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Firemouth Cichlid: Everything You Need To Know

Firemouth Cichlid: Everything You Need To Know

If you want to introduce a colorful fish into your aquarium that’s great to watch and easy to look after, the Firemouth Cichlid is your best bet. It’s pretty popular among fish lovers and hobbyists, and you’ll have no trouble finding maintenance advice when you need it.

The Firemouth Cichlid originated from Central America and South America and is one of the most popular aquarium fish among pet fish owners. The name “Firemouth” comes from the red coloring that extends from the mouth of the fish to its underbelly. 

In this article, I will tell you all you need to know about owning and taking care of a Firemouth Cichlid. Let’s get started!

Firemouth Cichlid Overview

The Firemouth Cichlid, whose scientific name is Cichlasoma meeki, is a popular fish from the Cichlidae family. It is known for its bright coloring and aggressive behavior, but that doesn’t make it difficult to care for in a home aquarium.

The fish adds a lot of energy and excitement to the tank if you want something entertaining to watch. Let’s learn more about this unique fish.

  • Common name: Firemouth Cichlid
  • Scientific name: Cichlasoma meeki / Thorichthys meeki
  • Care level: Easy
  • Size: 6-8 inches (15-20 cm)
  • Life Span: Around 10 years
  • Temperament: Peaceful (aggressive during spawning)
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Minimum tank size: 30 gallons (113.6 liters)
  • Water temperature: 75-82 °F (24-28 °C)
  • Water pH: 6.5-8.0
  • Water hardness: 8-15 dGH

Natural Habitat and Distribution

The fish originally habited Central America, particularly the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican states of Veracruz, Tabasco, and Campeche. This map details the original distribution of this species across North America.

In the wild, the Firemouth Cichlid can be found naturally in slow-moving rivers, lakes, and streams. It is found in a variety of water conditions, ranging from clear to slightly salty, and prefers a pH level between 7.0 and 8.0.

Over time, the species has spread worldwide, primarily due to the aquarium trade, which has also resulted in a decline in its numbers in the wild. In some parts of Mexico, it has gone almost extinct due to over-collection and habitat destruction.

Appearance and Size

The Firemouth Cichlid gets its name from the orange and red coloring on its throat and mouth area, notably visible during breeding season or when the fish feels threatened. However, the coloring gradually darkens and disappears as the cichlid matures, and the grey and blue color on the fins becomes dominant.

It has a dark green or brown body with iridescent blue and green scales, and its fins are usually tipped in orange or red. They have distinctive long trailers on their dorsal fins, which make them reasonably easy to identify. 

Male and female Firemouth Cichlids have similar growth patterns and can reach lengths of 6-8 inches (15-20 cm), with males being slightly larger than females. The size of the fish can also be affected by the conditions in which it is kept, as well as the quality of care it receives. 

Due to their relatively small sizes, distinguishing juvenile cichlids from adults might be a little challenging. One way to tell them apart is by looking at the coloration and fin development. Juveniles also have shorter fins and less vibrant colors than adults and may be more active in the tank.  

Personality & Behavior

Firemouth Cichlids are peaceful tankmates, but they can also be territorial and very aggressive, especially during the breeding season and if the tank is small and doesn’t have enough hiding spots. 

They are also active in the tank, constantly swimming around, exploring their surroundings, and interacting with other fish and objects. They provide great entertainment if you like to sit in front of your aquarium and watch the fish.

Overall, different cichlids will have unique personalities, and their behavior can vary depending on the environment and tank mates they are kept with.

Firemouth Cichlid Life Span

The typical lifespan of a Firemouth Cichlid is around 10 years when they have the proper care. There have been some cases where this species has lived up to 15 years in captivity but this is a rarity.

To give your Firemouth Cichlid the best opportunity for a long and healthy life make sure you source them from a reputable breeder, provide them with their ideal environment, and provide them proper care.

Firemouth Cichlid Care & Tank Setup

Proper care and maintenance are essential for keeping Firemouth Cichlids healthy and happy in an aquarium. Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with this fish:

Tank Size

The Firemouth Cichlid requires a minimum tank size of at least 30 gallons (113.6 liters), although 50 gallons (189.3 liters) is ideal. It is crucial to provide enough space for the fish to swim and establish its territory and enough hiding places to reduce aggression.

The cichlid is known for its territorial behavior and can be aggressive towards other fish, particularly those of similar size and appearance. It is, therefore, essential to provide plenty of hiding places and territory for the fish in the tank to prevent aggressive behavior. 

It is also recommended to keep a reasonable number of Firemouth Cichlids per tank to provide the fish enough space for them to establish their territories.

Since the fish is originally from Central America, you can add some wood, rocks, plants, and sand into the tank. This makes it more homely for the fish to move freely in. 

Here is a YouTube tutorial on how to set up a good tank for cichlids: 

Water Parameters

The cichlid is adapted to a wide range of water conditions. They are hardy and quickly adapt to any water environment, provided you keep the parameters consistent.

The following are some of the optimum tank conditions for cichlids:

  • Water temperature: 75-82 °F (24-28 °C)
  • pH levels: between 6.5-8.0
  • Water hardness: 8-15 dGH

To maintain a water temperature between 75-82 °F, the Welomelo Submersible Fish Tank Heating Rod can help you maintain the water warm enough for the fish. This heating rod is simple to install and can be fully submerged in water without the risk of electrocution.

It is also recommended to use a water conditioner to remove chlorine and other contaminants from tap water before adding it to the tank.


Proper filtration is essential for maintaining a clean and healthy environment for the Firemouth Cichlid. 

It is advisable to use a high-quality filter that is appropriate for the size of the tank and can handle the waste produced by the fish. The AquaClear 50 Power Filter, is an excellent option. This filter is simple to use and can filter up to 50 gallons (189.3 liters) in a single pass.

Regular water changes are also necessary to remove excess waste and toxins from the tank.

Recommended Tank Plants & Decor

Firemouth cichlids are not schooling fish and prefer to create their territories. Include plants, rocks and driftwood in their tank so they have places to hide.

When choosing plants for your Firemouth Cichlid, make sure you pick hardy plants, as they like to dig things up and move them around the tank.

  • Plants: You can use either live plants or fake silk plants in the tank.  If you do decide to go with live plants, make sure they are a hardy variety and can handle rougher treatment and have strong roots. Cichlids like to dig things up and move them around the tank.
  • Rocks: Firemouth Cichlids love all types of rocks, as long as they can hide among them they are happy.
  • Driftwood:Create an intricate system of branches and roots, that your Firemouth Cichlid can explore throughout their habitat during the day.
  • Substrate: The ideal substrate for Firemouht Cichlids is sand. Despite being a freshwater fish, it is capable of withstanding brackish water conditions with a water salinity of 10%

If you’re unsure what brackish is, it’s a mixture of freshwater and saltwater, often found in estuaries where a river meets the sea. 

Best Tank Mates For Firemouth Cichlids

The Firemouth Cichlid is relatively peaceful but can also get territorial and aggressive towards other fish, especially those that are similar in size and appearance. It is crucial to choose tank mates carefully and avoid species that are likely to be aggressive or intimidated by the Firemouth Cichlid. 

You should also provide adequate tank space and plenty of hiding spots for the cichlid if you intend to introduce tankmates. This will effectively reduce the cichlid’s aggression and make the tank peaceful for all occupants. 

The best tankmates for Firemouth Cichlids are other cichlid species, such as:

  • Convict Cichlids: These are similar in size and temperament to Firemouths and are known to form pairs with the cichlids in the same environment.
  • Jack Dempsey Cichlids: These fish are slightly larger than Firemouths, but they are also relatively peaceful and can be kept together in a community tank.
  • Oscar Cichlids: Oscars are larger than Firemouth Cichlids, but they are also peaceful and can be kept with Firemouths as long as there is enough space in the tank.

Other than fellow cichlids, Firemouths can also be kept in an aquarium alongside Plecostomus, Swordtails, angelfish, Synodontis catfish, and tetras.

Food & Diet

In its natural setting, the Firemouth Cichlid is an omnivorous species that feeds on a diet of insects, small crustaceans, and plant matter. In an aquarium setting, it can be given a variety of foods, including flakes, pellets, freeze-dried foods, and live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Since they’re omnivorous, a good diet for the Firemouth Cichlid consists of both meaty and vegetable-based options. Examples of meaty foods include frozen or live brine shrimp, bloodworms, and small pieces of fish or shrimp. Vegetable-based options can include blanched spinach, lettuce, or zucchini. 

Try to feed them small portions of food two to three times a day. Take care not to give them too much food, as they can overeat and become overweight. 

To avoid contamination or decay, remove any uneaten leftovers from the water. You should also monitor the fish’s weight and overall health to ensure they receive an appropriate diet.

Breeding the Firemouth Cichlid

Firemouth Cichlids are relatively easy to breed in an aquarium setting as long as the proper conditions are provided. 

Here are some recommendations for breeding Firemouth Cichlids.

Provide a Spacious Tank

The Firemouth Cichlid is very territorial, especially during breeding. It is, thus, crucial to provide a spacious tank with plenty of hiding places for the fish to establish their breeding territories within the tank. This prevents them from fighting with other tankmates and gives them a more peaceful breeding environment.

Maintain Proper Water Conditions

The Firemouth Cichlid requires specific water conditions for breeding, including a pH level between 7.0 and 8.0 and a water temperature between 78 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 28 degrees Celsius). It is also important to maintain good water quality by performing regular water changes and using a high-quality filter.

Introduce a Single Male and Female

Firemouth Cichlids are monogamous, meaning a male cichlid will only mate with one female. You can encourage breeding by introducing only one of each in a tank to enable them to bond and reproduce. 

Alternatively, you can have the cichlids in equal numbers of males and females to allow them to pair up for reproduction. 

Provide Appropriate Nesting Sites

The male Firemouth Cichlid will build a nest where the female will lay her eggs. It is critical to provide suitable nesting sites, such as flat rocks or plants, to encourage the male to build a nest. It’s also essential to provide plenty of hiding spaces since the male cichlids become very aggressive when guarding the nests during breeding.

Trigger Spawning

The Firemouth Cichlid is triggered to breed by a change in water conditions, such as a drop in pH level or an increase in water temperature. To trigger spawning, You can simulate these conditions by performing a partial water change with slightly acidified water or by slightly increasing the water temperature.

Care for the Eggs and Fry

Once the female has laid her eggs in the nest, the male will guard the nest and fan the eggs with his fins to oxygenate them. It is vital to keep the tank peaceful and quiet during this time to reduce stress on the fish. 

After fertilization, the eggs hatch within 10-15 days, and the cichlid nurses the babies in her mouth for two weeks before releasing them into the tank to fend for themselves. You can then begin feeding the fry a diet of newly-hatched brine shrimp or other suitable foods.

Breeding the Firemouth Cichlid is relatively easy and rewarding if you do everything right. Watching the fingerlings grow is fun, but you might want to take some of them and distribute them to other tanks to avoid overcrowding.

Common Health Issues and Prevention

Firemouth Cichlids are a hardy and adaptable species, but that doesn’t make them immune to infections. If the fish isn’t properly taken care of, it can fall ill and even die. The most common diseases for cichlids include:

  • Skin flukes: These are parasitic flatworms that attach to the skin and fins of fish and cause itching and irritation. They can make the fish more timid and lethargic. You can avoid this by maintaining high water quality and using a parasite treatment.
  • Fungal infections: These are caused by fungi that thrive in warm, stagnant water. They can be avoided by maintaining good water quality, maintaining a stable water temperature, and using an antifungal medication in the water.
  • Bacterial infections: These are caused by bacteria that thrive in dirty water or as a result of fish having open wounds. They can be prevented by maintaining good water quality, keeping the tank clean, or using antibiotic medication.
  • Parasitic infections: They are caused by parasites such as ich, velvet worms, and anchor worms. They can be avoided by maintaining high water quality, providing adequate tank space to prevent overcrowding, and using a parasite treatment in the water.

Should You Get Firemouth Cichlids in Your Aquarium: Factors To Consider

Before you decide to add the Firemouth Cichlids to your aquarium, you must be adequately prepared to take good care of them. Fish are a fragile species, and any sort of negligence isn’t welcome in fishkeeping. 

 Here are some factors to help you decide whether you’re prepared for the task:

  • Tank size: Firemouth Cichlids can grow to be around 6 inches long, so you should have about 50 gallons (189.3 liters) of tank space. Adequate space is necessary to keep this fish, and it’s better to be safe and provide more space than necessary than less than enough.
  • Tankmates: Before adding this fish to your aquarium, ensure the other tankmates are compatible to avoid problems. Firemouth Cichlids can be very aggressive if they don’t like their tankmates, and you don’t want to keep the fish in a toxic environment.
  • Experience level: You should have some experience dealing with fish before getting the Firemouth Cichlids in your aquarium. If you have yet to gain prior experience, you should be willing to learn from books or YouTube. The Cichlid Bros is a great channel dedicated to all things Cichlids. 
  • Water conditions: Ensure you have all the necessary equipment needed to take care of cichlid fish. This includes a tank, a water filter, and appropriate heating equipment. This will give your fish the best conditions to ensure they feel comfortable.
  • Feeding: Know where to source food for the fish and how to ration it. You can quickly learn this from YouTube or magazines, and it will take you only a short time to catch the drift. Feeding is a crucial part of keeping fish, and you should have a schedule that allows you to feed the cichlids properly.
  • Maintenance: Be prepared to do regular maintenance and care of the tank and the fish. Owning fish is more work than just watching them swim; if you’re not ready for the maintenance work, you might not be prepared to have the Firemouth Cichlid.

Firemouth Cichlid FAQs

How many Firemouth Cichlids should you keep together?

Firemouth Cichlids thrive together when they are in a pair. For a pair, you will need to ensure you have a 30-gallon tank.

Are Firemouth Cichlids aggressive?

Firemouth Cichlids are peaceful tankmates, but they can also be territorial and very aggressive, especially during the breeding season and if the tank is small and doesn’t have enough hiding spots

What Cichlids can go with Firemouth Cichlids?

Cichlids that can go with Firemouth Cichlids are:
Convict Cichlids: These are similar in size and temperament to Firemouths and are known to form pairs with the cichlids in the same environment.
Jack Dempsey Cichlids: These fish are slightly larger than Firemouths, but they are also relatively peaceful and can be kept together in a community tank.
Oscar Cichlids: Oscars are larger than Firemouth Cichlids, but they are also peaceful and can be kept with Firemouths as long as there is enough space in the tank.

Do Firemouth Cichlids breed easily?

Firemouth cichlids are known to breed quite effortlessly in captivity and typically mate without any interference from the fish keeper. However, it is important to provide them with a nutrient-rich diet to ensure they are in optimal condition for breeding. Consistent and regular water changes should also be maintained to guarantee a healthy and stable environment for the breeding process.

Why do Firemouth Cichlids puff up?

Male Firemouth Cichlids will often puff and flare their gills to exert dominance. This is a natural instinct designed to intimidate and chase off other males who are seeking mates within their territory.

Wrapping Up

Overall, the Firemouth Cichlid is a beautiful and interesting fish species that can make an excellent addition to a fish keeper’s home aquarium. They’re lovely and colorful and add a flair of life to the tank. They’re also lively and entertaining to watch if you enjoy sitting in front of your tank.

This fish can thrive in an aquarium with proper care and attention and live a happy and healthy life. In case of any problem, you can always consult a fish expert or a vet.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...