Aulonocara gertrudae

Aulonocara gertrudae has yellow on its flank which contrasts nicely with the blue on its head. The females are easily distinguished from other species by their yellow pelvic fins.

Aulonocara gertrudae

Aulonocara gertrudae was described in 1995 by Ad Konings. The name Gertrudae is a tribute to his wife Dr. Gertrud Dudin for her moral support, interest in cichlids and patience. Aulonocara comes from Greek; aulos=flute and caras is face and refer to the lateral line pores that resemble the holes of a flute.

This species was previously commercially available under different names such as Aulonocara “Jumbo Blue”, Aulonocara “Lupingu” and Aulonocara “Multispot”.

Aulonocara gertrudae - Magunga
Aulonocara gertrudae – Magunga


Aulonocara gertrudae is a medium to large Aulonocara species in the lake. They can grow up to 13 centimetres long in the wild. In the aquarium they usually get a bit bigger because we give them more and more powerful food; the males can become about 17 centimetres long in the aquarium, the females remain slightly smaller at 13 centimetres.

As usual with Aulonocaras, the males are more beautifully coloured than the females. Their heads take on a deep blue iridescent colour. Starting just behind the head they are yellow which becomes vaguer and vaguer towards the middle. This yellow is also reflected in the pelvic fins, which are trimmed at the front with a black band, at the very edge you will find a thin white line. The pelvic fins are transparent. The dorsal and caudal fins show blue spots. The dorsal fin is again trimmed with a black band. The white line is much more visible here and does not extend all the way to the back. On the anal fin, there are clearly large egg spots that are used in mating.

The fish from the north of the lake are easily distinguishable from those from the south. The males show a bright orange spot on the shoulder in the north, this is missing on the examples from the south.

The females are coloured dull brown/grey as usual with Aulonocara. They differ from most other species because the pelvic fins are yellow in colour, the anal fin contains egg spots.

Aulonocara gertrudae - Ngwasi Female
Aulonocara gertrudae – Ngwasi Female


Aulonocara gertrudae occurs throughout Lake Malawi. They live at depths of 15 meters or more. There is a difference in behaviour between the northern populations and the southern ones.

The northern population mainly inhabits the transition zone from sand and mud to the rocks. When mating, they dig craters in the sand to lay the eggs.

The southern population mainly inhabits the muddy and sandy soils of the estuaries. To deposit the eggs, they use a hole between the rocks or dig a hole against a rock.


Aulonocara gertrudae, like all Aulonocara, feed on small invertebrates that live in the sand. To track them down, they hover motionless just above the sand. They “listen” with their sensors in their heads to the movement in the sand. These sensors are the flute-like pores in the head of the Aulonocara.

When they have found prey, they dive with their heads in the sand, take a bite and rinse the sand through the gills, filtering out the food.

In the aquarium, you can feed them with food for carnivores. Feed them a varied diet of frozen food (small chopped shrimp, mysis, brine shrimp, etc) live food and flakes or pellets. An occasional spirulina flake keeps most Malawi in good health.

The aquarium

Aulonocaras live in the wild mainly in transitional biotopes. They feel perfectly at home in a typical Malawi aquarium. Set up the aquarium with sand on the bottom, use a layer of about 10 centimetres for this so that they can dive deep enough into the sand. From experience, I can say that filter sand works best. Because the sand grains are approximately the same size, the sand does not clog up, so that the waste between them does not rot. Provide a spacious place with sand where the male can possibly build a castle (breeding nest).

At the edges of the aquarium, you can further decorate it with rocks. Make sure you use large enough rocks so you can create holes, cracks and crevices, between which the females can hide.

The minimum dimensions for the aquarium are about 150 centimetres in length. These fish can grow up to 17 centimetres long and the females also need plenty of room to get away from the male if he tries to spawn too vigorously.

Breeding Aulonocara gertrudae

In the wild, the males dig a breeding pit in the sand with a diameter of about 60 centimetres. This castle can be up to about 50 centimetres deep. In the aquarium, they will suffice with a much smaller pit in the sand for lack of space (if they dig a pit at all).

The male lures the female to the spawning site chosen by him. He does this by showing his flank to the female while trembling and always swimming in front of her. When the eggs are deposited, they circle each other. The female lays an egg and turns and takes the egg in her mouth.

The male fertilizes the eggs while spinning by dragging his anal fin along the ground. The woman sees the egg spots on the anal fin and is tempted to bite. The male then releases some hom that fertilizes the eggs in the female’s mouth.

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 young continue to feed on their yolk sac for quite some time. After about 21 days, the female spits out the fry which have to fend for themselves from now on.

In a mixed aquarium, the fry will often end up as food for the other Malawi cichlids. If you want to raise the young it is better to remove the female, around day 14 is the best time for that. Keep her in a small aquarium with some shelter. After spitting out the fry, she will not eat it for the first few hours. You then have time to catch her and put her back in the aquarium.

You can feed the fry with crushed flake food, brine shrimp and other small food that is small enough for their small mouths.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Jurgen van Valckenborgh
Mark Thomas – Marks Fiskenarie

Last Updated on 18 December 2021 by John

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