Red Terror Cichlid Care Guide

Red terror cichlid care guide

Red Terror Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Red terror cichlid care guide
Image from Flickr

A popular and underrated aquarium fish, especially from the cichlid family is the bold and boisterous red terror cichlid. Not to be discouraging, it is highly aggressive and territorial. However, for experienced aquarists that have a larger capacity tank, the red terror cichlid’s size and nature can be a challenge rather than an obstacle.

Its bold and extravagant nature and colors by far make up for its challenging nature, and with the right care guidelines, there should be no issues in keeping a healthy and flourishing male and female pair of red terror cichlids, even in a community aquarium. This article will cover red terror cichlid size, red terror cichlid tankmates, and more. It will also go over the difference between the male and female red terror cichlid.

Thus, if you are someone looking for an intelligent, active, large, and brightly colored fish species, with a feisty nature, do not miss what is offered by the enthusiastic and large red terror cichlid.

Breed Overview

OriginSouth America
Lifespan10 – 15 Years
Size30cm (12 Inches)
ColorsRed, Orange, Turquoise
Water TypeFreshwater
FoodMostly carnivorous
Tank Size255 Gallons
TemperamentActive, Aggressive, Territorial
Water Temperature72°F – 82°F (22 ̊ C – 28 ̊ C)
Water pH5 – 7.5
Difficulty LevelIntermediate – Advanced

Species Information

As the name suggests the red terror cichlid is a highly attractive and aggressive cichlid species, scientifically known as the Cichlasoma festae.

They inhabit clear and turbid waters with dense vegetation and live in areas with more tropical climates.

The red terror cichlid is native to South America, dwelling mostly in Ecuador and Peru. However, it is also an invasive species in the waters of Singapore and Thailand.

Red Terror Cichlids are large, aggressive, and highly territorial freshwater fish species. This is especially during breeding season.

Their natural environment consists of rocky areas, with plenty of hiding spots, and in turn, higher water temperatures.

You may hear the Red Terror cichlid referred to by a few names such as the Harlequin cichlid, True Red Terror, Guayas cichlid, and Red Terror fish, or Festae cichlid. In this case, all refer to the same species, which is a true Red Terror cichlid.

Red Terror cichlids are suitable for experienced aquarists who know more aggressive cichlid species. Similarly, they need quite a large tank and are a more seasoned responsibility yet, a rewarding investment with the proper care and guidance.

Red Terror Cichlid Appearance

Red Terror Cichlid Appearance
To start, the true Red Terror cichlid, not to be confused with the paler pink Uropthalmus species, has a brighter orange-to-red body. Image from Flickr

To start, don’t confuse the true red terror cichlid with the paler pink Uropthalmus species. The red terror has a brighter orange-to-red body. It has vertical black bars and an eyespot on the top area of the caudal peduncle.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to sex and determine the exact species of the red terror cichlid. This is especially in comparison to the Uropthalmus species in juveniles

On the other hand, there are quite a few differences in male and female red terror cichlids to be noted.

Male Red Terror Cichlid

Males are a bold turquoise green color with vibrant orange tails that have blue spots. The male red terror cichlid is likewise larger and exhibits vertical bars that usually fade as they become sexually mature.

Female Red Terror Cichlid

Females are smaller than males and equally charming. They have a reddish-brown base color, with vertical black stripes, and tiny blue spots. Similarly, the female red terror cichlid exhibits bright red-orange snouts.

Environment Induced Variations

Going back to the Red Terror cichlids in the wild, they are cultivated and sought after by Ecuador communities as a source of animal protein. Because of habitat destruction, and diminished resources, many breed this species in captivity. Different color strains also happen due to changes in the environment. Furthermore, domesticated color strains are becoming more and more popular in the aquarium trade too.

Red Terror Cichlid Size And Lifespan

Generally, in the wild red terror cichlid size is quite large. Males can reach sizes of up to 50 cm (19 inches), and females 30 cm (12 Inches). However, in captivity their sizes are less substantial. You can expect a well-cared-for individual male to grow up to 30 cm (12 Inches) in captivity and a female around 25 Cm (10 inches).

The red Terror cichlid is a long-term responsibility! These fish have a lifespan of between 10 to 15 years with proper care.

Temperament And Behavior

Red Terror cichlids are middle and bottom-dwelling fish. Though bold, they do tend to hide in pits, dents, and rock crevices. Besides their vibrant colors, they have a similar vibrant, and boisterous personality.

These fish can range from being aggressive, to extremely aggressive. They are highly territorial, though their antics and bold personalities more than make up for their aggression.

They are ideal for aquarists with more experience and knowledge. This is as their aggression can pose difficulties in the aquarium, especially with other tank mates.

Similarly, Red Terrors are quite expressive in their behavior, which in turn, will keep you well entertained.

Red Terror Cichlid Tank Mates

Because of their aggression and territorial nature, it is vital to have the perfect tank set up. This will have ample hiding spots for your Red Terrors to claim as their own in an aquarium. Likewise you should keep a male and female pair, with similar robust, aggressive, and sized tank mates.

You should choose red terror cichlid tankmates with care. Remember, the Red Terror tends to eat any smaller fish that will fit in its mouth. Thus only larger and medium-sized species will work as tank mates.

Here is a list of tank mates that are proven to be compatible:

  • Flowerhorn Cichlid
  • Firemouth Cichlid
  • Convict Cichlid
  • Oscars
  • Managuense Cichlids
  • Green Terror Cichlids
  • Arowanas
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Clown Pleco
  • Sailfin Pleco
  • Common Pleco

Caring For A Red Terror Cichlid

Caring For A Red Terror Cichlid
Red terror cichlids enjoy digging and rearranging substrate. A soft fine gravel or sand substrate is ideal and like their natural substrate.

Ideally, Red Terror cichlids are most content in pairs, where they are generally undemanding. However, they are large, requiring much space, and highly territorial. Remember, they are most suitable for individuals with more experience.

1. Tank Size And Ratio

A tank size of between 180 – 225 gallons is essential for a male and female red terror cichlid pair, The larger sized tank provides ample space and reduces stress, to prevent aggression. Similarly, more space may be needed in a community aquarium.

2. Water Parameters

To keep them healthy and in good shape, it is vital to have the correct water parameters in your tank. Across a few platforms findings all indicate that the following parameters are suitable:

Water Temperature22°C to 28°C (72°F to 82°F)
Water pH5 – 7.5
Water Hardness5-16 dGh
Ammonia Levels0 ppm
Nitrate LevelsBelow 30 ppm
Nitrite Levels0 ppm

To obtain optimal water temperatures and parameters it is essential to invest in a quality water testing kit. You should also use a thermometer, or heater with a built-in thermometer. Remember your red terror cichlid size may decrease with poor water, stunting their growth.

3. Tank Décor

In terms of cichlids in general, it is always advised to try to mimic their natural environment as much as possible, when decorating their aquarium.

  • Substrate – Red terror cichlids enjoy digging and rearranging substrate. A soft fine gravel or sand substrate is ideal and like their natural substrate.
  • Plants – Because the Red Terror is such an active and boisterous fish, hardier plants are necessary to tolerate their nature. Plants such as Java ferns, Anubias, and Amazon swords are usually ideal candidates.
  • Lighting – These cichlids prefer moderate light and plenty of shaded areas that you can create with rock formations and floating plants. Just enough light for plant growth is best, but not too much to stress your cichlids.
  • Décor – Red Terror Cichlids need ample hiding spaces that you can create using rocks and driftwood. Place décor securely, to avoid injury, as these fish love rearranging décor.
  • Filtration – Cichlids enjoy clean and healthy water. Thus, a robust filter such as a canister filter is ideal to take care of the ample waste these large fish produce.
  • Water Flow Rate – Red Terror cichlids enjoy stronger currents, like natural river currents, thus more even water circulation throughout the tank is desirable.

4. Feeding A Red Terror Cichlid

In its natural habits, the Red Terror cichlid is more of a Carnivore. Yes, this is another reason why red terror cichlid tank mates should not look appealing as food!

Though, in captivity, they do accept an omnivorous diet. A well-balanced mix of flaked or pellet food with live foods can be mixed. However, it must be noted that they require a diet much higher in protein.

Additional live and fresh foods are good, including:

  • Green Peas that are Deshelled.
  • Blanched Green Vegetables.
  • Brine Shrimp.

You should feed picky eaters pellets or flakes alone until they accept it, before introducing live foods. Red Terror cichlids can similarly fast for a few weeks at a time, and it will not harm their health. Two meals a day should suffice.

Introducing A New Cichlids

What happens after you set up your aquarium and achieve proper water temperatures and parameters? It is vital to allow your tank a week or two to cycle first. Cycling your tank allows good bacteria and thus a natural ecosystem to grow. This is beneficial for aquarium life and for creating a more natural habitat.

1. Choosing A Healthy Cichlid

To source red terror cichlids, you can approach a seasoned breeder or pet store that specializes in cichlids. The internet is similarly a good platform to find a trustworthy source. Ideally, you can purchase a group of juvenile Red Cichlids. Then, you can keep them until there is an established male and female pair.

The next stage in the process is that you can return the rest of the group to their owners to sell them. This is because, sadly, you cannot keep them in groups of more than one male and female. Otherwise, a mature male and female pair is a better option.

2. Acclimation

Acclimation is a process used to slowly introduce new fish to their new home environment. The process is vital to reduce stress and add your cichlids to their tank. It also helps them get used to the presence of any potential red terror cichlid tank mates.

  • Allow the bag with new fish to float on the surface of the water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Gradually replace small amounts of water from the bag with water from your tank.
  • Do water replacements at intervals of 15 minutes until most of the water in the bag is replaced.
  • Allow your fish to swim into their new aquarium, or gently net them one at a time.
  • Avoid too much water from the bag entering the tank to prevent ammonia spikes.

Aquarium Maintenance

Aquarium Maintenance for Red Terror Cichlids
Do weekly water changes by siphoning at least 30 % of the water from the bottom, and replacing it with clean, conditioned, and heated water.

One of the most integral parts of owning an aquarium is maintaining it. Proper housekeeping and aquarium maintenance are vital to keep all aquatic life healthy and flourishing. These processes will also give you an aquatic showcase to be proud of.

  1. Always ensure that you remove any leftover food, dead fish, or plant matter immediately to prevent ammonia from building up.
  2. Clean dirt tank décor or equipment with a sponge and water when you need to.
  3. You can use a scraper or sponge to clear the sides of your tank, removing algae.
  4. Do weekly water changes by siphoning at least 30 % of the water from the bottom, and replacing it with clean, conditioned, and heated water.
  5. Algae-eating fish such as Plecos can help to keep algae under control.
  6. A good filtration system is vital to clean water and remove waste, as well as to produce oxygen and water current.

Breeding Red Terror Cichlids

Because of their aggression Red Terror Cichlids are very challenging to breed. In fact, the process is best left to experts in this regard. They need the proper conditions to breed successfully. Similarly, the red terror cichlid female tends to be very picky when choosing a mate. Thus, the best advice is to have a juvenile group mixed with males and females, to thin out pairs, and rehome the rest.

1. Mating

Red Terror cichlids will find a mate for life, and you can unfortunately (or fortunately) only keep a single pair together when breeding.

They are Cave brooders and require rock crevices or caves in their tank to breed. Feeding a high protein diet, and increasing water temperatures are a good start to induce breeding.

Unlike many species, the red terror cichlid male will become dull in color when reaching a reproductive age. Likewise, females become more aggressive when searching for a mate. Females will seek out suitable males, and interlock jaws with a preferred mate. The female deposits eggs around 100 and up to 3000 in a cave area, where the male fertilizes them.

2. Breeding

Red Terror eggs take around 96 to 120 hours before they hatch in captivity, after fertilization. The parents will dig small holes in the substrate to keep very young fry hidden and protected.

3. Fry Care

Both the red terror cichlid male and female are great parents and will guard the young fry until they become free swimming. Even though the fry is independent the pair will keep their young under close surveillance. The juveniles can in turn bond as they become more mature, at which point you can separate them from each other.

To maintain the best success breeding Red Terror cichlids, a good high-protein diet and a stable environment are your two most important factors.

Health Concerns In Cichlids

Health Concerns In Cichlids
Ich is an infection caused by a protozoan parasite. The symptoms include white spots on your fish, alongside appetite loss, and lethargy. Image from Flickr

In terms of Red Terror cichlids, they are reasonably robust and healthy fish. Though they can fall prey to a few common freshwater fish diseases:

  • Ich – Ich is an infection caused by a protozoan parasite. The symptoms include white spots on your fish, alongside appetite loss, and lethargy. Ich medication or aquarium salts can help with this, and raising the aquarium temperatures can likewise help. To prevent Ich, it is advisable to always quarantine new fish and plants first. This is unfortunately as they are mostly the culprits for introducing parasites.
  • Columnaris – Mostly a bacterial infection causing gray patches on the body of the fish, fraying fins, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. It is easily treated with antibiotics and improves water quality in your aquarium.
  • Hole in The Head – Mostly found in cichlids it is similarly a parasitic infection. The symptoms will appear as a dent in the head, there will be a loss of appetite and trailing mucus. In this case, it is necessary to quarantine the ill fish. First, treat it with antibiotics, then improve water quality.
  • Fin Rot – Fin Rot is a bacterial infection that can result from injury. Mostly physical damage or ammonia burns lead to Fin Rot. Symptoms noted are appetite loss, Fraying, and blotchy fins, lethargy, and fin discoloration. Antibiotics and improving water quality will quickly clear up the conditions. However, try to prevent physical injury by removing any décor or objects that can cause physical harm. in addition, it helps to keep ammonia levels at 0.

To Conclude

Though a challenge, any aquarium with red terror cichlids is a rewarding experience. Red Terrors are colorful, expressive, and highly active fish, besides their aggression. Paired with suitable tank mates, they can even be a superb addition to a community tank that is large enough. So, if you are looking for something bold and beautiful in all aspects, the Red Terror cichlid will not disappoint.

A tank with Red Terror cichlids is extremely rewarding as they are colorful and expressive. Their activities are bound to keep you entertained for long hours. With proper research and care, you can create a harmonious aquarium at your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

How aggressive are Red Terror cichlids?
Red Terror cichlids can be moderately to highly aggressive. They become especially aggressive and territorial during the breeding and mating season.
How do you distinguish males from females?
Red Terror cichlid males and females differ in size, as males are much larger. Females are Red with vertical black lines and smaller glittering blue spots. Males have a turquoise green body with dark orange fins and blue spots mostly on the tail.
What tank size do red Terror cichlids require?
Ideally, a single Red Terror cichlid should have a tank of no less than 180 gallons, whereas a pair, that is recommended, requires a 255-gallon tank.
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