Would an all-male African cichlid set-up work?

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Jermey Gay gives his advice to a reader who is returning to the hobby after a break, and would like to know whether an all-male African cichlid set-up would work...

Image: Neil Hepworth.

Q) I am returning to the hobby after a break and have a 120x60x60cm tank waiting to be filled. Having bred many Tanganyikans and Malawis in the past when I had a fish room, I’m now looking for a colourful active display tank for the house. I’m not interested in breeding anything this time, so I’m considering an all-male peacock and hap tank. Aulonocara, Copadichromis chrysonotus, Nimbochromis venustus, Placidochromis sp. ‘Phenochilus Tanzania’ and maybe Cyrtocara are my intended species. Would the males show their full colour without females to impress or would I be better off with less species and some females? Can you see this working and how many males could I keep? The tank will be filtered by a Fluval FX4.

JEFF TUCKER, VIA EMAIL

A) JEREMY GAY REPLIES: You could buy adult males that are already in colour. Mixed peacocks (Aulonocara spp.) have never been more widely available or cheaper. They are all in-colour, in male-only shop sales tanks now, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t stay that way if bought and moved to your home aquarium. Just avoid in-colour juveniles as this is achieved by way of hormones, and they definitely will fade. If going male-only I would crowd them just like mbuna, in order to prevent hyper-dominance. Filtration and water quality permitting, you could add 30 males to a tank the size of yours.

But I’m a purist when it comes to Malawi cichlids. In my opinion, the best way to achieve and enjoy that amazing male colouration is to mix males with at least two females of their own species per male. I’m also a believer in the power of sex pheromones from the females being present in the same water, and ensuring that the males have something worth displaying colour for. I also seems that in order for Cyrtocara to develop a decent nuchal hump, they need females in the tank and competition from males of their own species.

Yes it will, of course, result in females carrying eggs and fry, but Nimbochromis venustus is a predator, so you shouldn’t be overrun with them.