Dragonblood and Super-Red OB Peacocks

By C. Moormann

Some speculations about the Dragonblood and Hybrid Super-Red OB Peacocks originally from Lake Malawi.

hybrid colors -- peacocks
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Pic 2
Hybrid Malawi Peacocks
    Here is a little article that will hopefully be helpful to someone who is trying to get information on some of the hybrid varieties of Lake Malawi Peacocks. You can see some video of super-reds on YouTube at link(s)
    Some super-red obs from Thailand (not mine but similar)

    Note how brightly lit the tank is on this video. It affects the coloration and makes them appear brighter than they normally would. The pictures of my fish did not have special lighting and I don't feed the color-enhancing food. When you see really small male africans colored up it can be because of special feeding that will fade after you have the fish in your system without the 'juice'. Another tell-tale sign of special handling to make the fish brighter is usually that the proportions of the fish are not normal. The length of the fish will appear slightly longer and the fins longer in a batch of older fish that have not been fed a lot with the effect of having an odd proportion like that. I assume it is to allow cheaper shipping and less expense in feeding than to raise up larger fish that color up later.

    Note the color of the dark spots on our OBs (the pictures and links on the left-hand side of the table). The dark spots are blue and note that the color does not change when netted out (they are in a green net). If I tried something similar with german red or ruby red peacocks -- they would not be the same color when in the net as in the tank.

    The juvenile fish and females just look like the coloration of OB peacocks with the patches not appearing blue even on the males until they get some size on them.

    our super-red ob fry

hybrid colors -- peacocks
Click to Enlarge

Pic 2
Blue Hybrid Malawi Peacocks
    Here is a pic of some of the colors in our super-red ob strain. Click on the pic at the left to see a larger picture. The pic is a little out of focus as the fish were in a bowl with about an inch of water but the camera focused on something other than the fish. Note the bright blue of the two fish -- these all have the super-red male in the table above as the father but the blue ones come from a ruby red female. The pinkish spotted one at the bottom is the normal coloration of the super-red ob females and the male to the left is a younger male that has not yet turned the vibrant red/pink of the father -- but he will turn out just like the male above. Just look at the larger pic you get when you click on it.

    The juvenile fish and females just look like the coloration of OB peacocks with the patches not appearing blue even on the males until they get some size on them. Note that on all of the hybrid obs -- the face is not blue as in normal stuartgranti and benga types. This is a characteristic of this strain. The dark dragonbloods will have a blue face but these guys will not. Naming conventions on these guys usually goes out the window with all sorts of names for the blue varieties. All blue ones are called blue dragonbloods and the really bright blue ones are sometimes called 'neon crystal blue' or something similar. The females on the blue ones just look like normal peacocks but a blue pair can produce bloodreds and albino and regular red orchids.

    A YouTube video of red orchids ( I would call these strawberries)
    I think the red center surrounded by more white would be the red orchids.

    A YouTube video of ob fire peacocks ( I would call these a kind of ruby-red ob)
    Note that the targeted fish has a blue face and shorter ventrals than hybrids. The other red fish would be dragonblood varieties -- not the hybrid super-reds with the additional cross with red empress -- check out short ventrals. My dragonbloods look like these dragonbloods and have the shorter ventrals and an odd trait in that only the breeding males develop a long trailing dorsal. These would possibly represent just the traits brought over from the psuedo. zebra -- without the clear scales, non-blue face, and longer ventrals that may have come from the red empress hybridization. Note the defined scales and whitish rather than pinkish base color of the targeted fish -- these may fade in the net?

    A YouTube video of super reds ( note the 'dragonblood' in the fins)

I have been breeding some of the lake malawi peacocks for almost ten years and have gravitated from the cheaper varieties to some of the relatively new developed varieties such as Dragonbloods and Super-red OBs. The first peacocks I ever had were something called Regal Peacocks way back in the mid 1970's but back then I had some sources for african cichlids directly from out of state breeders and a fairly small setup. I never kept any of them long enough to breed them as I could bring them in and sell them really fast to several of the local pet stores here in Utah for a good profit. I had missed the really early days when cobalt blue zebras went for $20 to $30 each at one inch. Anything new was marketable at a good price until the distributed quantities were higher. I remember selling one inch yellow lelupi for $30 each -- those were the days. I did actually use plastic bags but I have to tell you that when I first started breeding fish in the early 70s even the stores did not use plastic bags. The bags had been invented but were pretty pricey and believe it or not the stores had a variety of sizes of the type of fold-up waxed paper boxes with metal handles that you can still get Chinese take-out food in today. I had a couple of homemade 300 gallon tanks that I had made using plywood and resin with glass fronts. I took some movies of the tanks filled with juvenile african cichlids -- but it was with 8-mm film. I may try to find the projector and make a short article after converting the film movie to a digital movie that I can put up on YouTube. The tanks were 8 foot by 4 foot and 16 inches deep and the fish schooled in them like the fish in a Jacque Coustou documentary. The peacocks may not have been the familiar aulonocara species we see today as one of the african cichlid experts that was brought in to speak at our local fish clubs said those species were not available to the hobby back then. I believe it was a fish club speaker that said that all of the familiar peacocks come from at least 100 feet below the surface and back in the 70's a fish from that depth just died from its expanded swim bladder when brought up from the deeper water. He said some genius around 1990 developed something called a 'hooka' device which made our newer peacocks available. It was something like a lawn mower engine from a reel type mower that was put in a boat and slowly idled away and wound up a rope or cable onto a spindle -- it reeled them up in mesh bags over a period of many hours or days to enable the fish to adjust to the changing pressure in much the same way a pressure chamber is used for human divers that stay down long enough to develop dissolved nitrogen in their bloodstream.

I got out of fish entirely in 1979 and did not get back to cichlids from the rift lakes until a couple of years into the 21st century. I had gone out with a friend to a local breeder who had some nice looking peacocks called German Reds but I did not buy any myself -- my friend did. A year or so later he called and offered me some of the fry from these fish and when they grew up I remember that they did not look much like the original Reds I had seen. What was going one here? I knew very little about indentifying the species and when I went to sell some to a local shop that appeared to know something about african cichlids a somewhat comical script played out. I did not actually know if they were German Reds as they had more blue in them than the ones I remembered and they were of course stressed and out of their normal coloration when they reached the store. My plan was to keep my ignorance to myself and come back in a week or so and see what species he called them when he saw them colored up and tried to sell them -- just let an expert identify these fish -- I thought. Imagine my surprise when I came back and saw them labeled as Aulonocara craigei. This is an important lesson -- that the so-called experts may let you down -- my first name is Craig and he just made up the name to sell the fish. I have improved on my indentification knowledge since then and can assume the fish were color variations of the German Reds due to some back-sliding on breeder selection or they could have been a cross with another Aulonocara species in my friend's tank. I have been told that any fish species in Lake Malawi can crossbreed with another species. Some other peacocks I picked up as a colony of Rubescent Peacocks for $80 gave me a similar experience with the grown out fry not quite resembling the original males in color. Look up almost any peacock variety on Google Images and check out the huge variety of colors in the pictures. Either there is some mis-identification going on here or the fish coloration is quite variable. I have to admit that even at this late date I am not sure what a Rubescent should look like and I am skeptical about believing any of the local experts on the topic. A speaker at our club a few years back was Leif DeMason and he gave a talk on his ten favorite cichlids. I think he was the one who told the story about the 'hooka' machine. He said one of the serious issues in collecting from the lakes is that you never really know if the males and females were from the same species or color subset. He recommended breeding the male you like to several different females and raise the fry up separately. The fry from the female that gives you exactly the same male coloration as the original male indicates that you have identified the proper female for the original males. How many fish breeders would go to that much trouble to properly match the males with the right females. Apparently Leif and some of the other large operators do this but in controlled methods using ponds of properly proven fish in separate ponds near the rift lakes or in ponds in Florida. Leif said that this matching issue was particularly difficult with Victorian species and peacocks where the females look pretty much alike. I live about 10 miles from one of the largest on-line african cichlid operations -- LiveFishDirect.com. I had a short-lived partnership with them a few years back and I remember asking the owner what kind of feedback or complaints he got from people buying their fish over the internet. He said the most common complaint was that the fry when grown out did not look as good as the pictured males on the webpages. I asked him what was his response to this issue -- he said he told them that you have to expect some variability in the coloration of the fish and that obviously the pictured fish was the best one.

One day a few years back I went to the local Cabella's outlet with a fish friend. We decided that we could not think of a game animal that they did not have stuffed and on exhibit there and that the colored birds stuffed in boxed glass living room tables were awesome. At one end of the store they had an aisle with live freshwater fish on each side. On one side were colder water species such as trout and on the other side warmer water fish such as bass. This was during the few years when I ran my own fish store which was mostly salt water and it was really noticeable that the lack of contrast and the muted colors of brown, grey, and charcoal did not measure up to the vibrant colors and well defined markings and contrasts of the salt water fish we sold. The closest type of freshwater fish that would stand up to a comparison to the salt water reef colorations was in the cichlids from the rift lakes of Africa. I knew something about the reef fish environment and that the fish from the reefs could not stand much polution in their water. The coral reef environment had strong currents and wave action which filtered the water through currents in the sand and porous rocks and a lot of live plants were there that took up nitrates and phosphates. I was told that a photographer diving to take pictures may require anchoring cables to allow him to stay in one place while filming. An interesting little side note here is that I learned why some fish such as damselfish cost me less than a dollar each but most of the fish of the types in 'Finding Nemo' approached $30 each for any good-sized fish. There is an international agency that monitors fish collection from reefs called MAC and just like the FDA inspects our food -- representatives of MAC go out on boats and 'certify' that the fish are harvested properly. For a decent variety of reef fish it takes a team of divers to go down and lay down a really large net on the bottom. The divers then go out and drive the desired fish over the net and it is brought up to the surface. The divers then have to get into the net and carefully select the fish they want under the watchful eyes of the MAC inspectors. They are not allowed to just dump the net on the deck and possibly end up killing the fish they don't want. It takes a lot of labor and expense for the nicer fish. But for the damselfish and similar species they have another method to collect them. These fish are found in schools of 20,000 or more fish in a relatively tight ball-like formation. The divers have a large plexiglass tube strapped to their chests with the clear tube going out in front of them. There is a battery-powered fan on the tube that channels the water in the tube into a mesh bag. The diver can carefully get the clear end of the tube into the cloud of fish by distracting them with his hands or something and when the nearly invisible clear tube enters the cloud of fish -- he flips a switch and sucks in the little dummies by the hundreds.

Now back to the question of why the fish at Cabella's did not compare in color and marking definition with the reef fish and the cichlids of the rift lakes. It just happened that on that same day the local fish club had Ad Konig as the featured speaker. After the meeting was over and he was re-packing the unsold books I was able to talk to him and explain the question to him. He said that in the rift lakes it was just like the reef environment in that the great depth of the rift lakes allowed settling of dust and dirt giving the water the clarity of the salt water reef water. The muted colors of the fish from muddy rivers and lakes could not get the benefit of seeing other fish in the distance to find mates and avoid predators. The bright colors and high definition markings and contrasts allowed for a benefit for fish in clear water when the fish in the less clear waters had to get much closer to each other to get something done.

The bright colors of Malawi peacocks have their origin in the natural variation in coloring that occurs when a given colony of fish is isolated from other color variants and develops a different color set for different locations. In one of Ad Konig's lectures he showed slides of how the lakes had streams entering the lake at different points and that where the stream entered a large open area was created where it was extremely dangerous for our colorful fish to cross since the open water was populated with efficient predators -- that of course can see our brightly colored fish at great distances in the clear water. The result is many isolated underwater islands with fish that are more or less quarantined from other fish of their species and can develop different color morphs for each insular community. Identifying peacocks now becomes easier when you realize that most of them are Aulonocara stuartgranti but the Aulonocara stuartgranti blue neon Undu reef is a color variety self-developed in the Undu reef area of lake Malawi and Nagara Flametail is another color variant of A. stuartgranti but from an area of the lake called Nagara.
Aulonocara stuartgranti "blue neon" Undu reef males fight - PISCES

Benga peacocks and Jacobfriebergi are separate species but all of the Rubescent, Ruby Reds, Regal Yellows and Blues as well as most of the developed peacocks such as Dragonbloods and albino peacocks are mostly stuartgranti. The difference here is in the naturally developed color variants of the lake and the man-made variants created outside the lake. There are two ways of developing color variants in the hobby. One is through hybridization with another species to get a color or scale quality from one species to the other. After one cross, the desired trait is in the new hybrid species and you just continue to breed to the base species enough times so as the newly created fish has just the color or scale quality but nothing like the shape or other different characteristics of the species where the quality came from. This is what they do in livebearers such as platies and swordtails. A new color variety can appear in a platy and it is crossed with a swordtail and that cross is continually crossed to pure swordtails until the new fish is essentially a swordtail with the new color. The second way of developing a new color strain is by something called line-breeding. Line breeding relies on the natural variations in a species and in a fish like the peacock, the colors just naturally mutate given enough time and create new colors. The line-breeding aquarist has for example a clutch of peacock fry -- say forty of them. When the batch of fry is grown out there could be twenty males and twenty females. If one of the males is a brighter red for example -- there should be one of the females with the same corresponding color but it is not displayed on a female. To set a strain of the new red, the brighter male is mated with all of the females and each batch of fry is grown out in separate tanks. If things work out as expected, one of the twenty batches may now have five out of twenty males with the desired color. You get rid of the other nineteen batches and repeat the exercise with the best batch. Hopefully over a period of time you get the really red color in most or all of the males and the new color is 'set'. The aquarists of Germany are pretty good at this and that is why the first developed color strain of stuartgranti with blue faces and red/orange backs were called 'German Reds'. A similar line-breeding effort was made to create pure blue strains and yellow strains. A further development along the red spectrum gave us the really red peacocks now called 'Ruby Reds'. The comical part of this story I have heard is that the original German breeder that developed them had a last name of Ruebens or something like that and marketed his beauties as 'Rueben Reds' but when they made it to a large operation here in the US owned by a Rubin -- you guessed it -- he called them 'Rubin Reds'. Further distributors did not want that guy to get the fame and they called them 'Ruby Reds' and perhaps that is where the Rubescent also comes from. The story may be apocryphal but it is interesting.

The second method of creating new strains is through hybridization. The true story of the creation of the first hybrid peacocks is perhaps known only to the guy who did it -- probably in Bangkok or Taiwan where some creative methods using human growth hormones or other hormones may have made it easier or perhaps it is as some people say -- all Malawi fish can interbreed. People are quick to believe that a hybrid is sterile like a mule but in fact they may be quite interchangeable since the fish all evolved together in Malawi. Parrot cichlids and some of the huge flowerhorn varieties are also thought to be hybrids and sterile but I saw a recent forum answer that the creator of the parrot cichlids and the king kong flowerhorn is a well known breeder in Taiwan. He said the parrots are not hybrids at all but are a dwarf/balloon type mutation of one species -- citrinellum. They appear to be sterile because in the chemical free-for-all-zone of that area of the world they allow themselves to experiment with chemical sterilization. It is not an exact science and I have heard that some fertile males make it through the ordeal. In any case -- the main hybridization of our peacocks took place many years ago -- perhaps 15 years or so -- and is perhaps kept a secret because of the negative attitudes toward developed fish by the ACA. For many years their trading post was limited to only something that could conceivably be wild caught and they did not even allow listing of anything other than cichlids -- what luddites. I have heard that the OB pattern and probably the albino and red colors were brought over to peacocks from the old psuedotropheus zebra. That gave us OB peacocks and albino pigmentation but a more recent cross has given us the Dragonblood and Super-red peacocks. These may have been a peacock to peacock cross between the OB red zebra hybrid strains and Red Empress Peacocks. These two types of developed peacocks are my current objects of passion and investigation. I have had the Dragonbloods for a couple of years and the Super-red OB strain from the Red Empress cross for less time. Two things interest me in these fish -- one is the extreme variability and the other is the strange coloration/clear-scale colors.

It is time for another side story here to illustrate the scale issue. When I had my salt water store, I had a 60 gallon flat set up at about chest-level in height with a lot of corals and some Derasa clams. These grow to a very large size but we usually only had some 3 or 4 inchs clams. I had some fun with the children and women because I had a small step-ladder next to the tank and I played a kind of trick on the customers. I would come over to the tank when they were studying the corals and clams and ask 'how good are you at recognizing colors?' There was usually no real answer but I followed up by asking what color are the clams? When just looking at them with your feet on the floor, their flesh was a beautiful purple or dark lavender -- which is the answer I would usually get. At this point I would tell them that they were way off on the color of those clams and tell them to climb up a step or so on the ladder and look directly down on them. From directly above the clam's -- their color was a beautiful flourescent green -- not purple -- and each of the party of customers would climb the ladder and have their turn looking at the clams. But how could the color be so different from above? What I read on the internet was that the flesh of the clam was basically purple but the entire surface was made up of tiny vertical holes with a kind of clear cap on top. At the bottom of the holes was a symbiotic algae species that lived in the clams -- perhaps providing some type of chlorophyll energy converter beneficial to both algae and clam. Looking at the clam flesh from any angle other than directly down through the holes gave the purple appearance but looking directly down showed only the green bottoms of the holes -- a neat illusion.

The dragonbloods and the super-red OBs have something similar going on with their scales being definitely transparent on many of the males and on some colors the scales almost appear to be lenses generating a brilliant point of light from some colored scales making the fish appear covered with bright pin-sized lights. The normal color of dragonblood is the blood-red colored males with an all red body with all red fins and black eyes. The females have black eyes and a whitish color with some freckling showing the history of their OB zebra ancestors. They look nothing like the regular OB zebra females with a darker color and larger spots. At this point it is time for another side story to illustrate what may be going on here. Gentle reader -- let me inform you that you and all humans appear to have 'blue' eyes. Perhaps someone has told you that you have brown or green or whatever color eyes but they only 'appear' brown or black or green. There is an odd structure to the iris of the eye that has the actual iris recessed behind a kind of transparent fluid that has some depth. In someone with baby blues like Paul Neuman that fluid is totally clear and the blue color of the recessed iris is what you see. A model with really blue eyes. In someone with the appearance of brown eyes, there are tiny globules in the clear fluid -- that have the effect of scattering the reflected actual color of blue to the point where you only see brown or green or whatever. There are two different layers in the iris, a front and a back one. In between the two layers is an area called the stroma. The stroma is a clear tissue with many proteins floating around in it. One of these proteins is called collagen. Something similar causes the sky to be blue. The web says scattering of light (Tyndall effect and, closely related, Rayleigh scattering) cause this phenomenon ... Blue eyes are probably the best known example of Tyndall scattering. The scales of the dragonbloods and super-red OBs have some similar layering with the colors of the bloodred males appearing to be slightly below the surface and the red color and blue/red spots on the super-red OBs have a similar look with the color appearing to be under a kind of clear coat. Add to this the kind of lens effect of the dark colored fish and the two-colored scales of the Red Orchid colored males which appear to have a red center with a white outer ring on most of their scales. Another strange phenomenon has to do with their fin colors. On the males they can have all red fins or fins with large drops of red and white color or on the dark colors -- horizontal black bars appear. From the pair described above you will typically get fry with males in five or six different colors and females in three colors. You usually get about 50% of the normal black-eyed pinkish bodied fish with 25% albino and 25% dark (like the fry of a ruby red). As they grow the females stay the same color -- whether white, albino, or dark striped -- but the dark-eyed pink males can go bloodred, strawberry, just yellow/orange (rarely), or the red orchid color pattern. I don't really have a lot of spawns of pairings in the whole variety of combinations -- but my present suspicion is that you may get the same distribution from any color pairing. The percentages of the albinos and darks makes me think I don't understand the genetics of this fish.

I should say that I can easily sell any of the bloodred males as soon as they color up and the red orchids and strawberries when they get enough size to show well. The oddest issue is with the dark males. I presently have none over about 4 inches because they all get sold as soon as they start coloring up. These have the bright dots and intense reds and blues in addition to the very different dorsal markings from normal peacocks (horizontal bars and red and blue up into the dorsal). Each of the dark males seem to have slightly different patterns from the last one that colored up. I asked my friend Peter at the Fish Hub what he calls these fish when he sells them. He said he usually calls them 'Patriot Peacocks' because of the reds and blues in them. All of the males have to some degree the clear scale phenomenon that makes the colors more intense. I am reminded of the two main types of pond koi available lately. The old standby was what was called 'oriental or japanese' and it is basically a white body with patches of color on them almost like they were painted and the two-tone colored fish like ogons. In these fish the patterns were the selling point with issues like the pure whiteness of the basic body color and issues like that. But over the past few years there are some newer scale patterns like the koi called 'leathers' and some really bright colors. These brighter colored fish have shiney white, gold, yellows, and oranges with the colors extending into their fins. The old standby orientals have only clear or whitish fins. I am not a koi expert but the guy (Vernon) I got my original oriental types from years ago gave the impression that the oriental or original types were the 'accepted' varieties. It reminded me of the ACA snobbery of the past with no developed fish even allowed to be listed in their trading post. But in the last few years Vernon sold koi before he retired and left my state -- even he was bringing in these brighter color varieties and selling them because that was what the customers wanted. They did not intend to show the fish but definitely could see the difference in the types and preferred the brighter colors. The last few batches of butterfly koi I brought in to sell seemed to all have the bright shiney points of light scale highlights very much like the coloring of the 'Patriot peacocks'.

The super-red ob strain has some definite differences when compared to the 'dragonblood' hybrid strain. The obvious difference is that for the dragonbloods the females are more white and have only tiny freckles and not the larger blotches of zebra obs or the stuartgranti ob peacocks. The females on the super-reds have large blotches and I have seen a couple of them that appear to have better than 50% blotches -- enough to make you think some line breeding may produce a black or almost all black variety. Bumble-bee mbunas have the appearance of a black peacock but wouldn't it be great to have a gentle fish like Aulonocara in that color. One of the two strains of super-reds I have came with a bunch of Red Empress peacocks and I was told that the ob fish were an ob variety of the Red Empress. They came to me as a kind of trade from someone who owed me some money and he had ordered $2000 of fish from one of the larger operations back east and they gave him a hundred or so each of one inch ob and regular Red Empress peacocks as a bonus. I had no idea how brightly colored each of these strains would be and I sold most of them to pet shops for a dollar or two and only kept back a few to grow out and breed. I have had Red Empress before but this strain has better color and I can see where the clear scales with the bright pin-points of light may have come from these guys. Red Empress females also have a whitish body -- but with an odd cross-hatch pattern instead of the stripes of normal peacocks. I can see where the whitish females of the hybrid super-reds could be related just based on the female coloration. And of course the male Red Empress remains bright blue when netted and seems like a good candidate for the origin of the non-fading colors of the hybrid super-reds and possibly for the dragonbloods (assuming there was more than just the old mbuna zebra cross way back to bring the colors over -- the clear scales may be from the empress peacocks.) Several years earlier I had some Red Empress but that strain was more like the German Reds with the blues easily changing to browns with stress and the reds usually appearing as orange -- not impressive like this newer strain. My speculations on the scales and genetic distributions are only guesses at this point. If you have any insight into these issues -- email me and make me aware of the webpages/etc. that could clarify these issues. At this point I plan to breed up a bunch of these fish and enjoy the show.