Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi point map
Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi point map



Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi
Photos courtesy of Alan Bliven from


Here’s a wonderful little mouth brooding cichlid which is rarely seen in the hobby, perhaps because the genus falls outside the more well known groups of African cichlids of the Rift Lakes. This dwarf hails from West Africa – the upper reaches of the Zaire River in what was until about ten years ago the country of Zaire but which is now known as the Republic of Congo.

Males are spectacular in or out of breeding dress; the blues and reds of the body can rival some tetras for brilliance, while the head varies from mustard to bright yellow depending on mood. Off-setting the yellow head is a pair of bright blue lips while the unpaired fins are predominantly red. The pelvic fin is jet black. Sound impressive? You bet! Females on the other hand, contrast strongly with males, displaying a rather drab (sorry girls) pale yellow to dull brown or grey.

Despite their small size, this fish is very pugnacious, especially to members of the same species. If maintained as a group, ample cover needs to be provided for females and sub-dominant males. Defense of the area they’ve staked out in the aquarium can be extreme, making them a potentially difficult species for a community cichlid situation. That said however, if matched with appropriate tankmates they will represent themselves well and happily coexist with a wide variety of community species including non-cichlids such as small tetras and livebearers. I’ve found that Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi is best maintained in the aquarium as a ‘trio’ of one male with at least two females. This avoids intraspecific aggression and makes for a more peaceful coexistance. Do not keep this fish with other members of the Pseudocrenilabrus species or similar-looking fish. A particularly successful arrangement is keeping this fish with larger Malawian cichlids; they match well with aggressive Mbuna.

Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi
Photos courtesy of Alan Bliven from
Feeding nicholsi is easy … it will eat anything you give it, though its diet should comprise about 40 percent vegetable matter.

Water chemistry is not critical to this cichlid. It will happily live in hard or soft water at neutral or opposite ends of the pH spectrum as long as it’s not extreme. The one proviso is nitrate level, which must be kept no higher than 10 ppm.

Want to breed this fish? nichols mouth brooder is VERY easy to get to spawn in the home aquarium. The trick is getting the eggs to hatch and the fry to adulthood. I’ve found that unless you remove the female to a separate tank, any commotion in the confines of the aquarium will prompt her to eat the eggs. Even then, she may eat them anyway and in my experience it’s best to either have her spit the eggs (not easy since females are reticent to do so) or if you’re lucky enough to have the eggs hatch, remove the fry immediately to a separate grow out tank or she’ll chase them down and eat them as well. My experience suggests that this cichlid may be more successfully spawned in a heavily planted tank but since I don’t keep plants in any of my tanks, I can only presume here. Mating typically occurs in a very shallow depression in the gravel which is excavated by the male. The female takes the eggs into her mouth and incubates them for about three weeks, depending on water temperature. She is a cave brooder so several such structures in the aquarium will help things to proceed normally.

If you’re up for a challenge and can find this cichlid, I can recommend it to the committed cichlidophile.


Your comments:
From: Logan
Easily my favorite fish in all the hobby. It is worth reinforcing what you will read elsewhere though: females are BORING looking fish and the males are super nasty to each other, to the ladies, and to fish that are of similar shape and size to themselves. I would recommend getting a group so you can find out who the dominant male is then get rid of the rest of the males. This way you will wind up with an active and attractive show fish that is constantly displaying to the ladies. And I mean constantly! Which is just what you want because when one of these guys sees a female he becomes incredibly striking and his fin-flicking and dancing is lots of fun to watch. As I said earlier they are mean to females of the same species that aren’t receptive, definitely one of those fish that wants to pick a fight with practically anybody. Due to this I would keep a single male with no less than 2 females because once a female is holding eggs in her mouth she is just going to irritate the male which results in her getting bullied and stressed and potentially swallowing her entire brood. This also requires you to spot females that are holding eggs and remove them to a separate tank where they will be free from stress-inducing environmental factors (unless I suppose their tank is large enough with enough hiding spots and broken up line of sight). This is a slight inconvenience but its worth the trouble as I have a conveyor belt of holding females going from the larger tank to the baby breeder 5gal. My first batch of nicholsi (1 male 5 female) ended up providing me with AT LEAST 1 holding female at all times. You will read this anywhere else but i may as well reinforce that these fish are basically for beginners when it comes to tolerances to water quality, ph, etc. They can tolerate ph of 6-8 with no sweat and temps in 70s-80s has been fine for me.

Written by: Dan Colodney

Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi – Nichols’ Dwarf Mouthbrooder


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here