Venustus Cichlid Stats InfographicThe Venustus Cichlid, also known as Nimbochromis Venustus, makes a beautiful centerpiece in a large freshwater aquarium regardless of sex.

Both male and female cichlids flaunt a giraffe pattern and lovely color combination, but their beauty is just the icing on the cake!

The Giraffe fish will also leave you constantly amused with their eccentric behaviors. Read on to know everything about them.


Species Nimbochromis venustus
Synonyms Haplochromis venustus
Family Cichlidae
Genus Nimbochromis
Care Level Intermediate
Temperament Aggressive
Compatibility Semi-aggressive and aggressive species that are at least half their size
Average Size 10 inches
Color & Patterns
  • (Males) Blue head, golden yellow body, giraffe pattern
  • (Females) Light beige body, darker giraffe pattern
Diet Piscivore, carnivore
Tank Size 125 gallons
Tank Setup
  • Smooth substrate
  • Minimal plants
  • Rocks on the sides
pH 8
Hardness 10 – 15 dH
Temperature 73.0 – 82.0 F (22.8 – 27.8 C)

Nimbochromis Venustus Background and Distribution

Boulenger described the African Cichlid Venustus in 1908. It was called Haplochromis Venustus in earlier times. Then, the species was reclassified to Nimbochromis Venustus 80 years later. Other common names it is known for include Giraffe Hap, Giraffe Haplochromis, Giraffe Cichlid, Venustus Hap, and Venustus Cichlid.

These freshwater cichlids hail from Lake Malombe and the upper Shire River of Lake Malawi. As a haplochromine species, it is a member of the largest and most diverse tribe of fish found in East Africa. There exist great numbers of this species in its native waters up till now. The Venustus Cichlid is also the most common fish of its genus.

In their natural habitat, adult cichlids hang around and swim over sandy substrates at depths between 49 to 64 feet (15 to 20 meters). The cunning cichlids like to burrow themselves in the sand and lie motionless for a time.

Venustus cichlidThe patient predators wait for small fish and invertebrates to pass by and attack them by surprise. Juveniles, on the other hand, prefer loafing around in shallow waters near rocks.

Although there might be a slight population decline in the southern part of Lake Malawi, there are no recognized threats up to date. The Nimbochromis Venustus remains listed as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

Giraffe Hap Physical Characteristics

– Size

The Nimbochromis Venustus is one of the largest African cichlids. Juveniles from pet stores come around two inches long, and they could be anywhere from four to six inches within three months or less. When fully grown, the Venustus cichlid size maxes out at 10 inches (25.4 cm).

Due to their size, you might easily consider them as dominant. Surprisingly enough, these big boys don’t boss other fish around. But because these freshwater cichlids can grow as large as a burpless cucumber, you’ll need to make sure you can provide them enough living space.

– Distinctive Appearance

The Venustus fish features the typical stocky and elongated cichlid frame. It also has an enormous jaw. With a mouth so big, it can suck up tetras and danios like spaghetti! These cichlids also have spinous dorsal, anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to intimidate predators.

– Colors and Markings

African cichlids are celebrated for their vivid colors and unique color combinations. They also come in a wide range of patterns that leave their onlookers with a long-lasting impression. Of course, the Venustus Cichlid is no exception!

Even as juveniles, the fish already looks superb. Juvies have a silver body covered with dark irregular spots. They also have a yellow streak underneath their face that runs along the belly, anal fin, and bottom half of their tail. As the fish age, the yellow coloration intensifies.

Adult males flaunt a golden body blotched with irregular brown spots that resemble the coat of a giraffe. This feature has led to the descriptive names Giraffe fish, Giraffe Cichlid, Giraffe Haplochromis, or simply Giraffe Hap.

Males also develop a bright blue face once they mature. Unfortunately, they tend to lose their gorgeous pattern during the spawning season. Don’t worry, though; the handsome studs will revert back to their original form after they wooed the girls.

Females, on the other hand, will either have a beige or ecru color instead of gold. Some female specimens look like juveniles. Regardless, all females exhibit a giraffe pattern that is darker and more pronounced than males.

– Gender Differences

In 80 percent of fish species, females always grow larger than males, but the Venustus fish belongs to the minority. Males are 30 to 40 percent larger than females.

One of the things I love most about the Venustus Cichlid is the fact that both male and female fish are equally beautiful. True, the males tend to look more flamboyant, but females still make a fabulous display for a large show tank.

– Does the Giraffe Hap Have Teeth?

Yes, they do! As a matter of fact, almost all fish species have teeth. What makes cichlids special, however, is that they have another set of teeth in their throat.

The Venustus Cichlid has a well-developed set of pharyngeal teeth. These are modified gill bones with associated ligaments and muscles. Think of it as a food processor! This special feeding apparatus has increased the cichlids’ survivability as they can adapt to various food sources, including hard prey items.

More impressively, these teeth can be replaced every now and then.

Giraffe Cichlid Behavior and Temperament

– Venustus Males Are Good Tank Boss

Giraffe hap tank matesMales of this species might be mean against each other, but they make good Alpha fish in a community aquarium.

A male Giraffe cichlid is never aggressive towards other fish, and he can figure out where he ranks in the social order without beating others up. He is smart enough not to challenge a Jack Dempsey or an Oscar when it arrives and snatches his throne.

– Venustus Fish Feign Death

Both males and females of this species have an interesting hunting mechanism. In the wild, they can be found lying on their sides, playing dead. This behavior intrigues fish that don’t know any better.

When a small fish stops to investigate, they will gobble them up in a jiffy! Due to its funny yet effective hunting behavior, the fish is called “kaligono,” which translates to “the sleeper” in Chichewa.

Venustus Cichlid Breeding

– How Do I Get My Giraffe Haps To Breed?

The Venustus fish is polygamous. You’ll need a harem of one male and at least three females to increase the odds of successful breeding. When it comes to captive breeding, it is often the sex ratio that triggers polygamous fish to do the deed.

Funnily enough, a male Venustus cichlid makes itself pretty obvious when he is in the mood to mate. You can tell right away because males would lose their spots, looking completely yellow with a contrasting blue face. When mating is done, males will regain their spotted appearance.

At the end of the day, you can only leave these matters to Mother Nature. Your best bet is to provide your fish with the right diet and stabilize the water chemistry.

– Nimbochromis Venustus Mating and Paternal Care

Contrary to livebearers, the Venustus Cichlid reproduces through external fertilization. When a male finds a willing female, he will start courting her using bright coloration, flashy displays, and territoriality.

Shimmying of the fins is often a telltale sign that courtship has commenced. You may also see these fish chasing around and grabbing each other’s mouths as though they were kissing.

After courtship, the female would lay her eggs and gather them up in her mouth. She then follows behind the male and pokes his anal fin, encouraging him to release sperm to fertilize her eggs. Once the eggs have been fertilized, she will incubate the eggs for three weeks.

In Venustus cichlids, males don’t show any paternal care. He will pursue other females and sire more offspring. After the male is done with his breeding spree, you’ll need to take him out of the breeding tank since he won’t have second thoughts of eating his children.

– Do Giraffe Cichlids Eat Their Babies?

No, they don’t. The Venustus Cichlid might look like they are eating their babies, but the females of this species are actually doing a great job of taking care of their offspring.

Being a mouthbrooder, the Giraffe Cichlid collects the eggs into her mouth for incubation. A female could carry 25 to 50 eggs for up to two weeks.

When the eggs hatch, the mother will continue to provide maternal care to her offspring for another 10 days, after which they are on their own. But until then, she will hide her babies in her mouth, and they will feed on their egg sac.

– Tips for Breeding Venustus Cichlid

  • Juveniles are difficult to sex. Experts suggest getting a group of eight or more. As soon as you can identify the males, you’ll have to separate them or place them in a community tank large enough to forestall aggressive conflicts.
  • Buccal incubation is taxing for the female since she has little opportunity to eat. That is why it is crucial to plump up your mouthbrooder with a meaty diet before she enters the early stages of spawning.
  • In a community aquarium, plants and rock formations are key for the mother and her fry. Better yet, have a separate breeding tank for your cichlids.

Venustus Cichlid Tank Mates

Are Venustus cichlids aggressive? Yup, they certainly are! Males get competitive once they reach sexual maturity and will kill other males of their species. Despite this, they are nice with other fish, as long as they aren’t small enough to be considered food.

The following fish make wonderful tank mates for your Venustus cichlid:

  • Victorian Haps
  • Malawi Haps
  • Malawi Peacocks
  • Synodontis
  • Aulonocara baenschi
  • Sunshine/Yellow Benga
  • Nimbochromis livingstonii
  • Red Empress

Some aquarists have success housing them with Mbunas, but it is quite a risk for beginners.

Venustus Cichlid Care

– Venustus Cichlid Diet

The beauty of the African Cichlid Venustus rivals those of many saltwater fish! But unfortunately, they could lose their stunning pattern colors if they aren’t given the right diet.

For Giraffe cichlids to stay in tiptop condition and look their best, you’ll need to offer them a variety of live bloodworms, brine shrimp, earthworms, Mysis shrimp, ghost shrimp, and minnows. Eventually, they may learn to accept the frozen version of these foods. You may also use high-quality, vitamin-enriched cichlid pellets as their staple food to keep things simpler.

As you might have already guessed, the Venustus Cichlid needs a high-protein diet. Raising your own feeder fish would also benefit your fish. These fish are piscivores, which means they feed on smaller fish to survive in the wild.

– Water Parameters

For your fish to flourish, you’ll need to replicate the water chemistries of their natural environment. The Venustus cichlid happens to thrive in clear, alkaline waters with high mineral content, so maintain a pH of 8 and a water hardness between 10 to 15 dH. The Venustus Cichlid also does best at temperatures between 73.0 to 82.0 F (22.8 to 27.8 C).

Inexperienced hobbyists often use salt in the mistaken belief that it will increase the hardness and pH level of the water. Unfortunately, research shows that Malawi bloat is prevalent in tanks where salt is used. Should your tank water need hardening, it is wise to buy a quality cichlid salt mix from a pet store.

– Maintenance and Equipment

The Venustus fish demands a lot of space. These ravenous and messy eaters also produce a ton of waste that could easily pollute the water. That is why you’ll need an efficient filtration system.

A good rule of thumb is to get a filter that can process three to four times the water volume per hour. For example, a filter for a 125-gallon tank should have at least a fluid rate of 500 GPH (gallons per hour.) So far, an external canister filter is the most reliable filter for a tank this big. You may also add in a HOB filter.

Another thing you should do is to change the water each week. High levels of ammonia and nitrates can poison these fish. You can change as much as half of the water. Doing so will also encourage the cichlids’ reproductive instincts.

Venustus Cichlid Diseases

There are plenty of aquarium fish diseases to watch out for, but the Venustus Cichlid is particularly susceptible to the following ailments. By learning about them in advance, you can act immediately and save your fish friends from death’s door.

– Malawi Bloat

Malawi bloat is a common problem among African freshwater cichlids. The cause of this disease is a moot point among experts. Some suggest that it might be caused by protozoans that naturally inhabit the intestines of cichlids. When a fish is stressed due to degrading water conditions, it is believed that the protozoans respond by reproducing.

The symptoms of this disease include:

  • swollen abdomen
  • rapid breathing
  • loss of appetite
  • discolored feces
  • inactivity

In addition to these symptoms, the Malawi bloat can progress to liver and kidney damage. The affected fish will die anytime once the disease progresses to this stage. But as long as your fish still eats Metronidazole-dosed foods, there’s hope that it can recover. You will also need to treat the tank with Metronidazole.

– Ich

Ich is the short term for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, which is the protozoan responsible for this dreaded disease. Captive cichlids develop the disease when their immune systems are not functioning as well as they should be.

The classic signs of Ich are:

  • white cysts all over the body, including the fins, gills
  • clamped fin
  • labored breathing and lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • bloody streaks in advanced stages

The irritation caused by the burrowing parasite drives the affected fish to rub itself against tank walls and decorations in hopes of finding relief. The nasty parasite is invulnerable to medication once it has checked in its “fish hotel.” Your only chance is when it leaves its home in search of a new fish to dine upon.

To treat Ich, you’ll need to heat the water higher than usual for four days. Treat the water with an over-the-counter Ich medication for 14 days and perform partial water changes every now and then.

– Gill Flukes

Commonly known as Dactylogyrus, it is a parasitic flatworm that lodges in the gills. These worms make excessive mucus, thus making it difficult for the fish to breathe.

In addition, this disease manifests in the form of symptoms, such as:

  • loss of coloration
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy and inactivity

This disease can be treated with anti-worm medications, but unfortunately, the early stages are difficult to diagnose. The prognosis is bad once your fish has succumbed to this disease.

Venustus Cichlid Tank Setup

– Tank Size

Giraffe hap in fish tankThe best tank size for the Venustus cichlid is still up for debate. Some sources recommend a 75-gallon tank, but that would only work for juveniles. You’ll be amazed how fast the Giraffe fish can grow! A capacity of 125 gallons should be the minimum for a harem.

– Substrate

The African Cichlid Venustus feels most at home with a rocky bottom. I recommend a 2-inch bed of pea gravel. Free to choose between neutral and eye-catching colors.

Pea gravel is smooth and soft to the touch, so it doesn’t hurt your fish whenever they hang out in the bottom of the aquarium. Another advantage is that it anchors plants and decorations. Most importantly, this type of substrate works exceptionally well with undergravel filters.

The only downside to pea gravel is that it contains plenty of dust and sand. You’ll have to rinse the gravel multiple times before you can add it to your aquarium.

You may also add some crushed corals to help maintain the proper pH and alkalinity to support these fish’s good health and color.

– Plants and Decorations

The Venustus cichlid appreciates ample swimming space, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the tank barren of decorations. After all, these active swimmers also need places to hide and spawn.

Plants and stone formations break up lines of sight, thereby reducing aggression. These embellishments are even more important in a community aquarium, especially in the case of breeding.

Here are fantastic options for your cichlid tank:

  • Anubia
  • Amazon Sword
  • Cabomba Caroliniana
  • Crinum
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Echinodorus
  • Lace plant
  • Rotala Rotundifolia
  • Java Fern
  • Java Moss
  • Vallisneria
  • Water Wisteria

Place live plants towards the back of the aquarium and make sure they have a strong root system to prevent your cichlids from dislodging them.

Mouthbrooders will hide among the plants throughout the incubation period. Once released by their mothers, the free-swimming fry must also keep a low profile lest they become dinner. An excellent strategy is to put an ocean rock in the corners. The tiny fish can hide in the porous pockets and holes of these rocks.

Bear in mind that African Cichlid Venustus is big and strong enough to dislocate tank decor. So make sure rocks sit at the bottom of the aquarium and not on the substrate. You should also avoid using driftwood, as it may cause an undesirable lowering of pH and alkalinity.

– Availability

Wild-caught Venustus cichlids are rarely available, and if they are, they can carry a hefty price tag. But being popular, they are readily available in online retailers and major pet store chains. Those sold in pet stores are tank-raised and tank-bred.

One juvenile fish costs you anywhere between $10 to $12, but you can get a discounted price if you buy in bulk.


Are you excited to own these gorgeous cichlids? But before we part, let’s do a recap:

  • Venustus cichlid also known as nimbochromis venustusA ratio of 1 male to 4 females is ideal for a 125-gallon tank.
  • These active fish need ample swimming space along the middle and bottom of the tank.
  • Plants and decorations should be anchored to the gravel substrate. These fish are big and strong enough to uproot plants and dislocate decor.
  • Venustus cichlids are maternal mouthbrooders. Females feel secure when they are hidden by plants and decorations.
  • Consistency is the key when it comes to water parameters. Fluctuations in temperature, pH, and hardness are stressful for these freshwater cichlids.
  • Maintain high-quality water by installing a powerful canister filter. A weekly water change is equally important.
  • A robust diet consisting of live food and cichlid pellets is the best preventative for Ich and other diseases.

As you can see, the Venustus Cichlid is manageable even for beginners. Hopefully, you’ve found this article helpful. Now, get your fish and enjoy!

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