The Venustus Nimbochromis venustus (previously Haplochromis venustus) is a popular aquarium cichlid. This is a big fish that can grow close to 10 inches in the aquarium. The impressive size along with its interesting behavior and handsome color pattern make it a favorite among cichlid lovers. This cichlid makes a fabulous display specimen for a large show tank.
Wild caught specimens are quite rare, but captive bred specimens are commonly available due to commercial breeding. This fish has a yellow body covered with blotches of brown and males develop an attractive blue face and head as they mature. it is also known as the Venustus Cichlid, Venustus Hap, and Kalingo. But its blotches, resembling the coat pattern of a giraffe, have led to the descriptive common names of Giraffe Cichlid, Giraffe Haplochromis, or simply Giraffe Hap.
This is a very clever cichlid, a trait found in all the cichlids in the Nimbochromis genus. These cichlids are different from the Mbuna cichlids, in the way that they prefer open swimming areas where the rocks meet the sand. The members of this genus are all very smart, stealthy predatory fish, but each has its own distinctive technique.
The Venustus Cichlid is an ambush predator that will partially bury itself in the sand. It will then hold very still, for up to several minutes, waiting for an unsuspecting small fish to swim by. When an unwary smaller fish comes to “taste” the “dead” fish, the Venustus jumps to life. Once its prey is within reach, it will quickly dart out of the sand to snatch it. It will even lay in wait near a cave where there are young juvenile fish.
A slightly different ambushing technique is employed by its close relative, the Livingstoni Cichlid N. livingstonii. This cichlid will actually lie flat on its side on the sand in areas next to rocks where small fish travel. When the prey swims over its head, it will instantly grab it using a sideways motion of its head and mouth. Still another example is the Elephant Nosed Cichlid N. linni which will rest with its chin on the rocks just above a hideout of small fish, remaining motionless waiting for the small prey to venture out. Then he quickly extends his highly protusable mouth and sucks the prey up.
The Venustus is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is generally easy to care for as long as the aquarist realizes their predatory nature and need for a lot of space. They are not as demanding as far as water quality compared to most cichlids. But they do need to be fed properly to avoid Malawi bloat. A sand substrate will make them feel most at home. Provide some hiding places with rock structures and wood, but its best to place them towards the back of the aquarium, leaving plenty of open space for swimming. Plants can be added as well because even though these fish will burrow, they don’t disturb them.
These are moderately aggressive cichlids. They will do best in a species specific tank or with other cichlids. Try and keep the different species blood lines pure. Do not mix with these fish with the overactive and aggressive Mbunas. A minimum of 125 gallons is need for one male and several females since spawning males are aggressive. During spawning their color display rivals saltwater fish in its intensity and beauty. If another male from the Nimbochromis genus is also kept in the aquarium, the Venustus will still keep its bright spawning colors.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Cichlidae
- Genus: Nimbochromis
- Species: venustus
Quick Aquarium Care
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
- Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 125 gal (473 L)
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Venustus Nimbochromis venustus was described by Boulenger in 1908. It was originally called Haplochromis venustus but was reclassified to Nimbochromis venustus in 1989. They occur in the Africa rift lake area and are endemic to Lake Malawi and Lake Malombe. Other common names it is known by include Venustus Cichlid, Venustus Hap, Kalingo, Giraffe Cichlid, Giraffe Haplochromis, and Giraffe Hap.
This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Lease Concern (LC). It is endemic to Lake Malawi and Lake Malombe and is widespread throughout both lakes. There is a possible population decline in the southern part of Lake Malawi thought to be related to trawl fishing in that area, but there are no other recognized threats at present.
Adults are mostly found over areas of sandy substrate at depths depth between 49 – 65 feet (15 – 20 m) . Juveniles are found in shallow waters near rocks and swimming in schools. They feed on small fish and invertebrates. They use an ambush technique of partially burying themselves it the sand to catch unaware small fish prey as they swim near.
- Scientific Name: Nimbochromis venustus
- Social Grouping: Groups – As juveniles they are seen in schools.
- IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern
The Venustus is a good sized cichlid with a stocky elongated body and a large mouth. They reach up to about 10 inches (25 cm) in length, and sometimes grow a bit bigger in the aquarium. This fish has a life span of up to 10 years.
The male can range from a solid gold with a blue face or be all blue. But all will have the “giraffe” patterning faded in the background and a yellow to tan stripe starting at the nose and running along the top of the dorsal.
Females and juveniles are a lighter beige coloring with the brownish “giraffe” spotting being more pronounced. The female has a hint of gold on the head area, an anal fin that is yellow on the bottom half and a tail fin that is clear on top and yellow on the bottom half. Her dorsal fin is tipped in a lighter color too. The juvenile looks the same as the female but their background is a little lighter, almost a silver white color.
All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.
- Size of fish – inches: 9.8 inches (24.99 cm) – They grows to a length of 9.84″ (25 cm) in the wild, but are sometimes larger in home aquaria.
- Lifespan: 10 years – They have a lifespan of about 10 years with proper care.
Fish Keeping Difficulty
This is a good fish for both the intermediate and experienced cichlid keeper. It is an fairly aggressive cichlid, and not a community tank specimen. It cannot kept with fish other than cichlids. The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. It is susceptible to Malawi bloat as well as the typical diseases that effect all freshwater fish if the tank is not maintained. In the proper setup it will easily adapt to prepared foods, breed readily, and the juveniles are easy to raise as well.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Foods and Feeding
The Venustus are omnivorous, but in the wild they habitually feed on fish so can be considered a piscivore. In the aquarium they do best with a high protein diet. They can be fed live or frozen food, freeze dried krill, pellets, and other high quality foods for piscivores. Occasionally feed mysis and feeder fish, though feeder fish can initiate hunting instincts and cause more aggression.
They need herbivorous foods as well to balance out their diet. Young up to 3 to 4″ can be fed flake, but after that flake is too messy and will foul the water. Adults do best when fed frozen foods twice a week. They will eat to the point of their stomach being distended, so be very careful to not overfeed.
- Diet Type: Omnivore – This fish is a predatory piscivore, meaning it stalks and eats small fish, but it will eat some vegetable foods on occasion too.
- Flake Food: Occasionally – Flakes work fine for juveniles to about 3-4″, but then become too messy for the tank.
- Tablet / Pellet: Yes
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Daily – Juveniles can be fed daily, but as adults 2 – 3 feedings a week are fine.
Malawi Cichlids will deteriorate under poor water conditions. Water changes of 10% to 20% a week depending on bioload. Malawi bloat is a typical disease especially if over fed and there is a lack of some herbivorous foods that are high quality.
- Water Changes: Weekly – Water changes of 10-20% weekly are suggested, depending on the bio load.
The streams that flow into Lake Malawi have a high mineral content. This along with evaporation has resulted in alkaline water that is highly mineralized. Lake Malawi is known for its clarity and stability as far as pH and other water chemistries. It is easy to see why it is important to watch tank parameters with all Lake Malawi fish.
Rift lake cichlids need hard alkaline water but are not found in brackish waters. Salt is sometimes used as a buffering agent to increase the water’s carbonate hardness. This cichlid has some salt tolerance so can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it not suited to a full brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of a normal saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
A minimum 70 gallon tank will work when small, but because they grow quickly and have an aggressive nature, 125 gallons is suggested. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Poor water quality will ruin their eyes. Keeping the ph above neutral is important. They can tolerate any Ph above neutral, but a ph level of 8 is best.
A sand substrate will make them feel most at home. Adding some crushed coral used for salt water tanks can help keep the pH up. However if you use a rough substrate, they will be scratched up due to their nature of burying themselves. Crushed coral or aragonite sands do tend to dissolve easier than salts. Keeping a higher pH however, means that ammonia is more lethal, so regular water changes are a must for these fish.
Open space is a must for the Venustus. There can be some rock work and wood that is placed towards the back of the aquarium to provide a lot of holes for hiding places. Most importantly there needs to be a lot of swimming areas along the middle and bottom of the tank. They like to dig so make sure the rocks sit on the bottom of the aquarium not on the substrate. They will spawn using a pit close to a rock. Plants can be added as well because even though these fish will burrow, they don’t disturb them. They will eat the leaves of some freshwater plants, but will not eat the more sturdy plants. They also tend to dig, so the plants need to be anchored.
- Minimum Tank Size: 125 gal (473 L) – Juveniles can be kept in a 70 gallon tank, but for adults 125 gallons is suggested.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Sand
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)
- Range ph: 7.7-8.6 – Venustus can tolerate a ph that’s just above 7.0, but prefer 8.0 or higher.
- Hardness Range: 6 – 10 dGH
- Brackish: Sometimes – Salt is not found in their natural environment, but they do have a slight tolerance, keep levels below 10% – a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: Middle – These fish will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium.
The Venustus Cichlid is not considered to be a community fish. They are voracious predators, but they are only moderately aggressive accept when spawning. They do best in a species specific tank or with other cichlids. Some aquarists report severe aggressiveness, which could be due to inadequate housing. They should not be kept with Mbunas (smaller rock dwelling cichlids). Some have put them with others of there same genus, though in very large systems to promote the spawning colors.
The Venustus is best kept in groups of one male and several females. They will shoal together if there are quite a few (6 to 8 adults in 125 gallons). They will attack and kill any other males of the same species in the tank unless the tank is large. If overstocking is used as a form of aggression reduction, care should be taken to do several partial water changes a week. Do not put this fish with peaceful cichlids.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Although they are voracious predators, if the tank is large enough they are only moderately aggressive accept when spawning.
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are best kept in groups of 1 male with several females. The male will attack and kill another male unless the tank is very large. If there are 6-8 adults they will shoal together.
- Peaceful fish (): Threat
- Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
- Aggressive (): Monitor
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
- Plants: Monitor
Sex: Sexual differences
Males have brighter blue or yellow coloring with muted patterning, and females are blander in color with more pronounced patterning.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Venustus is polygamous in nature with a male attending several females, and they form a matriarchal family. This cichlid has been bred in captivity. It is suggested to get a group of six to eight juveniles and let them grow up together. They like a flat stone or slate to lay their eggs. Make sure this breeding site is not near a strong water flow since the eggs are externally fertilized.
Being a mouth brooder the female will pick up the eggs into her mouth for incubation. She will carry 60 to 120 eggs for over a month, and will allow the hatched fry to hide in her mouth for up to 10 days, after which they are on their own. If the tank is very “busy” she may let the eggs go too soon, so you may have to strip her of all eggs a few days after spawning and incubate them for around 13 days. On her own, she will hold them in her mouth for about 2 weeks.
This would be a good time to take them out of the tank as the male has no qualms about eating his children! The fry can eat cyclopeeze and finely crushed flake. They will color up like the female in a short time and grow quickly. In a species specific tank, adding a young male is asking for trouble, though in a mixed tank, you can sometimes get away with more than one subordinate male.
- Ease of Breeding: Easy
Malawi bloat is a typical disease for the Venustus Cichlid, especially if their dietary needs are not met with quality foods. They are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment.
As with most fish they are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
Venustus Cichlids are usually found online and are moderately priced, but prices vary depending on whether they are male, female, or juvenile. They are usually found in fish stores, though may be special ordered if you are willing to wait for them if they are out of season.