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What is a Central American Cichlid?

Central American Cichlids are a type of Cichlid fish that can be found in the limestone-rich, alkaline waters of Central America. They can be found in brackish water environments, saltwater and freshwater, and fast-moving rivers, and some can be found near the sea in mangroves, lagoons, and bays. They can be found in many brilliant colorations with beautiful markings. Many of these species are selectively bred for the home aquarium, specifically for their colorations.

Central America
Central America

List of Central American Cichlid Species

Central American Cichlids range in size from small to large and can be difficult to house with other species in a community tank due to their territorial aggression, especially during spawning. There are many species of Cichlids that are peaceful and can be kept with other species in a community tank setup under the right conditions. However, this does not stop them from being the most popular kept Cichlids in the home aquarium. There are many types of Cichlids to choose from. Below is a list of the most popular kept Central American Cichlid species in the home aquarium.

Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys Meeki)

Firemouth Cichlid
Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys Meeki)

Firemouth Cichlids are bright reddish-orange colored on their bellies and are a popular choice for home aquariums for the vibrant pop of color they add. As you can probably guess, they get their name from the coloration on the bottom half of their bodies. Firemouth Cichlids are an aggressive, territorial species. This aggression can heighten during the spawning season. Territorial males will puff themselves up to intimidate and assert their dominance over any potential threat as they chase them away.

Firemouth Cichlids can be found in the waters of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico all the way to Belize and Guatemala. Firemouth Cichlids are considered invasive in some parts of the world due to people releasing them. In captivity, Firemouth Cichlids can live up to 10 years though owners of these fish have reported living much longer when cared for properly. Firemouth Cichlids do not need as much room as other species of cichlids and can be housed in an aquarium as small as 30 gallons. It is important for the diet of Firemouth Cichlids that they get a varied diet that is rich in quality proteins.

Red Devil Fish (Amphilophus Labiatus)

Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus)
Red Devil Cichlid (Amphilophus labiatus)

Red Devil Fish get their name from their appearance and their behavior. Wild Red Devil Fish have much duller colorations in the wild to help them better blend into the murky waters of their environment. Captive-bred Red Devil Fish, which are usually bred for their bright colorations, can be many colors. They can be red, white, yellow, and even orange.

Red Devil Fish who are raised in captivity can also be identified by their nuchal hump that is located on their head. In the wild, the nuchal hump of the Red Devil Fish is usually only visible during spawning.

Red Devil Fish can be difficult to keep as they are extremely aggressive to other fish. They can also be destructive of their surroundings, destroying nearly everything in their tank. Even though they can be a handful, owners of Red Devil Fish report that they form deep bonds with their owners and will even beg for food like a dog.

Red Devil Fish can be found in Nicaraguan lakes. In captivity, Red Devil Fish can live up to 10 to 12 years and can grow up to 15 inches in length, although some owners report them living longer and growing larger with proper conditions. Red Devil Fish reach full maturity at around 3 years old.

Rainbow Cichlid (Herotilapia Multispinosa)

Rainbow Cichlid
Rainbow Cichlid (Herotilapia multispinosa). Klaus Rudloff, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Rainbow Cichlids can be found in select parts of Central America, ranging from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Rainbow Cichlids prefer the muddy bottoms of lakes, swamps, and rivers. Rainbow Cichlids have a slight jaw jut and specialized teeth that help them feed on algae and detritus. In the wild, they eat a wide variety of foods, but in captivity, they will readily eat flaked or pelleted foods.

Rainbow Cichlids get their name from their ability to change colors depending on their mood. They are typically yellow with a horizontal, black stripe that runs along the length of their body. The color of the rainbow fish will change most often when it is spawning, but you can see colors from goldens, browns, and reds. In captivity, Rainbow Cichlids will likely not reach any larger than 3 inches in length and live for roughly 7 to 9 years. In the wild, they can grow to nearly twice this size and potentially live much longer.

Rainbow Cichlids prefer to live in groups of the same species, but they will also do well in a community tank, provided there are enough places to hide and free space to swim. Rainbow Cichlids are an active species, but if they sense danger, they dart to the nearest hiding place to wait it out.

Dovii Cichlid (Parachromis Dovii)

Dovii Cichlid
Dovii Cichlid (Parachromis dovii)

Dovii Cichlids are also known as Wolf Cichlids. They are large and can grow up to 30 inches at full maturity. This means they also require a rather large tank of 150 gallons minimum for a single Dovii Cichlid. This can be a lot of room to devote to one fish, but the Dovii Cichlid prefers to live alone. They are highly territorial and highly aggressive towards other fish. They do not tolerate other fish of the same species in their space either unless they are ready to spawn.

Dovii Cichlids are carnivorous fish but readily accept various foods in captivity. They will eat feeder fish, but their diet should be supplemented with insects, diced meats, and shrimp. Dovii Cichlids can live up to 30 years if they are cared for properly. It is better to feed frozen fish instead of live ones so that you are not introducing any illness into your aquarium to potentially affect your fish. Dovii Cichlids are susceptible to ailments quickly if they are not being kept in the appropriate conditions.

Dovii Cichlids are equipped with teeth that they will use to bite. This means you should use caution when dealing with this species, so you do not get bitten.

Jack Dempsey Fish (Rocio Octofasciata)

Jack Dempsey Fish (Rocio Octofasciata)
Jack Dempsey Fish (Rocio Octofasciata)

Jack Dempsey Fish were given their name for their striking appearance and aggressive behavior. They were likened to a popular boxer of the 1920s with the same characteristics. This is where they get their name. Jack Dempsey Fish have dark grayish colored skin that is speckled with lots of shiny iridescent spots. Jack Dempsey fish are territorial and prefer to be left alone, but it is possible to house them in a community setup if you have enough space.

When cared for properly, Jack Dempsey Fish can live up to 14 years and reach up to 8 inches in length. The female Jack Dempsey Fish will be smaller at full maturity than the males.

There are other color variations of Jack Dempsey Fish that have been selectively bred. These color variations, such as the Electric Blue Jack Dempsey, tend to be more docile and slightly smaller. Other shades of Jack Dempsey Fish include pinks, gold, and shades of blue. These special colors tend to be much more pricey.

Jack Dempsey Fish prefer to hunt for their food, and in captivity, it is important to provide them with a diet that is high in protein. Jack Dempsey fish have teeth that they use to eat their food.

Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis Managuensis)

Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis Managuensis)
Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis Managuensis)

Jaguar Cichlids can be found in the wild in Honduras and Costa Rica waters. Jaguar Cichlids have an elongated oval-shaped body that gives the fish the sleek appearance of a hunter. They have prominent dorsal and anal fins, and their spines help them look the part. They have a protruding lower jaw and a mouthful of teeth that help them catch their prey rather efficiently. Their jaws can protrude up to 90 percent of their jaw’s length.

Juvenile Jaguar Cichlids have black bands that run along their bodies, but as they age, the black lines break up and turn into dots. At full maturity, Jaguar Cichlids can grow rather large at up to 16 inches in length. This smaller captive size makes them much more manageable in the home aquarium. In the wild, Jaguar Cichlids can grow up to 24 inches.

Jaguar Cichlids do not make for great community tank members due to their aggressive and territorial nature. They will hunt and go after any fish that is smaller than they are. They will pick fights with other fish and even go out of their way to kill them. Juvenile Jaguar Cichlids are best kept alone or with another Jaguar Cichlid.

Mayan Cichlid (Mayaheros Urophthalmus)

Mayan Cichlid (Mayaheros urophthalmus)
Mayan Cichlid (Mayaheros urophthalmus)

Mayan Cichlids can be found in oxygen-rich, murky waters of lagoons and rivers of Eastern Mexico. They can live in freshwater, but Mayan Cichlids prefer brackish water. In their natural habitat, they are a prized food fish by locals and are said to be very tasty. Mayan Cichlids are members of both the Cichlid and Tilapia families. They can also be found in the warm waters of Florida, where they have become invasive as they gobble up all food resources for native fish.

Mayan Cichlids can be identified by their olive green to brownish skin coloration with 6 to 8 black bars that run vertically along their body. They have pointed snouts and wide bodies. They are active fish in the home aquarium and require lots of swimming space. They should be kept in at least a 150-gallon tank that is heavily planted, provides lots of space to freely swim and has many places to hide. If you plan on housing Mayan Cichlids in a community tank, they can be placed with other Cichlids of roughly the same size.

Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus Citrinellus)

Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus Citrinellus)
Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus Citrinellus)

Midas Cichlids are members of both the Cichlid and Tilapia families. They can be found in Nicaragua and Costa Rica lakes along rocky walls and shores where they hunt for food.  Midas Cichlids are often mistaken for the Red Devil cichlids as they look similar. They also have the nuchal hump on their head.

Wild Midas Cichlids have a naturally grayish or brownish coloration to their bodies, serving as camouflage to help hide them from predators. In the home aquarium, Midas Cichlids seem to lose this coloration in favor of a much more vibrant yellow-hued one. This species of Cichlid has been bred selectively in captivity for its coloration, and this has produced more colors as a result. They can be found in orange, yellow, white, and reddish colors.

For a Midas Cichlid tank, it is recommended that you only place heavy decorations so the fish can not move about. They spend a lot of time rooting through the substrate and uprooting plants and decor quickly. Midas Cichlids require a lot of space as they can grow up to 14 inches in length and up to 3 pounds in weight.

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania Nigrofasciata)

Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
Convict Cichlid (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)

Wild Convict Cichlids are also known as Zebra Cichlids due to their coloration. It is fairly easy to identify a Convict Cichlid by looking at them. They have white-colored bodies with black stripes running vertically along them. They get the name Convict from these stripes looking like the bars of a jail cell.

Convict Cichlid domestic counterparts have been selectively bred to have many other different colors. They can be white, gold, or pink in color. This species of Cichlid can reach sexual maturity at only 16 weeks. When they pair off, they will remain with their partner for the duration of their lifetime.

Convict Cichlids are fairly hardy and can live up to 10 years when cared for properly. They require at least a tank of 30 gallons to house just one. Convict Cichlids are aggressive to other fish, but this does not mean they can not be housed in a community tank setup. You just have to meet their need for space. Lots of space and plenty of decors that not only provide natural barriers but also places to hide will help you succeed in keeping them with others.

Salvini Cichlid (Trichromis Salvini)

Salvini Cichlid
Salvini Cichlid (Trichromis Salvini)

Salvini Cichlids are a very popular fish for home aquariums, but they can be challenging for first-time owners. Typically when you purchase a juvenile Salvini Cichlid, it will not be the vibrant color of a mature Salvini Cichlid. Salvini Cichlids are a vibrant yellow slashed through with black lines when they mature. They have fire-red bellies and can even have shades of iridescent blue dotted above them, mixing into the yellow. They are also known as the Tricolor Cichlid and the Yellow Belly Cichlid.

Salvini Cichlids are an aggressive species of Cichlid, and they do not mix well with most other fish. They are territorial and aggressive to any other fish that invades their space, so it is best to just keep this fish alone. They require at least 50 gallons for one Salvini Cichlid. If you are planning on trying to house another Salvini Cichlid with it, you will want to ensure that you have at least a 100-gallon tank with plenty of natural barriers and places to hide.

Salvini Cichlids require clean water to thrive and require weekly water changes to keep them from getting sick.

Black Belt Cichlid (Vieja Maculicauda)

Black Belt Cichlid (Vieja maculicauda)
Black Belt Cichlid (Vieja maculicauda). Edited. Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Black Belt Cichlids are a popular choice for both beginners and experienced aquarists as they are not difficult to keep happy. They can be identified by a black stripe that runs vertically along their body in the middle. Their grayish bodies are splotched with red in places. Black Belt Cichlids are slightly more docile than other species of Cichlid, and they can be kept with other members of their species as long as they have been raised together. You can keep up to 6 Black Belt Cichlids in roughly a 120-gallon tank or more. Keep in mind that they do still become aggressive during spawning time. If you plan on breeding this species of Cichlid, you will want to set up a dedicated breeding tank to avoid problems with aggression.

Black Belt Cichlids are omnivorous, and in captivity, they will gladly accept pelleted foods, but they will still need their diet supplemented with finely chopped, fresh vegetables. They love to eat snails and will hunt them down in your tank. When properly cared for, they can live up to 8 years. They do not like bright lighting. They prefer a dim lighting setup, much like their natural environment.

Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus)

Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus)
Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis Tetracanthus). Biodiversity Heritage Library. CC BY 2.0 / Modified

Cuban Cichlids are a beautiful species of fish that mature into a beautiful purple and black coloration. They have an elongated body and a slightly pronounced forehead. This species of Cichlid is often found in brackish waters. This means that they can live in both saltwater and freshwater. Cuban Cichlids prefer to live in freshwater. Even though they are called Cuban Cichlids, this refers to where they are most readily available for purchase, not the only place you can find them. You can find wild Cuban Cichlids in the freshwater rivers and lakes of Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

When they are juveniles, you will have to feed them up to 3 times a day, but as they mature, you can trim that down to only one feeding per day. If you plan on breeding Cuban Cichlids, you will want to purchase them in a small grouping of juveniles. As they age up together, Cuban Cichlids will find a mate and naturally pair off. They can live up to 12 years if they are cared for properly. They are rarely seen in home aquariums due to their rarity on the market.

Redhead Cichlid (Vieja Synspilum)

Redhead Cichlid (Vieja melanurus)
Redhead Cichlid (Vieja melanurus)

Redhead Cichlids are a species of Cichlid that originates from Guatemala. Their wild population has dwindled down to only being found in one area, a northern Guatemalan lake. They are a vulnerable species for this reason. When they are young, they do not have any natural predators, but when they become fully grown, they are threatened by species of birds, raccoons, and or even larger species of Cichlids.

Redhead Cichlids host a rainbow of colors. They are very beautiful to look at and are a popular choice for home aquariums for their coloration and their peaceful temperament. They tend to do well in a community setup if they have enough room and plenty of places to hide. It is important to establish regular water changes as this species of Cichlid is prone to illness if they are kept in inadequate conditions.

Redhead Cichlids are omnivorous. They will readily accept a diet of high-quality pellets and frozen foods in captivity. Their diet should be supplemented with live foods such as brine shrimp and daphnia. A high-quality, varied diet is best for Redhead Cichlids and will help prevent them from getting an illness.

Trimac Cichlid (Cichlasoma Trimaculatum)

Trimac Cichlid (Cichlasoma Trimaculatum). Edited. Custertrimac, CC BY-SA 4.0

Trimac Cichlids are often referred to as Three Spot Cichlid or Red Eye Cichlid. At full maturity, the males are much larger than the females, but the most identifiable characteristic is the male’s nuchal hump on their forehead. Trimac Cichlids are often found in the slow-moving rivers from Mexico to Panama, where they hunt for food on the sandy substrate. In the home aquarium, you will need to provide decor that gives natural territories for the fish to claim. They need lots of swimming space as well.

Trimac Cichlids have yellow bodies and elongated, flowy fins. They have a reddish coloration on their throats as well. This species of Cichlid is not often chosen for the home aquarium as it will not do well with others. They could potentially do well in a Cichlid species-only aquarium, but if not given enough space to claim territory, you will most definitely have problems.

Top 10 Favorite Central American Cichlids

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