South American & Central American Cichlids



There are somewhere between 2000 to 3000 species of cichlids some of which have become popular for fish keepers across the world. The most popular cichlids kept in the hobby either belong to South and Central America or the Rift Valley Lakes in Africa. The 2 types of fish should never be mixed together in the same tank for they don’t share the same water parameters and they don’t share the same behaviours. The cichlids of South and Central America are territorial rather than aggressive, where as African cichlids are both, American cichlids prefer softer more acidic water compared to the African cichlids who prefer hard alkaline water, there are just some of the reasons. American cichlids bring their own uniqueness to your aquarium and are widely available in most LFS. Some American cichlids prefer to be in groups, others in pairs and yet others due to their size should be kept at 1 specimen. Below is a list of some of the most popular cichlids form the Americas.

 Pterophyllum scalare / Anglefish – Anglefish have become extremely popular in the aquarium trade due to their unique and beautiful body shape and the colours they are available in. Angelfish have an angular body almost like a pentagon with barbels extending from under the pectoral fins and the anal fin. The dorsal fin also features an extension though not as prominent. Angelfish actually get to be quiet big and due to their shape it’s not just the length you have to consider, but the hight also as the extended barbels can give the fish a total hight of over 20cm with a length of around 15cm. They like to be kept in groups and are generally peaceful for a cichlid making them ideal for community tanks, however, small fish such as neon tetras may become food for adult angelfish.

Given their eventual adult size you should consider a tank hight of at least 60cm to give fish room to manoeuvre especially given they like to be kept in a heavily planted tank consisting of tall plants. Popular varieties of Angelfish include: Black Angelfish / Koi Angelfish / Silver Angelfish / Gold Angelfish.


Size: Length = 15cm/6inches Height = 20cm/6inches // Temperature: 24C’-29C’

PH: 6-7.5 // Aquarium Size: 55ImperialGallons (250L) for a group of 3, bigger for bigger groups

Difficulty: Beginner

 Thorichthys meek / Firemouth Cichlid – Firemouths are one of the easiest cichlids (and coolest) to keep thus making them suitable for beginners and advanced aquarists. So called because of the red colouring under the mouth and gills which is more prominent in adult males of the species. During mating the males inflate the red area of the throat and make an aggressive display to scare away any rival males or other fish getting too close. This is usually a bluff and these fish are pretty peaceful for a cichlid otherwise.

The firemouth is one of the smaller American cichlids around 17cm in adult size, usually smaller in aquariums and they prefer to have some live plants and plenty of hiding spaces, like most cichlids they like to dig! So providing a soft substrate such as sand or fine gravel will cater for their needs. Make sure any live plants are in pots or are protected so they are not dug up and/or damaged. These fish are best kept in sexed pairs 1Male to 1Female in smaller set ups of 25ImperialGallons at least or 1M to 2-3F in set ups of 50ImperialGallons or more. If planing on keeping more than 1Male a much larger tank should be considered due to territorial and spawning aggression.


Size: Length = 17cm/7inches(usually only 15cm)  // Temperature: 24C’-30C’

PH: 6.5-8.5 // Aquarium Size: 25ImperialGallons (114L) for a sexed pair, much larger for groups

Difficulty: Beginner

 Archocentrus nigrofasciatus / Convict Cichlid – So called because of the black vertical stripes running along the length of their body. Another one of the smaller American cichlids, convicts only reach about 15cm in aquaria though they develop pretty stocky bodies in adulthood. Don’t be fooled by their smaller size however, these fish are extremely territorial especially when it comes to breeding! Convicts should only be kept with similar sized and similarly aggressive American cichlids such as Jack Dempsey and Blue Acara or in a species only tank. They are also some of the easiest fish to breed and they will reproduce readily in your tank given their water is kept clean. Like the firemouth, these fish should be kept in sexed pairs or 1Male to 2-3Females.



Size: Length = 15cm/6inches // Temperature: 24C’-30C’

PH: 6.5-8.5 // Aquarium Size: 44ImperialGallons (200L) for a sexed pair

Difficulty: Beginner

 Cichlasoma octofasciatum / Jack Dempsey – Jacks are some of the largest cichlids in the hobby and certainly have an attitude but they are not the most aggressive cichlid either. Due to their large size (25cm) they are best kept as a single specimen in tank with other similarly aggressive and sized American cichlids unless you want to keep a sexed pair for breeding purposes then they should be kept in a tank all to their own as they will become extremely aggressive to other tank mates. The adult fish have beautiful colouring and patterns with hints of purple and fluorescent blue, Jacks like a good water flow so make sure you adjust your filter to provide plenty of water movement.

Size: Length = 25cm/10inches // Temperature: 24C’-30C’

PH: 6.5-8.5 // Aquarium Size: 44ImperialGallons (200L) for a single fish

 Astronotus ocellatus / Oscar – Oscars get to be huge! Growing up to 35cm in length with a pretty stocky body too. To keep these fish long term you have to be one of the lucky ones who have space and finances for a massive aquarium, oscars need a tank size of around 380Liters when they reach adulthood but juveniles can be kept in a 120Liters aquarium but will soon need re-homing. These are beautiful fish with fiery red/orange and black marking all over the body. They are also quiet a character and are known for recognising their owner and bonding with you the way other fish can’t, if there ever is a pet fish in the way we consider cats and dogs pets, the oscar is it. Provide plenty of oxygen using air-stones in the tank as they prefer slow moving water, if mixing with other cichlids consider a tank size of 400Liters or more.


Size: Length = 35cm/14inches (usually around 30cm) // Temperature: 21C’-26C’

PH: 6.5-7.5 // Aquarium Size: 84ImperialGallons (380L) for a single fish

Difficulty: Beginner

 Heros severus / Severums – Another commonly kept species from American cichlids are the Severum family. They are usually the same colour overall with juveniles having vertical stripes along the length of the body that fade as the fish grow. Similar in shape to Discus, Severums are more plain in colour and often easier to care for, not to mention they are much cheaper to purchase than Discus. They don’t grow too large either (20cm) and will make a great addition to a South American set up provided you keep up with tank maintenance. Avoid keeping this fish with overly aggressive tank mates.

Popular varieties: Golden Severum – Green Severum.


Size: Length = 20cm/8inches // Temperature: 24C’-28C’

PH: 6-6.5 // Aquarium Size: 38ImperialGallons (170L) for a single fish, much larger for pairs and groups

Difficulty: Intermediate

 Cleithracara maronii / Keyhole Cichlid – One of the smallest and least aggressive cichlids available in the hobby! Keyhole cichlids are in fact often shy and should not be kept with aggressive cichlids, Angelfish and some peaceful community fish make for great tank mates for Keyholes. Provide plenty of plants and hiding places so they feel secure. The colours on this fish are usually plain grey/silver with a black patch over the eyes and a black spot towards the tail under the dorsal fin; Adult fish can develop faded shades of yellow on the body and red on the throat. Keyholes are one of the easier species to breed provided suitable tank mates and good water conditions. Best kept in small groups of 1Male to 2-3Females.

Size: Length = 12cm/4.7inches // Temperature: 22C’-28C’

PH: 4-7 // Aquarium Size: 35ImperialGallons (160L) for a sexed pair or group of 1M to 2-3F

Difficulty: Beginner

 Aequidens puncher / Blue Acara – This is a truly beautiful fish with adult fish displaying electric blue colouring often with a yellow tip on the dorsal fin. Other colour variations are found ranging between electric blue and a greyish blue. These fish are actually relatively peaceful for their size and are best kept with other less aggressive cichlids (Angelfish and Discus) and some catfish such as the Cory Catfish. Keeping a pair is ideal as they will pair for life and display interesting breeding and mating behaviour! A tank size of 120Liters should be the absolute minimum considered for a pair.

Size: Length = 20cm/8inches // Temperature: 22C’-28C’

PH: 6.5-78 // Aquarium Size: 27ImperialGallons (120L) for a sexed pair

Difficulty: Beginner