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Firemouth Cichlid Fish. Care and Feeding

The Firemouth Cichlid is an excellent addition to your freshwater aquarium. If you want to add some color to your tank, this could be the perfect fish for you. This brightly colored fish is easy to care for. They are hardy and peaceful, yet very territorial and bring a fiery style to your tank.

If you are a new fish keeper, don’t worry, this article will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully keep and breed firemouth cichlids. From the ideal tank habitat setup, to dietary requirements and much more.

Firemouth Cichlid Overview

The firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki), is a member of the Cichlidae family and is found in the rivers of Central America. Today it is considered an invasive species in North America and has also been recorded in other areas of the world. Following human release into its natural habitat and due to its great adaptive abilities and rapid growth rate, it is also found in the Philippines, Singapore, Israel, and Australia.

Thanks to its bright red coloration, it is a popular fish in the ornamental aquarium trade and is generally bred for commercial purposes. They are hardy and peaceful fish. If you are just starting to keep fish, this may be the fish for you.

It is semi-territorial and can become aggressive during spawning seasons. If cared for properly, Firemouths can live 8-10 years.

Its scientific name Thorichthys meeki is divided into two parts. Thorichthys is from ancient Greek for “jumping fish,” and meeki is named after expert ichthyologist Seth Eugene Meek (1859-1914), who was the first to write a book on Mexican freshwater fish.

Typical behavior of the firemouth cichlid fish

The firemouth cichlid is a peaceful yet territorial fish. It is not very good at handling stress and prefers larger tanks with more space; this helps them carve out separate territories.

They are not breeding fish, and in their natural habitat, the males tend to live apart, tending their own territory. They are monogamous and make excellent parents. Males will extend their gills and display during spawning or as a warning to other fish to stay away from their territory.

If you watch them closely, you will notice that they spend a lot of time around the plants. They like to rearrange and move things. This includes the substrate and your fish might also try to move or dig up the plants. Be vigilant so the plants don’t get too damaged.

Firemouth Cichlid Physical Characteristics

The firemouth cichlid gets its name from the bright red coloration that males develop during spawning seasons. Like most fish, the males and females of this species look different.

Males are generally larger and show brighter coloration with longer fin rays. On the other hand, females show larger bellies, which gives them a more rounded shape.

In general, males reach about 6 inches, while females are slightly smaller at 4-5 inches. Heads and bodies are gray to olive-blue in coloration, with males displaying bright red or orange coloring on the underside of the head where the gills are.

A characteristic of all firemouth cichlids is a black mark on the lower half of the operculum. They may also have dark lateral bars along the sides.

Its fins, with the exception of the pectoral fins, have a red border with blue spots on occasions.

Having ray-like fins is typical of the Actinopterygii class of fish. This class is also known as ray-finned fish. The fins of fish in this class are made up of a web of skin supported by a set of rays or spines.

Interestingly, these fish have been shown to have different coloration depending on their natural habitats. If you want to find the most colorful fish, you have to go to the lower Grijalva in the state of Tabasco, Mexico.

Habitat and tank conditions

Central America is home to the firemouth cichlid. Its natural habitat is the shallow, murky waters of rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Belize, and northern Guatemala.

The rivers here are slow moving with muddy and sandy riverbeds. They usually spend most of their time in the lower or middle part of the river trying to enjoy the protection of the vegetation near the shore.

From time to time, this fish also enjoys the protection of caves formed by sunken wood or rocks. It is now considered an invasive species, and has also found a home in Puerto Rico and in the states of Hawaii, Arizona, and Florida.

Tank conditions

When setting up your tank, keep in mind that replicating its natural conditions as much as possible will reduce the chances of your fish getting sick. It needs warm temperatures, 75-86°F with a pH ranging from 6.5-8.0. Water hardness should be maintained between 8-15 dGH and water movement should be moderate. The ideal substrate would be sand.

Although firemouth cichlids are freshwater fish, they can withstand moderate brackish water conditions, tolerating a salinity that is about 10% of a normal seawater tank.

One of the most important things for this fish is a good filtration system. The water must be clean, free of ammonia and harmful nitrogen compounds, such as excessive levels of nitrite and nitrate.

When setting up the tank, try to provide plenty of hiding spaces by using wood or rocks and plants. The plants must be a bit hardy, as they like to “play” with them; Sagittarius is ideal. Make sure you plant your plants so the roots are protected.

Try to place the plants around the edges of the tank leaving a space to swim in the middle. Finally, while they are not particularly affected by light, moderate lighting should be used.

What size aquarium do they need?

The ideal tank size for a pair of firemouth cichlids is 30 gallons. However, bigger is always better, especially if you want to keep other fish as well.

How many can be kept per liters of water?

A single firemouth cichlid can be kept in a tank of approximately 15 liters. However, we recommend that you buy a pair, and they should be kept to a minimum tank size of 30 gallons.

Tank mates

Firemouth Cichlids are the ideal fish in a community aquarium with tank mates of similar size. They are placid fish except when spawning. During this season, they can become aggressive towards other fish and potentially kill any fish that invade their territory.

Just keep an eye on your fish and if necessary consider removing threatened fish from the tank during spawning. Males can be harassed by larger, more aggressive tank mates, while females are quite good at finding protection in the tank from other fish.

Suitable tank mates could be other similarly sized South American cichlids. Be sure to provide a tank large enough that the fish have a chance to safely establish their own territory.

Ideal tankmates are actively socializing fish such as tetras (serpae, glowlight, and rummy nose) and catfish (such as pictus catfish). It’s best to avoid slow-moving fish and species that are easily harassed, such as dwarf cichlids and angelfish. Also, shrimp and snails can be eaten.

Firemouth Cichlids are not schooling fish, but they do like the company of fish of the same species if they are given enough space. Initially, it is better to buy a pair.

Firemouth Cichlid Feeding

Firemouth Cichlids are not picky eaters. They will feed on almost anything you give them.

In their natural habitats, you find them feeding on small crustaceans such as copepods and cladocerans, organic detritus, small invertebrates, and molluscs. This is why having shrimp and snails as tank mates might not be the best idea.

If you watch them closely, you can watch your fish sift through mouthfuls of substrate; they are looking for food. A varied diet is a key part of your health. You can feed your firemouth cichlids twice a day in small portions. They will eat flakes, live and frozen foods.

We suggest providing a high quality diet by feeding high quality pellets or flakes. You can also feed them vegetables like spinach, spirulina, and a meaty supplement like brine shrimp or bloodworms. Artemia, bloodworms and Tubifex are also good supplements.

How to care for a firemouth cichlid

Firemouth cichlids are quite hardy and if you keep an eye on the water conditions you shouldn’t have much trouble. As with most freshwater fish, infections can be a major problem for them including parasitic, fungal and bacterial infections. One of the most common is Ich disease. You will see white spots on its body, mainly on the gills and fins.

Fortunately, Ich disease with this fish is relatively easy to treat. Firemouth cichlids can tolerate relatively high water temperatures, as high as 86°F for a few days. Try to increase the temperature of the water and if this is not enough, you can treat them with copper-based drugs.

However, prevention is better than cure. Try to reduce any form of stress by creating the best possible living conditions for your fish; Check the parameters of the water, a good diet and the right tank mates.

Also be aware that any new foreign objects (living, dead, or synthetic) you add to your aquarium can be considered a harmful carrier of bacteria, parasites, or fungi. In this situation, it is recommended that you clean it thoroughly before adding it to the tank.

Breeding of the firemouth cichlid

Like other cichlids, firemouths form monogamous pairs and make excellent parents for their fry. If you don’t already have a pair formed, it’s easier to let them pair up by buying 6 or at a time.

They do not require specific water conditions for reproduction. However, you can easily induce spawning by setting the water parameters to a pH of 7.0 with temperatures between 75°F to 79°F and a water resistance of 10 dGH.

Eggs are usually laid on a carefully cleaned solid surface such as a flat rock, large leaves, wood, or directly on the glass surface of the tank.

The female usually lays around 100-500 eggs and then the male will fertilize them. The parents fiercely guard the eggs and later the fry. Adults can raise several young per year.

The little hatchlings are easy to feed, as long as you choose good quality foods such as Artemia nauplii and microducts. They should reach the free-swimming stage after 4-5 days and their parents will continue to raise and care for them for several weeks.

Is the firemouth cichlid a good choice for an aquarium?

Firemouth Cichlids are the perfect fish for beginners. Although they can be quite aggressive during spawning, they are quite hardy fish. They are a colorful addition to your tank with their bright red mouth and they also bring interesting territorial behavior.

The good news is that they are not difficult to care for and will eat almost anything. Maintain good water quality and feed them regularly and you will have healthy fish.