Nandopsis haitiensis – Haitian Cichlid

Nandopsis haitiensis is a large fish that should be kept in pairs. Decorate the aquarium with rocks and wood for hiding places.

Nandopsis haitiensis – Haitian Cichlid

Nandopsis haitiensis was officially described by Tee-Van in 1935.

Haitiensis refers to the island of Haiti. The meaning of the name Nandopsis remains a mystery to this day. The formal explanation Nano = “dwarf”, opsis = “likeness”, is very vague and if we try to find out when and in what context the word Nandopsis was first used, it becomes really shadowy. The article in which Nandopsis is allegedly presented concerns one sentence altogether, in a piece that is otherwise entirely about marine fishes. Moreover, the first description of the type species Nandopsis tetracanthus (which just before was classified as sunfish) appears to be based on a drawing. Are you still there?

But one thing is certain, “Nandopsis” is now only used for cichlids from the West Indian islands.

Synonyms: Cichlasoma haitiensis, Cichlasoma haitiense, Cichlasoma vombergi, Nandopsis vombergae

Nandopsis haitiensis - Male
Nandopsis haitiensis – Male


In Haiti, life is slow and so is evolution. This island is the home of Nandopsis haitiensis, a cichlid that hardly differs from its 6 million years older (fossil) ancestor Nandopsis woodringi. So it is a good thing that Darwin studied the Galapagos Islands and not the Caribbean, otherwise we would not have had a theory of evolution. The previously alleged differences turned out to be the result of the fossilization process. The only distinction that remained after a thorough study was the number of vertebrae. The fossil turned out to have two more. The differences with the cichlids of the neighbouring island of Cuba are also marginal. Here we mention 1. on average one dorsal fin spine less, 2. slightly longer snout and 3. on average two more scales in length.

Incidentally, it will not have been easy to distil this diagnostic distinction because the Cuban Nandopsis tetracanthus, despite a lack of countable variation, does have a lot of diversity, but in drawing and proportions. This was also the reason that the ichthyologist Carl Henry Eigenmann at the beginning of the last century thought it was time to put things in order. He split the Cuban Nandopsis tetracanthus into two species and five subspecies. Unfortunately for him, this initiative was not followed up by later ichthyologists. Nandopsis haitiensis lives on Hispaniola under the same conditions as Nandopsis tetracanthus in Cuba. there are therefore no reasons to believe that the situation for Nandopsis haitiensis is different.

Nandopsis haitiensis has now been registered from more than 75 locations and, like Nandopsis tetracanthus, Nandopsis haitiensis is also found in a wide variety of habitats. There are populations in the lowland rivers, in mountain rivers, but also in the still water of freshwater (reservoir) lakes and there are even populations that spend their lives in brackish water. Nandopsis haitiensis does not normally grow taller than 30 centimetres in nature. However, there have been aquarium specimens that reached 40 centimetres and weighed nearly a pound and a half. These animals are ivory white with dark markings which are not limited to those places where the band pattern normally runs. Some copies have a net drawing. Dorsal- and anal fin remarkably long.

Nandopsis haitiensis - Pair
Nandopsis haitiensis – Pair


Hispaniola. On January 12, 2010, the island was hit by an unprecedented earthquake. The consequences of the disaster on the habitat of Nandopsis haitiensis are unknown but may have been locally existential.


Nandopsis haitiensis is endemic to the island of Hispaniola. This island is formed by the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We can find this fish in both countries. Some of the locations mentioned in the literature are in Haiti, the Rio Guayamouco near the town of Hinche and the brackish-water lagoon Etang Saumatre near Port au Prince. In the Dominican Republic, The Gurabo river, which runs straight through the city of Santiago los Caballeros, the short branching river Rio Chavon and the Rio Yaque del Norte, from the mouth to the reservoirs.


Very diverse. This species inhabits very different habitats, which means that habitat data differs per variant. It goes too far to go into this per location. What can be said is that the habitats on islands often contain sodium to a greater or lesser extent. Of course, this applies especially to locations on the coast, but further inland there is also use. hurricanes landed an annual amount of salt. Released exotics pose a very serious threat to the survival of the native West Indian cichlids.


Omnivorous. The staple food these animals live on will depend on the location. The stomach test that John van Tee had on animals from the Etang Saumatre contained algae, aquatic plants, snails.

Nandopsis haitiensis - Juvenile
Nandopsis haitiensis – Juvenile

The Aquarium

In 1938, eight specimens were imported by Erhard Roloff, one of the first aquarists to undertake fishing trips to the tropics. These fish did not survive the Second World War, but in 1993 the species was re-imported by Jens Gottwald, an aquarium fish dealer who is still making progress today. Nandopsis haitiensis turned out not to be an easy species, on the contrary, this fish has proven to be extremely sensitive over the years. Okay .., with some exceptions. Some do manage to keep this species successful and even to propagate it afterwards. But the vast majority of stories are testimonies to a dramatic clinical picture, in which a sudden outbreak of bloat strikes apparently healthy animals overnight.

What could be going on here? The first problem that arises with these animals is that we do not know exactly from which habitat our fish come. It makes a lot of difference whether the fish is caught in a clear mountain river or whether it comes from a brackish water lagoon. In the first case, clear oxygen-rich water is essential and in the second case, an addition of salt is indispensable. But there is another special feature with these fish. Nandopsis haitiensis is an island fish. But not only the fish has been on an island for the last few million years, so has its immune system. This means that Nandopsis haitiensis lacks more than 6 million years of updates to its immune system. Every encounter with a fish from the mainland could be his last.

The saying “better alone than in bad company” does apply to this fish and we, therefore, recommend that you do not accompany this fish in the aquarium with other cichlids. At most fish from other families, but even that can be a risk. The third point of attention is the sensitivity to water changes. Quite a few aquarists report that their animals hang on the surface after changing the water. Oxygen deficiency can be ruled out because the breathing frequency remains the same. We recommend that the water change is gradual. An automatic water change system would be ideal. As with Parachromis species, the females grow more slowly and don’t get as large as they are constantly spawning. Try to interrupt this every now and then. Provide them food that is rich in fibre and low in protein, one day of fasting a week, hard alkaline water, salt supplement, temperature 27-29 degrees Celsius.

Nandopsis Haitiensis - Male 8 centimetres
Nandopsis Haitiensis – Male 8 centimetres

Breeding Nandopsis haitiensis – Haitian cichlid

Nandopsis haitiensis is an open substrate spawner. These fish can produce offspring at a length of 7 to 8 cm. Males get bigger, get a bump in the forehead (in the presence of competition) and are lighter (cream) coloured. Females have an (ivory) white body colour, some have a dark zone in the dorsal fin, but it does not stop there during the breeding season. The females become almost black. This is also when females become very intolerant. She defends her eggs like a fury. A lot of sand is moved during the breeding period. The male, like many other Central American cichlids, stays at a safe distance, because the female does not hesitate to attack her own partner if, to her liking, it gets too close.

After 3 to 4 days, depending on the temperature, the eggs hatch. After another 7 days, they swim freely. The man is now also allowed to come closer. The fry eat brine shrimp larvae as soon as they swim. They are often cared for by the parents for a long time, which often leads to contact. This is the foraging behaviour of young fish that eat skin secretions from their parents. In the aquarium, we have to keep this behaviour under control. This is to prevent the parents from seriously suffering from it. At a size of 3 to 4 cm, the young go through a critical phase. enthusiasts have independently reported problems around this development phase. High mortality rates, up to complete litters. The causes are unknown.



Rene Beerlink – NVC

Copyright images

Ben Lee –


Tee-Van, J.. 1935. Cichlid fishes in the West Indies with especial reference to Haiti, including the description of a new species of Cichlasoma

John van Tee followed in his father’s footsteps as a 14-year-old boy. This was a zookeeper in the bird department at The Bronx Zoo, New York. There he was discovered as a draftsman by William Beebe, a world-renowned biologist and adventurer, who became known for the first deep-sea diving adventure. This collaboration did not harm Van Tee because John later ended up as director of the zoo where he had started as a young boy.


Baesch H. / Riehl R. 1997. Aquarien Atlas band 5, blz 876-877
Beebe W. / Tee-Van J. The Fishes of Port-au-Prince Bay Haiti.
Chakrabarty P. .2006. Taxonomic status of the Hispaniolan Cichlidae
Chakrabarty P. 2006. Systematics and historical biogeography of Greater Antillean Cichlidae
Cockerell, T. D. A. (1923). A fossil cichlid fish from the Republic of Haiti. Proceedings of the United States National Museum
Eigenmann C. 1903. The Freshwater Fishes of Western Cuba
Geerts M. 1983. De cichliden van de Westindische eilanden. Cichlidae afl. 50, juni 1983
Gill Theodore Nicholas. 1862. Remarks on the relations of the genera and other groups of Cuban fishes
Myers G. 1938. Fresh-water Fishes and West Indian Zoogeography
Stawikowski R. / Werner U. 1998. Die Buntbarsche Amerikas band 1, blz 348-350
Tee-Van, J.. 1935. Cichlid fishes in the West Indies with special reference to Haiti, including the description of a new species of Cichlasoma
Werner U. Mehr als ein Phantom: der Joturo. DCG-Informationen 7/20 blz 147 tm 156

Last Updated on 24 October 2021 by John

Additional information






Cichlasoma haitiense, Cichlasoma haitiensis, Cichlasoma vombergi, Nandopsis vombergae

Common names

Haitian Cichlid


Social Behaviour

Breeding behaviour


Min. aquarium length in cm






Length minimum in cm


Length maximum in cm


Temperature minimum


Temperature maximum


pH minimum


pH maximum


GH minimum


GH maximum



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