Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi, also known as Nichols’ Dwarf Mouthbrooder, is one of the smaller species of cichlid from the African Congo region. The species may be small in stature, but they are big on attitude.

Not as widely found in the commercial aquarium trade as many of the Rift Lakes Mbuna cichlids, it is a beautiful mouthbrooding fish that is easy enough to breed that even novice keepers can successfully raise their own stocks. So if you are looking to get into cichlids without the expense of large aquariums and equipment, this could be the fish for you.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to care for, maintain, and breed your pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi.

Pseudocrenilabrus Nicholsi Stats

Listed tank sizes are the minimum

Size: Average adult size: 2”– 4” (5.08–10.16 cm)
Tank: 20  gallons
Strata: Middle, Bottom
pH: pH recommendation 6.0 to 9.0
Hardness: Soft to medium (will adapt to a range of specifications)
Temperature: 76 to 82°F (24 to 30°C)
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cichliformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genera: Pseudocrenilabrus
Species: Pseudocrenilabrus Nicholsi

Origin and Appearance

Nichols’ Dwarf Mouthbrooder or pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi is one of several small cichlids found in the African Congo river basin. It is most commonly found in smaller, slow-moving rivers, streams, and lakes with a mix of rocky bottom and vegetation for cover.

The species has been known since at least the late 1800s but was never widely kept until hobbyists began to collect and breed them. Now they can be found through some commercial resellers and many amateur breeders. Nichol’s dwarf mouthbrooder is named after the American ichthyologist John Treadwell Nichols (1883-1958), a curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History.

This is a fish with a lot going for it in its size. The pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi size ranges from 2 to 2.5 inches for females and 3 to 4 inches for males. Most aquarium fish will average 2 to 3 inches.

Female pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi coloring is a monotone silvery brown to silvery gray. Male pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi are dramatically more colored with a metallic blue body patterned with bright red, diamond-shaped scales. The head is yellow/gold shading into the body and the body shades to a bright red tail with vivid blue spots.

Both the dorsal and anal fins have the same coloring as the tail. Two long tendrils extend from just in front of the dorsal fins. Females do not have these tendrils.

When well cared for, the pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi lifespan is between six to seven years.

Pseudocrenilabrus Nicholsi Care

Since pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi packs all the attitude of large cichlids into a small body, the ideal way to care for them is to scale a large cichlid tank down to a size more appropriate for them.

Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi is not a demanding species and is easy to keep. Pretty much all you have to do is maintain a temperature of 75–78F and perform regular, partial water changes.

You can keep a small group of 3 or 4 in aquariums as small as 12 gallons, but a 20-gallon is a good minimum if you want to minimize aggression and add a few tank mates. A standard filtration system with an under-substrate or exterior canisters and a gentle water return work well for a small cichlid tank.

Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi produces quite a bit of waste, so changing 10% to 15% of the water weekly will keep the tank clean and the water balanced for good fish health.

Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi native habitat is rock- and cave-based with vegetation for additional cover. Setting a good substrate of aquarium sand or small gravel, with rocks arranged to make caves or small flower pots in their sides, will help them feel at home.

If you are planning to keep even a few, try to arrange the rocks and caverns to minimize the line of sight between them to limit eye contact and aggression. Except during breeding, the males and females do not congregate, and the males, in particular, are aggressive to just about everything.

Larger cichlids tend to dig up plants, but that is not a problem with pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi. They like some vegetation in the aquarium, and if you choose to breed your fish in a community tank, it will give the fry at least some chance of not being eaten by tank mates.

Ferns and Java moss are good choices. Plants such as pothos or guppy grass can be used as long as you do not let them crowd out the aquarium. Plant the vegetation sparsely around the outside perimeter of the aquarium for best success.

Tank Mates

Aggression is one of the hallmarks of Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi. The species is a bully towards both its species and just about everything else that lives in its territory. Proper tank mate selection goes a long way to removing any potential conflicts and keeping the tank healthy.

It is most aggressive to males of its species. Place two together and one will end up killing the other. The ideal mix to minimize aggression is one male to three or four females. The male may pick at the females but will generally be more interested in breeding, which this species constantly does.

If you plan to keep more than one male in an aquarium, make sure the tank is 20 gallons or more so that you can use décor to create territories for each male.

Instead of creating community tanks with similar species, a better strategy is to keep it with fish that will live in different levels of the aquarium but are not so large that they will try to eat your dwarf mouthbrooders.

Good choices include:

  • Congo Tetra: Congo Tetra is an attractive species with coloring similar to Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi. This species is peaceful and lives in the middle to upper strata of the aquarium, so contact will be minimal. Congo Tetra lives three to five years and averages three to four inches in size.
  • Labidochromis caeruleus: Sometimes called the Lemon Cichlid, it is a popular species to keep because of its bright yellowing coloring. This is also a mouthbrooder but in large aquariums seeks to minimize conflicts.
  • Zebra Cichlid: The Zebra Cichlid, along with other Mbuna cichlids, can be good tank mates in small quantities. They are also aggressive but are large enough to intimidate Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi. As long as you do not overcrowd the tank, they will balance out and leave each other alone.
  • Ctenopoma ansorgii: Also known as Ornate Ctenopoma, these banded, appealing fish are mid to upper strata dwellers who may peck at each other but are peaceful to other species.


Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi are not seasonal breeders. As long as you have a male to three or four mature females, you will usually always have at least one female holding a clutch of eggs in her mouth.

Sometimes you may notice an increase in coloration in the males. Gravid females may go from silvery brown to bright yellow. Often breeding behavior can be mistaken for aggressive behavior. These include jaw locking, nipping, fin displays, and chasing.

They are mouthbrooders in that the eggs are reared in the female’s mouth. As the female drops eggs, she picks them up in her mouth, with the male staying close by.

Egg clutches usually contain anywhere from 10 to 30 eggs. As she picks up eggs, the male presents himself sideways to her so she can take sperm into her mouth and fertilize the eggs.

As soon as the spawning is done, the male will drive the female out of his territory. She will swim freely if she is not bullied by other fish for 10 to 15 days until the eggs hatch and she releases the fry from her mouth.

Because of the aggressive nature of the males, it is a good idea to move egg-carrying females into a separate tank until the fry is hatched. Females can be returned to the community tank as soon as they have fry. The young can be fed liquid fry food or tiny brine shrimp.


Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi is not a fussy eater. In the wild, they eat a variety of zooplankton, such as insect larvae and worms. Simply provide food such as cichlid pellets or flakes, and they will be happy.

To add variety to their diet, you can augment with small pieces of lettuce, spinach, zucchini, or squash. Feeding several small meals each day will help deal with tank aggression.


  • Change at least 10% of the water weekly to keep a clean environment for your
  • Pseudocrenilabrus nicholsi.
  • Aquascape the aquarium with plenty of caves and hiding places.
  • Help control aggression by adding tank mates that live in other strata of the aquarium.
  • Keep a ratio of one male to three or four females to encourage breeding.

Pseudocrenilabrus Nichols allows aquarium keepers to have colorful, active cichlids that can be easily bred, sold, or traded. They are a low-maintenance species that reward you with opportunities to expand your cichlid-keeping skills.

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