Firemouth Cichlid Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

The firemouth cichlid is popular for being one of the mellow-tempered medium-sized cichlids. The low-tantrum gluttonous freshwater fish is an all-time favorite for beginners with slight experience. Often it also helps beginners learn to deal with other aggressive cichlids.

This hardy fin buddy adds a hint of color to your tank. And unlike most cichlids, you can house it in a community tank easily!

So, if that caught your interest, let’s know everything you need to get one!

What is a Firemouth Cichlid?

Firemouth Cichlid is a freshwater aquarium fish that has colorful fins which are bigger than many fish species.

OriginRiver Usumacinta, River Belize drainage, Central America
Scientific NameThorichthys meeki
Common NamesFiremouth Cichlid, Firemouth, Scarlet Chanchito, Redbreasted Cichlid
IUCN Red List StatusLeast Concern
AppearanceElongated, laterally compressed fish with grey back, black vertical stripes, iridescent blue spots, and reddish orange underbelly and lower jaw
SizeUp to 8 cm (3.15 in) for females, up to 12 cm (4.7 in) for males; maximum reported length 17 cm (6.7 in)
LifespanUsually 7-8 years, Up to 12 years with great care
TemperamentUsually shy, schooling, aggressive and territorial during mating season
Tank LevelMiddle and bottom dwellers
Water Temperature72-82 °F (22-28 °C)
pH Level6.5-7.5
Water HardnessUp to 15 dGH
Care LevelEasy to Intermediate
Minimum Tank Size75 gallons for a pair, 180 gallons for a community tank
Tank EnvironmentSpacious tank with lots of hiding places
DietOmnivorous, but carnivorous and scavenging habits
Tank MatesOwn school, other peaceful cichlids, other calm, similar-sized species

What is the Natural Habitat of Firemouth Cichlid?

Firemouth cichlid is native to Central American nations, namely Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. Mainly, you will spot it in the Atlantic slope, Belize River drainage, the Usumacinta River basins, and near Progreso.

It is considered an invasive species in Arizona, the Hawaiian Islands, Florida, of Puerto Rico, USA. It has also been introduced and taken over many water bodies in Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

According to the 2018 assessment of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species is marked as Least Concern.

Which family does Firemouth Cichlid belong to?

The species belongs to the Cichlidae family of Perciformes order and is known by the scientific name Thorichthys meeki.

But commonly, it is popular as firemouth cichlid, firemouth, scarlet chanchito, or red-breasted cichlid

Fun Fact: While looking for food on the substrate, the fish picks mouthfuls of sand and spits it with its mouth or gills.

How does Firemouth Cichlid look?

Pair of firemouth cichlids

Now, if you’re eager to know more about this fish, let’s first start with its appearance:

What is the size of a Firemouth Cichlid?

The adult male fish can grow up to 12 cm (4.7 in), and the adult female can be as long as 8 cm (3.15 in). However, the maximum known length of this species is 17 cm (6.7 in).

What is the color of a Firemouth Cichlid?

Firemouths are called so because of the bright reddish-orange shade on their lower jaw and underbelly. The greenish-grey back has dark and wide vertical stripes; however, the darkness of these stripes may vary for every specimen.

Iridescent blue spots and red edges on the dorsal, anal, pelvic, and tail fins make them stand out, but the pectoral fins have no such coloration.

The lateral line also has turquoise-blue iridescent scales.

The bright coloration of the fish varies depending on its natural habitat. The most colorful specimens are available in lower Grijalva, Tabasco, Mexico, and Guatemala.

What are the features of Firemouth Cichlid?

Besides the elongated and lightly laterally compressed body, the fish also has a rounded sloping head, wide and pointed dorsal and anal fins, and big eyes.

Below the dorsal fin and at the base of the gill cover or operculum, they also sport a black patch.

The fish has teeth in both its throat and jaws and spiny rays in the back of its fins. It can also smell other fish – predator or prey – by inhaling water through its nostrils.

What is the difference between a male and a female Firemouth Cichlid?

The adult male firemouth cichlid is usually much longer than the female counterpart. Comparatively, the male also sports longer anal and dorsal filaments, and especially during mating season, he has brighter colors.

On the other hand, the female fish has a much rounder belly.

What is the behavior of a Firemouth Cichlid?

Unlike most other cichlids, the firemouth is not always aggressive; it is a lively and peaceful schooling fish and is shy toward humans.

However, the fish’s demeanor can change entirely during the spawning season. That’s when it can’t tolerate any other species around it, its mate, young ones, or at middle and lower water levels. It becomes as aggressive and territorial, just like a regular cichlid.

What is the Lifespan of Firemouth Cichlid?

The fish can survive up to 7-8 years in captivity. However, my experience says that in proper care conditions, it can live up to 12 years.

Author’s Note: When the fish tries to show dominance over opponents, it shows eye spots which makes the fish appear like it has an additional pair of eyes.

How to take care of a Firemouth Cichlid?

Juvenile firemouth cichlids shoal

Now, if you’re intrigued to get this fish soon, let’s prepare the perfect ambiance for it!

What is the Tank Size for Firemouth Cichlid?

If you want to house only a mated pair, invest in a 75-gallon tank. But if you’ll build a community tank, a 180-gallon tank is a must.

Moreover, if you want a cichlid-only tank, opt for a 180-gallon or bigger tank with greater length and width. This will ensure that everyone has their own territory in preferred water columns.

What is the Water Chemistry required for a Firemouth Cichlid?

Next, you must focus on the most essential part of your tank – water. The correct parameters can have a substantial positive impact on the lifespan of your firemouths. So, follow these:

  • pH Levels: 6.5-7.5
  • Water Temperature: 72-82 °F (22-28 °C)
  • Water Hardness: Up to 15 dGH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 15 ppm

What is the Tank Environment for Firemouth Cichlid?

Once you’ve got all that noted, you must prepare the right things to create the perfect aquascape for your pet fish.

Which type of Substrate is required in a Firemouth Cichlid tank?

To mimic the firemouth’s natural habitat and protect it from getting hurt, pick fine sand without any sharp particles. You can also sieve the sand once to ensure your cichlid doesn’t hurt itself while exploring the substrate.

Or, you can go for the best grade smoothened and rounded gravel. Check that the gravels are small and light so the fish can move it around effortlessly. This will also help in biological filtration.

Which types of Plants are required for a Firemouth Cichlid aquarium?

Firemouth cichlid enjoys vegetated tanks, but it may also uproot your plants while exploring for food. So, use potted plants with hard stems and large leaves to hide themselves.

What type of lighting is required for Firemouth Cichlid?

Normal to moderate lighting is great when the fish wants to play around. But keep some darker corners to hide when it feels insecure.

Which Décor is required for Firemouth Cichlid?

The shy fish appreciates the presence of caves and crevices as hiding spots. You can strategically build caves using stones so they don’t tumble down.

What type of Filtration is required for Firemouth Cichlid?

A reliable and efficient oxygenating filtration system is necessary to get rid of all the nitrogen compounds from the bioload and leftover food.

What is the Water Flow Rate required for Firemouth Cichlid?

Normal to moderate water flow rate is ideal for the fish.

Fish Care Tip: Never be excited while handling your firemouth cichlid tank, as it gets stressed. Even during basic maintenance, it stays hidden until you’re gone.

What type of food does Firemouth Cichlid eat?

Firemouth cichlid is an unfussy omnivorous species but loves carnivorous feeds. It’s also a scavenger, i.e., exploring the substrate for leftover food.

To keep it healthy, you must provide it with a balanced diet of high-quality meals containing frozen, live, or flake food of the following:

  • Bloodworm
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Tubifex
  • Artemia
  • Invertebrates
  • Brine shrimp
  • Cichlid pellets
  • Copepods
  • Molluscs
  • Spirulina

You can also feed it a homemade gelatin mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, shellfish puree, and dried fish.

Feed the adult fish 1-2 meals only for 2 minutes to avoid overfeeding.

What are the Tank Mates for Firemouth Cichlid?

As this is a lot more peaceful than other cichlids, it can be kept with a variety of tank mates. If you wish to build a cichlid-only tank, make sureyou have the right size of the tank and add some mates like:

If you want to build a community tank with varied species, embrace these as its best friends:

Which Tank Mates to Avoid for Firemouth Cichlid?

Often, people believe that being a cichlid, firemouths can be housed with any other cichlid, but that’s not entirely true. They are incompatible with African cichlids; they can harass or even kill your firemouths.

Next, you need to steer clear of some other species like:

  • Comparatively smaller species (rasbora, smallest tetras, guppies, shrimps, or snails): they’ll get eaten
  • Extremely aggressive species: their aggression will make the firemouth stressed and sick
  • Much larger species: they’ll prey on your firemouth

What are the Common Diseases for Firemouth Cichlid?

The fish is susceptible to common parasitic, fungal, or bacterial fish infections. So, you must be prepared to deal with these:

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
IchParasitic Protozoan InfectionWhite spots, appetite loss, lethargy, flashingElevate aquarium temperature, add aquarium salt or ich medicine
Skin flukesParasitic InfectionExcess mucus secretion, red spots, lethargy, appetite loss, erratic breathing, flashing, scale loss, hazy skinImprove water quality, healthy diet, medicines – oral and injections, medicated bath
ColumnarisBacterial InfectionFin fraying, white or grey patches, appetite loss, lethargyImprove water quality, reduce stress, add antibiotics
Fin rotBacterial InfectionFin redness, fin discoloration, fin fraying, fin disintegration, appetite loss, lethargyImprove water quality, remove physically injurious objects, add antibiotics
DropsyInfection, poor water quality, stressBloated and swollen belly, skin redness around vents and fins, ulcers, scale protrusionQuarantine, improve diet, perform partial water changes regularly, add medicine
Tetrahymena aka guppy killer diseaseParasitic Protozoan InfectionWhite spots on skin, fins, and flanks, clamped fins, lethargyQuarantine, treat with anti-protozoan medicines Caution: Deadly disease. Treat ASAP
Mouth fungusBacterial InfectionWhite mass on lips and around mouth, appetite loss, lethargy,Feed concentrated antibiotics with meals, reduce stress, often perform water changes, remove unnecessary decor Caution: Deadly disease. Treat ASAP
Swim bladder disorderBacterial Infection; infection from sudden high temperature or high nitrate concentrationAbnormal swimming patterns, fish swimming in top-levelFeed antibiotics, improve water conditions, don’t feed for 3 days, then feed cooked deskinned peas, fix temperature

Quick Tip: Before introducing any foreign material into your tank, make sure to clean and sterilize it from any parasite, fungus, chemical, or bacteria.

How to Breed Firemouth Cichlid?

Before you try to breed firemouth cichlids, you must get a mated pair. You can get one in stores or, instead, raise a group and naturally form pairs in your own aquarium. This fish sexually matures when it’s 7 cm long, so choose the pair wisely.

Once you have the pair, follow these steps:

What type of Tank Preparation is needed to breed Firemouth Cichlid?

In a 75-gallon tank, place plenty of smoothened flat rocks, driftwood, toppled-over flower pots, or broad leafy plants for the fish to lay eggs.

You can keep the water parameters the same as the main tank. But if you don’t get results soon, make these changes:

  • pH Levels: 7-7.2
  • Water Temperature: 75-80 °F (24-26.6 °C)
  • Water Hardness: Up to 10 dGH

These conditions mimic the springtime of its natural habitat when it spawns.

What is the Mating Process of Firemouth Cichlid?

Introduce the mated pair in the tank. Make the changes as mentioned above, if spawning doesn’t occur in usual conditions.

Eventually, the mating process begins when the male seeks the spawning site and cleans it.

When the female fish agrees, she lays 1-2 rows of eggs on the chosen spawning site, and the male moves them to a safer place and fertilizes them. This continues until the female fish is exhausted, leading to about 100-500 eggs in total.

What is the Incubation period of Firemouth Cichlid?

After the spawning, the pair waits for an incubation period of 2-3 days. During this time, the female fish protects her eggs while the male fish stays alert to defend the entire territory. They also dig a pit for later.

After the eggs hatch, the parent pair move the fry to that pit while the babies absorb the egg yolk. Meanwhile, the pair keeps protecting them.

What happens to the Fry of Firemouth Cichlid?

After 3-5 days of egg hatching, the fry swims freely, and the parents always keep them under surveillance.

During this phase, the young fish consumes the mucus secreted by the parent fish. But you must also sprinkle some extra food for them, like baby fish food, crushed flakes, microworms, baby brine shrimp, or Artemia nauplii. As the fry grows, keep increasing the food portions, or it will be underfed.

Parental care continues until the young fish grows to 1-2 cm long, which takes multiple weeks or a month. After that, you may separate the young fish into a separate tank.

Breeding Tip: If the pair is immature or mates for the first time, they might eat their own eggs. But don’t be disappointed. Wait until they mate again, and they’ll be better parents.

How to buy Firemouth Cichlid?

  • It’s better to get a captive-bred firemouth cichlid than a wild-caught one, as the latter is hard to domesticate.
  • If you get a wild-caught fish, cross-check the maintenance and care needs with the seller, as the wild-caught ones may have slightly different needs.

A word from FishInAquarium

Raising firemouth cichlid is nothing less than a treat because of its lively yet shy nature. And it’s mesmerizing to watch these shy creatures become protective parents. It will make your heart swoon with their heroic nature around their young ones.

With that said, now, if this article fed all your queries, share it with other fish enthusiasts. But if there are still some doubts, mail us and get things resolved!

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.