Minimum Tank Size: 29 Gallons (110 Liters)
Care Level: Moderately Hard
Water Conditions: 6.5-8.5 pH and Soft to Very Hard
Temperature: 68-89 °F (20-32 °C)
Maximum Size: 6 inches (15 centimeters)
The firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) has a long history in the aquarium trade, and has been kept by aquarists for well over a century now. And even though it is one of the oldest fish in the hobby, it still remains very popular to this day. This is due in no small part to its relatively docile natural (for a cichlid), stunning fiery coloration on the underside of its jaw, and its fascinating parental care. All of these traits makes it a highly sought after fish, and a wonderful addition to nearly any aquarium
These fish are native to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and are found throughout Belize and northern Guatemala. Invasive populations have become established in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and they have been sighted on mainland United States in recent years.
Their habitat varies greatly, though they generally tend to prefer shallow, slow moving water. These fish can be found in everything from muddy water with poor visibility, to crystal clear water with sandy bottoms. They are also known to inhabit slightly brackish water, and populations have been discovered in cave systems, ponds, canals, streams and even roadside ditches.
They grow relatively large in a home aquarium, and males can reach a length of up to 6 inches (15 centimeters), with females being slightly smaller. On average they will live for around eight years, though there have been reports of these fish living for over fifteen years.
For a single pair of firemouth cichlids, a 29 gallon fish tank (110 liters) will usually be sufficient. But since a pair of these fish will inevitably breed, it’s recommended to provide them with a much larger tank up front. A more reasonable minimum tank size would be 55 gallons (208 liters), and this would allow the addition of tank mates, as well as providing room for any potential fry.
Though these fish generally do best when kept with other species of Central American cichlids, they will also coexist with other peaceful fish of a similar size. They will become aggressive during spawning, so it’s best to avoid any overly docile, or bottom dwelling fish with these cichlids.
Their aquarium should mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible, and this can be accomplished through using a sandy substrate and flat, smooth stones. Plentiful driftwood should be added, and they will also appreciate the addition of caves. Clay pots placed on their sides make excellent, affordable caves, but make sure to stay away from glazed or painted pots as they may be toxic.
Live plants are usually avoided with firemouth cichlids, mainly due to their digging behavior. However, if you still wish to add plants to their aquarium, hardy plants like Java ferns, anubias, and Java moss are some of the best options. A wider range of plants can be consider if they are potted, or their roots are covered with large stones to protect them.
Even though nearly all of these fish are breed in captivity now, they still tend to be sensitive to water conditions. It’s always recommended to provide them with as close to pristine water as humanly possible, and this can be accomplished through the use of a high quality filter, and regular weekly water changes.
A good choice for a filter is a hang on back filter, which is both economical and efficient. I strongly recommend using an AquaClear Power Filter, and it’s the filter I have on the majority of my aquariums. I’ve used nearly every type of filter on the market, and these filters are both effective and durable. With only minimal maintenance, they will keep an aquariums water pristine for years to come.
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Firemouth cichlids primarily feed on crustaceans, and invertebrates in the wild, with the occasional addition of plant mater and organic detritus to their diet. This should be reproduced as closely as possible in the home aquarium, and can be accomplished through the feeding of a high quality flake food, and regular offerings of frozen or live food.
Since most of these fish available are bred in captivity, they will accept nearly any prepared food, but my personal recommendation is Omega One fish food. This food contains only the highest quality ingredients, and will help to produce vibrant colors in your fish.
Firemouth cichlids favorite frozen foods are bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia and blackworms. They have similar tastes in live food, and they will greedily accept blackworms, wingless fruit flies, mosquito larvae (illegal to culture in many areas), daphnia, copepods (may attack plants and fry), and cut up earth worms (make sure they haven’t been exposed to herbicides or pesticides).
It can be very difficult to sex juvenile firemouth cichlids, but it becomes easier as they mature. The males will generally be larger than the females and will have extended dorsal and anal fins. They will also have a much more intense coloration than the females – something that will only increase as they get into breeding condition.
Firemouth cichlids breed easily in captivity, and will normally mate without any intervention from the aquarist. However, they should still be provided with a high quality diet to help condition them for breeding, and regular water changes should be maintained.
A proven mated pair can be used for breeding, but if you don’t have access to any mature fish, a group of six juveniles should be kept in a tank, and they will naturally pair off as they mature.
After the fish have paired off, breeding will normally follow soon afterwards. The eggs will usually be laid on a flat surface, and the most common site for a female to lay her eggs are on flat rocks. Some fish may lay the eggs directly on the aquarium glass, while others have been known to lay eggs on decorations and driftwood.
Like many other cichlids, it’s not unusual for new parents to consume their first few batches of eggs or fry. This is nothing to be alarmed about, and nearly all cichlids will get the hang of parenting after the first few tries.
The female lays long rows of eggs, and the male will then move along them, fertilizing them as he goes. This will continue on until the female has laid all of her eggs, and the male has ensured every last egg is fertilized. A mature female may lay up to several hundred eggs, and both parents will care for the eggs after mating.
Unlike many other cichlids, it is mainly the female who tends to the eggs. The male seems to be tasked with guard duty, and will protect the area around the female and the eggs aggressively. This can be a dangerous time for tank mates, and most aquarists recommend keeping a separate breeding tank to protect their tank mates.
The fry will become free swimming in under a week, and they can be fed baby brine shrimp, or even powdered flake food. The parents will escort the fry around the tank, ensuring that they find enough food to eat. This will usually continue on for around six weeks, and then the fry and parents will go their separate ways in the tank.