Nandopsis tetracanthus (Cuban Cichlid)

Nandopsis tetracanthus

Last updated on September 1st, 2022 at 09:29 am

The Nandopsis tetracanthus (commonly called the Cuban Cichlid) can be an enjoyable addition to any home aquarium. This fish has evolved over time to be able to live in both freshwater and brackish water, which makes it suitable for both freshwater and saltwater aquariums, although it prefers freshwater to saltwater, and should not be kept with other species of Nandopsis because of its aggressiveness.

The Nandopsis tetracanthus is commonly found in the freshwater rivers and lakes of Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. They are considered freshwater fish and are easily identified by their elongated body and pronounced forehead that resembles that of the Jewel cichlid or Jewel-tailed cichlids.

Markets are becoming saturated with beautiful aquarium fish, so it can be hard to decide which ones to invest in and which ones to ignore. Some, however, are simply too beautiful to pass up! Nandopsis tetracanthus is one of these species, offering the aquarist an array of color variations that would make even the most experienced fish enthusiast want to take it home and add it to their tank immediately!

Let’s take a look at what makes this species so attractive and why you may want to consider adding it to your tank!

What are cichlids?

Cichlids are popular freshwater aquarium fish commonly referred to as African cichlids or simply cichlids. There are over 2,500 different species of cichlids, with many originating from Central and South America. However, there are also many more species found in Africa and Madagascar.

Some popular examples include peacocks, convicts, angelfish, zebra fish, and Oscars – all varying in coloration and size! They vary greatly depending on where they originate; some being small enough to fit in your hand while others can grow up to 12 inches long!

Because they come from such a wide range of environments, proper care will vary according to their habitat. Nandopsis tetracanthus is one of only two native Cuban freshwater cichlids – quite an unusual sight for most aquarists around the world!

Origin and descriptions

Nandopsis tetracanthus

Nandopsis tetracanthus is referred to as a Mimic because it has a striking resemblance to other species of fish. In spite of their name, Cuban cichlids are actually native to South America. The reason they are often referred to as Cuban is that they can be purchased more readily there than in most other places around the world.

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They have also been exported from their native habitat and sold at higher prices. As with many other tropical fish, they do best when kept in water temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They grow up to 8 inches long and live for approximately 7 years.

Because of its large size, suitable tank mates should also be large enough that they don’t cause harm by playing too roughly or competing for food sources or territory. It’s also recommended that you avoid placing them with smaller community fish such as neon tetras and guppies.

Some ideal large tank mates include angelfish, barbs, larger catfish, red tail sharks, and plecostomus. These fish thrive when given natural sunlight rather than artificial lighting. Like all the Tetraodontidae family members, these carnivores will eat just about anything they can fit into their mouths!

Species profile

The Nandopsis tetracanthus, or Cuban cichlid, is a species of freshwater fish in the Cichlidae family. The Cuban cichlid is very closely related to another commonly known fish, Synspilum cartusi which was previously classified as its own species.

While both of these fish share similar colors and patterns, many experts believe that there is enough genetic evidence to determine that they are genetically different from one another. The most defining feature that separates these two fishes, however, is their physical appearance.

Cuban cichlids typically have red bodies with yellow tails while synspilum cartusi have white bodies with black tails.

The Cuban cichlid is a carnivorous fish that can live up to 10 years in captivity. It prefers an aquarium of at least 300 liters, with plenty of rocks and driftwood for hiding places and aeration. A minimum pH level of 7.0 should be maintained. The Cuban cichlid thrives in temperatures ranging from 23-27°C and has a minimum temperature requirement of 22°C. This species feeds on frozen bloodworms, krill pellets, shrimp pellets, brine shrimp, and flake food.


Nandopsis tetracanthus is native to Cuba, where it lives in freshwater lakes and rivers. It can live in salinity levels as high as 10 ppt, which makes it more hardy than most freshwater species. However, keep in mind that like other tropical fish, these fish are happiest when kept around 78 degrees Fahrenheit — your cichlids might have health problems if it is below or above these temperatures.

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Cuban cichlid size

This species can grow up to 20–25 cm (8-10 inches) in length

Cuban cichlid tank size

The minimum recommended tank size is 100 gallons

Tank set up

Nandopsis tetracanthus should be kept in an aquarium with a capacity of at least 100 gallons. Provide plenty of hiding places and caves, preferably on rocks or wood that is not painted with tannins. The pH level should be around 7.8, and nitrate levels should stay under 20 ppm.

The water temperature should remain between 76-82 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful about overstocking your tank – try to keep fish to under two inches each. A partial water change every week is suggested if you notice your nitrates rising above 30 ppm, as well as cleaning out uneaten food every couple of days.

This fish cannot handle salt. It requires weekly feedings of live foods such as earthworms, tubifex worms, bloodworms, and brine shrimp, along with weekly feedings of meaty flake food designed for carnivores.

Cuban cichlid tank mates

This species of cichlid can be kept with other cichlids of similar size, with a maximum limit of one male per tank. Due to its aggressive nature and territorial behavior, it is not suggested to house them with other cichlids that cannot withstand more aggressive tank mates. For example, it may be difficult for an inexperienced aquarist to keep a group of these fish together in a community tank.

Some good tank mates for Nandopsis tetracanthus are oscars, peacocks, convicts, and severums. Although they will not harm dwarf puffers or similar-sized fish, they can easily outcompete them for food and kill them if they try to eat their fry. They may be able to work together with small-sized cichlids like other nandopsis species but aggression between individuals is still likely.

Nandopsis tetracanthus breeding

Nandopsis tetracanthus

The nandopsis tetracanthus is a monogamous cichlid fish, so during breeding, both males and females will work together to build a nest for eggs. The female lays her eggs into an urn-shaped nest in which she then guards them, after being fertilized by the male until they hatch.

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After hatching, both parents will continue to guard their young until they become free-swimming babies. It is common for these nests to have multiple chambers with separate entrances making it easier for different generations of fry (babies who have not yet matured fully and developed reproductive organs), juveniles, subadults, adults, etc., can share housing areas without issue.

Are cuban cichlid peaceful or aggressive?

Cuban cichlids are generally considered one of the most aggressive of all cichlids, and for good reason. However, not all individuals will be highly aggressive and it is possible to find some that can live peacefully with smaller tank mates. If you intend to keep a multi-species aquarium with cichlids in it, you should plan on giving each fish its own territory.

Cuban cichlid care

Nandopsis tetracanthus

These beautiful fish are pretty easy to care for, but they do have a few requirements that you’ll need to meet. First, make sure your water temperature stays between 73 and 84 degrees. Second, these fish like a lot of space—their ideal tank is about 100 gallons. Finally, provide these fish with plenty of rocks and caves where they can hide from each other and watch their domain. They love feeling safe in their environment. Your tetras will thank you for it!

Nandopsis tetracanthus diet

Nandopsis tetracanthus is an omnivore and will eat almost anything. It’s recommended that you feed a variety of foods in small portions of five to six times per day. Good quality flake food, frozen brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae are excellent. Many people like to add earthworms or tubifex worms as a supplement. They can also eat some plant matters.

Water conditions

Nandopsis tetracanthus

Nandopsis tetracanthus water should be kept soft and slightly acidic. pH between 6.0 – 7.2 is preferred, and GH between 2 – 12 dH is ideal. The temperature should hover around 25-30°C (77-86°F). Nandopsis tetracanthus are not cold-water fish by any means; they hail from Cuba, which has a tropical climate year-round. They will not tolerate temperatures below 20°C (68°F).

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Cuban cichlid lifespan

Nandopsis tetracanthus can live up to 12 years with good care.

Parasites and diseases

The Nandopsis tetracanthus can be prone to parasites and bacterial infections. A mild dose of aquarium salt, in conjunction with ensuring that all water parameters are correct, is often sufficient in treating most internal disorders. You can also medicate with an anti-protozoal such as Metronidazole and an antibiotic like Furanace or Tetracycline depending on what you suspect it may be suffering from.

Additionally, if your fish’s skin becomes affected by something other than Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich), a medication such as Maracide will suffice in dealing with it. In addition to these medications, a fish should always have clean water; Ich is known for spreading quickly among fish via unclean conditions and through physical contact between diseased fish and those who are healthy.


Nandopsis tetracanthus are more vulnerable to predation by larger fish because of their small size. They can easily be snatched up by large species and have virtually no defense against these predators. If a Cuban cichlid is attacked by a bigger fish, it can only avoid injury or death if its tankmates drive off or kill their attacker.

Some common predators are larger fish such as tilapia, catfish, other cichlids, and some bottom feeders.

Do Nandopsis tetracanthus make good pets?

Very hardy and easily cared for, Nandopsis tetracanthus make excellent pets for aquarists who have a large tank and plenty of room to devote to their care. While it is important to monitor their eating habits closely to ensure they are getting all of their essential nutrients from their food, these fish are otherwise very easy to take care of.