The cichlid as a species could potentially be one of the most interesting worldwide, but sometimes, much less attention is given to american cichlids than their African counterparts.
Yet with their responsive and fierce personalities, many american cichlids are eager to greet their human and can display some unusual, and quite entertaining antics.
The cichlid genus has as many as 3,000 fish species, of which most occur in South America and Africa. However, this article will look at rare south american cichlids, north american cichlids, and central american cichlids to fill in some gaps.
So, if you want to consider american cichlids, especially for a new tank set-up, you are in the right place. Yet newcomers to cichlids should also remember that each specific species will be unique in care requirements and temperament. That’s why we’ll also go into cichlid care in general, too.
Cichlids are from a freshwater fish family known as the Cichlidae, which is widely dispersed with estimates of between 2000 and 3000 different species falling under the category of Cichlids. Additionally, there are new species discovered regularly, and many of them have not yet been described scientifically. Cichlids span in sizes from the smallest 5 cm (2 Inches) which are mostly shell dwellers, up to the largest known so far, the Giant Cichlid, which reaches up to 90 cm (3 feet).
Cichlids are an extremely diverse family that are usually categorized under their country of origin. Most Cichlid species originate from South America and Africa, and smaller groups from Central and North America. Did you know the american cichlids are generally more peaceful? Meanwhile, African cichlids are known for their aggression.
Types Of American Cichlids According To Region
Three main regions in America are natural habitats for cichlids, of which South America is the most densely populated.
American Cichlids are found in three regions, namely South America, Central America, and North America. Without further ado, here are the top ten most beautiful, whether north american cichlids, central, or south american.
The Top 10 Most Beautiful American Cichlids
10 cichlid species predominantly stand out from the rest because of their striking colors and favorable personalities. Indeed, they are some of the top aquarium favorites for beginners and experienced aquarists. Keeping in mind as mentioned, each species is unique in temperament and care requirements. Therefore you will need more depth research before investing in a specific cichlid species.
1. Convict Cichlid
Quite common, and yet striking in its simplicity the Convict cichlid or Zebra cichlid, (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) can display significant color variations. They initially got their name because of the prominent black bars that Convicts have on the sides of their bodies.
They can reach a maximum size of around 12 cm (4.7 Inches), making them a smaller cichlid species. These little central american cichlids have a surprising lifespan of between 8 – 10 years though longer has been recorded. Naturally found throughout Central America, convicts range from their original grayish color with bars, to white, pink, and even gold colors within the aquarium trade.
In temperament and behavior, Convict cichlids are aggressive and very territorial. Therefore, they are not suitable for communal tanks, but rather in a setting with their species as tank mates.
2. Chocolate Cichlid
Chocolate cichlids are more social and friendly towards their human owners than other cichlids. Like the true Parrot Cichlid, they can change colors according to their mood. On top of this, their bold eyes will intensively watch your every move.
The Chocolate cichlid, Hypselecara temporalis, is quite a common freshwater fish species in the aquarium trade. There are two genera in this family namely the Hypselecara coryphaenoides and the Hypselecara temporalis also known as the Emeral cichlid. Apart from this, they are a larger cichlid species that can reach sizes of between 26 – 30 cm (10.24 – 11.81 inch), and enjoy a long lifespan of up to 12 years.
Chocolate cichlids are south american cichlids and well known for their more relaxed nature. Nevertheless, they can be mildly aggressive and are better suited in a pair or as single fish of their species. This is as they can get territorial and aggressive towards other tank mates during spawning
3. Texas Cichlid
The Texas Cichlid (Herichthys cyanoguttatus), sometimes has the name Rio Grande and is native to America. Unsurprisingly, it lives in the lower Rio Grande in Texas. They are a larger species with sizes up to 13 Inches (33 cm), and a lifespan of around 10 – 15 years. The Texas Cichlid is one of the few north american cichlids has a cream base color and turquoise spots. There may similarly be a nuchal hump in males.
4. Green Terror Cichlid
As the name states the Green Terror (Andinoacara rivulatus), is an aggressive and territorial fish. It is a notorious digger, that is hardy and colorful. On top of this, it has a green base color with either white or a gold-orange tint on the edges of the tail and fins.
Green terrors are smaller around 15 -20 cm (6- 8 inches), and have a lifespan of between 7 and 10 years on average. Green Terror cichlids are native to the Pacific side of South America. They are relatively aggressive amongst south american cichlids, so be careful what tankmates you pair them with.
5. Ram Cichlid
Ram Cichlids (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi), are a popular and attractive aquarium favorite with numerous color strains. They are native to South America and thrive in the Orinoco River basin.
Their sizes range from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm), and they have a shorter lifespan of between 2-4 years. Ram cichlids are relatively peaceful, and could easily be kept in a communal aquarium with similar-sized fish species.
6. Blue Acara
The Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher) is a colorful and relatively common cichlid species in the aquarium trade. This fish is native to the Northern Coast of South America, in Venezuela. In Latin, the word ‘pulcher” translates to “beautiful” referring to the striking colors and patterns of the fish. Like it’s name may hint at, it boasts a more compact shaped body with a steel blue color. This is adorned with horizontal green lines across the face, and sparkling blue-green scales.
Acaras can reach sizes of between 13 cm (5.1 in), and 16 cm (6.3 in), with a lifespan of between 8 and 101 years. They enjoy more tropical climates, and are seemingly peaceful and mild-natured, even by south american cichlids standards. Not only this, but they also enjoy forming monogamous pairs that can create a strong family bond. Owners should be aware that they become slightly territorial during spawning. Similarly, they are known to burrow and can be destructive to live plants.
7. Jack Dempsey
Named after the famous 1920 boxer, the Jack Dempsey (Rocio octofasciata) is a Mexican species that prefers more tropical climates and a lower pH between 6 and 7. The males can reach 25 cm (10 inches) in size and they have a lifespan of between 8-10 years. Furthermore, these central american cichlids are famously aggressive and territorial.
Their dark purple and grey colors, with almost iridescent blue, green, scales, and gold flecks give them an attractive aesthetic appeal.
8. Festival Cichlid
Also referred to as the Flag Cichlid (Mesonauta Festivus) are an exceptional cichlid species with a colorful appeal. They have a timid and playful nature, and they are ideal for novice aquarists and communal aquariums.
Likewise, they have a gold silvery base color with a prominent black stripe from the eye up to the fin and a black spot on the base of the tail. These seemingly unassuming south american cichlids can grow up to 12.1 cm (4.8 in) in size and have a lifespan of around 7 – 10 years.
Though they are peaceful it is vital to keep them in groups. You should also avoid keeping them with fish species that are small enough for them to eat. Though the festival cichlid is native to South America, it is an aquarium favorite in many countries.
A colorful and striking species from Central America, the Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis managuensis) exhibits a silvery golden-green to almost purple color and darker moss green at the dorsum. Additionally, it has iridescent purple sides, and a white belly, decorated with black dots. These features give it a similar appearance to the jaguar.
It is a robust fish that can be fierce and aggressive, with larger sizes of between 35 – 40 cm (14-16 inches). Similarly, there have been cases where males can grow up to 60 cm (24 Inches).
10. Salvin’s Cichlid
The Salvin’s cichlid (Trichromis Salvini) is often referred to as the Yellow Belly or Tri-Color cichlid and is a striking beauty found in Central America. They boast gorgeous bright yellow bodies with floral-shaped lines, and bars across the head, along with a blue-pearl colored outline.
Furthermore, an interesting fact about Salvin’s cichlids is the males are duller in color than females. Nevertheless, like many central american cichlids, females are still smaller than males.
Ideally fully grown males can grow up to 22 cm (8.5 Inches) and they have a longer lifespan of 10 to 13 years. However, because of their more aggressive behavior, as well as specific care requirements they are best for experienced Aquarists.
American Cichlids Summary and Care Guide
South American Cichlids
The main south american cichlids include:
- Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)
- Blue Acaras (Aequidens pulcher)
- Blue Rams (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi)
- Discus (Symphysodon aequifasciatus)
- Green Terror (Aequidens rivulatus)
- Midas or Devil Cichlids (Amphilophus citrinellus or labiatus)
- Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus)
- Yellow Dwarf Cichlids (Apistogramma borellii)
Rare South American Cichlids
Some of the rarest species found in South America are the Apistogramma Panduro, a smaller cichlid found in Peru. there is also the Satanoperca daemon with striking colors and peaceful nature, and the Heros liberifer with its iridescent scales and longer fins. Then the Red Tiger cichlid is also a truly rare beauty.
Central American Cichlids
In Central America, the most popular species include:
- Convict Cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
- Jack Dempsey Cichlids (Rocio octofasciatum)
- Red Devil (Amphilophus labiatus)
- Salvini Cichlids (Nandopsis Salvini)
- Texas Cichlids (Hericthys cyanoguttatus)
North American Cichlids
The Jack Dempsey Cichlid is also found in certain areas of North America, and Central America. Apart from that, however, north american cichlids aren’t that common. Three species regularly found in North America are:
- Cuban Cichlids (Nandopsis telecanthus)
- Mayaheros (M. uropthalmus) – M. Beani from Mexico.
- Mayan Cichlids (Nandopsis Haitians) Black nasty Odo, or Haitian from Mexico.
While there are some general rules for each category, it is important to remember that each fish is different and has a unique personality.
Care Requirements For American Cichlids
There are some relative rules in cichlid care, though each species has unique personalities and care requirements. Thus, it is vital to research each species on its own to get the most accurate information on their care requirements. However, most american cichlids will adhere to the following care needs:
Tank size will be relative to the size and grouping of the specific species. While some species can be kept as pairs or singles, others flourish in groups. Cichlids can range in size from 2 inches (5cm) to giant sizes at up to 3 feet (90cm). Thus, tank sizes range between 20 gallons to 300 gallons for larger species. Most American Cichlid species thrive in a water pH of between 7.5 and 8.5 and enjoy warmer water temperatures between 22°C- 29°C (72°F – 85°F).
The substrate and décor in the tank will depend entirely on the specific species. Some cichlids enjoy rocks and caves to hide in, while others prefer more vegetation. In the case of most cichlids a sandy or fine gravel substrate is best, as some species also tend to dig. Because of varying diets among certain species, they produce lots of waste. Thus regular water changes and tank maintenance are crucial. In addition, always use a proper filter.
Depending on the species, most cichlids are omnivores, while some are more carnivorous, and others herbivores. In all cases, a varied diet should be fed, using a pelleted or flaked food for the specific species, along with fresh foods including; Meat-based foods that can be live or frozen such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and crayfish. Plant-based foods include green vegetables mostly that have been blanched and cooled, and some fruits such as bananas, peaches, and melons.
Temperament and Tank Mates
Cichlids are quite aggressive, thus proper research must be done on the specific species to attain information on their aggression, temperament, and how they will react to fish of other species. Cichlids tend to claim a certain territory for themselves and in most cases will defend their territory fiercely.
A rule of thumb is to always house larger and more peaceful species than your cichlids. Ideally, these are hardy and will be able to defend themselves if they need. On the other hand, it is always wiser to keep similar cichlid species together. Luckily there are many american cichlid species with a milder to more peaceful nature.
Cichlids are either monogamous or polygamous depending on the specific species. The female will usually care for the young. However, in some cases, the male and female or just the male care for the young. Either way, these guys are nurturing parents.
Most cichlids are mouthbrooders, meaning the female will carry the eggs and young in her mouth for safety. Some prefer digging a hole in the substrate, while others keep their young in caves or rock crevices. Similarly, breeding will depend on the exact species.
Common Health Issues
Cichlids are relatively susceptible to most freshwater aquarium fish diseases. Thus optimal water parameters are vital. Cichlids are potentially also susceptible to what is called Malawi Bloat, which comes from poor nutrition. Common illnesses include:
- Ich or white spot disease, a common parasite,
- Fin Rot, caused by an infection of the tail or fins,
- Swim Bladder, an infection of the swim bladder organ,
- Gill flukes, another well-known parasite.
Some cichlid species are prone to a disease called Hole in the Head which could be fatal.
While many of these species do require specific care methods and setups, many owners find it more than worth it. Indeed, they will illuminate any aquarium with their stunning colors, patterns, and intense personalities. In a favorable setup that simulates more of their natural environment, they will reward you many times in return. And, with the right tank mates, they will surely thrive, providing you with some years of entertainment, antics, and beauty.