Aulonocara kandeense – Blue Orchid Peacock
Aulonocara kandeense was officially described in 1988 by Tawil and Algayer. 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 down into two Greek parts: ‘aulus’ means ‘flute’ and ‘caras’ means face, a reference to the flute-like lateral channels on the head of Aulonocara.
The species name kandeense is a reference to the location of this species. They only occur on the island of Kande. They were also discovered here by Stuart Grant around 1982.
The original name was Aulonocara kandeensis. However, the wrong inflection has been applied here. As a result, the name was corrected to kandeense a year later.
Their common name is Blue Orchid Aulonocara or Blue Orchid Peacock.
Aulonocara kandeense males can reach a maximum total length of 16 centimetres. The females usually remain smaller, a maximum of about 11 centimetres. They don’t get that big in the wild. The men there are no more than 10 centimetres long. We often give them too much and too powerful food in the aquarium, which means they can become much larger.
The males get a dark blue, almost black body. A light blue to white blaze runs from the nose over the dorsal and dorsal fin. The pelvic fins are also dark coloured but the anterior margin is edged with a thin white stripe. On the anal fin, the bright yellow egg spots stand out against the dark colour of the fin.
The females are coloured somewhat differently than many other Aulonocara species. They are a bit more silver in colour instead of grey/brown.
Similarity to Aulonocara maylandi
The drawing of Aulonocara kandeense is very similar to that of Aulonocara maylandi. Both are deep blue to black in colour. But where Aulonocara kandeense has a white blaze, that of Aulonocara maylandi is mustard yellow. The females of both species are more silver in colour instead of grey/brown.
Both species also have in common the number and size of the eggs. The nests contain many but tiny eggs.
It is a special similarity between the two species. Kande Island is located about 200 kilometres from Chimwalani and Luwala Reef. The locations are also on the other side of Lake Malawi.
Because a geographical separation is not really a reason to consider both as separate species, Tawil and Allgayer have labelled Aulonocara kandeense as a synonym. This was reversed by Konings in 2016.
This species is endemic to Lake Malawi. They only occur around Kande Island. This is located in the west of the lake.
The Aulonocara kandeense males occupy a territory in the transition zone from rocks to sand. Usually near a rocky outcrop where they defend a burrow. The females form schools near the rocks but above the sand. They are most common at a depth of around eight meters.
The numbers are under considerable pressure due to overfishing in this region. Nowadays there are almost no more specimens to be found in the wild.
Using their lateral line organ on their head, Aulonocara species search for invertebrates in the sand. They hang just above the sand and “listen” to movement which indicates something edible.
The pharyngeal teeth of Aulonocara kandeense are more like molars. This indicates that their teeth have evolved to eat snails. This is also supported by research into the stomach contents in which many snails were indeed found.
In the aquarium, it is not a picky eater. They eat flake food and granules but actually prefer live or frozen food. To keep them healthy, you can alternate flake food or granulate with brine shrimp, mysis, cyclops, mosquito larvae and the like.
The aquarium for Aulonocara kandeense does not have to be very large. An aquarium of about 120 centimetres in length is sufficient for one harem. At least, if the fish don’t grow bigger than in the wild. If you give too much and too powerful food, they will become a bit bigger. An aquarium of about 150 centimetres in length is a better size. If you want to combine them with other species, we recommend a somewhat larger aquarium.
Set up the aquarium with (filter) sand on the bottom. They search the substrate for something edible. They occasionally dive with their heads in the sand to look for food particles. They flush the sand through their gills. We do not recommend sharp sand or gravel.
Place a few rocks on top of each other and create some caves, cracks and crevices. Make sure to put them firmly on top of each other so they don’t fall. Falling underwater rock formations in combination with glass windows is not a good idea.
It’s best to keep Aulonocara kandeense in a harem. That is one male with two or three females. If you put two males together, they will continue to fight for the females until only one is left. Keeping several females forces the man to divide his attention. Tired or brooding females can then escape his attention between the rocks.
It is best to combine this species with other relatively peaceful Malawi cichlids. We do not recommend a combination with the rock-inhabiting Mbuna.
The temperature of the aquarium water may be between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius. The pH may be a bit higher from about 7.5 to 8.5. The GH is not really very important in the aquarium.
Breeding Aquarium and Conditioning
Breeding Aulonocara kandeense is not very difficult. You can breed them in the company of other fish species. Make sure there are no other Aulonocara species in the aquarium to prevent hybridization. A special breeding aquarium is therefore not necessary. They also do not make any special requirements for food or water in order to spawn.
Once the male notices that a female is ready to spawn, his colors brighten. He chooses a place where he wants to mate with the female. He defends this fiercely against other fish.
He swims in front of the female, flares his fins and shows her his flank. With trembling movements he tries to lure her to his chosen spot. When the female goes with him, the mating dance begins.
Aulonocara kandanese couple circle each other. Until the female is really ready. While circling, the female lays a few eggs. The couple keeps circling with the male rubbing his anal fin over the bottom. While turning around, the female picks up the eggs in her mouth.
They circle on with the male letting go of some sperm. Because his anal fin shows egg spots, the female thinks she is picking up some eggs, but in this way picks up some sperm and fertilizes the eggs.
The couple continues to circle each other until all the eggs have been laid. A nest of eggs can consist of about 70 to 100 eggs. The male’s job is now done. The female withdraws and incubates the eggs in her mouth.
Raising the fry
The eggs hatch in the female’s mouth within a few days. However, they continue to grow in the female’s mouth for almost three weeks. They feed on the egg yolk sac.
After three weeks, the fish are big enough to fend for themselves. In the wild, they are released between the rocks by the female. In the aquarium with other fish, most of them will be eaten.
If you want to raise more young Aulonocara kandeense, you can re,pve the female around the 15th day. Place her in a small tank with the same water as in the main tank. After three weeks she spits out the fry. The female does not eat them for the first few hours after releasing the fry. So you have plenty of time to place the female back in the large aquarium.
The young Aulonocara kandeense fry eat crushed flakes or, for example, freshly hatched brine shrimp.
Aulonocara kandeense is a beautiful species to keep in the aquarium. Like many Aulonocara they are best kept with not too aggressive and busy fish. Therefore, avoid a combination with Mbuna.
John de Lange
Jason Selong – Bigskycichlids.com