Auratus Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Jul 16, 2021

Auratus cichlid careguide

Credits: Alexander Boden on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Auratus Cichlids are notorious for their aggression. Hailed as the most hostile among 1,600 African cichlid species to exist, they’re definitely not recommended for beginner fishkeepers. 

When I first dabbled into the fishkeeping hobby a couple of years back, I had a pretty bad experience with Auratus cichlids. They head-on went after tankmates – nipping, biting, and bullying relentlessly. 

Thus, if you’re raising auratus or are planning to, there are several things to consider. In this one-stop guide, we will equip you with all the knowledge you need to raise these brilliant-looking, fierce cichlids. 

So, let’s begin with a quick introduction, shall we?

Introduction To Auratus Cichlid 

NameAuratus Cichlid
Scientific NameMelanochromis auratus
NicknamesGolden mbuna and Malawi golden cichlid
Care LevelDifficult
Breeding Moderate
Temperature75-82°F (24-27°C)
pH Level7.5-8.5
General Hardness60-180 ppm (6-10 dGH)
Minimum AquariumSize 50 gallons
DietOmnivore
OriginLake Malawi

Auratus cichlids are the natives of the beautiful Lake Malawi of Africa. They’re often referred to as mbuna, roughly translating to ‘rock fish’ or ‘rock dwelling fish’ in the local Tonga language. 

Auratus cichlids are specifically found in the southern parts of the lake, specifically from the Jalo Reef southward through the entire western coast down to the Crocodile rocks. 

These fish are trendy in the aquarium hobby, thanks to their hardy nature and prolific breeding ability. However, their temperament is quite tricky – which means there’s little room for error when adding them to a community aquarium. 

Auratus Cichlid Lifespan 

With proper care and a nutritious diet, auratus cichlids are known to live for around 5 years in a tank. 

Auratus Cichlid Appearance 

Auratus cichlids have a long body, rounded snout, and a continuous dorsal fin. However, the most striking feature in their bodies is the horizontal stripes that distinguish them from other species in the family. 

Another notable feature is their incisor-like teeth that are closely spaced. In the wild, the anatomy of the teeth helps them feed on aufwuchs, biofilm, algae, and critters. 

They also have spiny rays in the pectoral, dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins, which help deter attackers. On the other hand, the frontal parts of these fins are soft, making it easier to swim and change positions swiftly in the tank. 

Auratus Cichlid Size 

On average, auratus cichlids grow up to the size of 4.5 inches (12 centimeters). Usually, males are pretty bigger than their female counterparts. 

Auratus Cichlid Coloration 

These cichlids display a fair bit of sexual dimorphism. So, there are quite a few essential distinctions between males, females, and juveniles that are mainly reflected in colors. 

Male Auratus Cichlid Colors 

A male’s body is black for the most part, with a few exceptions. For example, the back is golden yellow to faded yellow in color. Likewise, the dorsal fin is also transparent yellow with tiny black specks that almost form a horizontal line through the top. 

There’s also a thin yellow line edged with bright blue that runs horizontally down the body’s midsection from the gill up to the caudal fin. 

The pelvic and anal fins are black with neon blue trimming, whereas the tail fin is black with yellow edges. 

Female Auratus Cichlid Colors 

The female’s body has golden tints on most parts with a black dorsal fin edged in gold. In addition, the upper part of the body is usually peppered with black and white stripes. 

From the eye to the caudal fin, a white/blue-trimmed black line runs horizontally through the center of the body. While most fins are edged gold, the tail fin has white coloration with a few black spots and a golden base. 

A female auratus cichlid has a unique ability to morph into a male’s color if there are no males present in the habitat. However, males cannot transform into females. 

Juvenile Auratus Cichlid Colors

A juvenile’s upper body is white with 3 black horizontal stripes and a golden belly. These stripes are positioned down the middle, along the back, and through the dorsal fin’s top. 

The tail fin is usually the same color as the female’s but has several diagonal stripes instead of spots. The juveniles will retain the female’s coloring until they’re 6 months old. 

The drastic color difference between males and females will give your aquarium an aesthetic color combo. 

Auratus Cichlid Behavior

Auratus Cichlid
Credits: Alexandra Tyers on Flickr under Creative Common license

Sorry to break it to you, but auratus isn’t a suitable choice for any community tank. They’re known to be aggressive and hostile to other fish. Comparatively, males are more short-tempered than females. 

Male auratus cichlids are almost entirely intolerant of other males – whether they’re from the same species or different. This is even more true during the breeding season as they’ll not tolerate any kind of intrusion into their living or breeding area. 

Females are also known for their aggression – although not as much as their male counterparts. The dominant female, who has changed her color to a male’s, will usually be more assertive and violent than other females. 

As for hobby, these cichlids love to dig the substrate – often transforming the tank’s environment as per their liking. 

How To Pair Auratus Cichlids In A Tank?

The rule of thumb is to add 1 male for every 3-4 females. Since males are completely intolerant of other males and are naturally into polygamy, this is the ideal ratio. 

If you ever add two males to the same tank, the alpha male will bully the weaker one to death. 

Suitable Tankmates For Auratus Cichlids

Although the stakes are pretty high, you can pair your auratus cichlids with other African cichlids that demand the same water parameters. Some of them are: 

That being said, given their hostile nature, it’s best not to keep auratus cichlids in a community tank. However, suppose you still want to experiment. In that case, it’s absolutely vital to keep them in a large tank that has plenty of hiding spaces and territorial division. 

If you see even the slightest bit of aggression, remove the problematic fish from the lot or completely rearrange the tank’s layout so they all could draw their new territories. 

Besides fellow auratus males, tankmates you should absolutely avoid are small feeder fish and invertebrates. They will become tasty snacks for your cichlid in no time. 

Aquarium Setup For Auratus Cichlids 

Since these fish are inherently aggressive and territorial, you should allocate at least 50 gallons per fish. So if you’re going to house a couple of them together, you’ll need to invest in at least a 125-150 gallon tank

For tank layout, they obviously prefer rockscape, given that they are rock-dwelling fish in the wild. You can use a sand substrate which will provide sturdy cushioning for the rocks. 

You have to be picky about the substrate you choose since it could very well change the tank’s pH level. For instance, crushed coral is known to make the water more alkaline. 

Irrespective of the substrate chosen, your auratus cichlids will have a lot of fun digging into it. They usually start digging substrate as juveniles to claim the territory. 

Align rocks in such a way that there’s plenty of hiding spots and escape paths. You can also add caves, where the cichlids will often visit to take refuge or just chill. 

You can use less porous rocks and stack them on each other, creating small gaps between them to create escape paths. 

It’s super important to create hideouts and escape routes – however, plants aren’t the eligible props here. They love to uproot plants at every given chance. I had tried securing plants in clay pots with tiny rocks and pebbles, but they still managed to uproot the plants.

Water Chemistry For Auratus Cichlids 

Temperature range75-82°F (24-27°C)
pH level7.5-8.5
General hardness60-180 ppm (6-10 dGH)
Specific gravity1.0002
LightingModerate-normal lighting

The streams and rivulets that flow into Lake Malawi have a naturally high mineral content. This, coupled with evaporation, results in alkaline and mineralized water. Thus, you need to plan your tank’s water chemistry based on these considerations. 

Auratus cichlids are known to have a bit higher salt tolerance than other cichlid species. Thus, they can do quite well in brackish water conditions, too. They can tolerate about 10% more salinity than an average saltwater tank. 

That being said, these cichlids can fare well in both freshwater and brackish tank as long as there is enough water current and an efficient filtration method. 

If you need to increase the tank’s carbonate hardness levels, crushed coral or aragonite sand can help achieve that. 

Also, note that a higher pH level means higher chances of ammonia poisoning. Thus, you should conduct water changes quite frequently. You can either perform 10% water change daily or stick to 25% water change weekly. 

Although auratus cichlids are a hardy species, it’s still essential to get their water parameters to the T. Otherwise, they’ll become stressed and prone to ailments. 


Our Top Pick Of Equipment For Auratus Cichlids

Here’s a list of our recommended tank and equipment for your cichlid tank. All these recommendations are handpicked based on our experience or in-depth research! 

150-Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium 

Finnex Deluxe Titanium Tube Heater With Guard 

Fluval FX6 Canister Filter 

What To Feed Auratus Cichlid?

Like most Lake Malawi cichlids, auratus are omnivores. In the wild, they mainly feed on algae, biofilm, aquatic plants, and aufwuchs. Aufwuch refers to the collection of small aquatic critters and plants that grow on open surfaces in aquatic habitats. 

Although they incline towards a herbivore diet in the wild, they’ll accept most of the carnivore offerings in a tank setting. 

Here’s a list of food you can give your auratus cichlid:

  • Microworms 
  • Mosquito larvae 
  • Shrimps
  • Diatom 
  • Flakes
  • Pellets 
  • Blanched veggies like broccoli, zucchini, and spinach

Although they can eat meat, make sure it doesn’t make an appearance in their diet too much or too often. To avoid Malawi bloat, a widespread digestive disease in Malawi cichlids, give importance to a well-rounded herbivore diet. 

How Often And How Much To Feed Auratus Cichlid? 

Instead of giving one big meal a day, spread it into 2-3 small meals. As for quantity, only give an amount they can finish within the first 3 minutes of offering. 

If you have a grownup cichlid, it’s advisable to fast 1 day a week as it helps to regulate metabolism. 

Breeding Auratus Cichlids 

Like most other Lake Malawi cichlids, auratus are mouth breeders. The female will hold her fertilized eggs in the mouth for several weeks before they hatch. The mating process happens with the male hunting for a suitable egg-laying site. If you are serious about breeding them and raising the fry, it’s a must to get a fry tank. 

Auratus cichlids have polygamous relationships where one male attends several females. But ironically, they have a matriarchal family. 

When the correct water conditions are met in the tank, the male will start digging a suitable spot for eggs. If any other fish comes nearby at this time, the male will aggressively chase it away. Only gravid females are welcome anywhere near the dug spot. 

The male will then dance and circle around the female as part of the ritual before she lays the eggs in the chosen site. Given the female’s size, she can lay anywhere between 10 to 40 eggs at a time. After that, she will swiftly scoop all the eggs into her mouth for fertilization. 

Next, she stimulates the male to release the sperm by mouthing the egg spots or anal fins. While spawning, the male transforms into very dark shades of its original color – looking almost like a double-exposed picture. 

Once the male cichlid discharges sperm, the female will inhale it – and as a result, the eggs become fertilized. 

She will then keep the eggs in her mouth for around 3 weeks at a tentative temperature of 82°F until they hatch into free-swimming tiny fry. 

While the eggs are incubating, the female will not consume any food – making her health prone to deterioration. 

At this point, some breeders prefer stripping off the eggs from her mouth and putting them in an incubator or a breeding tumbler. 

How To Care For Auratus Cichlid Fry?

Credit: Ryan Schmitz on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Once hatched, the mother cichlid will take care of the fry for a couple of days. She will even scoop the little ones back into her mouth if there’s any danger nearby. The breeding tank should at least have a capacity of 20 gallons. And make sure that you use a sponge filter so that it doesn’t suck up your little fry. 

The water parameters should be pretty much identical to the parents’ tank – although the temperature can be set a tad bit higher. 

You can give your auratus cichlid fry the following food:

  • Brine shrimp nauplii 
  • Powdered dry food 
  • Crushed flakes 
  • Mini pellets 
  • Baby brine shrimp
  • Spirulina 
  • Infusoria

Feed them thrice every day to ensure proper growth. 

Disease in Auratus Cichlids 

Auratus cichlids are most susceptible to Malawi bloat, a digestive complication due to an imbalanced diet. Another most common disease is ich, which happens if the tank’s water is too stale, polluted, and deoxygenated. 

And like most other fish, they’re also prone to flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa and worms), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. 

Let’s look at some of these diseases in depth:

Ich

In order to get rid of ich, you can increase the tank’s temperature up to 86°F (30°C) for around 3 days. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you will need to use copper-based medication. 

However, make sure that you are using the medication strictly as advised by the manufacturers to avoid any kind of toxic buildup in the tank. In my opinion, the best way forward is the combined effort of both copper treatment and increased temperatures. 

Swim Bladder Disease 

Cichlids are also vulnerable to swim bladder disease that messes up their buoyancy. As a result, the suffering fish will have a tremendously hard time staying afloat and swimming correctly. 

To get rid of the excess air, you’ll need to vent the fish. With correct venting, the sound of the air passing is audible, and the difference in size is instantly noticeable. However, it severely stresses the fish – make sure you’re gentle. 

Malawi Bloat 

As the name suggests, Malawi bloat is endemic to cichlids hailing from this lake. The most common symptoms are a swollen belly, panting, appetite loss, and discolored stool.

Caused mainly due to intestinal protozoan, this ailment could very well be fatal if not treated on time. 

It is most commonly treated with metronidazole. Make sure to keep the water clean and healthy and feed fibrous food to prevent this condition. 

Why Is My Auratus Cichlid Stressed? 

There can be so many reasons causing stress in an auratus cichlid. For starters, they’re aggressive and territorial – often picking up beef in the tank with other tankmates. Besides this, factors like an overpopulated tank, polluted water, lack of resources, and mating competition could be the potential reasons. 

Signs Of A Stressed Auratus Cichlid 

If your auratus cichlid is stressed, it will most probably lose its appetite first. It will also come to the surface more often, gasping for air. And don’t forget to notice the irregular swimming pattern. 

Gasping For Air

Oxygen depletes fast in a stressed body. As a result, your cichlid will come to the surface frequently to inhale air. You could also notice panting motions. 

In most cases, this is due to insufficient water parameters. Make sure everything’s in check and the water’s well aerated. 

Appetite 

Your cichlids, who otherwise hungrily nibble on food, will lose appetite when stressed. If you find your fish ignoring the food or eating too little, it could be because of stress. 

Disease

Stress often transcends into the disease by weakening the immune system. In most cases, a stressed cichlid often comes down with a freshwater disease. For instance, ich. 

Irregular Swimming Pattern 

Swimming backward, upside down, frantically, or crashing at the tank’s bottom – all of these strange swimming patterns are telltale signs of stress. 

Conclusion: Auratus Cichlid Care Guide 

So, that was our one-stop guide on caring for auratus cichlids. Frankly, they’re not beginner-friendly fish, but once you work your way around them, they are hardy fish that will even triumph a few errors here and there. 

Given their aggression, it’s always tricky to pair them with other fish in a community tank – and only some can successfully raise them together with other fish. It’s like walking on eggshells.

A couple of years back, I’d made the rookie mistake of adding auratus cichlids to my community tank. As you can guess, it definitely didn’t go well. 

As for water parameters, make sure you adhere to the table above so your cichlid can live its life to maximum years! 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.