April 14

Firemouth Cichlid – Care, Feeding and Breeding guide


Firemouth Cichlid


Firemouths belong to the family of the cichlids, and they are known to be hardy and easy to care for. They are native to the shallow slowing-moving waters of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

They love to hide and burrow so it is essential to equip their tank with the appropriate items to help them live their normal lifestyle. They can grow up to a length of about 15cm hence a tank of around 57 liters capacity should be provided to keep one.

They tend to be faithful partners as one male sticks to one female without giving any other female attention. Plus, they are easy to breed and are yet wonderful parents. Firemouths will make a great addition to the home aquarium. But do they really breathe fire? This article takes you into discovering the lifestyle, behavior, feeding habits, and breeding trend of firemouth. Also, you will get to learn about the tank requirements and some other relevant aspects of this freshwater fish.

This Central American river fish known zoologically as the Thorichtys Meeki is a beautiful one with its sunny reddish-orange color.  Rivers of Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and the Peninsula of Yucata abound in this variety of fish, which is their natural habitat.  As the name suggests, this is a member of the Cichlidae fish family and is now found in Asian countries like the Philippines, Singapore, the Australian continent, and Israel as well primarily because of human intervention in spreading and nurturing this species. 

Owing to its vibrant red hue, this fish is very popular amongst fish breeders, and nurturing this fish and sale of the same is a common business.  The ideal habitats of this fish include the not-so-deep, slow-moving muddled water bodies, with pH levels ranging from 6.5 to 8.  These kinds of fish prefer warm waters with temperatures of about 75 degrees F to 86 degrees F.  They also are seen in cave waters.  The area under the jaw of this fish is a bright reddish-orange color thereby bringing the name of firemouth which is the name by which they are commonly known. The male species tend to be a tad bigger than the females, with their orange color being brighter than the females too.

The species breeds by laying eggs and the female species completely take care of the younger ones with considerable help from their male counterparts.  The Firemouths can be classified as semi-aggressive, and this peaks up to a large extent at the time of breeding.  They can stretch their jaws to about 6% distance, and hence, their prey is mostly those that can get close to them at that distance when they are in natural surroundings.  They grow to a minimum of about 17 cm and have a common life span of about 8 years.


The good thing about the FiremouthCichlid is that this is not at all a finicky eater.  They can eat anything from the common fish pellets that can be bought from the markets, and this is good enough for them, so there are no challenges in feeding them.  They get their essential minerals and vitamins with this food sufficient for balanced nutrition for them.  These fishes can also consume very small fish, so it is very important to ensure that they are not put in the same tank as these fish. 

Firemouths are more omnivorous in nature and like to eat smaller fish and shrimps as much as they like to eat fish food like pellets and flakes.  They love the frozen worms and larvae as well, so while trying to feed them, it is best to provide a combination of all these things to keep them happy.  Some vegetables like mashed cucumbers and cooked spinach would also be gulped down by them happily. 

They take small quantities of food many times a day like is normally advised for any healthy human!  So it is best to feed them now and then, and they will respond by coming over to eat what is being served indicating they are hungry.  Though these are not picky about foods, they do have a problem with digestion when they are fed with too much protein, so it is important to take care of the protein levels in the food that is being provided for them.  Levels of protein can be maintained at an optimum.


Interestingly these fish are a “one man one woman” type – biologically categorized as monogamous patterns.  The male members of this species take the lead when it comes to spawning.  They become darker in color, extend their gills and also the dorsal fins at the time of mating.  This also makes them look distinctly different from their female counterparts. They choose the ideal spot for the females to lay their eggs.  Utmost care is taken to ensure the spot is kind of secure and protected, like a flattened piece of rock, or under a slanting piece of board that can prove as a covered spot. 

 If they find leaves broad enough to hold the eggs, then that could also be a good spot.  At the time of breeding, it is advisable to provide them with some small flower pots turned upside down or with some polyvinyl chloride pipes which these fish can use as their egg-laying spots.  Another big help that these fish may require is a slight increase – maybe about a couple of degrees – in the temperature of the water as this helps them to breed easily.  Since they can become slightly aggressive beyond their normal nature, if there are other fish with them in the aquarium, it would be a good idea to put in something like a fence or a temporary wall between the Firemouths and the other fish.  In fact, they can even become aggressive to their own species, so extreme care has to be taken at this time.

The male fish also develop a darker red color at the time of mating, and this could be an indicator to take necessary steps like finding them a spot to feed them some healthy food or to even set up the divider in the tank.  Once the male fish identifies the spot, the female fish gets in there and starts the process by laying the eggs.  She is capable of laying close to 500 eggs in one go and can do so multiple times in a year.  When the female Firemouth is done with laying her eggs, the male fish gets there and spreads his semen over them- or the milt as it is commonly called.  The eggs that have been thus laid will take about 3 – 4 days to hatch.

The adult pair gets very active and protective. First and foremost, they move all of their just-born larvae to pits or protected areas.  The mother never leaves the side of the young larvae while the father keeps vigil in the area to ensure that nobody arrives to threaten his babies.  The extensions of their gills and the fins prove very beneficial at the time that the fish start getting protective as it gives them a scary look that helps keep the other fish away.

The firemouths are an exemplary sample of today’s nuclear family, and the mother and father try very hard to bring up their younger ones to the best of their abilities.  At this time, the young fish can be fed baby fish food.  They become active and start swimming around in about a couple of weeks, and the parents take care of their young ones until they are able to take care of themselves.  This is a very strong parenting trait that sets the FiremouthCichlid apart from most of the other species of fish.


While the size of the aquarium can depend on the number of fish that you will have, it is important to note that this species of fish prefers some extra space to move around.  The younger fish will need an aquarium that is at least 4 feet in size while the bigger ones may require something that is a minimum of 6 feet.  Since they need some shade or protective place at the time of spawning, it would be good to put in some clean flower pots that the fish can use as “caves” when they try to lay their eggs.  Some wooden sheets or slabs that are horizontally laid will also help the fish in finding places where they can safely lay their eggs. 

Dried or fresh leaves that have a big surface area and PVC pipes also can be added to create additional egg laying spaces.  However, it is very important to note that even after all these additions there has to be enough room for the fish to swim around easily as they do not seem to be species that like congestions. A lot of soft sand can be laid at the bottom of the aquarium, so it becomes easy for them to dig out spaces to protect the larvae when they arrive.  During breeding, since they become aggressive, it is better to keep them away from other fish by creating temporary walls or boundaries, so they can be on their own without creating ruckus in the aquarium. 

    The water quality in the aquarium should have lesser amounts of nitrate as these fish cannot survive in high nitrate content water.  So care should be taken to maintain these levels at a very minimal level that this does not disturb their existence.  Also, it is highly recommended to maintain the saline levels in the water at about 10% – the firemouths can put up with some salt, but not too much. This is because this fish has a freshwater habitat under natural conditions, so when put in an aquarium, it requires pretty much a similar ambiance. 

    Since they tend to dig up a lot of plants or sand layers, plants like Sagittaria are best suited as these can withstand a lot of damage the fish might put them to, and using potted plants in the aquarium is preferred to just digging them out in the open spaces of the aquarium.  More often than not, this species of fish tends to hide around, and it is imperative to create those kinds of hiding places, so they feel comfortable.

    For the lighting part of it, it would be good to maintain a normal amount – neither too high nor too low for the tank.  It would be good to ensure the flow is just right and changed at least weekly.  This fish tends to stay somewhere between the middle and the bottom of the tank, and that needs to be taken into account when arranging the aquarium. 


    As with humans, the key to treating diseases affecting the FiremouthCichlid is detecting them as soon as they occur. Keeping a close watch on them can help discern the most common ailments that may affect the fish.  Ich tops the list of troubles that a Firemouth can have.  This is the condition caused by Ichthyophthiriusmultifiliis, a parasite.  Developing white spots on the skin of the fish, slow or lazy movement in the tank and a suddenly reduced consumption pattern are the primary symptoms of this Ich.

    It could also be noticed that the fish tend to rub itself over objects in the tank in a way suggesting that there is an itching sensation. The bad part of this common disease is that this is highly contagious and more likely than not if one has it then they all have it.  An exhaustive treatment of the entire tank helps than getting the one fish out and treating it.  They may all need it, and it is best to treat the whole lot of them. 

     Now the good thing about the treatment is that it can be cured by either increasing the temperature of the water or by increasing the salt content.  Since Firemouths like warm saline waters and can survive in them, this seems to be the ideal way to treat them.  Adding some potassium permanganate into the water also helps the fish with its Ich problem.

    Another disease that can affect the fish is Gill Flukes – which is more like wheezing in humans. As the name suggests this affects the gills of the fish and tends to swell them up and create a layer of slimy membrane, thereby blocking the openings.  This makes it excruciatingly difficult for the fish to breathe and they start gasping for breath.  The best treatment for this is to treat the water in the aquarium with potassium permanganate.  This can also spread to the other fish, so the faster this is noticed and treated the better for a whole lot of the fish in the tank.

    Most fish get affected by bacteria and parasites when new objects are added to the tank.  So, to ensure that the Firemouths are not afflicted by any of them, the best prevention is to thoroughly ensure that the new objects are cleaned and investigated for any bacteria before they are added to the tank.  This way it can be ensured that they do not become carriers of the disease.  In case the fish are being purchased to start a family in the tank, then again, they can be scrutinized for diseases to ensure only healthy fish are added to the tank.


    Firemouths are not a category of very aggressive fish and can be ideal aquarium fish.  Since they have a monogamist mating pattern, very naturally they tend to be protective of their own family.  They develop gill extensions during the breeding period in an effort to set off other fish and protect themselves.  Since they like to live in families, the best way to keep them happy is to give them a lot of space so they can have demarcated boundaries between the various groups. 

    Under natural conditions, the firemouths tend to exist in their own territories, so if that can be duplicated in the tanks they live in, that would be an ideal scenario.  They also like to set up their own homes, and there can be some moving around that can be seen inside the tank. So when arranging plants or sand, this point has to be taken into consideration, and appropriate choices need to be made.  If induced to stress, the fish may not react favorably, so it is best to not create such stressful situations inside the tank where they are present.

    Aquarium mates

    The Firemouths are fishes that can be taken care of moderately easily.  The best idea for beginners is to purchase a pair of them and let them in a tank together.  When they breed, they can increase themselves, and this way they will be one family and a happy family all together.  On the other hand,  if adding fishes from another species, then care needs to be taken for the benefit of this species as well as the others. 

    Since they enjoy eating very tiny fish as well as shrimps, they needed to be added to the tank only if they are added with the sole purpose of feeding the fishes.  They cannot live in the same tank as the Firemouths, so they have no place in their tanks.  Lethargically moving fishes or the ones that can be intimidated easily like the angelfishes and dwarf cichlids are also not recommended to be included in talk of Firemouths. 

    South American Cichlids could be an ideal companion, but care has to be taken to ensure that they are of the same size as the Firemouth Cichlids, as otherwise, the fish-eating fish situation might still happen if they are of a smaller size.  Other fish that can be compatible with the Firemouths are glowlight, serpae, rummy nose and pictus catfish.  They are all peaceful fish and can co-exist with the Firemouths well.  The tank size is an important factor to be considered before adding companions to this species of fish.  At any point in time, they should not get claustrophobic as that can affect their overall health.


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