet, hybrids are more difficult to acknowledge and recognize in a tank.

Hybrids are sterile despite their vivid and healthy appearance. Most of the hybrid cichlids can’t produce or fertilize eggs, which can be troublesome if you’re a fish breeder. You can avoid this by not keeping multiple species of peacock cichlids in one tank.


Peacock cichlids can quickly breed given the proper water temperature and condition. They’re relatively peaceful, more disciplined, and less aggressive, unlike other members of the same species. Thus, these characteristics make them easier to handle and keep.

However, the most significant deciding factor is your home tank’s size. These species are territorial and active swimmers in nature, so at least a 50-gallon tank works best (bigger is better).

To conclude, peacock cichlids are best for:

  • Those who dabble in fishkeeping and fish breeding
  • Those who have massive tanks at home (horizontal aquariums preferred)
  • New and experienced aquarists who want to make a great addition to most tanks

While cichlids aren’t best for:

  • Those who want lots of live plants in their tank (for aesthetics)
  • Those who aren’t into maintaining water conditions regularly
  • Those who don’t want to invest in a large horizontal tank

With over 20 peacock cichlids species to choose from, we’re sure your fishkeeping industry will last for years!