Firemouth Cichlid 101: Care, Tank Mates, Diet & More

As the name suggests, these fish might make you a bit hot under the collar! They are hard work to care for, and definitely a no-no for beginners. Despite their turbulent ways though, they are well loved in the aquarium community because of their exquisite coloring and lively character. There will never be a dull moment in your tank with firemouth cichlids. If you want to know more about this controversial fish, then keep reading to find out more.

Firemouth Cichlid Basics

The firemouth cichlids is native to South and Central America, and they live in warm, slow moving rivers throughout the year. Although they can live with other firemouths, they don’t like schooling and will instead create their own space. This species is very hardy in their natural habitat and in the wild. Their hardiness works well for hobbyists, but not as well in other environments.

Firemouths are considered an invasive species in North America, because they have a negative effect on fauna populations and native fish. The main problems are predation and the competition for resources. The combination of easy adaptation, trophic opportunism, their hardiness, and a fast growth rate makes the firemouth both a blessing and a curse.

Size: Up to 7 inches

Lifespan: 8-10 years, but they have been known to live up to 15 years.

Temperament: Slightly aggressive and very territorial, during spawning season, this behavior gets worse. Firemouths are very territorial in general, they don’t like it when other fish invade their space. However, when they are housed in the right conditions, they can be peaceful.

Firemouth Cichlid Basics

What do Firemouth Cichlids Look Like

One of the reasons why firemouth cichlids are tolerated by hobbyists is because of their stunning appearance. They are clothed in an array of eye popping colors; the majority of their body is covered in a pearlescent turquoise, while along the bottom it’s a bright red. The same bright red color runs from their mouth to the top of their stomach. There are several gray and black bands running across the body. Their fins are covered in the most brilliant turquoise spots, and the dorsal fins have got red edges.

The females are not as bright, and their genital papilla is blunt. Males have sharp, pointed anal and dorsal fins. However, this trait is more distinctive in some male fish than others.

Tank Conditions for Firemouth Cichlids

These freshwater fish are used to warm temperatures, so you’ll need to purchase a good heater. It is also advised that you get a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature of the water. You don’t want the water to get too hot or too cold.

If you have high maintenance live plants, you’ll need a CO2 set up. If you don’t plan on putting live plants into your tank though, then the fish won’t need carbon dioxide.

Firemouths can live with either live or silk plants. Nevertheless, if you plan on getting live plants, they’ll need to be the hardier type. You will also need to make sure that their root surfaces are protected.

Add plenty of rocks to the tank as well, because these fish love them. It doesn’t matter what type of rocks they are, large or small, rough or smooth, as long as the fish have somewhere to hide, they are not fussy. If you can’t get hold of any good rocks, you can use driftwood instead. Just create tent-like structures with the branches and roots that the fish can swim through.

Firemouth cichlids prefer sandy substrates, not only do they like to burrow, but once they’ve successfully spawned they also place their fry in the sand.

Water Conditions: Water hardness is not important to firemouths, but pH and temperature is essential. Additionally, keep the nitrite nitrates, and ammonia as close to 0 ppm as possible. One of the benefits of adding live plants to the tank is that it helps keep nitrate levels low. Keeping the right water conditions, as well as following weekly tank maintenance, will ensure that your fish thrive in their environment.

Water Temperature: Firemouths originate from a warm climate, and so they prefer to live in warm water. To ensure that your fish are comfortable, keep the temperature in the tank between 70-75 degrees F.

Water pH: Firemouths prefer to live in water that is slightly acidic. The pH range should be between 6.0-7.5.

Hardness: As mentioned, water hardness is not important for firemouth cichlids. Anything between 4-10 KH is fine.

Plants for Firemouth Cichlids

Plants for Firemouth Cichlids

Tank Lighting: Lighting will depend on the plants you have in the tank, the lights must be able to support the ones you have. If there are no plants though, then any type of lighting will do.

Tank Size: Your tank should be a minimum of 30 gallons, it should be double this size if you intend on keeping the fish in a community. You can house firemouths in tall or long tanks, but in general they tend to do better in long tanks. A larger tank will give them the space they need to create their own territories and relax. Basically, they are more peaceful when they are in larger tanks.

Tank Filtration: With firemouths, there are no specifics for a filtration system, just make sure you invest in a good one. It should be able to manage several fish and a large tank.

Tank Mates: There are several fish that make good tank mates for firemouths. As long as they’re not aggressive and stay to themselves, and the tank is big enough to house them, they’ll all get along just fine. Here is a list of some of the most suitable tank mates for firemouth cichlids:

Swordfish: This species makes the perfect community fish, they are very peaceful, and they can be friendly. They interact with other fish during the day, and prefer to swim at the top of the water. Although swordfish don’t shoal, they like the company of other fish. They are known to display aggression when there are several males in the tank, though this is because of their territorial nature. However, you can keep the peace by having more females than males in the tank.

Kuhli loach: This species is very attractive, but they don’t like attention, they prefer to remain behind the scenes. You won’t see much of them during the day, they go into hiding and stay out of the way of other fish. They come out when the sun goes down and look for food at the bottom of the tank. As long as they’re not bothered by other fish, kuhlis are peaceful and get on well with their tank mates.

Platies: Aquarists love platys because they’re easy to look after and beautiful to look at. They make great community fish because they get on so well with their tank mates. They are very sociable and playful, and don’t show aggression towards other species. However, you will see them fight amongst themselves at times, the males are known to get aggressive towards each other, and will have a rough and tumble in the tank, but it’s generally nothing to worry about.

Peacock Cichlids: Peacocks are not as aggressive as other cichlids, but they’re still territorial and they’ll need some space. They are very active, and enjoy spending their time at the bottom of the tank where they rifle through the sand looking for prey. These are one of the few cichlids you can house with other cichlids. However, if you plan on having more than one, make sure there are more females than males to avoid any confrontation.

Cory catfish: Everyone loves corys because they have such a sweet nature. They are very peaceful and stay to themselves, you’ll find them at the bottom of the tank taking a nap, or looking for food.

Pictus catfish: This species is probably one of the most versatile, due to their exceptionally peaceful nature. They don’t want to be bothered, and neither do they bother other fish. Most of their time is spent at the bottom of the tank where they can hide. Pictus catfish are most comfortable when they’re out of sight. However, although they’re shy, they’re also very active. When there’s any action taking place in the tank, they’ll be the first out of their hiding place to see what’s going on.

Clown pleco: The clown pleco is a peaceful species, they are not interested in other fish and would rather spend their time alone. They spend most of their time at the bottom of the aquarium looking for food. Clown plectos will only show aggression when there’s more than two males, because they get territorial. So it’s best not to house more than one male in a tank.

Bristlenose pleco: These are docile, relaxed fish who like to spend the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank. They don’t swim much during the day, and don’t pay much attention to the other fish in the tank. Bristlenoses enjoy hiding in dark spots and relaxing in caves. They are most active during the night, when they swim around and look for food.

Rummy nose tetra: Rummy nose tetras are gentle and passive, they are not going to cause any trouble in the tank. They enjoy swimming in groups as they make their way around the tank. These tetras spend most of their time in the middle of the tank.

What to Feed Firemouth Cichlids

Firemouth cichlids will eat the majority of foods you can give them because they are an omnivore species. However, they do prefer meaty foods, but will eat frozen, freeze-dried, and live foods. In general they will eat any of the following:

  • Brine shrimp
  • Quality flakes
  • Tubifex
  • Cichlid pellets
  • Bloodworms
  • Ocean plankton

It is important to mention that some hobbyists have reported that live foods cause intensified aggression in firemouths. Apparently, they chase other fish and fin nip when on a live diet. Since there are no scientific studies to prove that this is the case, if you do choose to feed your firemouths live food, pay close attention to their behavior.

Breeding Firemouth Cichlids

Firemouth cichlids are rare breeds for several reasons, and one of them is that unlike most fish, they are very good parents. The male and female will both care for their fry throughout the spawning process and beyond. If you want to observe this process, you’ll need to have flat rocks and sand in your aquarium. The females will prepare the rocks by cleaning them, and then lay her eggs on them, this can be anything from 100-500. The parents will dig protective pitches in the sand, and once the fry are hatched, lay them in there. Depending on the environment, they may dig several pits and keep moving the fry until they mature.

You can feed the fry powdered pellets, finely crushed flakes, infusoria, and newly-hatched brine shrimp. After a few weeks, the fry will go off on their own and become dependent. Because of their dependent nature, firemouths can spend the year raising several broods. Therefore, to prevent your tank from becoming overcrowded, you will need to be intentional about spawning. If more spawning takes place than you would like, you can either take the eggs out of the tank, or sell them once they’ve matured.

Breeding Firemouth Cichlids

Complications With Firemouth Cichlids

Freshwater aquarium fish are prone to a number of diseases, but cichlids are particularly susceptible to several conditions. Here are the most common:

Malawi Bloat: This disease is characterized by discolored feces, a lack of appetite, rapid breathing, a swollen abdomen, and loitering at the bottom of the tank. If the condition is not treated in time, it can lead to kidney and liver damage. Once Malawi bloat has gotten to this point, your fish won’t survive for more than three days. There is a lot of discrepancy about the cause of the disease; however, it is suspected that the disease is caused by a protozoan within the intestines. A decline in water conditions can affect the fish’s emotional wellbeing, which causes the protpzoans to multiply and start causing problems.

To treat the condition, the first thing you’ll need to do is change the tank water and give them a large dose of Metronidazole. Before starting the treatment, you’ll need to take out the activated carbon from the filter.

Cotton Wool Disease: Cotton wool disease is easy to spot because as the name suggests, you’ll notice fuzzy white balls on the head, scales, and fin of your firemouths that look like cotton wool. The disease is caused by bad water conditions, the fungus isn’t the problem, it lives in the aquarium without causing any problems until there is a decline in water quality. When things like organic matter and uneaten food accumulate at the bottom of the tank and start rotting, it depletes the water quality. To treat the condition, clean out the tank, do a salt bath, or use an antifungal medication.

Tuberculosis: This disease is extremely contagious and fatal. It is one of the few conditions that humans can catch from fish if they have open sores or wounds. The symptoms of tuberculosis include a gaunt stomach, white patches on the skin, frayed fins, and no appetite. You may also notice some behavioral changes such as constant tiredness, and your fish won’t be as active.

Once you’ve diagnosed the condition, remove the healthy fish from the tank and put them in a separate tank. You will then need to apply a melafix treatment, and before putting the fish back in the tank you should disinfect and clean the aquarium.

Swim Bladder Disease: This disease affects the swim bladder, this organ is in the abdomen and it’s lined with epithelium, it resembles a sack and its purpose is to help the fish stay in the water. This disease will cause your fish to either sink to the bottom of the tank, float to the top, float on their sides, float upside down, or struggle to stay in a normal position.

There are several causes for this condition, including gulping air, constipation, overeating, or eating too much. Eating dry-flake or freeze-dried foods that expands when wet can increase the size of the intestinal tract or stomach, which then compresses the swim bladder. Bacterial infections or parasites can also cause inflammation of the swim bladder.

Treatment for swim bladder disease will depend on the symptoms. If enlarged intestines, or a swollen stomach is the cause, you will need to stop feeding the fish for three days. You will also need to simultaneously make the water warmer, set the temperature at 78-80 degrees F while treating the fish. On the fourth day, the fish can eat a skinned, cooked pea.

Firemouth Cichlid

Frozen peas work well because you can thaw them by boiling or microwaving them so that the peas are not too soft or hard. Take the skin off and feed it to the fish. Drop one pea a day into the tank for the next three days and then start feeding them regular food. But don’t feed them pellets or flakes that float.

If the cause of swim bladder disease is an infection, you will need to see a vet for a prescription of a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

Regardless of the cause, you can supplement the treatment with the following:

  • Keeping the water at a temperature of 78 to 80 degrees F, and keeping the water exceptionally clean.
  • Add aquarium salt to the tank.
  • Hand feed the fish if they are having difficulty moving.
  • An application of a stress coat to the exposed area of the skin if the fish are floating on the surface.
  • If you have a strong current in the tank, turn the water flow down.
  • Take some of the water out of the tank so that it’s easier for the fish to move around.


Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about firemouth cichlids:

Are firemouth cichlids aggressive?

They can get aggressive while spawning, and they are also very territorial, but they are relatively easy to deal with for beginners.

What fish can live with firemouth cichlids?

As long as there’s enough space for everyone and the other fish are not troublemakers, then there are several fish that can live with firemouth cichlids including, rainbow fish, peacock cichlids, kuhli loach, cory catfish, pictus catfish, clown pleco, bristlenose pleco, and the rummy nose tetra.

How fast do firemouth cichlids grow?

Firemouth cichlids do not grow very fast, but once they are fully grown, they can grow up to 7 inches.

Do firemouth cichlids eat plants?

They don’t eat plants, but they will dig them up.

How much do firemouth cichlids cost?

They cost $7 or more.

Final Thought

Firemouth cichlids are like an acquired taste, they are definitely not for everyone. Even the most seasoned hobbyists will look over them when deciding which fish to have in their aquarium. Nevertheless, for those who are willing to put in the work, Firemouths are beautiful fish, and they can be very impressive to watch.