Nanochromis transvestitus

by Francine Bethea

Keeping Nanochromis transvestitus is not difficult at all. This cichlid from West Africa requires the same upkeep as all other dwarf cichlids in regard to live food and soft, acidic water. Since they are found in bodies of water with rocks and sandy sediment, it would be a good idea to provide these amenities to the breeding tank. Also, one should bear in mind that this species naturally lives in a black water environment. Therefore, the addition of a large piece of driftwood would ensure the tank water will have a brown tint. Additionally, a densely planted area will provide cover.

N. transvestitus is a uniquely different fish because it is the female that is the most colorful of the pair. Hence the name "transvestitus". Both fish exhibit an olive-brown base with darker, vertical bars that continue into the dorsal fin. The lips and gills are lined with white. Sexual dimorphism is obvious in mature fish, as their differences become more dramatic. The male will develop slightly elongated dorsal and anal fins while the female becomes more vivid in color and pattern. The female’s anal fin and the end of her dorsal fin become black with white vertical stripes. This pattern is also visible in the caudal, whereas the male is lacking this pattern in any of these areas. One other striking feature of the female is that her belly becomes a bright red.

As previously mentioned, N. transvestitus lives in rocky, sandy areas. It is a voracious gravel mover. Once spawning commences, this species will dutifully dig under objects placed in the tank. When arranging heavy objects in any tank, it would be advisable to first position them on the tank floor and add the substrate second. Nothing is more disheartening than to have your breeders or their fry crushed by a collapsed cave.

At one of the PVAS auctions, I was fortunate to have enough money to win the bid for a pair of these fish. As usual, I didn’t have an empty tank. Since the transvestitus were just small enough, I could justify putting them in a 2 1/2-gallon for a little while.

I rearranged my collection to accommodate them in a 20-gallon long. This particular tank was originally set up for a pair of Pelvicachromis taeniatus. Therefore, the correct water parameters of a pH at 4.5 and a total hardness of 2° were already in place. There was an AquaClear 150 with a sponge on the intake. The heater was set at 80°F. The decor consisted of a very large piece of driftwood with Java Moss in place. The surface of the water was covered with Duckweed and Riccia. The only addition I made to this tank was to put in some play sand, with a pile of slate partially buried in it.

In no time at all, the pair settled in. I began feeding them frozen bloodworms, daphnia, tubifex, white worms, and a little flake now and then. The fish had grown at an astounding rate. As they grew, their behavior became more animated. The female would flare and curve her body toward the male. This positioning into a ’S’ shape exposed her red belly. The pair would swim around each other, suddenly stop and flare with mouths agape.

The pair began digging under the slate pile. There was barely room to enter the space as they took turns cleaning out the cave. On occasion, I would find the male facing the entrance motionless. Then the pair decided to dig under the driftwood instead. The depth of the trench was surprising. This is the location that the pair decided to spawn.

Fortunately for me, the eggs were visible. There were at least 40 white oblong eggs. Two days after spawning, the wrigglers were hanging in place. Within a few more days, the fry were moved to the original excavated site. Soon after, the pair took turns herding the fry around. The fry were fed micro worms initially and then bbs. They swam in a very tight-knit group, constantly foraging for even more food. This species grows quickly and is always on the move. If you can get your hands on a pair of Nanochromis transvestitus, you will be rewarded with a visually stunning fish that is far from difficult to breed.

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 32, # 1