Firemouth cichlid: care, breeding, tank mates and size

Firemouth cichlid also known as Thorichthys meeki is a native Central American species of cichlid fish. They occur in Yucatan Peninsula rivers, Mexico, south through Belize and north into Guatemala. 

Their habitat is usually shallow, slow-moving, often turbid, water with a pH of 6.5-8.0. Residing in cave systems has also been reported.

As tropical fish, firemouth cichlids live in warm water with temperatures ranging from 23–30 ° C (75–86 ° F). Firemouth, the common name derives from the bright orange-red coloring on the underside of the jaw.

Males flare out their gills in particular, exposing their red throats in a threat display designed to keep male rivals out of their territory. 

Brood care is highly developed as is most cichlids; this species is an egg-layer. Firemouth cichlids form monogamous pairs, spawning on flattened rock, leaf or submerged wood surfaces.

Breeding males are primarily responsible for territorial defence, whereas females are more involved in raising the fry, though both parents lead the fry in search of food.

Firemouth cichlids are omnivorous in their feeding strategies and are opportunistic. Their ability to protrude their standard jaw length of 6 percent limits their diet to an evasive prey of about 6 per cent.

Sexual dimorphism is present in this species although it is limited. Generally speaking, males are larger (up to 15 cm) than females with brighter and more red coloring around the throat, and have more pointed dorsal and anal fins.

Firemouth cichlids are suitable for community aquariums, although during spawning they may become extremely aggressive towards other members of their species and other community fish.


Here is the scientific classification of firemouth cichlid given below

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cichliformes
Family: Cichlidae
Subfamily: Cichlinae
Tribe: Heroini
Genus: Thorichthys
T. meeki
Binomial name
Thorichthys meeki


Just one great addition to your freshwater aquarium, the Firemouth Cichlid. This could be the perfect fish for you if you’re looking to add some color to your tank. 

This colorful, bright fish is easy to care for. They are hardy and peaceful but very territorial and bring your tank with a fiery flair. 

If you are a new fish keeper don’t worry, this article will help you through everything you need to know to keep and breed Firemouth Cichlids successfully.

The Cichlid Firemouth (Thorichthys meeki), is a member of the Cichlidae family and is found in Central American rivers. 

It is considered an invasive species in North America today, and has been recorded in other parts of the world as well.

This variety is found in the Philippines, Singapore, Israel and Australia due to its great adaptive skills and rapid growth rate, after human release in the wild. 

This is also a very popular fish in the ornamental aquarium trade and is typically commercially bred thanks to its bright red colouration. 

They are hardy, quiet fish. If you’re just beginning to keep fish, this may well be the fish for you.

It is semi-territorial and, during spawning seasons, may become aggressive. The Firemouths can live for 8-10 years if properly cared for. 

Their scientific name is split into two parts, Thorichthys meeki. Thorichthys from ancient Greek means “leaping fish,” and meeki named after the expert Ichthyologist Seth Eugene Meek (1859-1914) who was the first to write a book about Mexican freshwater fish.

Typical Behavior of Firemouth cichlid

So, let’s talk about the behavior of Firemouth cichlid. It is a pacific but territorial fish. 

When dealing with stress, it is not very good and prefers larger tanks with more space; this helps them carve out separate territories. 

They don’t school fish, and males tend to live separately in their natural habitat, tending to their own territory. 

They ‘re monogamous and they’re great parents. During spawning or as a warning to other fish, males will extend their gills and show off to stay away from their territories.

If you look closely at them you will notice that they spend a lot of their time around plants. They like to get things rearranged and moved.

This includes the substrate and maybe your fish will also try to move or dig the plants out. Keep an eye out, so that plants are not damaged too much.

Firemouth cichlid Appearance

The Cichlid of Firemouth gets its name from the bright red coloring that males develop during spawning seasons. 

Firemouth cichlid appearance
Image by George Chernilevsky from commons wikimedia

Like most fish this species looks different to males and females. Males are usually larger and show brighter coloration with longer fine rays. On the other hand , females exhibit larger bellies that give them a more rounded form. 

Males usually reach about 6 inches while females are somewhat smaller at 4-5 inches. Heads and bodies are colored gray to blue-olive with males showing bright red or orange colors on the underside of the head where the gills are located. 

A characteristic of all Cichlids in Firemouth is a black mark on the lower half of the operculum. Their fins have a red edge with occasionally blue spots, except for the pectoral fins. 

Typical of the fish class Actinopterygii is to have fins like rays. This class is also referred to as ray-finned fish.

The fish fins in this class are formed by a skin web supported by a series of rays or spines. Interestingly, these fish have been shown to have a different coloring depending on their natural habitat.

If you’d like to find the most colorful fish, then go to the lower Grijalva in Tabasco, Mexico.

Habitat and Tank condition

The Firemouth cichlid ‘s home is in Central America. The natural habitat of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico Belize and northern Guatemala is the shallow and turbid waters of the rivers. 

Here the rivers move slowly with the beds of muddy and sandy rivers. They usually spend most of their time in the lower or middle section of the river trying to enjoy vegetation protection near the shoreline. 

Firemouths also sometimes enjoy the protection of caves formed by sunken wood or rocks. 

It is now considered an invasive species, and has found a home in Puerto Rico as well as in Hawaii, Arizona and Florida states.

Tank condition for Firemouth cichlid

Try to keep in mind when setting up your tank that if you replicate their natural conditions as much as possible you will reduce the chances of your fish becoming sick. 

It needs warm temperatures, 75-86 ° F, with a pH from 6.5-8.0. The water hardness should be maintained between 8-15 dGH and the movement of water should be moderate. This would be the ideal substrate for sand. 

Although firemouths are freshwater fish, they can withstand moderate brackish water conditions, tolerating salinity which is about 10 percent of a normal tank of seawater. 

A good filtration system is one of the most relevant things for this fish. The water has to be clean without ammonia and harmful nitrogen compounds like excessive nitrite and nitrate levels. 

When installing the tank, try using wood or rocks and plants to provide plenty of hiding spaces. Plants should be a little hardy, because they like to ‘play’ with them; Sagittaria is ideal. Pot your plants in such a way that the roots are protected. 

Try to set the plants around the edges of the tank and leave a space in the middle for swimming. Lastly, while the light does not affect them particularly, moderate lighting should be used.

Firemouth cichlid tank mates

Choosing the right tank mates for firemouth cichlid is very much necessary However, this would be ideal fish in a community aquarium with similar-sized tank mates. Except when spawning, they ‘re calm fish.

They may become aggressive towards other fish during this season and potentially kill any fish that invades their territory. 

Just keep an eye on your fish, and consider removing the threatened fish from the tank during spawning when necessary. 

Males may suffer harassment from larger and more aggressive mates of the tank, while females in the aquarium are quite good at finding protection under the other fish. 

Other South American Cichlids of similar size might be suitable tank mates. Make sure to provide a tank that is large enough to allow the fish to establish their own territory safely. 

Ideal tank mates are active schooling fish like tetras (serpae, glowlight, and runny nose) and catfish like pictus catfish

It is best to avoid slow-moving, easily bullied fish and species like dwarf cichlids and angelfish. Shrimps and snails may be eaten, too.

Firemouth cichlid Diet and feeding

Maintaining proper diet and feeing for your fish should be taken care of. Firemouth cichlid are not mischievous eaters. They ‘re going to feed on just about anything that you give them. 

You will find them feeding on small crustaceans in their natural habitats such as copepods and cladocerans, organic detritus, small invertebrates and molluscs.

That’s why it may not be the best idea to have shrimp and snails as tank mates. If you observe them carefully, you could spot your fish sifting through substrate mouthfuls; they ‘re looking for food. 

A varied diet is an essential part of their health. You can feed small portions of your Firemouth Cichlids twice a day. They will eat food that is flake, live, and froze.

We suggest feeding high quality pellets or flakes to provide a high quality diet. 

You can also feed them with vegetables such as spinach, spirulina and a meaty supplement such as shrimp brine or worms in the blood. Artemia, the larvae of mosquitoes and Tubifex are good supplements too.

You might want to check this article on Oscar fish

Firemouth cichlid Care

Firemouth cichlid care
Image by Doronenko by commons wikimedia

Taking proper care of your Firemouth Cichlids are quite hardy and you shouldn’t have a lot of problems if you keep a close eye on the water conditions. 

As with most freshwater fish, infections like parasite, fungal, and bacterial infections can be a major problem for them.

The Ich disease is one of the most prevalent. White spots will be seen on their body, mostly on gills and fins. 

Luckily I illness is relatively easy to treat with this fish. Firemouth cichlids can tolerate relatively high water temperatures for a few days to a maximum of 86 ° F.

Try to raise the water temperature and if this isn’t enough you can treat them with copper-based medicines.

Nevertheless prevention is better than cure. Try to reduce any form of stress by creating the best living conditions for your fish; check water parameters, a good diet and appropriate mates for the tank. 

Also bear in mind that any new external object you add to your aquarium (alive, dead or synthetic) can be considered a harmful carrier of bacteria , parasites or fungi. 

In this situation it is recommended that you clean it meticulously before adding it to the tank.

Firemouth cichlid Breeding

Here in this section we will talk about the breeding of firemouth cichlid. The Firemouth, like other cichlids, forms monogamous pairs and makes their fry great parents.

If you don’t already have a formed pair, by buying 6 of them or at a time, it is easier to let them pair off themselves. 

They don’t require specific conditions of water for breeding. However, spawning can be easily induced by setting water parameters at a pH of 7.0 with temperatures between 75 ° F to 79 ° F and a water resistance of 10 dGH. 

Eggs are usually laid on a solid surface that is carefully cleaned, such as flat rock, large leaves, wood or directly on the tank’s glass surface. 

Usually the female lays about 100-500 eggs, and the male then fertilizes them. Fry is easy to feed, so long as you choose good quality foods like Artemia nauplii and microworms. 

After 4-5 days they should reach the free-swimming stage, and their parents will continue to raise and take care of them for several weeks.

Full grown firemouth cichlid

The full grown firemouth cichlid in Males usually reach about 6 inches while females are somewhat smaller at 4-5 inches.

what size tank for firemouth cichlid?

The ideal tank size is 30 gallons for a pair of Firemouth Cichlid However, it varies with the number of fish you add to it. But larger ones are always better especially if you also want to keep other fish.

Is the Firemouth Cichlid appropriate for your aquarium? 

Firemouth Cichlids for beginners are perfect fish. They may be quite aggressive while spawning, but they are quite hardy fish. 

With their bright red mouth, they are a colorful addition to your tank and bring along interesting territorial behavior. 

They ‘re good news, they ‘re not hard to care for fish and they’re eating pretty much anything. Keep good quality water and feed it regularly and you’ll have healthy fish.

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