Juvenile Aulonocara: is it male or female?
Jason Selong ( Big Sky Cichlids )

Lake Malawi haplochromine cichlids of the genus Aulonocara (aka "peacocks") rank amongst the most popular African cichlids.  The vibrant coloration of the adult males coupled with a low to moderate level of aggression attract many hobbyists to this genus of cichlids.  Interest and prices remain relatively high on these species despite the drab and similar coloration of adult females and juveniles.  Determining the sex of juvenile peacocks is an oft asked question and thus the topic of this article.

There are several anatomical and coloration cues which may assist in determining the sex of a developing juvenile Aulonocara.  Coloration and anatomical cues often begin to develop in juveniles between 2-3 inches in total length thus juveniles should at least be in this size range to begin examination for determination of sex.  The most consistent early clue in nearly all species of Aulonocara is development of a white margin on the dorsal fin.  This features is present in males of most species and absent in all females.  The development of this feature also often precedes development of any conspicuous coloration or pointing of the ends of the dorsal and anal fins thus often serving as the first consistent indication of a developing male. 

Juvenile male Aulonocara baenschi  50 mm (2 in) TL

The second set of features generally indicating a developing male are the pointing of posterior tips of the dorsal and anal fin and the beginning of conspicuous coloration on the fins.  The appearance of these features varies with species and these features may be slow or fail to appear in the presence of another male (particularly males of the same or closely related species).

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi " mamelela"  juvenile Male 60 mm TL

Further maturation often produces, depending upon species, other conspicuous features of pattern development sometimes including egg spots on the anal fin and the development of colored striations in the caudal (tail) fin and coloration of the body.  One must be cautious interpreting these features however, especially the egg spots and spotting of the dorsal fin.  The development of egg spots on the anal fin and spotting and light bands of coloration in the dorsal fin can be misleading as many adult females, such as the one pictured below, will also develop some of these features.

Aulonocara sp. "lwanda"  Female 75 mm TL

Male Aulonocara only begin development of coloration between 2-3 inches in length.  Hobbyists would be advised to carefully scrutinize offerings of this size Aulonocara with full coloration, especially if all the specimens are colored as males.  Certainly mature wild caught specimens can sometimes be smaller in size and display full coloration due to limited food resources in the natural environment, however domestic raised fish are not often subject to these food limitation and most lots should at least contain a few females at that size.

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