This Melanochromis (meaning “Black Cichlid” in Greek) species is a medium-sized Mbuna having a short, rather rounded snout, and relatively narrow mouth. Their teeth are incisor-like and quite closely spaced, which are employed on aufwuchs in the wild. Invertebrates play only a secondary role in their diet.
In addition to having an elongated or spindle-like body, their predominant feature is their lateral stripes. Females and juveniles (as shown below) display dark stripes on a white and yellow background. Males, on the other hand, display light stripes on a darker blue background. Their colors can become dull or brown if their diet does not include enough vegetable matter, but can be restored to their true vibrancy if fed accordingly.
M. auratus is definitely not for beginners, even though it is often purchased by unsuspecting and naïve admirers. The reason for being a difficult or problematic fish is due to the fact that it is far more aggressive than the majority of Mbuna. Adult males are perhaps the most aggressive of any Mbuna available, period. They are violently intolerant of male conspecifics (i.e., fish of similar appearance). Simply do not try and keep more than one of these males in anything less than 125 gallons. Males can be quite effective at laying claim to almost half of a 50-gallon aquarium, fighting anyone who trespasses, unless to spawn.
The effects of this aggression can be ameliorated by having several females to one male. Melanochromis, like all Mbuna, are polygamous mouthbrooders. Males court females almost as violently as they defend their territories; therefore, it is necessary to have at least two females per male so as to reduce the trauma a single female will receive. Females will also need plenty of shelter and room to move about so they can escape if needed. This is especially true once they have spawned, as the male will continue to vigorously court her.
Females carry their broods for 21 days, and will show increased aggression toward tankmates as they near the end of the incubation period. Females will guard fry for several days after releasing them, and take them back up into her mouth if she senses a threat to their safety (e.g., when you walk by). Fry are quite large, and grow quickly, reaching a size of 1" within 3 months. Males begin to change color some time between the 6th and 9th month. □