Firemouth Cichlid Species Information, Tank Mates & More

Playing with fire might sound dangerous but if you are looking to light up your aquarium then the Firemouth Cichlid could be the perfect spark.

These swimming flames of color are native to Central America and are sure to add some color to any tank.

However, you need to undertake a lot of planning if you want your Cichlids to thrive. In this article we will cover tank mates, ideal tank conditions, breeding and much more.

So keep reading to understand how to care for the Firemouth Cichlid…

Firemouth Cichlid

Overview

A Firemouth

The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is best known for their fire red throats and underside.

They come from the Cichlidae family and were first discovered in 1918.

Firemouths live for approximately 8-10 years and they can be found for around $7-$10 per specimen.

These fish are semi-aggressive so you will need to be careful when picking tank mates. They are fairly hardy though and do not require very large tanks. A clean tank, stable water parameters, and a suitable diet will keep them healthy.

Interestingly these fish are often used in behavioral studies. In a key study in 1996 it was found that their display patterns are flexible and can change to be more effective in different environments.

Overall the Firemouth Cichlid is a very unique fish which requires some experience to keep them.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Intermediate.
  • Nicknames: Firemouths.
  • Color Forms: Fiery red throats with a bluish-grey body.
  • Size: 5-6 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 30+ gallons.
  • Tank Temperature: 75°F-86°F.
Pros

  • Stunning colors and unique appearance
  • Very simple dietary needs
  • Fast growing
Cons

  • Prone to common fish infections
  • Can be aggressive at times
  • Need to have sandy substrate
  • Should not be kept with other territorial fish

Appearance

Thorichthys meeki

Firemouth Cichlids are notorious for their bright red throats.

Their bodies tend to be a bluish/grey tone but color differences across the body tend to blend in as a gradient rather than manifest as strict boundaries of color. This metallic grey tone will shimmer all throughout your tank, but the main focus is the striking red underside which without a doubt is hard to ignore.

Some have black vertical or lateral bars running along the body which is actually common with lots of Cichlids. The bands tend to start behind the eyes and continue to the caudal fin.

As juveniles they tend to be a lighter grey/olive tone.

Once fully matured this fish will be 5-6 inches long.

This species has spiny rays towards the ends of their dorsal, pectoral, anal and pelvic fins. The foremost part of these fins are much softer which helps them swim. Fins are often spotted with turquoise and there can also be some red along the edges of the dorsal fins and black along the pelvic and anal fins.

Some other characteristics of Firemouth Cichlids are their sharp sloped heads, a compressed lateral body, and an extra set of pharyngeal teeth.

Males tend to have a brighter shade of the red-orange coloration with longer fin rays. Dorsal and anal fins will be more sharply pointed in comparison to females but can sometimes be slightly less distinctive. This is most likely to increase reproductive potential to attract females as well as ward off intruders and establish territory.

Females tend to have larger and rounder bellies as well as a noticeably blunt genital papilla.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Firemouth Swimming

These tropical fish are often found in warm rivers and streams around Central America. These waters are muddy and sandy.

Their natural habitats often have slow moving water, and the fish tend to occupy lower regions of the water layers, often surrounding themselves with vegetation. Firemouth Cichlids also tend to surround themselves with larger fish and other marine life for protection in habitats such as sunken cave systems. This may be quite surprising as they are not considered to be the most social fish of all.

In the wild light conditions will vary since it depends on how much light reaches the rivers. Muddy rivers will be murkier with lower light intensity levels compared to rivers with fine and sandy sediment.

Ideal Tank Set Up

Let’s start with the ideal tank size.

You will need at least a 30 gallon aquarium for a Firemouth Cichlid and an additional 10 gallons for each extra Firemouth. These fish need plenty of space to swim around.

The water temperature should be somewhere between 75°F to 86°F, with a medium flow, and pH levels between 6.5 and 8.0. These fish are very sensitive to water changes so do not attempt to make any drastic changes or it could be detrimental to their health.

Filtration is key to keeping this fish healthy so make sure to invest in a good water filtration system to remove any toxic (often nitrogenous) compounds that accumulate in the tank. There are many filters that are suitable for different budgets. Lava rocks are an additional feature that are considered helpful to remove nitrite and ammonia.

Another key part of their set up is the substrate.

Fine and soft sandy substrate is recommended for Firemouth Cichlids as it prevents nasty injuries such as nicks and scratches when they play.

Since they are territorial they like to surround themselves with natural crevices and hiding spots. It is important to decorate your tank with driftwood, plants and other features that allow them to mark out their territories.

Natural plants also help to mark up territory and remove toxic compounds.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 30 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater Planted
Temperature 75-86°F
pH 6.5-8.0
Hardness 8-15 dGH
Flow Medium
Substrate Soft and sandy

Tank Mates

Firemouth Cichlid Close Up

Firemouth Cichlids are normally quite peaceful but if provoked, they can become quite aggressive very quickly.

In the wild they are often spotted with other Cichlids such as: Thorichthys pasionis, Astatheros robertsoni and Petenia splendida. A good general rule to follow is avoid any fish larger than a Firemouth and also any fish which a Firemouth could eat.

Some of the best Firemouth Cichlid tank mates are:

  • Clown Pleco
  • Rainbow fish
  • Cory Catfish
  • Upside down Catfish
  • Swordtails
  • Platies
  • Blue Acara
  • Convict Cichlids
  • Rosy Barbs
  • Black Skirt and Rummy Nose Tetras
  • Loaches (avoid very small ones)

Because they are omnivores you should generally avoid crustaceans such as shrimp, snails and other small invertebrates.

You should also avoid Bettas, Dwarf Cichlids and Angelfish.

Smaller fish species such as the Kuhli Loach should also be avoided as Firemouths have been known to chase them around and even eat them.

Also remember that American and African Cichlids are not compatible.

Keeping Firemouth Cichlids Together

If you are going to keep Firemouth Cichlids together you need to keep an equal ratio of males to females.

These fish are monogamous which means they only stick to one partner for life.

If you notice the males being aggressive and puffing their gills it means you do not have an equal ratio.

Care

Firemouth Cichlid Mating Pair

Firemouth Cichlids are susceptible to common bacterial and fungal infections.

Gill Flukes are a type of parasitic disease that can be potentially life-threatening if not detected and treated early. Symptoms are red spots, clamped fins and bad-looking gills.

Another common disease they suffer from is Ich.

This is a parasitic disease that appears as white spots on the fins and gills and may cause them to stop eating. Other symptoms include: gasping for air and rubbing against objects in the tank. It is easily treatable and one way to deal with Ich is to increase the temperature ever so slightly. There are medical options too.

All of these conditions are made worse if the tank is dirty. Make sure that the water conditions are up to their standard, the tank is cleaned regularly, and they are being fed and maintained properly.

Another great way to avoid infection is to simply quarantine any new fish before adding them to your tank. It will require an extra tank, but it is worth the hassle. If there are no signs of infection after 4 weeks, it is safe to add them to the main tank.

Diet

These fish are natural omnivores so they will eat: algae, small invertebrates, organic detritus, and small crustaceans.

In the wild Firemouth Cichlids often surround themselves with flora and like to nibble on algae which is why it is useful to have live plants in your tank. This is also the reason why snails and shrimp do not make good tank mates as they are more likely to turn into food than friends.

Their varied diet can be replicated in many ways in the tank through offering them an assortment of dried, frozen and live food.

For a good source of protein you can give them live worms (white worms and tubifex worms), mosquito larvae, algae and other small invertebrates. Crustaceans like copepods and water fleas are a fantastic treat. Vegetables such as cucumber and spinach make great options too.

Nutritious pellets and flakes are also suitable for Firemouth Cichlids.

You should feed them two portions throughout the day. The portion size should be small enough so that the Cichlids can eat within three minutes or less.

With a proper diet the weight of a cichlid can easily be regulated (on average they weigh about 99 grams).

Just as a word of warning. It is common for them to not eat as much when they are first introduced into a new tank. It is important to let their timid phase pass – you do not need to do anything or rush anything. They will get used to the new tank and will be eating normally in no time.

Behavior

Firemouths are most commonly spotted in the middle of the tank and will occasionally visit the rocks and plants at the substrate. They do also like to dig around the substrate so you may also find them lurking at the bottom of the tank sometimes.

These fish are not schooling fish and like to venture solo in the wild. They might surround themselves with other fish, but they prefer to search for places of their own and mark their territory. Additionally, once they find a mate they stick with them for life.

Firemouth Cichlids are semi-aggressive.

If they are left alone then they are tranquil, however when it comes to the breeding season males can become very competitive.

Males are notorious for one thing: their bright red-orange throats which they puff out when asserting dominance. This behavior is likely to be more common during the breeding season, so this is one thing to look out for if you are looking to breed your Cichlids.

They also tend to get aggressive over territory.

Females are naturally less aggressive but this can change when it comes to protecting their eggs.

Breeding

Firemouth Cichlids are monogamous and will form nuclear families so if you decide to breed them you will need to establish a pair.

To get a compatible pair you will either have to buy them together or introduce a number of fish in the tank and allow them to find their own partner. To increase breeding success you should increase the temperature by several degrees and keep the pH of the water neutral.

Rounder bellies are one way to tell if a female cichlid is pregnant. Females also like to clean rocks and surfaces before laying eggs too.

Females will lay 100-500 eggs and they prefer to do this on flat surfaces. Rocks often make a great choice and help to catch the eggs as they are released. Once the eggs are released they get fertilized by the males and are looked after by both parents until they hatch around 48 hours later.

Firemouths make outstanding parents.

In the wild the females will hunt for food to feed the fry whilst the males guard the nests.

History and First Sighting

Firemouth Cichlids were first discovered in 1918 by Walter Brind. Their scientific name, Thorichthys meeki, is attributed to Seth Eugene Meek an American ichthyologist.

Not much is known about how this species became so popular.

Since the 1950s their popularity began to rise and with this they have accidentally been introduced into non-native waters by aquarium release.

Firemouth Cichlids were spotted in Florida waters in the 1960s and the 1970s. It is possible that introductions were due to escapes or releases from fish farms. One of the first recorded Firemouths in non-native waters was observed in Oahu in 1940.

These species are often found inhabiting human-modified habitats such as drainage canals, rocky pools and rock quarries in the United States.

They are considered to be an invasive species and are known to destroy certain plants.

Species Summary Table

Firemouth Cichlid
Other Common Names: Firemouths
Scientific Name: Thorichthys meeki
Family Name: Cichlidae
Distribution: Central America
Size: 5-6 inches
Color: Bright red-orange ventral area with bluish/grey body
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Lifespan: 8-10 years
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Tetras, Catfish, Swordtails and some Cichlids

Final Thoughts

Firemouth Cichlids make the perfect companion and deciding to take these charming creatures home is sure to be perfect.

Caring for them is simple.

All you need is a hygienic tank, very good water quality and lots of decorations to stimulate their natural curiosity.

You also will have to give them suitable tank mates. Make sure you choose suitable non-aggressive species that are not too big or too small. This avoids the possibility of your Cichlid eating other fish or being eaten.

Do you keep these magnificent blazes of fire in your aquarium?

Let us know in the comments sections below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.