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Melanochromis auratus

Golden Mbuna




Endemic to Lake Malawi. It is a common species, being found down the entire western coast of the lake from Jalo Reef, down to Crocodile Rocks, all along the southern end of the lake, and up the bottom end of the eastern coast up to Nkhomo Reef.


It inhabits rocky areas of shorelines, reefs and islands.

Maximum Standard Length

4.4″ (11cm).

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

48″ x 18″ x 15″ (120cm x 45cm x 37.5cm) – 200 litres absolute minimum due to its highly aggressive nature (see below).


Much of the aquarium should contain piles of rocks arranged to form caves with small areas of open water between. A sandy substrate is best and the water should be well oxygenated.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C)

pH: 7.6-8.8

Hardness: 10-25°H


It will accept most foods offered but vegetable matter in the form of spirulina flakes, blanched spinach etc. should form a large proportion of the diet. This can be supplemented with live and frozen varieties.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

One of the most aggressive and territorial mbuna. It should not be kept with peace loving species, such as Peacocks or Utaka, but it can be combined with other mbuna provided they do not resemble it in patterning. The tank should be overcrowded to reduce aggression and territory formation. It is incredibly aggressive towards others of the same species, and the presence of heterospecifics helps to dissipate this. However, a very large tank is required in order to keep more than one male and even then it is likely that the sub-dominant male(s) will be killed. Several females should be kept per male in order to reduce harassment by the male but this in itself also presents problems, as unlike many mbuna, female M. auratus are also intolerant of congeners.

Sexual Dimorphism

Mature males are a completely different colour to the golden females and juvenile/sub-dominant males, taking on a dark colouration. Males are also larger than females.


Possible. Maternal mouthbrooder. It should be spawned in a species tank in a harem of one male and at least 3 females. A 48″ aquarium is a good size (although larger is preferable) and this should be furnished as suggested above, along with some flat stones and areas of open substrate to act as potential spawning sites. Make sure plenty of hiding places are provided as the male may kill females that are not ready to spawn. The pH should be around 8.2-8.5 and the temperature 77-80°F. The fish should be conditioned with plenty of live and frozen foods.

The male fish will clean and then display around his chosen spawning site, showing intense colour, and attempt to entice females to mate with him. He is very aggressive in his pursuits and it is in order to dissipate this aggression that this species should be spawned in a harem. When a female is willing, she will approach the spawning site and lay her eggs there, after which she picks them up in her mouth. The male fish has egg-shaped spots on his anal fin but, unlike many other mbuna, these are not used to attract the female rather she actually places her mouth directly in the vicinity of the male’s vent to receive sperm.

The female may carry the eggs for weeks before releasing the free swimming fry. She will not eat during this period and can be easily spotted by her distended mouth. If a female is overly stressed, she may spit out the brood prematurely or eat them, so care must be taken if you decide to move the fish, in order to avoid fry predation. It is also worth noting that if a female is away from the colony for too long, she may lose her position in the pecking order of the group. We recommend waiting as long as possible before moving a female unless she is being harassed, which is unlikely as brooding females become even more aggressive than usual. Some breeders artificially strip the fry from the mother’s mouth at the 2 week stage and raise them from that point as this usually results in a larger number of fry.

The fry are large enough to take brine shrimp nauplii from birth. The female will continue to guard the brood for the first week or so following their release, taking them into her mouth when she feels threatened.

NotesTop ↑

Despite its ready availability, M. auratus is not recommended for the beginner due to its intolerant nature. Do not keep it with other Melanochromis species as they may hybridise. Male fish can revert to the golden colouration when stressed, and older females often darken with age until they superficially resemble males.

3 Responses to “Melanochromis auratus (Golden Mbuna)”

  • Kend0

    I have kept a lot of auratus from different sources and localities in the lake, and I have never seen a male turn “golden”. I wonder if this is just a myth that keeps being perpetuated. At most, I’ve ever seen them look like dark females (and I’ve seen plenty of females that turn very dark with age. What is the evidence for this claim?

  • I have no idea, and will look at editing this profile as soon as possible.

  • pykemara92

    I have a lot of auratus fish. My largest male had to be put in a larger take with two Oscars (12″ &10″) and two even bigger pacus. He turned yellow almost immediately and stayed that way for about a week. This particular auratus is my largest and has breed multiple batches of babies! So he is full grown but they do turn colors.. A lot

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