The Firemouth Cichlid – A Colorful Jewel
The Firemouth cichlid (scientific: Thorichthiys meeki) was discovered in 1918 by Walter Lannoy. It is native in South America, usually encountered in rivers and lagoons in the peninsula of Yucatan in Mexico and also in Guatemala and Belize. It is a mid-sized cichlid, reaching a maximum length of 4.5-6 inches (13-15 cm). Its name originates from its beautiful colors: a metallic grey-black upper body, a shiny, red belly and lower jaw and turquoise fin tips. Males have usually brighter colours and are slightly bigger than female individuals.
The species usually prefers shallow streams with slow moving, turbid water, which in its natural habitat covers its excessive coloration and protects it from predators. It requires a tank with a minimum size of 30-40 gallons (100-150 L), covered with fine sand, plenty of rocks and hideouts. Aquatic plants are also essential, but as the species tends to burrow a lot, only resistant plants should be added in the aquarium, such as species of the genus Sagittaria. These cichlids can even uproot the most resistant plants, thus it is important to protect the plant roots by gluing them to a pot before burying them to the substrate.
This species of cichlid is extremely tolerant to wide range of environmental conditions, however water temperature should be kept around 70-75 °F (26 °C-28 °C) and the pH should be kept alkaline (6.8-7) while hardness can vary around 4-10. Regarding feeding, the Firemouth is an omnivore species that eats opportunistically in the wild, feeding on invertebrates, plant matter and very small fish. A complete diet with a variety of food types including flakes, pellets and frozen food would be ideal.
Firemouth cichlids are usually friendly to other tank-mates but can be extremely territorial, especially during the reproductive season. Moreover, they tend to harass smaller species, thus despite the fact that they are ideal for community tanks, they should be placed with species of the same size. When protecting their territory, they sometimes inflate an internal sack within their gills and reveal their red throat in order to scare the intruder, which constitutes an impressive display that can repel even the most aggressive cichlid species.
The colors of this amazing cichlid species get more vibrant when they are ready to breed. The breeding procedure commences when the male selects a territory, prepares it up by digging and cleaning the rocks, and starts a series of displaying movements in order to attract females. After bonding, the female lays around 300 eggs on the ground where they get fertilized by the male. Both parents protect aggressively the eggs and the couple stays together, forming a family bond which is most common for most substrate-spawners. Due to this strong bond, the best strategy to obtain robust partners is to begin with a group of very young fish and allow them to form pairs, separating them during the procedure. After fertilization, the eggs hatch within 3-4 days and fries become free swimming within 15-20 days. Despite being free swimming, the fries stay within the breeding territory, where parents provide food and shelter, making the Firemouth cichlid one of the few cichlid species that provide excessive parental care to young fries.
Being a robust and tough species, the Firemouth cichlid has been one of the most common and favourite cichlids among aquarists, being considered among the best options for aquarium beginners.