The Nanochromis transvestitus is a stunning cichlid in a dainty package!
The Nanochromis transvestitusus is the smallest known cichlid. These tiny gems barely reach over an inch in length. Both the male and female are very striking with an olive brown body topped with light brown vertical bars that extend into the dorsal fin.The female is the most colorful however, with a pretty red belly and a black and white striped tail fin.
This West African Dwarf Cichlid is a member of the Nanochromis genus, which contains 8 small cichlid species. This fish is found only in Lake Mai-Ndombe in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is a "black water" lake with tannin stained waters from decaying organic matter, creating a soft and acidic water with a pH of 5.0 - 6.0. The lake has a sandy bottom, but with rocky areas where this fish prefers to live, feeding on water fleas, midge larvae, mites and detritus.
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 decor that help mimic their natural habitat such as rocks, driftwood, and plenty of vegetation in the background or middle ground for security. Include a substrate mixture of sand and small pebbles they can pick up and maintain a low pH. 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.
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.
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 Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
- Size of fish - inches: 1.3 inches (3.30 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
- Temperature: 75.0 to 80.0° F (23.9 to 26.7° C)
- My Aquarium - Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
The Nanochromis transvestitusus was first discovered in 1973, and then described by Stewart and Roberts in 1984. In this species, unlike most cichlids, the female is the most colorful so they were given the species name, transvestitus in reference to this phenomenon. They are found in a West Africa in a body of water called Mai-Ndombe Lake (Lake Leopold II), in an area referred to as the Congo system. This lake is in the middle Congo River basin in Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This West African Dwarf Cichlid is listed on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species as Endangered (EN) due to the limited location where it occurs. It is also because of the local fishing practice of using small mesh size nets, mosquito nets, which poses a threat to the populations.
Lake Mai-Ndombe is a "black water" lake, meaning the water is stained with tannin from decaying organic matter. This makes the water very soft and acidic water with a pH of 5.0 - 6.0. This West African Dwarf Cichlid is occurs over areas with rocks and sand at depths of about 3.3 feet (1 m), but is usually found in the rocky areas. It feeds on water fleas (benthic Cladocera), midge larvae, mites and detritus.
- Scientific Name: Nanochromis transvestitus
- Social Grouping: Solitary - They are generally intolerant of their own species, unless a pair is formed, but even then the relationship may not be prolonged.
- IUCN Red List: EN - Endangered
This West African Dwarf Cichlid is is a very small but striking cichlid. It is an elongated fish with a continuous dorsal fin and a fan shaped caudal fin. This is a sexually dimorphic cichlid, the males grow larger and have longer anal and caudal fins than the females. 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.
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. They also 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.
The female of this species is the most colorful of the two. Both have an olive brown coloring with several broken 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.
This fish will reach about 1 1/3 inches (3.4 cm) in the wild, though they have been said to get larger in the aquarium. It is said that females may grow to about 1 3/4 (4.5 cm) in length while the males may reach up to 2 1/2 inches (6.5 cm). They will generally live for about 3 - 5 years but could live even longer if well cared for.
- Size of fish - inches: 1.3 inches (3.30 cm) - This species reaches 1 1/3 inches in the wild, but in the aquarium they have been reported surpassing 1 3/4 inches for females and up to 2 1/2 inches for males.
- Lifespan: 3 years - They generally have a lifespan of 3 - 5 years, but may live longer with proper care.
This cichlid is suggested for aquarists with some experience. The small size of Nanochromis transvestitus makes them more manageable than many of the other cichlid species. However 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.
The aquarists must be willing to do frequent water changes and provide appropriate tank mates. They will breed very easily if the water is perfect for their needs and their foods are varied and healthy. As long as the tank is comfortable, kept clean, and the water parameters of a low pH are met, you will have happy fish.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate - These fish require a low pH, the correct hardness, and diligent tank care.
The Nanochromis transvestitus is an omnivore. In the wild they feed on water fleas, midge larvae, and mites, along with detritus.. In the aquarium they can be fed a varied diet of live and frozen foods. These include bloodworms, daphnia, tubifex worms, white worms, and cyclopeeze. They can sometimes be trained to accept freeze-dried and even flake food. Generally they will eat all foods offered, but sometimes they can be picky eaters and some individuals will only accept live food.
All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food several times a day rather than a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Flake Food: Occasionally
- Tablet / Pellet: Occasionally
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Generally feed 2-4 small feedings a day rather than a single large feeding for better water quality.
The Nanochromis transvestitus is a rewarding specimen to keep as long as water quality is maintained. They have stringent habitat requirements and regular partial water changes are very important. Do water changes of 15 to 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers.
- Water Changes: Weekly - Water changes of 15 - 20% twice a week are recommended.
This West African Dwarf Cichlid will swim in the middle and lower parts of the aquarium. A minimum 30 gallons, or a tank that is at least 3' long is suggested. They need good water movement along with very strong and efficient filtration. Lake Mai-Ndombe has tannin stained waters from decaying organic matter, creating a soft and acidic water with a pH of 5.0 - 6.0. 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.
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. Vegetation planted in the background or middle ground will offer security.
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) - A minimum of 30 gallons and a tank at least 3 feet long is suggested.
- Suitable for Nano Tank: No
- Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix - Provide a substrate mixture of sand along with some small rocks they can pick up.
- Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
- Temperature: 75.0 to 80.0° F (23.9 to 26.7° C)
- Range ph: 4.0-7.0 - 5.0 is optimal for breeding.
- Hardness Range: 8 - 15 dGH
- Brackish: No
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: Middle - These fish will swim in the middle and lower parts of the aquarium.
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, are too large, or are overly boisterous. Any new cichlids should be the same size when introducing them into a tank of existing residents. Some good tankmates include other dwarf cichlids such as the brightly colored species in the Pelvicachromis genus, smaller African tetras from the Alestidae family like the Jellybean Tetra Ladigesia roloffi, as well as some of the South American tetras.
These cichlids 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.
- Venomous: No
- Temperament: Peaceful - They are peaceful with fish of the same temperament and size.
- Compatible with:
- Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - They are usually aggressive towards others of their same species, except when a pair. They are not tolerant of other members of their same genus.
- Peaceful fish (): Safe
- Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
- Plants: Safe
Males are slightly larger and have elongated anal and dorsal fins. There is 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.
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: Cichlids.
- Ease of Breeding: Moderate
The Nanochromis transvestitus is a rewarding specimen to keep as long as water quality is maintained. These fish are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and has low oxygenation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Water changes, not overfeeding, providing adequate hiding places, and observation along with feeding your fish the proper foods will keep them in optimum health.
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. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels.
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 fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Nanochromis transvestitus are usually found online and moderately priced for juveniles. They are sometimes found in fish stores, or can possibly be special ordered.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Nanochromis transvestitus (Stewart & Roberts, 1984), Fishbase
- Nanochromis transvestitus, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Dr. Rüdiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 2, Publisher Hans A. Baensch, 1993
- George Zurlo, David Schleser, Cichlids (Complete Pet Owner's Manual), Barron's Education Series, 2005
- Richard F. Stratton, The Guide to Owning Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2002
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- "Practical information on keeping, breeding and buying dwarf cichlids: Nanochromis transvestitus", Dwarfcichlid.com
- "Nanochromis transvestitus, Stewart & Roberts, 1984", Aquaworld
- Francine Bethea, "Nanachromis Transvestitus", The Cichlid Gallery, Aquarticles.