Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus): Ultimate Care Guide

The Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus) is a large Central American Cichlid with robust and unusual characteristics. They have a predominantly white appearance dappled with black spots and shimmering purple tones. This fish is known for having a strong, often aggressive personality as well as a mighty bite, although some regard this species to be friendlier than other large Cichlids. This species of fish is found in the rivers and lakes of Cuba, close to vegetation and occasionally in both fresh and brackish water – although this species should only be housed in freshwater in personal collections. The Cuban Cichlid is not a common species making it a truly unique and rewarding centrepiece fish, and a wonderful addition to your collection.

How to Care for Cuban Cichlid

This species requires a moderate level of care, needing some specific parameters for success.

The Cuban Cichlid’s water temperature should be between 75 – 86 F (24 – 30 C) with a neutral pH of 7.0 – 8.0 and a carbonate hardness KH of 10 -15. It is best to aim for the middle of the range but is it most important to maintain stability of these levels to ensure the health and happiness of your fish. Aeration of the tank is important and there should be an excellent filtration system as the Cuban Cichlid can create a large amount of waste.

A tank of at least 55 gallons (210 L), and ideally 75 gallons (280 L) or more, in size is suitable for one Cuban Cichlid or a breeding pair. This large tank size is important to support the size of the Cuban Cichlid which can range between 8 -12 inches in length. Female Cuban Cichlids are smaller than males and you can expect juvenile fish to range between 1 – 2 inches at purchase size.

Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus)
Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus). Biodiversity Heritage Library. CC BY 2.0 / Modified

A tank that is large with sandy substrate and has many places for the fish to shelter will prove highly successful with the Cuban Cichlid. Avoid decorative stones and small pieces of driftwood as this species is known to re-arrange areas of the tank. The Cuban Cichlid tank should be decorated with large rocks, wood, or boulders which will allow them to create areas of refuge, but still have large open space for them to swim. It is not necessary to include plants, but if this is a preference then floating or very hard-wearing plants should be used to avoid them being destroyed by these playful fish.

Food & Diet

Cuban Cichlids are omnivores enjoying a varied, meat focused diet and can be fed a mixture of Cichlid flakes and pellets, as well as a live or frozen shrimp and worms. This Cichlid species are not particular with their diet, although variety and high-quality food is important for healthy fish. To ensure optimal health and coloration, the Cuban Cichlid should also be offered vegetable material such as shelled peas or spinach in addition to their meat-heavy diet. In the wild this species feed on everything from small fish and shrimp, to worms, insects, and algae. If kept in the correct conditions, with a high-quality and varied diet, you can expect Cuban Cichlid to live for 8 – 12 years.

Breeding Cuban Cichlid

The key to breeding Cuban Cichlids is to allow a small group of juvenile fish to develop together and select their own mates, from which you can choose an established mating pair. It is advised to then move the excess fish to another tank as this species are highly territorial. Once a breeding pair are ready to mate, they will need a flat surface within a cave or dome to lay their eggs. These eggs can number up to three hundred and will hatch in just over five days. Cuban Cichlids will protect the fry, which are able to swim in seven days, until the mating pair can spawn again. The fry can be fed small, freshly hatched brine shrimp and will grow quickly.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a male and female Cuban Cichlid as they are known for having similar features, but a key difference is that the male is usually more colorful and larger than the female which also has shorter fins. An experienced individual might be able to see the differences in genitalia which is usually easiest to determine around the time of spawning.


Cuban Cichlids can encounter a variety of diseases which are common to the Cichlid family.

One such health issue is Swim Bladder Disease which affects a sac found in the abdomen that helps the fish to float. If one of your fish were affected by this disease you would see it struggling to stay under the water. Whilst there are many reasons for this health concern, including physical injury or secondary disease, one issue may be a low fiber diet and can be relieved by incorporating vegetables into the feed.

Tuberculosis is another common disease which can affect all aquatic fish including Cichlids and is highly contagious. A fish with this disease will appear lethargic, have little to no appetite and white patches on its skin, and should be removed from the tank immediately to avoid spreading the disease. The infected fish should be treated, and the original tank should be thoroughly clean and disinfected.

If the tank has poor water quality with food debris, Cuban Cichlid’s may also contract a fungus called Cotton Wool disease which gets its name from the white growths which form on the fish’s head. This can be treated with anti-fungal medication or salt baths.  

Another disease typically associated with Cichlids is Hexamita (Hole in the head) which causes behavioral issues such as lethargy and loss of appetite, as well as physical symptoms such as a mark in the head and legions on the body. This can be combatted by assessing the water quality, adjusting the diet of the fish to ensure an appropriate level of minerals, and treating for parasites.

White Spot, otherwise known as Ich, is another parasite which can affect Cichlids and causes small white spots to form all over the infected fish. This may also cause the fish to rub against objects in the tank, and due to the contagious nature of this disease the whole tank should be treated.

Tank Mates

The Cuban Cichlid is a territorial and aggressive fish and should not be kept with members of its own species unless it is a breeding pair. It is best suited to being housed with other large, strong Central/South American Cichlids for example the Vieja, Green Texas, Jack Dempsey, or Yellow Jacket, and will coexist well if able to grow from juveniles together. Large Catfish like the Pictus or Corydoras as well as Tetras are a good option to place in a tank with the Cuban Cichlid, but it is important to remember that the tank must be large enough and offer lots of places to hide and shelter. It is not advised to house the Cuban Cichlid with smaller fish, invertebrates and most importantly do not mix African and South/Central American Cichlids as they are highly territorial.

Where to Find Cuban Cichlid for Sale

Cuban Cichlids are not a common species to find for sale but are not so unusual that they cannot be easily sourced online through many reputable aquatic retailers. There has been a lot of recent interest in the Central American Cichlids, including the Cuban Cichlid, although these fish are rarely imported from their native area and are now supplied through local breeding. It should not be a problem for local, larger aquatic stores to source a Cuban Cichlid which would probably come from a large wholesaler. For example, the Cuban Cichlid is available on Arizona Aquatic Gardens or Aqua Imports.

The Cuban Cichlid is a moderately priced fish, although around six juveniles will need to be purchased to create a successful breeding pair. The price of a Cuban Cichlid averages from $10 USD for a small juvenile, to $50 for a large adult (5 inches).

Cuban Cichlid vs Jaguar Cichlid

The Cuban Cichlid and Jaguar Cichlid are often confused for one another due to the similarities in color, pattern, and feisty nature. In fact, these two species are occasionally mislabeled as one another in stores which is something to look out for. There are, however, some important differences between these fish which are two entirely different species.

The Cuban Cichlid is native to only Cuba, whereas the Jaguar Cichlid originates from southern Mexico to Panama. The two fish have evolved in parallel which means they are found in different areas of Central America but have developed similar characteristics which have allowed them to survive in these varied environments.

Despite the similarities in size, Cuban Cichlids do not grow as big as Jaguar Cichlids which can reach up to 16 inches if kept in the correct conditions. There is a slight color variation between these two species with Cuban Cichlids being closer to white or grey with a black pattern, and Jaguar Cichlids forming more of a yellow or gold hue under the black markings. Those who have prior knowledge about the Cichlid species group will be able to see these differences between the Cuban and Jaguar and appreciate the beauty that both these fish have to offer.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *