Venustus Cichlid Care Guide (Nimbochromis venustus)


Common Name(s)Venustus Cichlid, Venustus Hap, Giraffe Hap, Giraffe Cichlid, Kalingo
Scientific NameNimbochromis venustus
OriginLake Malawi, Southeast Africa
Temperature73-82°F (23-28°C)
Size12 inches (30.4 cm)
Minimum Tank Size70 gallons (265 L)
Food & DietCarnivores with a high protein diet
Lifespan12 years
Water pH7.5-8.8
Tank MatesNimbochromis livingstonii, Frontosa, Red Empress, Dimidiochromis compressiceps, and larger mbuna.
BreedingSpawn on flat surface such as stone or slate
DiseaseMay be suseptible to Malawi bloat.
Venustus Cichlid
Venustus Cichlid (Nimbochromis venustus)

Venustus Cichlid Facts

Venustus Cichlid, also known as Venustus Hap, Giraffe Hap, Giraffe Cichlid, or Kalingo, are easily identified by their unique pattern, which resembles the melanic markings of a giraffe, hence their nicknames. They are intelligent, using a special hunting technique known as thanatosis, where they submerge themselves entirely in sand after spotting prey and will lie still, waiting for unsuspecting small fish to swim close. The smaller fish will then examine the ‘dead’ fish, which is the moment the Venustus Cichlid will dart our of the sand to seize them. Belgian-British zoologist, George Boulenger first described this species in 1908, although it was referred to as Haplochromis Venustus, recategorised 80 years later to Nimbochromis Venustus.

This freshwater species is native to Lake Malombe and the upper Shire River of Lake Malawi in Africa, which is the ninth largest lake in the world and second deepest in Africa. Lake Malawi is home to almost 700 species of cichlids, majority being Haplochromine. Venustus Cichlids frequent deeper parts of the lake with depths of up to 23 meters (75.5 feet). Venustus Cichlids are fascinating because they possess an additional set of pharyngeal teeth in their throat, which are really modified gill bones that work alongside their regular mandibular teeth.

Venustus Cichlid Care

Venustus Cichlids are good for intermediate-level fish keepers, because despite their simple care needs, they are only semi-hardy. This moderately-aggressive species must have a tank suitable enough for them to swim around in, as they are very active fish. Their dietary needs are easily met, but they can easily become ill if their water conditions are anything but superb. Depending on the bioload, aquarists will need to change their water weekly (minimum 10% to 20%).

Venustus Cichlid Temperature

Venustus Cichlids desire a tropical environment, with water temperatures ranging between 73-82°F (23-28°C). Fish keepers will benefit from using an aquarium heater, on top of keeping tabs on temperature levels in order to ensure their Venustus Cichlids ultimate comfort.

Venustus Cichlid Water pH & Hardness

Venustus Cichlids must have premium water quality with a high water pH, ranging from 7.5 to 8.8. Their water must have a hardness between 10 to 15 dH, which will ensure they remain healthy long-term.

Venustus Cichlid Size

Venustus Cichlids are one of the largest African cichlids, with wild Venustus Cichlids recorded to grow up to 12 inches (30.4 cm). However, in captivity they will not exceed a length of 10 inches (25 cm). In order to ensure they reach their maximum length, they must be fed an adequate diet and have enough space to roam in their aquarium.

Venustus Cichlid Growth Rate

Venustus Cichlid juveniles are around 2 inches long (5 cm), but they can grow from 4 to 6 inches (10.2 cm to 15.2 cm) within 3 months. Some fish keepers report that their fish reach their full adult size within 9 months, but this is entirely down to their husbandry.

Venustus Cichlid Tank Size

Venustus Cichlid juveniles may be kept in a minimum 70 gallons (265 L) tank with 48″ x 18″ x 21” (122 L x 46 W x 53 H cm) dimensions, but fish keepers need to be aware of how quickly this species can grow. For mature Venustus Cichlids, a minimum tank of 125 gallons (473 L) is preferred with the standard dimension being 72″ L x 18″ W x 21″ H (183 L x 46 W x 53 H cm), as this will give them enough space to move around and avoid increased aggression.

Venustus Cichlid Food & Diet

Venustus Cichlids are categorised as carnivores, or more specifically – piscivores, meaning they will consume smaller fish in the wild. Aquarists must provide this fish a high-protein diet, however, it is best to avoid feeding them live fish as they can carry bacterial or parasitic infection which can harm Venustus Cichlids, who have no issues accepting dead/frozen food or vitamin-enriched pellets/flakes/granules. This species will eat a variety of: prawns, lancefish, whitebait, earthworms, bloodworms, brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, minnows, krill, mosquito larvae, cockle and mussel meat. It is vital that Venustus Cichlids are provided a high quality diet, as they may consequently lose their colouration and patterns or even develop Malawi bloat. Sometimes this fish my nibble on the leaves of plants and accept vegetable foods, but the majority of their meals must consist of meat.

Why is my Venustus Cichlid not eating?

Female adult Venustus Cichlids who are incubating a batch of eggs or housing fry in their mouth, will not eat until the fry are released. It is important that females are fed a nutritious, meaty diet before they begin buccal incubation. If Venustus Cichlids are suffering from ailments, such as Malawi bloat or constipation, then they will refuse to eat or spit out food until this issue is addressed.

How often does Venustus Cichlid need to be fed?

Venustus Cichlids are eager eaters and opportunistic predators, so aquarists hoping to minimise their fishs aggression should implement regular feeding into their schedule. Adult Venustus Cichlids will eat 3 to 4 times a day within 30 seconds.

Venustus Cichlid Lifespan

Venustus Cichlids can live up to 12 years, with their average life span being 10 years in captivity – provided that they are kept healthy.

Venustus Cichlid Tank Mates

Venustus Cichlid are predatory and ambush anything smaller in size, even their own fry. They are best kept in a species specific tank with other African Rift Lake Cichlids, however, more advanced fish keepers can house them alongside other species that are of similar size. Suitable tank mates include: Nimbochromis livingstonii, Frontosa, Red Empress (Protomelas taeniolatus), Dimidiochromis compressiceps, and larger mbuna.

Venustus Cichlid and Peacock Cichlid

Peacock Cichlid (Aulonocara) belong to the same tribe of cichlids as Venustus Cichlid and the two can be compatible. However, aquarists must be aware that Peacock’s grow up to 7 inches (17.8 cm) and may be harassed by Venustus Cichlids due to the size difference, so proper tank setup and feeding must take precedence before adding these two in one habitat.

Venustus Cichlid and Angelfish

Venustus Cichlid and Angelfish are incompatible due to their different water parameter requirements, given that they originate from entirely different continents.

Venustus Cichlid and Mbuna Cichlids

Venustus Cichlid are theoretically compatible with Mbuna Cichlids on the condition that aquarists choose fish that will grow to be the same size when they reach adulthood. There is a risk that Mbunas become eaten by Venustus Cichlids, so placing them in one tank should be for more advanced keepers.

Venustus Cichlid and Oscar fish

Venustus Cichlid and Oscar fish are incompatible as tank mates, because they have evolved on two different parts of the world. Oscar fish are from South American waters, hence their immune systems are different compared to the African Venustus Cichlid and both require different water conditions. Keeping these two cichlid together is not recommended. 

Venustus Cichlid and Yellow Labs

Due to the fact that Yellow Labs grow to a small 4.7 inches (12 cm), they might be in danger of being bullied by Venustus Cichlid and even eaten in the wild. However, theoretically they can co-exist in a tank with proper precautions, such as plenty of hiding places, wide enough swimming spaces, and regular feeding.

How to stock a Venustus Cichlid only tank?

Male Venustus Cichlid can be aggressive towards one another, therefore hobbyists must stock a harem of minimum 3 to 6 females per male, especially when attempting to breed them.

Are Venustus Cichlid Aggressive?

Venustus Cichlid males have a moderately aggressive temperament, and tend to do better in a species specific tank with other cichlids, though aquarists must always exercise caution when introducing new fish to each other. Male Venustus Cichlids can display aggressive behaviour towards one another in nature as they are rather solitary, thus fish keepers must purchase a large-enough tank as well as enough female Venustus Cichlids to prevent clashes.

Venustus Cichlid Tank Setup

Venustus Cichlids hail from the freshwater streams of Lake Malawi, an alkaline and mineralised environment which should be replicated in an aquarium. They require non-brackish water, but are able to tolerate some salinity of up to 10% of an average saltwater tank. Above neutral freshwater (pH of 8) or brackish freshwater is ideal, with soft sand substrate. Venustus Cichlids tend to dig in sand and burry themselves, so rocks or wood ornaments should be placed at the bottom back of the tank, not directly on top of the substrate. This species needs ample space to swim around, thus the middle and bottom of the tank must accommodate this. Some plants can be added, but must be anchored, as Venustus Cichlids will uproot them due to their constant digging, so hardier plants such as java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) are more suitable.

Venustus Cichlid Breeding

Venustus Cichlids are a polygamous species, with males breeding a harem of females where they then form a matriarchal family. They are difficult to spawn, and successful breeding is dependent on the sex ratio, with at least 3 to 6 females needed per male. They will not start breeding into they reach a length of inches 4 inches (10 cm) or 12 months of age (sometimes sooner). Venustus Cichlids prefer a spawning site consisting of a flat stone or slate that is away from strong water currents, which will effect the external fertilisation of the eggs. Courtship commences when males act territorial, adopt gaudier colouration, and shake their fins. Females are mouth brooders and once laying her eggs the males fertilise them, with the females gathering them into her mouth for buccal incubation, before once again laying another batch. Female Venustus Cichlids may carry 60 to 120 eggs for 2 to 3 weeks, caring for the hatched fry by permitting them to feed on her egg sac and hide in her mouth for up to 10 days. The fry are generally left on their own after this, and aquarists are recommended that they are removed from the community tank as male Venustus Cichlids will eat them.

Venustus Cichlid Male and Female

Adult Venustus Cichlid males typically have a bright blue head, with a golden yellow body  displaying a muted army/camo or giraffe pattern. Males also have have egg spots/dummies in their anal fins, which consist of yellow circular markings surrounded by a darker black ring. Adult Venustus Cichlid females are smaller in size and are muted in colour with light beige scales and more intense patterning.

What does a male juvenile Venustus Cichlid look like

Male juvenile Venustus Cichlids have not yet developed their unique blue facial colourings and can be difficult to sex. Both male and female will posses the same  nimbochromis pattern (resembling the universal army/camo or giraffe blotches) on their scales. Their fins will remain dark yellow, with their anal fin tapered. The distance between the end of the anal fin and start of his tail fin is shorter compared to females. When they reach 2.5 to 3 inches the male’s colouration around the throat and gill plates will not appear as yellow as the females. Dimorphic characteristics may be more visible when Venustus Cichlids reach 3 to 4 inches.

Venustus Cichlid Color Change

Male Venustus Cichlid scales will intensify in colour when it is not spawning season, but will regain their bright pigmentation and spots when they are no longer in the condition to breed. Interestingly enough, male Venustus Cichlids will not lose their coloration when housed with an additional male from the Nimbochromis genus. They are very much like peacocks, in the sense that their beautiful colours are there to impress their female counterparts.

Venustus Cichlid Disease

African freshwater cichlids can commonly suffer from a disease known as Malawi bloat. The cause of this ailment is thought to originate from the protozoans which inhabit the intestines of Venustus Cichlids, that multiply when a fish is stressed due to inadequate water conditions and inferior food quality. Other causes range from Hexmitia (excessive parasitic diplomonads) or secondary bacterial infections. Malawi bloat may be spotted with Venustus Cichlids showing signs such as: a bloated abdomen (dropsy), stringy white feces, lack of inactivity, loss of appetite, lifted scales, and rapid breathing. If fish keepers do not treat this with Metronidazole, the Malawi bloat will cause liver and kidney damage, which is terminal for Venustus Cichlids. Other diseases to watch out for include Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) and Dactylogyrus (Gill Flukes).

Where to find Venustus Cichlid for Sale?

Venustus Cichlids are a popular breed of fish, meaning that they can easily be found in online fish stores and most major pet store chains. Wild-caught Venustus Cichlids are extremely rare and it is more likely the average fish is both bred and raised in tanks.

Venustus Cichlid Price

Venustus Cichlids can be expensive if they wild-caught and out of season, with price distinctions depending on the age and gender of the fish. There are discounts available if juveniles are purchased in bulk, and one unsexed Venustus Cichlid juvenile will cost no more than $13. Adult Venustus Cichlids may set fish keepers back a solid $65 for males, with females running cheaper for generally half that price ($35).

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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