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Venustus Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Venustus Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Credits: Pixnio (Creative Commons license)

The word Venustus comes from the Proto-Italic word ‘wenostos,’ meaning beautiful. And there’s no word more apt than this to describe these stunning cichlids. Flaunting a unique giraffe pattern in a brilliant color combination of yellow and brown, venustus cichlids are among the prettiest freshwater species in the fishkeeping scene. 

They grow to an impressive size, develop eccentric patterns, and pack an unusual personality. So, undoubtedly they make eye-catching display specimens for your tank. 

Also, venustus cichlids have the most clever hunting technique. If you wanna know more about this, keep reading!

But first, let’s begin with a short introduction. 

Introduction To Venustus Cichlids

NameVenustus Cichlid 
Scientific NameNimbochromis Venustus
NicknamesGiraffe Cichlid, Kalingo, Venustus Hap
Maximum Size9-10 inches
Lifespan10 years 
Reproduction Mouthbrooders 
Temperature 73-82°F (22-27°C)
Swimming Region Middle to bottom
Ideal Tank Size125 gallons

Venustus cichlids’ good looks are just icing on the cake. The fact that makes them so sought after by hobbyists is that they’re reasonably easy fish to raise. 

As long as you understand their predatory instincts and offer ample space to swim around, these fish will be as happy as they come!

On top of that, they’re not demanding like most other cichlids as far as water quality is concerned. 

This species was first classified in 1908 as Haplochromis Venustus but was reclassified again in 1989 as Nimbochromis Venustus. And although they’re listed as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN list, their population is swiftly dwindling in some parts due to excessive trawl fishing. 

They naturally occur in the rift lake area of Lake Malawi and Lake Malombe. And even though it’s hard to get your hands on wild-caught specimens, you can easily find captive-bred specimens due to extensive commercial breeding. 

Venustus Cichlid Appearance 

Venustus cichlid
Credits: Mike Peel (Creative Commons license)

In venustus cichlids, both male and female sport stunning colors and patterns, although females are a tad bit duller than their male counterparts. Their appearance is characterized by a long, stocky body and a big mouth. 

Like all cichlids, they have a well-developed set of pharyngeal teeth in the throat, in addition to regular teeth. And they also have spiny rays on the ends of the dorsal, pectoral, anal, and pelvic fins, which help deter predators. However, the front regions of these fins are soft – helping them glide effortlessly in the water. 

Once again, like all cichlids, they have only one nostril on each side – opposed to two 2 sets most fish have on each side. 

Venustus Cichlid Colors 

Venustus cichlids display a fair bit of sexual dimorphism when it comes to color. The male’s coloration can range from the opaque shade with a blue face to or entirely blue physique. It is then accompanied by faded ‘giraffe’ patterning in the background. There’s also either a yellow or tan stripe beginning at the nose and running all the way along the top of the dorsal. 

The male’s colors get even richer and more dazzling during the breeding season. 

On the other hand, females have a lighter beige or ecru coloring, followed by the iconic giraffe pattern, which is more pronounced than males. They also have a slight hint of the fold on the head, whereas the bottom half of the anal fin has yellowish colors. Lastly, the tail fin is yellow on the bottom half and clear on top. 

Even as juveniles, venustus cichlids are quite a sight. They look somewhat similar to the female, but the background is more faded – almost silver-white. 

Venustus Cichlid Size

In the wild, a venustus cichlid usually grows to 10 inches (25 inches). However, tank-bred specimens can sometimes grow bigger and longer. 

Venustus Cichlid Male VS Female 

The males are larger than females and have brighter and richer colors. They also have sharper fins, whereas females have rounded ones. However, the giraffe-like pattern in females is more prominent than in males.

Venustus Cichlid Temperament 

Venustus cichlids aren’t the ideal specimens for a community tank, given their aggressive nature. These are ferocious predators – and their anger’s off the charts during mating season. As a result, these cichlids do best when kept in a species-specific tank or with other cichlids of similar size. 

Some owners report extreme aggression among venustus cichlids, but it’s only true if the tank doesn’t have enough space for these avid swimmers.

Best Male To Female Ratio For Venustus Cichlids 

The ideal male to female ratio for venustus cichlids is 1 male for 5-6 females. Don’t ever make the mistake of having multiple males in a small tank. This will only result in the death of subdominant males. 

You can quite quickly raise 6-8 venustus cichlids in a 125-gallon tank. They’ll frequently shoal together. 

If you are overstocking the venustus cichlid tank to curb aggression, make sure to conduct frequent water changes so the dominant male’s hormones are removed from the water. 

Interestingly, although male venustus cichlids are entirely intolerant of males of their own family, they’re smart enough to take a back seat and downgrade to the bottom tier if a dominant male of another species is introduced to the tank. 

Speaking of their cleverness, let’s have a look at their impressive hunting tactic that fetches them a tasty dinner. 

Venustus Cichlid Hunting Technique 

Like their close relative, Livingstonii cichlid, these fish have a unique hunting style. These ambush predators will partially bury themselves in the sand and lay still for several minutes. Then, when an unassuming, small fish visits to inspect and possibly take a bite, they’ll quickly come back to life and snatch the fish using their mouth. 

In the wild, these sly fish are known to play dead near juvenile fish’s caves. 

And that’s why they have the moniker “kaligono,” which literally translates to “the sleeper” in the local Chichewa language.

Venustus Cichlid Tank Mates 

Venustus cichlid tankmates
Credits: Pixnio (Creative Commons license)

Given their inhospitable nature, you should never pair venustus cichlids with small rock-dwelling cichlids like Mbunas. They thrive best when kept with their own kind, but if you’re looking for a more visually pleasing tank setting, here are your options:

  • Haplochromis cichlids 
  • Peacock cichlids 
  • Cuckoo catfish 
  • Plecos 
  • Red Empress
  • Sunshine/yellow benga 
  • Featherfin squeaker 
  • Upside down catfish 
  •  Malawi squeaker 
  • Clown squeaker 

Alongside mbunas, don’t pair them with slow swimmers and slow eaters. 

Also, some aquarists have reported success placing them with others of the same genus, but it’s only possible to do so in a huge tank setting. 

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Venustus Cichlid Diet 

Venustus cichlids are ferocious eaters. They’re omnivores, but they most often feed on small fish and critters in the wild – thus, they can also be considered a piscivore. Therefore, it’s essential to feed the proper diet loaded with essential nutrients to enhance their coloration.

You can give them various meaty food like bloodworms, small fish, and brine shrimp in the tank. Food like pellets, flake, and dried krill can also be a part of their staple diet. If you have small fish in the aquarium, this could trigger a venustus cichlid’s hunting instincts – so be careful about that. 

And although they’re more inclined towards a meaty diet, you should occasionally give them herbivore food too. Frozen food can be limited to just two times a week. 

Flake food best works for juvenile venustus cichlids who are about 3-4 inches long. But after that, you can switch to pellets since flake food makes water messy. 

And don’t forget that these fish are avaricious eaters – they’re quite greedy when it comes to food. So they’ll always appear eager to eat and will eat until their stomachs get distended. 

You can give them 3-4 small meals every day. This feeding style helps to manage their aggression over resources. 

If the diet isn’t right, they’re prone to the dreaded Malawi bloat. Luckily, there’s an effective treatment available. So read up to know what you gotta do. 

Here’s a link to our favorite pellet food for cichlids – Ron’s Cichlid Food 

Our favorite things about this product: 

  • Made in the USA by someone who’s raised African cichlids for over 25 years 
  • Formulated with protein, mineral, fruits, and veggies 
  • Fortified to enhance color and longer fins
  • Made with 100% natural, premium ingredients 

If you’re interested to know more about how to and how often to feed cichlids, alongside our product recommendations, don’t forget to read this article. 

Water Parameters For Venustus Cichlids 

Temperature 73-82°F (22-27°C)
pH 7.7-8.6 
Carbonate hardness 120 ppm
General hardness 6-10 dGH
Brackish less than 1.0002
Water region Middle 
Water movement Moderate 
Ideal tank size 125 gallons

Venustus cichlids are hardy, but like most Malawi species, they’re pretty susceptible to poor water parameters. Thus, it’s vital to perform 10-20% water change every week depending on the bioload produced. 

While setting up the tank for venustus cichlids, knowing where they come from and what they need is necessary. Thus, note that the water that flows into Lake Malawi has very high mineral content. This, coupled with evaporation, leads to highly alkaline and mineralized water. Also, the temperature, as well as the water chemistry, are very stable and predictable. 

As a result, these cichlids don’t do too well with frequent fluctuations in their environment. 

To increase the water’s carbonate hardness, you can use specially formulated salt like this one from Seachem. 

Make sure that you don’t use our regular table salt. It won’t increase water’s KH content but will make your cichlids prone to bloating

Since venustus cichlids can tolerate salinity to some extent, they will do okay in slightly brackish water conditions. But that doesn’t mean you can raise them in a saltwater tank. On average, they can tolerate salinity that’s around 10% of a regular saltwater tank. 

As for pH level, they do okayish in ph that’s just around or above 7.0 but will prefer anything around 8.0 or higher. The water current should be moderately strong. You can use aragonite or crushed coral to increase the water’s pH level. 

However, higher pH also means higher ammonia content in the tank – so don’t skip water changes. 

Minimum Tank Size For Venustus Cichlids 

The absolute minimum tank size for venustus cichlids is 70 gallons. However, these fish grow pretty fast and are on the aggressive side. Thus, the ideal size would be 125 gallons or higher.

Substrate For Venustus Cichlids 

You should use sand as a substrate for venustus cichlids. They have a habit of digging small pits and buying themselves. Thus, pebbles and rocks can inflict injuries. 

If you’re really keen on achieving a rocky look for your tank, a 2-inch bed of pea gravel will work fine. 

Pea gravel is soft to touch – so it shouldn’t harm your fish. Another advantage is that it helps to anchor plants and decorations. However, pea gravels come with plenty of dust and sand.

Don’t forget to rinse it multiple times before adding it to the aquarium. 

Decorations For Venustus Cichlids 

Venustus cichlids are active swimmers that demand plenty of open space to swim around. Thus, you should place decorations strategically. For example, you can add hollow rocks and woods at the back to provide hiding places for the fish. 

But make sure there’s plenty of space for swimming around the middle and the bottom of the tank. Also, since they’re avid diggers, don’t forget to secure the rocks on the bottom of the tank – not substrate. 

Venustus cichlids do prefer taking a bite or two off some freshwater plants, but they won’t meddle with the plants in general. So, as long as they’re secured properly, they’re safe. 

Some of our favorite aquarium plants are java moss, java fern, anubias, and amazon sword. 

Don’t use driftwoods since they tend to lower the water’s pH level. 

An excellent option is to place hollow ocean rocks in the corners. Your cichlids will love to hide inside the porous pockets of these rocks. 

Breeding Venustus Cichlids 

Breeding venustus cichlids is relatively easy since they breed readily. They’re polygamous mouthbrooders. A single male will mate with several females in one spawning season. Also, the male will not provide postnatal care to the fry. The mother’s tasked with raising the young ones – thus, they form matriarchal families. 

To increase the chances, it is advised to start with a school of 6 to 8 juveniles and raise them. 

The females will tentatively produce eggs once every six weeks like most Malawi species. The male will then promptly begin a courtship. He will spread his fins, dance, show off his colors, shimmy, and even resort to nipping to grab the female’s attention. You can even see these fish lock lips as though they were kissing if you’re lucky! 

If the female is won over, she will follow the male to the designated spawning site. It’s usually a flat stone or slate. If you want to encourage breeding, ensure you add a couple of flat stones in the tank. But be mindful that you don’t place them where the water flow is strong. 

Next, the female will lay around 60-120 eggs and quickly scoop them inside her mouth. She will then closely trail behind the male and nuzzle his anal fins, so he releases the milt directly into her mouth to fertilize them. 

Once the eggs are fertilized, the male will quickly move on to another female. On the other hand, the female will fast for the entirety of the holding period, which usually lasts 12-14 days, so that she doesn’t swallow the eggs. 

The eggs will incubate and develop into tiny fry with a yolk sac in the female’s buccal cavity. However, the female will keep the fry warm and safe inside her mouth for 2 more weeks after hatching until they grow into free-swimming fry. 

This is a good time to move the male or female to a separate tank because males perform infanticide. They won’t think twice before consuming their own offspring. 

How To Care For Venustus Cichlid Fry?

If you’re serious about raising the fry, it’s best to transfer them to the fry tank in the first place. With plenty of hiding space, they have some chances of surviving in the main tank, but the chances are super slim. So for the first couple of weeks, the mother will take care of the fry – scooping them in her mouth whenever there’s danger. 

The fry rely on the yolk sac for nutrition in the initial days. Once they’re free-swimming, you can feed them cyclopeeze, baby brine shrimp, and pulverized flake food. They’ll quickly grow into juveniles and sport colors similar to a female’s. 

Our Pick Of Top Equipment For Tropheus Duboisi Cichlid 

Venustus cichlids grow big. So naturally, they produce a considerable amount of bioload. You need to make sure you have a top-notch filtration system that can eliminate all the gunk they produce daily. And since they’re used to stable water parameters in the great African lakes, they’re not fond of sudden or frequent changes in water chemistry or temperature. 

Here’s a pick of our favorite equipment for your venustus cichlids. 

Penn-Plax Cascade Canister Filter 

  • Suitable for tanks up to 200 gallons 
  • Functions at 350 GPH
  • 5 large capacity media baskets 
  • 360-degrees rotating valves 

Hygger 500W Submersible Aquarium Heater 

  • Intelligent thermostat 
  • Anti-dry protection
  • Rapid heating 
  • 5 second warming time 
  • External color LED digital temperature controller 

Venustus Cichlid Disease 

Some diseases venustus cichlids are susceptible to are malawi bloat, ich, and gill flukes. These conditions are preventable if you feed the right diet and create the right environment for your fish. 

Malawi Bloat 

Like all species hailing from Lake Malawi, venustus cichlids are also susceptible to Malawi bloat. Unfortunately, there’s no one consensus about what causes it. But the popular opinion is that it’s due to the proliferation of protozoans that naturally reside in a cichlid’s intestine. 

This condition usually arises if a cichlid is on an unhealthy diet, is stressed, or the tank has too much salinity. The most common symptoms include: 

  • Swollen stomach 
  • Panting 
  • Appetite loss 
  • White feces 
  • Lethargy 

If not treated on time, it will cause irreparable damage to the kidneys and liver. As a result, the fish will die an untimely death. However, there’s one treatment available – metronidazole. You can either treat water with it or add it to their food. 

Gill Flukes

Gill flukes are parasitic flatworms that make a house in a cichlid’s gills. These worms produce excessive mucus, which blocks the gills and makes it difficult for the fish to breathe. 

Symptoms of gill flukes include:

  • Discoloration 
  • Appetite loss 
  • Lethargy 
  • Flashing 
  • Panting 
  • Fins held against the body 

This disease can be effectively treated with the help of anti-worm medications. However, it’s quite challenging to detect it in the early stages. By the time it’s detected, it can be a day late and a dollar short!


Ich is the short form for ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Ich occurs when the water is foul and stressed fish are especially vulnerable to it. The symptoms include:

  • Clamped fin 
  • White cysts on fins and gills 
  • Appetite loss 
  • Labored breathing 
  • Bloody streaks in later stages 

The itching caused by the burrowing parasites causes the fish to rub itself against substrate or decoration, which in turn inflicts wounds. To treat ich, make sure to increase the water temperature slightly higher than usual and use a copper-based treatment. 

But make sure to remove any water conditioner before you use copper-based treatment. Also, strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines since wrong doses or techniques could quickly lead to mishaps. 

Final Words: Venustus Cichlid Care Guide 

So, how excited are you to bring these stunning fish home? I’m sure they’ll have a ball at your place! 

Given their hardy nature, venustus cichlids are well suited even for beginners. You don’t really have to go the extra mile to keep them happy. 

Just get a few things right – like water quality, diet, and neighbors – and they’ll reward you with a stunning tank! 

Happy Reading! 🙂

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