Aulonocara aquilonium

Aulonocara aquilonium comes from the north of Lake Malawi. It is not the most colourful species, but it is a calm species, even in a group!

Aulonocara aquilonium

The scientific name of Aulonocara aquilonium was first validly published in 1995 by Ad Konings in The Cichlids Yearbook 5:26-36. Before being described it was listed as Aulonocara sp. auditor. Konings, 1991:33.

The genus name Aulonocara is a reference to one of the most important features of this species, namely the lateral canals on their heads. The name can be broken into two Greek parts: aulus means Flute and caras means face, a reference to the flute-like sideline channels. The species name aquilonium comes from Latin. Aquilonium means north and refers to the location/site in Lake Malawi.

The Aulonocara aquilonium was for a long time wrongly exported as Aulonocara auditor, which does not have the characteristic features of the sand-dweller Aulonocara aquilonium, and is therefore definitely a separate species. Their colour pattern is more reminiscent of a Protomelas than an Aulonocara. Further research should determine whether or not they belong to the genus Aulonocara. This species is classified as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).


All Aulonocara species are divided into 4 groups (complexes):

  1. Sand-dwelling group
  2. Chitande group
  3. Jacobfreibergi group
  4. Stuartgranti group

Aulonocara aquilonium belongs to the sand-dwelling group.


The male is silver with a glint on the head and has blue-yellow markings in the caudal fin. The dorsal fin is yellow on the underside with a blue band that ends with a black border at the top. The pelvic fins are black and also the anal fin is black with clear egg spots. The female is silver grey. The male is about 10 centimetres long, the female slightly smaller, about 9 centimetres. In the aquarium, they become slightly larger, the male 13 centimetres, the female 10 centimetres.

Aulonocara aquilonium belongs to the sand dwellers. Characteristic is the foraging behaviour in Aulonocaras. They “forage with sonar”, which has been found in all Aulonocara species in their natural environment. They stand motionless above the sandy bottom of about 10 millimetres and occasionally dive headfirst into the sand. If the fish has found prey, it is caught after a dive in the sand.

Outside the breeding season, Aulonocara aquilonium forms large schools of about 100 individuals that swim through the wide sandy biotope. Aulonocara species are generally calm and peaceful fish.


These fish are found on the northwest coast of Lake Malawi and occur there in three populations, namely at Charo, Mdoka and Ngara. They are mainly found in large numbers at Mdoka where the sandy bottom changes into rocks. The depth at which they occur varies from 12 to 25 meters. They are often found in the transition zones from sand to boulders. During the breeding season (in Lake Malawi in November/December) they move to the outbound transition zone to create their breeding grounds between the rocks. They make a shallow pit where courtship takes place.


In the lake, they search with their “sonar” for small invertebrates and crustaceans. In the aquarium, you can feed them with cichlid granules, spirulina flakes, brine shrimp, mysis, and frozen food such as shrimp mix or pollock fillet.

The Aquarium

Aulonocara aquilonium needs an aquarium of at least 300 litres, preferably from 150 centimetres (450 litres). You can use filter sand as a sandy substrate and arrange it with some rubble stones to create a biotope that is as natural as possible.

This species is protected and will therefore not often appear on the market. If you can get these, you have a beautiful rare species in your aquarium. You can keep them together with other calm species such as the Protomelas, Placidochromis, Copadichromis or Lethrinops. Rather not keep with the busy and aggressive Mbuna species.

Because of their natural schooling behaviour, it is advisable to keep this species in a larger group, for example, 3 males and 7 females or in a harem of 1 male and 2 to 3 females.

The temperature of the water should be 22 to 26 degrees, a pH between 7.5 and 8.5.

Breeding aquarium and conditioning

Little is known about breeding in the aquarium.

The spawn

Aulonocara aquilonium is a mouthbrooder and therefore takes her eggs in her mouth. The male lures the female to his spawning site. When laying the eggs, they revolve around each other. The female lays an egg, turns around and takes the egg in her mouth. The male fertilizes the eggs with his honey during the rotation. The female sees the egg spots on the anal fin and is tempted to nip at them. This is the so-called egg spot method.

The female incubates the eggs in her mouth. During this period she does not eat at all. The eggs hatch after a few days, but the fry continue to feed on their yolk sac for a while. After about 3 weeks the fry are released and they should be able to fend for themselves, there is no brood care from the parents.




Copyright images

Carsten Gissel
Hans Bergkvist

Malawi cichliden in hun natuurlijke omgeving 3e oplage – Ad Konings

Additional information








First described by

Ad Konings


Social behaviour


Breeding behaviour


Min. aquarium length in cm








Minimum length


Length maximum


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