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Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara Maronii) Care Guide

Doesn’t it look so graceful to see colorful cichlids roaming around in your tank? This large family of Cichlidae has a lot of wonders to offer you and Keyhole Cichlids are one of the most beautiful variants of this family.

Keyhole Cichlids are more suitable for a tank due to their distinct color and keyhole-shaped black dot on them. These fish are easy to care for in a 17-gallon tank and grow up to 4-inches. These cichlids are readily available in any of the pet stores at a fair price.

Species Overview

Level of CareVery easy
AppearanceThese fish come with a yellow cream-colored appearance. Also, there are black spots in the middle area of their body, which looks like a keyhole.
Life Expectancy8 years
Tank Size17-gallon
Tank EnvironmentSoft acidic water with proper hiding places
Tank MatesVery peaceful

Keyhole Cichlids are a very popular one from the Orinoco delta in Venezuela, South America. Also, they are found in Guyana and Suriname to the east of the Ouanary river and in eastern French Guiana.

According to the older records, this species was also found in the islands of Trinidad Tobago. This magnificent orange and yellow cichlid fish having their origin in the natural habitat of small and clear coastal creeks and tributaries, serve to be a great buddy for tanks.

Keyhole Cichlid or Cleithracara Maronii are quite easily found in an aquarist’s shop, owing to their gorgeous appearance and good compatibility with the tank environment.



Unlike other vibrant cichlid variations,these may not be that colorful but are very bright. It is their pattern that renders them a unique grace.

They usually possesses a yellow cream-colored body, with a black spot in the middle portion that looks like a keyhole. And this is the real secret behind their quirky name.

The spots on their body do not always look like a keyhole. For some specimens of Cleithracara Maronii, it seems to be mere black spots. Most interestingly, these black dots sometimes can also appear as black bands.

Their tail fin and dorsal fin often come with a pretty contrast of soft yellow or neon blue color. Besides, some specimens also have a blue hue on their fins, but not all come with this color variation.


They are usually not too big. However, they are not even too small. Thus, they come with a much moderate sizing. These fish tend to grow up to 10 cm or 4-inches.

Usually, the male specimens are much longer than the female fish. So, if you are thinking of buying a pair, you can consider looking at their sizes.

Behavior & Temperament

Keyhole Cichlids are pretty peaceful. Unlike other cichlids, which are pretty much aggressive, Cleithracara Maroni is timid and delicate. These specimens do not even nip the fins of other fish.

Also, this fish tends to shy away from other tank mates or get frightened due to their activities.

Besides, these fish are neither aggressive nor predatory. But if they get any tiny fish that fits into their mouth, they will easily eat it away. Otherwise, they thrive well with any other fish species that are friendly to them.


Usually, Keyhole cichlids are hardy enough as an aquarium fish. So, you can easily expect them to live for a longer time in your tank. With the facilitation of proper care and diet, these fish can live for at least 8 years.

Tank Requirements

They usually demand enough space in their tank for free swimming. Also, if you are thinking of keeping them in the form of a school, make sure your tank has sufficient space for marking their territories.

Thus, it is essential to maintain a proper tank setup for these fish from the very beginning. It is better to opt for a larger capacity tank for carrying all the fish with adequate space for them.

Also, these fish need enough sheds and shelters in the tank to feel safe and not scared. So, it is better to keep them in an amateur planted and decorated tank. They dwell best in an aquarium that stimulates a natural biotope.

Besides, these fish usually tend to dig in the substrate of the tank bottom. So, pick a softer substrate that will not injure their fins and be the most suitable one for them.

These fish typically prefer soft and acidic water for their tank. Since they originate from tropical areas, it is crucial to maintain the aquarium’s water temperature at a suitable level.

The addition of an efficient filtration unit and the regular renewal of some portions of the tank water will provide these fish with a cleaner tank environment. Also, keep the water hardness range average.

Moreover, make sure the water flow is either moderate or low. Using a strong filter in such cases can be handy. Thus, it is better to facilitate the proper flow of tank water consistently so that your fish can have fun times in the tank all the time.

Keyhole Cichlid Tank Setup

To meet the health requirements, you need to ensure a very top-notch tank setup so that these species can enjoy a very suitable atmosphere within the aquarium.

The tank setup is not at all much difficult. However, it needs to be proper.

So, here is how you can ensure the best tank setup for these fish.

  • For a pair of Keyhole Cichlids, you need to opt for a 80-liters or 17-gallons tank. If you are thinking of keeping them in the form of a school, opt for a larger tank with 50-75 gallons of capacity.
  • These fish thrive well in a slightly acidic environment. Thus, it is better to maintain the tank pH within the range of 6.5-7.2.
  • Also, it is vital to maintain the temperature within a range of 22-26℃ as they do not prefer too hot or cold water.
  • It is essential to add a proper filtration system to the tank. You can opt for a hang-on-the-back filter for the tank.
  • The water needs to be soft, or the hardness level must be average.
  • Try to add the right tank plant and form moderately dense vegetation.
  • Also, the lighting in the tank needs to be moderate. There is no need for too much bright lighting for the tank.
  • In the case of substrate requirements, you can add small-grained sand to the bottom. Also, you can add flat stones as spawning substrates for the bottom area. Since these fish are bottom diggers, it is better to ensure that the plants and other decorations are well-rooted in the tank.
  • Make sure you are adding enough shelter and hiding places in the aquarium to help your fish hide and relax, as they can get stressed otherwise. You can add snags, tubes, flower pots, and coconut shells to the tank to let them have enough hiding place.
Keyhole cichlid front view

Tank Mates

Keyhole Cichlid is pretty compatible in community aquariums. They tend to thrive well with their compatible tank mates in any fish tank. Thus, you need to be very cautious and careful while picking tank friends.

They are easy to house with other calmer species of fish. However, skip keeping tetras with them since these fish tend to be slightly aggressive at times. Also, larger c. maronii fish can quickly engulf the smaller tetras.

Thus, it is better to try out some peaceful species having the exact requirements as a Keyhole Cichlid. Besides, it is advised to keep them in pairs. To obtain the best pairs, you can keep 6-8 specimens together, as it will help in breeding in the future.

However, make sure you are not housing your cichlids with other aggressive or semi-aggressive fish specimens, which can come up as a potential threat to them.

So, here are a few suitable tank mates for your beautiful cichlids.

Food & Diet

Feeding this freshwater fish is not at all going to be a challenging task. Since these fish accept almost all types of foods, you can offer them anything suitable for any other aquarium fish.

Keyhole Cichlids are omnivorous by nature. In the wild habitat, they usually feed on foods like small crustaceans, worms, mosquito larvae, and insects, along with a lesser amount of fish fry and plant matters.

Since these species are very easy to feed, you can also offer them flakes, pellets, and frozen foods. It is better to try out variety in their diet so that they can get proper nutrition in the tank.

For bringing variety to their food habits, you can offer them fish pellets. Also, try to feed them various types of frozen foods and shrimps. Besides, it will be very beneficial if the diet contains vegetable food and vegetable flakes.

These cichlids are usually not going to eat plants or algae. However, they will easily eat fish fry and small fish, which you house in the same aquarium.

So, are you now wondering how often to feed your fish? Well, try to offer them food in small servings several times a day, rather than providing them one large meal. In this way, they will get adequate nutrition.


Though these fish are very easy to look after, caring for Keyhole Cichlids needs to be top-notch to maintain their good health. They usually belong to pristine freshwater habitat, which is slightly tea-stained due to the tanning agents deduced from decaying organic matter.

So, to offer the best level of care to your fish, it is better to mimic their exact South American natural habitat. Nevertheless, these species can quickly adapt their way out to living in any aquatic condition, as long the parameters are not extreme.

They are usually much hardy by nature, which makes them resistant to some common fish diseases. However, they can fall sick if they lack immunity. Thus, it is essential to keep your eyes on them to see if any symptoms are visible.

These fish are better cared for in water conditions having a nitrate level within an acceptable range. They are also going to survive in lower quality water happily. However, this will make them more susceptible to various fish diseases.

It is better to introduce one to already cycled fish tanks and perform regular water changes. Make sure you are removing all the unnecessary debris from the aquarium regularly.

Besides, ensure that you maintain optimum pH level and temperature range in the aquarium.

Breeding Guidelines

Keyhole cichlid eating pellet

These bi-parental substrate spawners are pretty easy to breed in your home aquarium. However, to achieve successful spawning of Keyhole Cichlids, you need to ensure that you set up the tank in a much top-notch way.

The females of this species usually lay their eggs on a flat surface. So, place pieces of rock, wood, or a broad leaf as spawning spots. And do you know what is interesting about these fish? They clean their spawning spot in advance.

So, as the spawning site is ready, the female will lay almost 300 eggs on the surface in small batches.

The male fish are immediately going to follow the females to fertilize the eggs. And as soon as they are fertilized, the parent adults start taking good care of the eggs together and protect their offspring against predators.

They exhibits a unique nature of caring for their fries, which makes them more adorable. The female specimens usually watch out for the eggs, while the male ones guard the territory around the eggs.

After that, parents fan fresh, oxygen-rich water over their eggs to eliminate any unfertilized eggs from their spawning site. This activity also ensures to keep away any fungus from the eggs.

Each egg usually hatches after 3-5 days of spawning. And after a few days, the fries start swimming around freely. At this time, you can offer them a proper diet with newly hatched brine shrimps.

With the growth of the fries, you need to meet their growing dietary needs. So, as they grow, you can offer them larger food items.

Interesting Facts

Besides the information discussed about Keyhole Cichlids until now, there are some more interesting facts about them. So, do you want to know those facts before keeping these cichlids in your tank?

Well, then check out the following details:

  • These cichlids are pretty difficult to determine, whether they are juveniles or young.
  • Usually, the male ones are broader than the female specimens.
  • Their yellow or cream shade turns brown when the Keyhole Cichlids are stressed.
  • If there are any signs of stress in them, the black dots on their body will turn into a black band around them.
  • Though they are peaceful enough, they can get slightly aggressive during the time of breeding.
  • They look for more shelters, as the lack of hiding spaces can make them too stressful.
  • They are very caring as parents. Usually, these c. maronii fish look after their young ones for up to 6 months.
  • The young couples fail to breed mostly, as they end up eating their first batch of laid eggs. However, there’s nothing to worry about, soon they will make the second attempt for spawning.

Where to Buy?

These fish are often readily available at the local aquarist stores or pet stores. They are not at all pricey. Besides, these cichlids are even easily found at any hobbyist’s stores.

Also, you can find them in any of the popular online stores. However, always make sure to buy a healthy one for your tank.

Wrapping Up

Keyhole Cichlids are pretty suitable to keep in a home aquarium, along with other fish species. They are neither large nor aggressive, which makes them an excellent choice for any tank.

They are effortless to care for, which makes them great for beginners who are thinking of trying their hands on cichlids.

All you need to keep in mind is that you are housing them with compatible tank mates, offering them properly cleaned aquarium water, and providing them a suitable aquatic environment for their living.