Aulonocara hueseri

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Matt Clarke looks at the Night aulonocara, Aulonocara hueseri, which has recently become available in imports from Lake Malawi.

Common name: Night aulonocara

Scientific name: Aulonocara hueseri Meyer, Riehl and Zetzsche, 1987

Origin: Lake Malawi endemic. Originally known only from Likoma Island, halfway up the Lake's east coast, but according to CLOFFA, now also known from Nkhata Bay slightly further north on the west coast, and hundreds of miles south at Monkey Bay, Nankumba, Domwe and Thumbi West Islands.

Size: Reaches around 8cm/3" in the wild, however, captive fish grow much bigger than this at over 12cm/5".

Diet: Flakes and most frozen foods are accepted.

Water: Hard, alkaline (pH 8.2), temperature 26C/79F.

Aquarium: These are best kept in an aquarium of their own, or alongside other peaceful Malawis such as Copadichromis, Lethrinops and some of the smaller Protomelas. You might get away with these alongside very placid mbuna, such as Labidochromis or the very small species, such as Pseudotropheus demasoni, but in general they are best kept away from mbuna. Try not to keep them alongside other Aulonocara either, as the females are easy to muddle up and the fish may hybridise. If kept alongside other more dominant fish with similarly bright-blue colouration, such as Scieanochromis fryeri, these may not colour-up too well. Try a group of ten in a 120cm/48" tank furnished with a sandy bottom and a few scattered rocks - these fish aren't rock dwellers like mbuna.

Adult colouration: Males develop a very attractive colour pattern consisting of a deep blue metallic sheen to the head and much of the dorsal surface, and dark navy-blue to black dorsal and pelvic fins. The blackish dorsal is edged in white and yellow stripes form on the tail. The flanks of males can turn quite yellow as the fish reaches sexual maturity. Females are a drab grey-brown with a series of faint vertical bars also seen in the males.

Breeding: Like other members of the genus, these are a fairly easy-to-breed maternal mouthbrooder. Buy a group of fish, consisting of one or two males and four or more females, grow them on in a spacious aquarium and bring them into spawning condition, then try conducting a water change and topping up with cool water. The fish may spawn within a couple of days. Remove the females after a week or so and allow them to spit the brood out in a separate tank (experts may prefer to strip the female). The females should be returned as soon as the fry are released. The fry will take frozen cyclops, baby brineshrimp or crumbled flakes.

Notes: This species is quite similar in appearance to the many varieties of Aulonocara stuartgranti. It's sold under a number of trade names, including Night aulonocara, Aulonocara sp. "White Top" and A. hueseri "Midnight" or "Midnight Blue".

Availability: These ones were spotted at Maidenhead Aquatics @ Harlestone Heath and were imported from the Lake by African Cichlid Specialists.

This article was first published in the Christmas 2006 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine.