Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi (Malawi Butterfly) Profile

Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi

Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 02:51 am

The Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi (a-loh-noh-kah-rah jay-kuhb-frye-BURN-gee) is a species of haplochromine cichlid endemic to Lake Malawi, in East Africa. Nicknamed the “Malawi Butterfly” due to its contrasting body and face patterns, this fish has risen in popularity in recent years with local hobbyists and aquarists alike.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, also known as the Malawi Butterfly Cichlid, is an African fish belonging to the genus Aulonocara.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi (commonly known as the Malawi Butterfly or Jumbo) is one of the most popular African cichlids in the aquarium hobby, probably because it exhibits an array of colors and patterns not seen in other species and because they are relatively easy to breed in captivity.

The following profile will help you determine if this fish would be right for your aquarium!

Origin and description

Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi is a freshwater fish from Lake Malawi in Africa. It is closely related to and similar in appearance to Aulonocara stuartgranti, Aulonocara baenschi, and Aulonocara hansbaenschi. When first discovered by hobbyists in 1989, it was originally believed to be a variant of Aulonocara jacobfreibergii but DNA testing and examination by Drs. Burgess, Trewavas, and others have proven that they are different species.

Males grow to 8cm (3 inches), females grow up to 6 cm (2¼ inches). They reach maturity at three months old at around 3cm (11/8). Like other malawis, they are polygamous mouthbrooders. There are two main forms found in captivity: ones with yellowish bodies and ones with pinkish bodies. Yellow males will turn their heads red when breeding, while black females will turn green when breeding.

Both males and females can change color completely during courtship or if there is stress involved such as lack of water or lack of food. Their diet should consist primarily of live foods such as brine shrimp nauplii, Daphnia magna, Cyclops sp., baby blackworms, micro worm eggs (microworm larvae), small guppies, and mosquito larvae.

Commercially prepared flake foods such as TetraMin sinking wafers may also be offered once or twice a week.

Species profile

Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, commonly known as Malawi butterfly cichlid, is a species of fish in the Cichlidae family. This large species can reach about 20 centimeters long and it’s one of its kind originating from Lake Malawi. The males have beautiful colors with bluish-green on their heads, yellow stripes along their sides, bright red underneath, and yellowish-orange at their caudal peduncle.

The females are brownish-grey with yellow dots around their bodies while they tend to be smaller than males. Young male butterflies show some different colors; they become blue with black stripes on their head, orange flanks, and light blue ventral fins when they are young adults.

Common name

Common names of Aulonocara jacobfreibergi are Malawi Cichlid, Malawi Butch, Malawian butterfly. The name Aulonocara means a fish from Lake Malawi, and their scientific name was named after J. F. von Fischer, a German naturalist who collected specimens from Lake Nyasa (now called Lake Malawi). Their common name is due to their bright blue coloration in breeding males that resemble a butterfly or moth on its hind legs.

Peacock Bass Fish "Brazilian Tucunaré"

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi habitat and distribution

Malawi butterfly cichlids are mainly found in Lake Malawi and its tributaries. This species of cichlid can also be found in Lake Tanganyika, but is native to Lake Malawi. In fact, it is one of more than 250 known species of fish in Lake Malawi. It has an extremely large range, covering about 1,150 miles across Africa’s third-largest lake — and its habitat extends from the shallow reefs to 200 feet deep at points.

The male population will stay relatively near each other while females roam a larger area in search of food sources or nesting sites. Those who live closer to shore tend to be less colorful because they are exposed to higher levels of ultraviolet light. Fish that live further out into deeper waters have fewer predators because they inhabit areas with fewer organisms.

Furthering their chance for survival, a female Aulonocara jacobfreibergi will lay anywhere between 50-1,000 eggs depending on her size and how much food she consumed before oviposition occurs. The common name for these fish comes from its spotted patterning which resembles the wingspan on butterflies and moths – hence butterfly cichlid.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi size and weight

A mature male Aulonocara jacobfreibergi can grow to 6 inches and weigh up to 2 pounds. Females will be noticeably smaller, with a maximum length of 4 inches and a weight of less than 1 pound. You’ll also notice that they have a much more slender body shape than most species in their genus.

The juveniles are almost indistinguishable from each other, but it should be noted that there is variation in coloration between populations.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi tank size

The minimum recommended tank size is 20 gallons. A larger tank can be used for a colony, or males with several females in a species only tank. Multiple males are not recommended unless in a species-only setup with several females; when placing more than one male in a larger tank, there will inevitably be fighting and stress on all fish. A minimum of three females should be provided per male to prevent bullying.

Tank set up

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi should be housed in tanks of at least 60 gallons or larger with a tank length of 24 or more. A well-planted tank with a sufficient open swimming area will provide your fish with plenty of room to thrive and schools can be kept in tanks up to 120 gallons as long as filtration is very strong. Caves and other areas where they can hide are essential, particularly when they are young.

Ideally, substrate should consist of some fine gravel but not too much that it hides your fish when they burrow; sand is also an option but tends to cloud water. Alternately sandstone can be used which has good traction for digging but does not cloud water like regular aquarium grade sand does. Lastly, rocks, roots, cork bark, and other decorations can all make great hiding places for your fry; just be sure there aren’t any sharp edges that could injure them.

Blue Peacock Cichlid Care (Aulonocara Nyassae)

The addition of plants to provide both cover and oxygenation is recommended but try to avoid using plant species such as java ferns or anubias barteri since they’ll quickly foul the water due to their wide surface area root systems. Potassium enhanced hard water species aquarium salt should also be used since butterflies don’t tolerate soft water conditions.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi tank mates

The Malawi butterflyfish is a fairly peaceful species and will tolerate most of its tank mates. Due to their size, tank mates should be given plenty of space to prevent aggressive behavior from occurring. Aulonocara jacobfreibergi can coexist with other African Cichlids, provided they are not small enough to fit in their mouths. The addition of non-aggressive fish to your aquarium will bring more color and activity into your aquarium.

It’s best if you choose smaller schooling fish that match their colors. Examples would include other cichlids like Mbuna and Cyprichromis or open water fishes such as Gouramis or Barbs. In an average-sized tank, 10-12 butterflyfish can share without much trouble but 20 is more appropriate for an adult home.

To avoid aggression it’s best if you have no more than 6 males per female when mixing them all together but if females start getting picked on by a few males then remove those males from the mix temporarily until things cool down between them before reintroducing them back into the community again.


Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi

The butterflyfish is a mouthbrooder and prefers soft, slightly acidic water. A pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is optimal with a medium hardness of 5 to 20 dGH and a temperature range of 76 to 82°F (24 to 28°C). The species will spawn in groups or pairs when given ample space, but if spawning does occur in small quarters or if a group consists of only one male, it can become aggressive and violent between males.

After breeding, some recommend keeping females separate from any remaining males to avoid unwanted attention. Butterfly’s preferred diet of Artemia nauplii, high protein foods such as bloodworms and tubifex worms are important for them while they incubate their eggs; they also appreciate occasional feedings on frozen foods such as Mysis shrimp or brine shrimp throughout their breeding cycle as well as live black worms and snails during courtship periods.

To replicate its natural environment, consider adding peat moss to your filter media so that you might encourage biological filtration which will greatly aid in maintaining healthy water quality.

Life cycle

The life cycle of Aulonocara jacobfreibergi is typical for a haplochromine cichlid. This species spawns at intervals of approximately eight days; males build nests and guard them while females lay their eggs. Once spawning is complete, eggs will hatch in twenty-four hours. Larvae are very small but they have an enormous yolk sac that allows them to remain in their shell until they have developed properly.

Copadichromis borleyi (Kadango Cichlid)

After three days, their mouth begin to develop, which causes them to exit the shell. They are then called wrigglers because of their erratic movements as they search for food. At about day five or six, wrigglers develop into fry with fully formed mouths and quickly learn how to feed themselves.

They may still be smaller than other fish fries at this point but because they grow so rapidly from here on out, it does not affect their survival rate much if any at all. Fry molt once after a week but growth rates begin to slow down significantly after two weeks of being free-swimming.

However, they continue feeding and feeding well on brine shrimp, freeze-dried bloodworms, flake foods etc. Fry reach sexual maturity by nine months old in captivity, however, it can take up to two years for these fish to reach sexual maturity in their natural habitat due to low temperatures during the breeding season.

These low temperatures disrupt proper reproductive rates especially among females whose gestation period is almost double that of males’ making it difficult for them to recover time lost during mating season.

Are Aulonocara jacobfreibergi aggressive or peaceful?

A peaceful cichlid, they are generally not aggressive unless provoked. If a cichlid pushes another fish, they may retaliate with a couple of quick nips but will soon be on their way. However, because of its strong mouth and ability to intimidate smaller fish, it is advisable to keep them in community tanks with only larger species of fish.

Do not house them with other Mbuna or other fish who have long fins as there can be nipping issues.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi care

Aulonocara Jacobfreibergi

Provide an aquarium with a fine gravel or sand substrate, driftwood roots and branches, caves made from rocks and ceramic tubes, and some plants that can survive under moderate light. Keep them in a community tank of at least 5 to 6 females to 1 male to reduce fighting. They are relatively peaceful fish and prefer water on the cooler side. Moderate flow is recommended, but not required as they will adapt well if provided with plenty of hiding places.

What they eat

A perfect example of omnivorous, Aulonocara jacobfreibergi are neither carnivores nor herbivores; rather, they are opportunistic feeders that will take advantage of whatever comes their way. Though they do best on a varied diet that includes protein-rich foods like brine shrimp and bloodworms, they can still adapt to consume flakes and other vegetarian options as well.

Water conditions

The ideal water pH is 6.0 to 7.0, 3 to 8 degrees of hardness, low oxygenation, and a neutral to alkaline water chemistry should be maintained in your aquarium as far as possible to keep these fish healthy. They are extremely intolerant of poor water conditions and will succumb quickly to poor water quality and disease if it is not monitored carefully by experienced aquarists.

Amphilophus Labiatus (Red Devil Cichlid)

Although they can thrive in slightly brackish water conditions they do best when kept at full strength freshwater. Keep them with other peaceful fish species that enjoy similar environmental conditions including most Mbuna, although they do not appreciate being kept with predatory species such as pike cichlids or large catfish species like Synodontis multipunctatus.

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi lifespan

Aulonocara jacobfreibergi can live for up to 15 years in an aquarium environment. Generally, it lives between 6 and 8 years, but you can expect it to live longer if you keep your water conditions stable and feed them well.

Parasites and diseases

Although Aulonocara jacobfreibergi has been seen in fish markets, it is not known to be a vector for any parasite or disease that could affect other fish. It can also host ich and fungus without showing any signs of infection. Like many cichlids from Lake Malawi, it is relatively resilient to disease and illness. However, if your Aulonocara jacobfreibergi gets ich, watch out; they are very susceptible and will die quickly if not treated with medicine immediately.


Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, like all African Cichlids, are a favorite of Barracuda and other saltwater predators. They will also eat smaller fish. Unless your aquarium is extremely well covered, it would be best to keep them in an area without fish that could fit in their mouths.

While even an adult catfish might have trouble catching one of these guys, it’s not worth risking. In general, however, because of their bright colors, they tend to blend in with rocks and wood making them safe from many potential predators.

The biggest threat facing Aulonocara jacobfreibergi is water quality issues such as Ammonia or Nitrite poisoning or pH swings which may kill large numbers at once due to stress before being able to treat them properly.

Do they make good pets?

Yes. Aulonocara jacobfreibergi is considered one of the easiest and most peaceful of all African Cichlids. It adapts easily to new surroundings, can be kept in a community tank, and is relatively easy to breed in captivity. That said, it does prefer slightly cooler temperatures than many other cichlids (75 to 78°F), and it requires a highly nutritious diet with frequent feedings.