Central America – Cichlids

Central American cichlids live across a wide range of habitats, including lakes, rivers, streams and underground well systems. Some even venture into the brackish estuaries and sea water.

central america - cichlids


Central American cichlids live across a wide range of habitats, including lakes, rivers, streams and underground well systems. Some even venture into the brackish estuaries and sea water.

Physical description

When many people think of Central American cichlids they think bold patterns and large, aggressive fish. However, Central American cichlids range in size from small through medium to very large and while none could be called timid, some make suitable community (robust) tank fish.

They are quite robust in build and the larger members (Guapotes) are quite elongated and torpedo-shaped as suits their predatory nature. The smaller species are somewhat stocky and solid in build. They are not as tall or as laterally compressed as many of their South American cousins.

Most of these cichlids were originally classified in the super-genus Cichlasoma, that was used as a catch-all genus for a number of years until descriptions were refined and different specied revised. Many have undergone at least one other name change since being split from Cichlasoma.

Guapote parachromis managuense
Guapote – parachromis managuense

What is a Guapote?

The term is applied to a group of large marked carnivorous cichlids, that are similar ecologically to the large and small mouthed Bass of North America, belonging to the genus Parachromis and the monotypic genus Petenia splendida. (right – Parachromis managuense)

These cichlids share the top carnivore role in fresh water fish communities of most of southern Mexico and Central America. Their position at the top of the food chain is challenged only in the San Juan basin of Nicaragua (where both the Great Lakes and the Rio San Juan are home marine intruders) where the sawfish, bull shark and tarpon rule.

The genus Parachromis is a group of very large Cichlasomine species characterised by large, obliquely placed, more or less strongly protractile jaws. In most , the front pair of pseudocanine teeth in the upper jaw are enlarged like those of a dog. They have a highly efficient mechanism for seizing and holding the small fish which they prey on.

Very large tanks are absolutely essential in order to maintain any of these predatory cichlids correctly. While they are not otherwise picky about water conditions, Guapotes don’t tolerate ammonia and dissolved nitrite high levels.

When stressed in this way, they become skittish or reclusive, rub frequently against vertical surfaces or the bottom of their tank and become much darker, almost black, in colour. Unlike some predatory fish, Guapotes do not need their food to be alive.

Tank care

Central Americans cichlids are, for the most part, relatively undemanding of exact water quality values, although they prefer hard, alkaline conditions over soft, acid water. A pH around neutral and moderate hardness is acceptable to the majority. However, good filtration is essential as these species (particularly the large fish) can be messy. Larger specimens also require quite a bit of oxygen.

The size of the aquarium is important as these fish like to have plenty of swimming room and should not be too crowded.Cichlasomines need a large, roomy tank with plenty of open swimming areas. Usually a 120 centimetre tank will be sufficient for all but he larger Central Americans (the Guapotes).


Within this group of cichlids a range of temperaments is found, with species ranging from reasonably peaceful community fish to highly predatory or extremely aggressive. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to research the species you are interested in, as generalisation is difficult.

Many of the predatory fish grow quite large and have very large mouths. Although many of these are not overly aggressive, tankmates must be of similar size or they will be eaten.

Others are predatory and aggressive and suitable only for cichlid tanks – often these fish will attack and even kill each other – espacially if there is not enough room of hiding places in the tank.

Most of the disputes are over territories – and they need plenty of space for their territory.

Combine fish that have equal size and aggression so one fish is not continually harassed. With all species, the brood is carefully cared for and defended rigorously. Spawning time is probably the most dangerous for other fish in the tank. It is best to remove the other fish in the tank when pair begins to prepare for spawning.

They can be combined with each other, along with large, robust catfish such as Pimelodids, Loricarids, and Doradids. They can also be kept with South American cichlids and some African cichlids. Large Characins and Rainbowfish are also suitable tank mates.

Central America Cichlids Tank


Central Americans will eat almost any food. Earthworms, feeder shrimp, crickets and meal worms are all accepted. They will also accept large flake foods, pellets, tablets, and vegetables as spinach, peas, and lettuce.

Members of the herbivorous genus Vieja need vegetable matter in their diet and can be fed peas and Spirulina as well.


Most of these fish are open spawners, but a number of species will make use of caves or other shelters if they are available. They can be picky about choosing their partner and incompatible pairs can be extremely aggressive towards each other – and it isn’t just the male that is aggressive.

It is best to get a group of juveniles to grow up together and allow them to choose their own partners. Particular water quality values are not usually necessary to promote spawning. All that is needed is clean water, suitable spawning sites, and a compatible pair in good condition.

Central American Cichlids

  • Amphilophus sp (Red Devil)
  • Amphilophus alfari (Pastel Cichlid)
  • Amphilophus trimaculatus (Trimac)
  • Archocentrus nigrofasciatus (Convict Cichlid)
  • Archocentrus septemfasciatus (Topaz Cichlid)
  • Archocentrus spilurus (Blue-eyed Cichlid)
  • Astatheros (Amphilophus) longimanus
  • Caquetia unbriferum (Umbi)
  • Herichthys carpinte (Texas Cichlid)
  • Hypsophrys nicaraguensis (Parrot Cichlid)
  • Nandopsis festae
  • Nandopsis octofasciatus (Jack Dempsey)
  • Nandopsis salvini
  • Nandopsis tetracanthus (Cuban Cichlid)
  • Nandopsis urophthalmus (Blue Festae)
  • Thorichthys meeki (Firemouth Cichlid)
  • Vieja fenestrata
  • Vieja hartwegi
  • Vieja maculicauda (Black Belt)
  • Vieja synspillum
  • Guapotes
  • Parachromis dovii (Wolf Cichlid)
  • Parachromis freidrichstahlii
  • Parachromis managuense (Jaguar Cichlid)
  • Petenia splendida (Snook)

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