The Livingstoni Nimbochromis livingstonii (previously Haplochromis livingstonii) is a large handsome cichlid. This fish can reach close to 10 inches (25 cm) in length. Its color pattern is highly contrasting, with prominent dark blotches on a yellow, silver, or bluish background. There is also a "star" pattern to the eye, created by 4 lines dark lines radiating outward. This provides an excellent camouflage for it in its natural habitat, where it swims among plants and preys on smaller fishes. Other names it is known by include Livingston's Cichlid, Livingston's Hap, and Livingstonii.
The impressive size along with its interesting behavior and handsome color pattern make this a very interesting aquarium inhabitant. The German name for the Livingstoni Cichlid is the 'Sleeper'. This term originated from its unusual predatory behavior of 'playing dead'. This cichlid will stay on the bottom of the aquarium, lying flat on its side for long periods of time. When smaller fish approach as if to nibble at the dead carcass, they are captured with a lightning quick lunge. It will instantly grab it using a sideways motion of its head and mouth.
This ambushing tactic is a very clever trait found in all the cichlids in the Nimbochromis genus. These cichlids are different from the Mbuna cichlids, (Mbuna meaning "rock-dwelling") in the way that they prefer open swimming areas where the rocks meet the sand. The members of this genus are all very smart, stealthy predatory fish, but each has its own distinctive technique.
An interesting example is the Elephant Nosed Cichlid N. linni. It will rest with its chin on the rocks just above a hideout of small fish, remaining motionless waiting for the small prey to venture out. Then he quickly extends his highly protusable mouth and sucks the prey up. A slightly different ambushing technique is employed its close relative, the Venustus Cichlid N. venustus. This cichlid will partially bury itself in the sand. Then it will then hold very still waiting for an unsuspecting small fish to swim by. Once its prey is within reach, it will quickly dart out of the sand to snatch it.
The Livingstoni Cichlid is very similar in appearance to the Venustus Cichlid, but is not quite as colorful as it lacks the blue coloration seen on the head of Venustus. It has also often been confused with the Polystigma Cichlid, N. polystigma, which is very similar as it also has the large blotches. However the Polystigma Cichlid has many small dots all over its body as well, which are missing in the Livingstoni.
This is a great fish for both the intermediate and experienced aquarists. It is not a community fish but makes an impressive display in a large cichlid aquarium. Although it is very aggressive as a predator, it is a fairly peaceful among its own kind. They have a "harem polygyny" nature where males maintain a territory with several females, so it is best to keep one male with at least three females. Do not mix them with the overactive and aggressive Mbunas.
This cichlid is generally easy to care for as long as the aquarist realizes their predatory nature and need for a lot of space. A minimun of 70 gallons is okay when small, but because they grow quickly and have a predatory nature, 125 gallons or more is suggested for adults. They are not as demanding as far as water quality compared to most cichlids, but they do need to be fed properly to avoid Malawi bloat.
A sand substrate will make them feel most at home. Make sure there are lots of hiding places in rocks and wood. They need some open areas in which to swim so its best to place the decor towards the back of the aquarium. They also like lots of plants, such as Vallisneria, which creates a more natural environment for them. Even though these fish will burrow, they don't disturb them.