Animal-World > Aquarium Tropical Fish > Cichlids > Nanochromis transvestitus

Nanochromis transvestitus

Family: Cichlidae Picture of a(n) Nanochromis transvestitus, West African Dwarf CichlidNanochromis transvestitus

   With the Nanochromis transvestitus, you get a stunning cichlid in a dainty package!

   Very small for a cichlid, the Nanochromis transvestitusus reaches just over an inch in length. Both the male and female are very striking. The female however, with her red belly and black and white striped tail, is the most colorful. Their small size makes them more manageable than many of the other cichlid species. They will breed very easily if the water is perfect for their needs and their foods are varied and healthy. The reward, a couple that peacefully rears their offspring together. A great choice for a cichlid enthusiast who can provide a moderate sized tank and wants smaller fish.

   These fish are described as both easy and difficult to keep. They can be can be one of the easier of the 'dwarfs', as long as their needs are met. Provide elements that help mimic their natural habitat, such as rocks, driftwood, and a substrate mixture of sand and small pebbles they can pick up. A low pH and dense foliage are needed for security. Aquarists have had no problems when they use the correct pH and the correct hardness in their tanks, those who do not find them more difficult to keep. As long as the tank is comfortable, it is kept clean, and the water parameters of a low pH are met, you will have happy fish.

   The Nanochromis transvestitusus is a relatively peaceful and tolerant fish that can be kept in community aquariums. They are comfortable with other acidic water dwellers that can hold their own. However they will not tolerate other fish that look similar. They are aggressive toward their own species, and do not tolerate others of their genus. Like most cichlids, they get very aggressive and territorial when spawning.

For more Information on keeping freshwater fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Freshwater Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Nanochromis transvestitus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Nanochromis
  • Species: transvestitus
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Distribution:    The Nanochromis transvestitus was described by Stewart and Roberts in 1984. They are found in West Africa in a body of water called Mai-Ndombe Lake (Lake Leopold II), in an area referred to as the Congo system. The water is very acidic and considered "black water." They are found over areas with rocks and sand.

Status:    This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Description:    The Nanochromis transvestitus is a very small but striking cichlid. The female of this species is the most colorful of the two. Both have an olive brown coloring with light brown vertical bars that extend into the dorsal fin. The female's body in the belly area, is red most of the time and her tail fin is black with white stripes. The back part of the dorsal and caudal fin also carry the patterning of the tail fin. The male will develop a longer dorsal fin but does not have patterning in the fins like the female.
   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 - Weight:    These fish grow to a length of 1.3" (3.4 cm)

Care and feeding:    The Nanochromis transvestitus can be fed live and frozen foods including frozen bloodworms, daphnia, tubifex worms, white worms, and cyclopeeze. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts rather than a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.
   A minimum 30 gallons, or a tank that is at least 3' long is suggested. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater with good efficient filtration. Provide a substrate mixture of sand along with some small rocks they can pick up. Decor can include rocks, driftwood, and clay pots. They also need densely planted areas to take shelter. They need a low pH, between 4.0 to 7.0. Driftwood is a big help in keeping pH low. It also contributes a "tea stained" tint to the water and provide places for hiding.
   The Nanochromis transvestitus is a rewarding specimen to keep as long as water quality is maintained. Do water changes of 15 to 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers. If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. Also, South American cichlids are prone to Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which use to be called "hole-in-the-head" disease if the water is less than ideal.

Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom:    These fish will swim in the middle and lower parts of the aquarium.

Acceptable Water Conditions:    Hardness: 8-15° dH
   Ph: 4.0 to 7.0 (5.0 is optimal for breeding)
   Temp: 75 - 80° F (24 - 27° C)

Social Behaviors:    The Nanochromis transvestitus is a community cichlid that can be kept with other acidic water dwellers that can hold their own (but will not eat them). Do not house with other fish that look similar. Any new cichlids should be the same size when introducing them into a tank of existing residents.
   They can be kept singly or in pairs. They are generally aggressive toward others of the same species and will not tolerate those of a the same genus. Even when not spawning, the female needs places to hide to get away from the aggressions that the male can display. Once ready to spawn, they get along fine. If you are breeding them, do not house them with plecostomus as these fish will eat the fry at night. Keeping them in their own tank is the best way of breeding them.

   Note: Cichlids from different parts of the world should not generally be kept together due to the different "body language" of each group of cichlids. Mixing them can lead to attacks that will result in a quick death, intimidation leading to stress and disease, or mutations due to cross breeding.

Sexual Differences:    Males have elongated anal and dorsal fins and no patterning in any fins except for the bars on the body that run up into the dorsal fin. Females have a red belly, black and white stripes on the tail fin, and the same striped patterning on the back edges of the anal and dorsal fin.

Breeding/Reproduction:    The Nanochromis transvestitus are cave spawners who will dig in the substrate to construct a cave. They will dig under a heavier object like a rock or driftwood. Make sure large rocks are resting on the surface so the fry don't get squished if the cave collapses. Their desire to dig under objects in the tank becomes very strong when they are ready to spawn. They need very acidic water to breed, optimally a pH of 5.0 with almost no hardness in the water. Eggs cannot hatch if these conditions are not met.
   Start out with 5 to 8 juveniles, and a pair should form from that group. Remove the other fish and leave the pair in the tank to keep the bond strong. The female will flare her fins and bend her body into an "S" shape in a way that shows off her bright red belly. They swim around each other until they stop and flare their fins again with their mouths wide open. She and the male will then dig out a trench under a heavy object and the female will deposit about 40-70 white oblong eggs.
   The female will tend to the eggs and fry while the male keeps guard outside of the formed cave. They will hatch in about 2 to 5 days (3 days at 78° F or 26° C) as "larval fry" and will not start swimming for another week. The fry grow quickly and can be fed micro worms and then baby brine shrimp. Their sex is easily discerned due to the patterning on the female's tailfin. If desired after breeding, the fry can handle a slow rise of the pH to 6 or 7.0. See the general description of how to breed Cichlids in Breeding Freshwater Fish.

Availability:    The Nanochromis transvestitus are usually found online ranging between $13.00 - $25.00 for juveniles. They are sometimes found in fish stores, or can possibly be special ordered.

Author: Carrie McBirney
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