Salvini Cichlid Care Guide

Salvini Cichlid Care Guide7 mins read

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Tal Halperin
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Salvini Cichlid Care Guide
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The salvini cichlid is a very striking Central American species that you may already recognize from aquaria, even if you do not know the name. They have a mixed reputation in terms of easiest for beginners, but either way, they are a very rewarding and interactive fish to take care of.

We will go over salvini cichlid size, feeding, breeding, and other care. That way, you’ll have everything you need to take care of one of these guys. We’ll also look at salvini cichlid tank mates, and why these guys have a reputation for being hard to house with other fish. Furthermore, we’ll cover salvini cichlid tank size and what you need to make an ideal habitat for them.

Breed Overview

OriginCentral America including Honduras and Guatemala
Lifespan12 – 13 years
Size9 inches or up to 18 cm
ColorsVivid yellow, red, blue, and silver, with touches of other colors
Water TypeFreshwater
Tank Size50 gallons or 227 liters for one
TemperamentAggressive, predatory
Water Temperature24-26 C or 76 to 78 F
Water pH6-7


The striking appearance of the salvini cichlid makes them a very popular fish for advanced aquarists. In some ways, they are classic tropical fish, fulfilling the expectations of bright colors and a vivid appearance.

Salvini Cichlid Size And Usual Appearance

The main body color of the salvini cichlid is yellow, but they also have black bars and a red belly. They are named the tricolor Cichlid by some aquarists, and it’s not hard to see why!

They have a sharp dorsal fin and a relatively small tail fin in comparison to their body size, which can reach 9 inches or 18 cm, making them a medium cichlid. In fact, salvini cichlid size puts them in the middle of smaller cichlids and larger predators. This can make it challenging to find salvini cichlid tank mates.

The black coloration tends to run in two horizontal bars along the length of their body with the red on their underside and a little above the black stripes near the dorsal fin. These bars and stripes may be rimmed with a touch of white.

Salvini Cichlid Color Changes

Salvini Cichlid coloration is not constant throughout life. When the fish are young, the yellow color is dominant. It is only as they grow older and become sexually mature that the red and black colors begin to appear.

In this way, it’s easy not only to tell the rough age of a fish just by salvini cichlid size, but also whether or not they are ready to breed.

During breeding, the male and female will display their colors more vividly. The female will also develop a dark spot near her tail and on her gills; this indicates that she is ready to mate

Author’s Note: Did you know you can encourage the coloration of your Cichlids by feeding them foods that are rich in Spirulina? Enriching their diet with spirulina algae flakes promotes the pigments that form the colors in their scales.

Tank Setup And Maintenance

Tank setup and maintenance of salvini cichlid
This means for the Salvini Cichlid, keeping them in well-filtered water that is between 24-26 C or roughly 76-78 F or 24-26 C is best, with a sand or gravel substrate.

What Is The Natural Habitat of Salvini Cichlids In The Wild?

In their natural habitat, these Cichlids are relatively widespread. They tend to be found in lakes and rivers on the eastern coast of Central America, which has a tropical climate. Thus, they are used to warm water and lush vegetation. These rivers and streams are also relatively fast-flowing.

Ideal Tank Setup

The ideal tank setup for any fish tends to recreate their natural habitat in the wild. This means for the salvini cichlid, keeping them in well-filtered water that is between 24-26 C or roughly 76-78 F or 24-26 C is best, with a sand or gravel substrate.

The salvini cichlid size doesn’t mean you can skimp on their cleaning. It’s not just big fish that need pristine water, these guys also appreciate great conditions. So err on the larger side for salvini cichlid tank size – they will thank you for it.

Salvini Cichlid Tank Size, Water Parameters And Filtration

The recommended tank capacity for one of these fish is 50 gallons or 227 liters. However, as with choosing a substrate, you may need to factor in other tankmates to fully calculate the correct tank capacity for your ideal aquarium.

Due to the fact they naturally come from fast-flowing rivers, the salvini cichlid will need a canister or HOB filter that can filter around 10x the tank capacity per hour, keeping the water crystal clear and ensuring it is well-oxygenated.

Salvini Cichlid Tankmates And Plants

Creating the rest of the environment or these fish requires a bit of thought. The salvini cichlid doesn’t get on well with all kinds of fish and salvini cichlid tank mates. can be hard to choose. However, they do like lots of plants, which provide both hiding spots and oxygenation. This is also another reason why salvini cichlid tank size is better larger than smaller.

Salvini Cichlids may occasionally nibble at plants. However, they are not a species that is known for eating plants, salvini cichlid size generally prevents them hiding within plants too. So generally you can choose any species you desire, and boost growth with LED lights. Good ones include Cabomba, guppy grass, Java fern, Java moss, Marimo moss balls, amazon sword, Brazilian pennywort, and floating plants like water wisteria and mosquito fern.

Author’s Note: Many fish, not just Cichlids, benefit from plants to enrich their environment. In fact, this has been observed across a huge number of parts of the animal kingdom.

Best Tankmates For Salvini Cichlids

It’s very hard to keep these fish with their own species! Male fish may fish, defend territory, and occasionally cause serious injury to each other. As salvini cichlid size is kind of in the middle, it can be hard to find more aggressive fish, equally it is hard to find suitable medium companions.

It’s not recommended unless you are a very advanced fishkeeper who has experience with aggressive Cichlids and if you have a tank that is over 150 gallons (568 liters). Factor in whether you want tank mates before choosing your primary salvini cichlid tank size because it’s hard to transfer fish from one tank environment to another without disrupting the harmony of the tank.

However, if you want, you can keep the salvini cichlid with other aggressive and semi-aggressive Central American species. However, make sure you have a big enough tank, and add the correct capacity for each of these fish to your final total. Some good species include:

  • Oscar fish
  • Jack Dempsey Cichlids
  • Blood parrot Cichlids
  • Red devil Cichlids
  • Green terror Cichlids
  • Firemouth Cichlids


Feeding to salvini cichlid
Instead, you can feed the Salvini Cichlid an enriched diet that includes fresh and frozen protein as well as Cichlid flakes and pellets. Image From

Generally, Cichlid pellet foods are only best as a basis. Individual Cichlid species actually have very different dietary needs. As a result, it’s best to supplement their diet as to whether they are carnivorous, or prefer algae, as some Mbuna Cichlids do.

What Do Salvini Cichlids Eat?

The Salvini Cichlid, as its aggressive temperament may suggest, is one of the carnivorous Cichlid species. In fact, salvini cichlid size is another good indicator of this. Anything bigger than the average ram cichlid tends to be carnivorous. This is why you must choose salvini cichlid tank mates with care.

This is why its not recommended to keep them with smaller fish that they might see as prey. This includes many common aquarium fish like Atlantic Mollies (Poecilia Mexicana).

In the wild, these fish hunt smaller fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans. As a result, they have actually evolved extendable jaws that they reach out to hunt for prey that is out of reach.

Salvini Cichlid Piscivore

You may be worried that you have to feed these guys live or dead fish! However, don’t be. Unlike some larger Cichlids that require feeder fish as part of their diet, you can get away without feeding live or dead fish to the salvini cichlid – although you can add these as part of an enriched diet.

Author’s Note: if you choose to do this, choose small feeder guppies and ensure they are small enough to fish in your fish’s mouth, otherwise your Salvini Cichlid may choke.

Alternatives To Feeding Other Fish

Instead, you can feed the salvini cichlid an enriched diet that includes fresh and frozen protein as well as Cichlid flakes and pellets. You can also feed them chopped-up nightcrawler earthworms two to three times per week.

Be warned that with the Salvini as they are larger and have a bigger appetite than fish like guppies and mollies. Thus, you may need to give them a whole block of frozen protein in one go.

Behavior And Temperament

Behavior and temperament of salvini cichlid
Generally, fish with a predatory or territorial instinct are considered aggressive. Image from Flickr

You may have heard a lot about Salvini Cichlid’s behavior. In fact, these fish have a reputation as being one of the most aggressive South and Central American Cichlid species. But is this reputation justified? And how do aquarists quantify fish aggression anyway?

Are Salvini Cichlids Aggressive?

Generally, fish with a predatory or territorial instinct are considered aggressive, although this doesn’t mean they are bad pets. It just increases the likelihood the fish could cause injury to another fish in your tank. Fish that have high levels of predatory and territorial behavior are therefore considered aggressive, and the Salvini Cichlid is one of these.

Apart from this, these guys are a high-energy species that enjoys exploring and stimulation. Therefore, it’s best to create many different areas of the tank with interesting plantings, rocks, and bits of driftwood. Thus, your fish also won’t come into territorial conflict with tankmates, as here they can each stake out their own territories. It’s really true that salvini cichlid tank size affects their behavior. Small tanks may be ok but not ideal with more peaceful fish. but with more aggressive fish like this, you really need to bear swimming space in mind.

Do Salvini Cichlids Mate For Life?

Some Cichlids, such as the firemouth Cichlid, actually mate for life. Even though the salvini cichlid is considered most closely related to the firemouth, there is unfortunately no such romance going on here. In the wild, Salvini Cichlids only pair up to mate, so your conditions in captivity should replicate this – otherwise, fights break out. bear this in mind when choosing salvini cichlid tank mates.

Pests And Diseases

Pests and diseases in salvini cichlid
Swim bladder disease is another way bacterial infections from dirty water can manifest and affect the swim bladder, the organ that helps your fish stay upright in the water. Image from Flickr

Salvini Cichlids are generally very hardy fish. They don’t catch diseases often, but when they do, these are generally the same as any other tropical freshwater fish species.

1. Fin Rot

Fin rot is a common bacterial infection caused by the dirty water conditions that are explained above. It shows up as sore black, red, and white patches on your fish’s fins and tail. To heal it, put the fish in a quarantine tank and treat it with an antibacterial medication.

2. Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disease is another way bacterial infections from dirty water can manifest and affect the swim bladder, the organ that helps your fish stay upright in the water. It can affect all species.

You will notice it because of symptoms such as:

Like other bacterial infections, it’s best to treat with over-the-counter medication, and by quarantining the sick fish in a separate tank while you treat.

Author’s Note: With any bacterial infections, it’s best to give the water a thorough change, removing about a third or even up to half and replacing it with fresh. This is because these diseases come from dirty water. You can also test the water for ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, as this gives a good indication of its quality. Check your filter is working, and isn’t clogged, as well.

3. Parasites

Parasites are a different class of infection and can take many forms. However, they are generally all treated with a saltwater bath, and isolating the sick fish in a separate tank.

Some parasites are:

  • Hexamita or Hole in Head
  • Gill flukes
  • Ich
  • Velvet disease

Most of the time these parasites are visible and by learning them you can identify which one is infecting your fish. Generally, they cause a change of color or unusual appearance on your fish’s skin or around the mouth. For example, velvet disease looks like gold flecks on your fish’s scales.


Breeding Salvini Cichlids is not for the faint-hearted. Generally, you can breed these guys in captivity pretty easily. However, it’s important to introduce them slowly, as both males and females can become aggressive during the breeding period.

1. Color Change

Color change can happen throughout the life of the salvini cichlid as their colors grow more vivid with age, but at no time is it more pronounced than during the breeding period.

During breeding the female develops a dark spot on her tail fin and gills, and the red color on the bellies of both sexes becomes extremely pronounced.

2. How Fish Look After The Fry

Their aggressive temperament may suggest otherwise, but with these fish, both sexes actually look after the fry. As a result, you will see them prepare for breeding carefully after they have paired up. The male fish will guard the area, but only after the female has chosen a spot and dug a pit or cleaned it of debris.

Common sites include a large flat rock or similar-shaped leaf. Here the female will lay her eggs and the male will swim over them and fertilise them with his milt.

3. Breeding And Raising The Fry

After mating takes place, the male will guard the female and the fry. Throughout the incubation period, the female will stay close to the eggs and fan them with her fins and tail to keep them clean and maintain freshwater circulation.

Fry hatch with the yolk sacs still attached. This generally happens after 3-5 days. Once born, parents will move the fry into a pit or cleaned area until they have absorbed the yolk sacs. This process can take as little as four days or as long as a week.

After this stage, you can remove the parents, and place the fry in a separate tank (to ensure they are safe from tankmates) before feeding them like any other fish fry on infusoria, crushed pellets, or baby brine shrimps.

Final Thoughts

Can Salvini Cichlids be kept with African Cichlids?
The Salvini Cichlid is certainly a challenging fish to look after, but once you have reached this level of expertise, it is definitely worth it. Image from Flickr

The salvini cichlid is certainly a challenging fish to look after, but once you have reached this level of expertise, it is definitely worth it. Their astonishing colors make them the star of any mixed Cichlid tank, and once you get to know their requirements, they are no different from any other large, aggressive Cichlid. Overall, they are not one of the most commonly kept fish, and sometimes myths about their temperament may put people off – but in the right hands, they are a rewarding pet that is also highly underrated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Salvini Cichlid suitable for beginners?
As majestic as these colorful fish are, they are not suitable for beginners. This is because of their aggressive temperament and need for pristine water. Generally, they are a good fish if you have already kept some medium-sized semi-aggressive Cichlids.
Can the Salvini Cichlid be kept with other South American Cichlids?
The Salvini Cichlids can be kept with other Central and South American species, but the most deciding factor is temperament, not location. Jack Dempsey, Blood Parrot, Oscar, and Firemouth Cichlids are all good tankmates, but smaller peaceful species like many ram species aren’t suitable.
Can Salvini Cichlids be kept with African Cichlids?
The African Great Lakes Cichlids come from regions that are rich in alkaline salts and thrive in aquaria where these are added to the water. They often come from areas that are low in nitrogen and therefore not good for plant growth. On the other hand, the Salvini Cichlid enjoys a tropical habitat rich in dissolved organic matter and vegetation that is often slightly acidic. Thus, the species are not compatible!
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Sydney Perry

Sydney Perry has loved fish since she was a child and has enjoyed keeping many varieties over the years, ranging from black moors and shubunkins to betta fish. As a lover of nature and of Japanese culture, her dream tank is an Iwagumi aquascape, combining fish with carefully crafted aquatic landscapes in miniature.