Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis Auratus): Ultimate Care Guide

Common Name(s)Auratus Cichlid, Malawi Golden Cichlid
Scientific NameMelanochromis auratus
OriginLake Malawi
Temperature75-82°F (24-27°C)
Size4.3 inches (11 cm)
Minimum Tank Size50 gallons (190 liters)
Food & DietOmnivorous diet (Live bloodworms, brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, Spirulina-based flakes, etc.)
Lifespan5 years
Water pH7.5-8.5
Tank MatesSince they are highly aggressive species of cichlid, tank mates should be selected with careful consideration.
DiseaseMay be susceptible to Malawi Bloat disease.
Auratus Cichlid
Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis auratus)

Auratus Cichlid (Melanochromis auratus) is an African Cichlid type that originates from Lake Malawi. This aquarium fish is known for is aggressive characteristics. While mbuna are generally known for being aggressive, Auratus Cichlids are one of the most aggressive member of this group. In fact, they can terrorize fish that are double their size. In their native habitat in Lake Malawi, they can normally be seen in groups of 8-10. 

Auratus Cichlid Care

Auratus Cichlid are hardy, but they aren’t recommended for most beginners in the aquarium hobby. This is mainly because of their aggressive characteristic, which can make it difficult to properly care for them. Tank setups and tank mates must be selected with careful consideration. Their aggression may escalate suddenly during mating season as well. This may result in attacks among tank mates that were previously peaceful. These situations may be difficult to manage for an inexperienced fishkeeper. If their aggression can be managed however, these are interesting fish to keep.

When caring for Auratus Cichlid it is important to maintain good water conditions. In order to maintain good water parameters, weekly water changes of 20-50% is recommended. Depending on their bioload, more water changes may be necessary. As a method of managing their aggression, Auratus Cichlids are often overstocked on purpose. If that is the case, 2-3 water changes may be required throughout the week. In addition, a reliable aquarium filter will be necessary as well.

Under poor water conditions, the fish will become stressed and the health of the fish will deteriorate as well. There are some signs to be aware of while monitoring the health of the fish. If the fish loses its appetite, this may be a cause for concern. While this is not a definitive indication of poor water quality, it is something to be aware of. If the fish are gasping for air at the water surface, that is a clear indication of stress. There is a high chance that there is something wrong with the water parameter. The water should be tested immediately in order to identify the cause of this behavior.

While responding to issues in a timely manner is very important, it is always better to take a proactive approach by taking measures to prevent the issue from occurring in the first place. A proper tank setup and regular maintenance can help prevent the majority of problems.

Minimum Tank Size

Auratus Cichlid require a minimum tank size of 50 gallons (190 liters). In a 50 gallon tank, it is possible to stock 1 male and 4-5 females.

If there are more than 1 male in the same tank, 125 gallon tank or larger is recommended.

Auratus Cichlid Tank Setup

A tank setup for Auratus Cichlid should consist of plenty of rockscape, which would mimic their natural habitat in Lake Malawi. Stack up the rocks to create gaps, paths, and caves. These rock structures will allow the less dominant fish to escape or hide from the aggressive fish. Keep in mind that Auratus Cichlids are mbuna, which translates to “rockfish” in the Malawi Tonga language.

In addition to the rockscape, there should be open spaces for the fish to swim as well.

Regarding the substrate, sand is a good option since this would mimic their habitat in Lake Malawi. However, gravel substrate is acceptable as well. During mating season, they will claim a territory and start digging a nest in the substrate.

Aquarium plants can be added to their tank, if it is a hardy species. Anubias Nana and Java Fern may be good options. When these plants are attached to rocks in the tank, it does create a very natural look.

In terms of the lighting for the aquarium, 8-10 hours of light per day is sufficient. Very strong light can stress out the fish, causing their colors to wash out. Blue lights that are slightly cool tend to show help show their best colors.

Auratus Cichlid Food & Diet

Auratus Cichlid are omnivorous fish that eats a lot of plant-based food. In their native habitat, they eat a lot of Aufwuchs, which are the algae growing on the rock surfaces. In addition, they eat various invertebrates as well.

In captivity, they should also be fed a varied diet that would mimic their natural diet. Some food that can be fed to them include Spirulina-based flakes, frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, and ghost shrimp. Rather than feeding a large portion all at once, it is better to feed them smaller portions more frequently. At least 2 feedings per day is recommended.

A well-balanced diet and proper feeding is important in order to avoid Malawi Bloat. This disease is common for Auratus cichlid.

Auratus Cichlid Water Parameters

The optimal temperature for Auratus Cichlid is 75-82°F (24-28°C).

The optimal pH range for Auratus Cichlid is 7.5 to 8.5.

These water parameters would mimic their natural habitat. The parameter should not change drastically, even if it is within the optimal range.

Auratus Cichlid Size

Auratus cichlid can grow up to 4.3 inches (11 cm) in size. However, in some cases, they can grow larger.

Regarding the growth rate, it will take them 1-2 years for them to reach full adult size. There are many variables that affect their growth rate. This includes genetics, food, and clean water.

Auratus Cichlid Lifespan

Auratus cichlid has an average lifespan of 5 years. However, depending on their genetics and environment, their lifespan can vary. Some fish have lived longer than 5 years.

Auratus Cichlid Aggression

Auratus Cichlid are aggressive fish, and they can become violent when they are defending their territory. As a mbuna, some aggressive behavior is expected. However, Auratus Cichlid are one of the most aggressive fish among mbunas.

The level of aggression can escalate during mating season. If the tank is too small, or the tank is not properly set up, the level of aggression can be further escalated.

Dominant males are known to attack other males in the tank. Therefore, it is best to keep a single male in the tank. Otherwise, a very large tank would be required to accommodate all males in the tank.

However, the aggressive behavior is not reserved for males only. Dominant females are known to attack and kill subordinate males. The females’ aggression is known to increase before breeding. A dominant female’s aggression can increase if the dominant male disappears as well. As soon as the dominant female notices the absence, the coloration of the female may darken, resembling the coloration of the male. The dominant female may attack the subordinate male at this point as well.

There are a few things that can be done to stop or reduce the Auratus Cichlid’s aggression. Here’s a few options to consider:

  • Do not keep more than 1 male in the tank
  • Provide plenty of hiding places
  • Provide an adequate tank size
  • Increase feeding frequency
  • Overstock the tank
  • Rearrange the rockscape regularly

Overstocking the tank may be an effective way of reducing aggressive behavior in the tank. By adding a lot of fish in the tank, the dominant fish will not be able to target a particular fish. One of the challenges of this method is water quality. Since there is a lot of fish in the tank, the bioload must be managed. A reliable aquarium filtration system and frequent water changes would be necessary.

Auratus Cichlid Care & Tank Set up Guide

Auratus Cichlid Tank Mates

Since Auratus Cichlid are aggressive, it can be difficult to find compatible tank mates. There fish are very aggressive, and they may even attack larger fish that are twice its size. Therefore, it is best to keep Auratus Cichlid in a species only tank.

Since the dominant male will aggressively attack other males in the tank, it is best to keep only 1 male in the tank. Multiple females can be added along with the dominant male.

If other species are going to be added, avoid fish that resemble male Auratus Cichlids. If they look similar, the fish may get attacked by the dominant male Auratus Cichlid.

Auratus Cichlid Changing Color

Auratus Cichlid are known to change color, and this is true for both the male and female.

The male usually changes from yellow to brown and then to black later on when they have matured. 

The female can change color if a dominant male disappears. A dominant female may turn darker, almost as if it was the dominant male.

Coloration is a feature that plays an essential role in terms of natural and sexual selection (Liang, Meyer, and Kratochwil, 2020). The Auratus cichlid morphological color change has been described to be “perhaps the most remarkable case” of color change reported for any cichlid. 

Auratus Cichlid Male or Female

The Auratus cichlid male and female have visible differences. The best way to tell Auratus Cichlid apart is through their color. 

The male Auratus cichlid can be recognized through their distinctive brown or black body and has either light blue or yellow stripes as well as transparent yellow dorsal fins. The anal and pelvic fins of the male Auratus cichlid are black with a hint of neon blue, whereas the female Auratus cichlid has gold pelvic and anal fins. 

The female Auratus cichlid, however, has a bright yellow base (this is also the case for male Auratus cichlid juveniles). Their distinctive feature is the black and blue lines that start from their eyes all the way down to their caudal fin. Another distinctive feature is the black and white stripes on the upper part of the body. Usually, their fins have gold edges, however, the tail fin has is peppered with black spots. However, if the male Auratus cichlid is absent from the tank, the female Auratus cichlid mimics the colors of the male. Furthermore, the level of aggression is a good indicator of whether it is male or female, as males are relatively a lot more aggressive. 

Auratus Cichlid Breeding

Auratus cichlid are relatively easy to breed. They are are mouthbrooders and their reproduction process begins after 6 months of life. All you have to do is to provide them with the right conditions and allow the mating process to start. The mating behavior consists of the male moving his fins in a seductive manner and digging a nest in the sand. The male will make sure no other male comes close to the nest by chasing them away. When the female approaches this nest, the male starts circling the female which signals the female to lay eggs. They can lay between 10 to 40 eggs. This is dependent on the size and age of the breeding pair. After the female lays her eggs in a cave, she gathers them up again carries the eggs in her mouth. The stimulated male then releases sperm to allow the eggs in the female cichlid’s mouth to fertilize. 

The female Auratus cichlid can keep the eggs in its mouth for up to 3 weeks. While the eggs are in the female’s mouth, it does not eat to avoid accidentally swallowing the eggs. After this period of approximately 28 days, the fry will become free-swimming. At this point, the female will release the fry. 

To prevent the female from getting weak while carrying the eggs, the eggs can be hatched in a incubator or fish breeding tumbler.

Once the female has releases the free-swimming fry, you should transfer the fry to a dedicated grow out tank. This grow out tank can be a simple bare-bottom 10 gallon tank. However, clean water is necessary, so the tank should have a sponge filter. Other types of filters should be used with caution, since the filter intake may suck up the fry. Free-swimming fry should be fed Artemia nauplii and crushed Spirulina flakes.

Auratus Cichlid Disease

Auratus Cichlid are hardy fish, but a stressed fish in poor conditions are susceptible to disease. One of the most common disease is Ich. Diseases are common for stressed Auratus cichlid. This freshwater disease is also known as ‘White spot’ and is caused by ‘ichtyopthirius multifilis’ which is a protozoan parasite. This disease can be spotted through signs of lethargy, labored breathing, and odd swimming patterns. To treat Ich, it is best to treat the entire tank rather than quarantining the single Auratus cichlid. 


Liang, Y., Meyer, A. and Kratochwil, C., 2020. Neural innervation as a potential trigger of morphological color change and sexual dimorphism in cichlid fish. Scientific Reports, 10(1).

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