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Firemouth Cichlid – Thorichthys meeki

Firemouth Cichlid - Thorichthys meeki

Is the Firemouth Cichlid suitable for a community aquarium?

The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) should be considered to be an excellent community fish assuming that the community is one of non-aggressive, non-predatory species that are too big for the Firemouth Cichlid to eat. The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is also very territorial when spawning so, at these times, vigilance is required.

What is the history of Cichlids?

Cichlids are a very ancient and extensive classification of fishes dating back millions of years before, for example, dinosaurs. Cichlids probably originated around 550 million years ago (give or take a month or two 😀) and there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 to 3,000 different species, of which around 1,700 have been classified (at the time of writing).

Cichlids can make excellent community fish but you should take care because not all Cichlids are good community fish and may devastate an established aquarium, treating their tankmates as food, so before choosing a Cichlid, please ensure that you know whether or not your choice will be appropriate to your needs.

What are the key facts about Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Firemouth Cichlid
Scientific nameThorichthys meeki
Originate fromMexico, Belize and Guatemala in Central America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentAdults are best kept as a show fish in a community tank as a breeding pair. They may also be kept as a small shoal in a single-species tank of sufficient size
Colour & FormTall, slender shaped body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 10 years
Adult size up to 6 inches – Male larger than female
DietOmnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms, flaked food and pellet food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size36 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, and livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches that live in fairly neutral, soft water provided that they are not so small as to become food
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species in too small an aquarium as well as fish that are small enough to eat
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp75 – 86 Fahrenheit
Water pH6.5 to 8.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)8 to 15 dGH

From where does the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) originate?

Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) originates in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala in Central America. It has been introduced elsewhere but, as always I always advise against introducing non-native species into local waters, as to do so can destabilize that established, natural habitat.

It is usually found in nature in slow-to-moderate-flowing streams that might be quite turbid (muddy), on the margins of larger rivers, in marshland, in spring-fed ponds and also in lakes but seldom, if ever, in stagnant water.

What are the basic characteristics of the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

  • Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) will grow up to around 6 inches in length in the aquarium – the males will generally grow to be larger than the female. In young fish, it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes so if you are purchasing young fish then buy half-a-dozen and you should have a mix of the sexes. 
  • The adult male of the species tends to have a more vibrant color than the female and will grow to be larger than the female. The extended dorsal fin of the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) has an elongated upper tip at the rear. The adult female will also have a visible ovipositor (egg duct) just in front of the anal fin if spawning.
  • At spawning times, the seven, vertical, grey bands along the body become more-or-less black in the male but not in the female.
  • The lifespan of Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is around ten years but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.
  • Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) prefers fairly soft, acidic water, often described as “blackwater” with plenty of dissolved tannins, with a pH of 6.5 to 8.0 and a temperature range between 75 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and from 8 to 15 dGH. All of that said, captive-bred specimens have, over many generations, become accustomed to your local water conditions so these technical details are a guide and not a rule.
  • Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) enjoys soft to medium, acidic water conditions so it will be comfortable with other species of similar size that prefer this type of water chemistry.
  • As the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) has elongated finnage it is advised to avoid keeping them in company with any fin-nippers. Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki), being Cichlids, will defend themselves and, especially in respect of smaller fin-nippers, they are likely to retaliate with prejudice.
  • It is generally felt to be inadvisable to include guppies in the same aquarium or and small species that the Firemouth Cichlid can fit in its mouth.
  • Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) will generally dwell near the bottom of the water column and will enjoy a fine substrate, as it is something of a “sifter” when feeding in that it will take in a mouthful of the substrate and sift out any food, expelling the remaining substrate. The term for this is, “geophagus,” which translates to “earth-eater”.

What is the physical appearance of Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) has a relatively tall, body in profile and is slim when viewed from above or from the front. The body has yellow color with a silver “base” color and the edging on the scales tend to give it a pearlescent quality. From its mouth, below the eyes, the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) has a “salmon” pink coloring running to the back of the anal fin. At breeding times this color will become much more vivid and is also more obvious when the fish flares its gills – something which it does regularly.

A few more characteristics may be described as follows:

  • There are seven vertical, grey stripes starting behind the gill plates and ending at the rear of the caudal peduncle. Whilst normally quite faint, at spawning times, particularly in the male, they become virtually black and are wider than the underlying silver body color between them.
  • The is a distinct, black patch at the base of the gill plates.
  • There is often a dark grey or black patch in the middle of the flank but, this varies from fish to fish.
  • Along the spinal line, starting behind the eye, there is a broken, grey/black line running along the length of the body. This line becomes fainter beyond the mid-section of the body.
  • The dorsal fin is elongated and along the top of the rays you will see distinct silvery-white tips. These may also appear as short sections along the length of the rays and you may also see the salmon-pink tinge in the lower part of the fin (closest to the body) and where the rear of the dorsal fin flares backward and upward to a point.
  • The pectoral fins are generally clear (hyaline).
  • The ventral fins have silvery-white rays along the full length but are clear (hyaline) in between the rays.
  • The anal fins are similar in color to the dorsal fin and, like the dorsal fin, also ends in an elongated point.
  • The caudal fin also has the silvery-white rays – brighter close to the caudal peduncle – and is clear (hyaline) between the rays.
  • The dorsal, anal and caudal fins may have an extended ray at the point (upper and lower tips in respect of the caudal fin) but I have seen many specimens where the extended rays are not present.

The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is a medium-sized Cichlid. It has an extended dorsal fin. The fins of the male can tend to be longer than those of the female. It is advised not to include this species with known fin-nippers.

What is the living environment for Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

  • Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is really the “star-of-the-show” so a well-planted tank is beneficial to its tankmates so that the sightlines are broken up. 
  • As a dominant species, it is advised not to keep small species with the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki). The general rule is only to keep other species that are too big to become meals.
  • The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) will appreciate floating leaves and pretty well any broadleaf will assist the condition of the tank, as not only do such leaves provide shade but also, as they decompose, they provide infusoria for any fry in the tank. This also helps adults to determine that breeding conditions are good because they will appreciate the fact that there is a ready source of food for newly-hatched fry.
  • Note that the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) will generally mate for life and they will make good parents for the brood that they are rearing – the female will tend to care for the brood whilst the male will protect the territory..
  • It is recommended that Firemouth Cichlids (Thorichthys meeki) are kept as a small shoal until two form a breeding pair, after which, the remainder should be moved to a different tank. The male, in particular, can be very territorial but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general. 
  • When purchasing Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) it is generally recommended to buy around six fish. It may be impossible to sex the fish when purchasing them as immature specimens but, in due course, they will find their own mate and are, from that point, both monogamous and biparental.
  • Having a clear, broad area of a fine substrate will protect the elegant finnage of your Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki).
  • Your tank should include rocks with a smooth surface on which the female will lay her eggs. Since the eggs are adhesive, a half-terracotta pot may suffice or, perhaps, some slate.
  • Overall, Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) are the most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

What is the diet of Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is primarily omnivorous and has a preference for live food, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia is recommended and Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)  will readily eat pelleted food and flake food. That said, they prefer to stay close to the bottom of the water column and sift through the substrate for their food. For this reason, a fine substrate is recommended.

What are the sexual differences in Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

It is reasonably easy to distinguish the sex of the adult Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) because the adult male is often larger and has a deeper color, especially at breeding times. The rear of the male’s dorsal fin is more extended than that of the female. The female is also fuller-bodied when viewed from above, especially when carrying eggs (gravid). The female has a visible ovipositor (egg duct) just in front of the anal fin at breeding times.

What is a good aquarium size for Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)  should be one of at least 36 inches (preferably 48 inches) in length or more due to the territorial nature of the adult fish – particularly the male. A smaller tank will be too restrictive (unless it is a breeding tank) and the fish will suffer as a result whilst a larger tank is always to be recommended.

In a community tank, including some floating Java Moss and other plants will give smaller fish and any fry a safe haven from larger or more vigorous species and it certainly helps to break up the sightlines in the aquarium.

There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes to live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a piscine prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have a certain amount of movement, as Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) enjoy a flow of water.

Useful videos about the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)

General care guide video for the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)

Breeding guide video for the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)

Are you keeping tropical fish as a hobbyist or as a breeder?

This is a question too often ignored in my humble opinion. If you are a breeder (either commercially or as a hobbyist who gives away young fish to other hobbyists) then you will need the resources to move fish into breeding tanks in order to maximize the yield of fry that will grow up either for sale or to give them away.

If you are keeping fish for the joy of observing them in something resembling a natural habitat then you may feel that it is appropriate to allow nature to take its course and, as and when different species breed, then many of the eggs (and surviving fry) will be eaten either by their parents or by other fish in your aquarium. This is the natural order of things because this is what will happen in nature. The fittest may well survive to reach adulthood.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How do you breed the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

In total, the female Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) could lay up to several hundred eggs during a single spawning but can lay as many as 500 eggs. 

The eggs will hatch in around three to four days and the fry will become free-swimming after around a further four to five days.

It is generally true that Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) make really good parents and will not prey on their own young. In general, the male will protect the territory whilst the female will tend to care for the eggs and fry but these roles are interchangeable.

The female Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) will generally lay her eggs in a line along a slate, rock, or sometimes a broad leaf in the aquarium. The male will then swim over that line of eggs and fertilize them. This process will then be repeated until the female has laid all of her eggs and the male has fertilized then and the result will be several rows of fertilized eggs.

Once the spawning is completed and until the fry become free-swimming, provided that the parents remain with the brood, they will protect the eggs with some zeal.

The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become extremely aggressive if it feels that the brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended. In a community tank, other species will be driven out of the breeding pair’s territory by the male.

In a well-planted aquarium with floating Java Moss, the Cichlid will often spawn in the community tank and at least some of the fittest fry will survive to adulthood by hiding in the Java Moss.

In a breeding tank, it is always a good idea to include a few aquatic shrimp, as they will consume any unfertilized or dead eggs but won’t tend to predate on viable eggs.

How to set up a breeding tank for Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)

You should prepare a tank of around Thirty gallons in size with mature, soft, flowing water. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with some well-cleaned slate (or other smooth rock) on the floor of the tank upon which the female will lay her adhesive eggs. It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges. The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) may also lay eggs on broad leaves or in rows in the substrate or even on the glass.

Arrange your tank heating so that you can slowly remove up to half of the tank water and then replace it with collected rainwater (or tap water that has had time to normalize) (slightly cooler than the aquarium water – but not so much that White Spot could result) and repeat this daily until the Cichlids spawn. This water and temperature change will encourage spawning, as it mimics nature. The rainwater is most important though some argue that tap water is fine – and this is increasingly true in respect of captive-bred specimens.

Cichlids prefer to spawn where the water is flowing so a decent pump is required to synthesize that flow.

Feed up your Cichlids on bloodworm, which will sink to the bottom and burrow into the substrate. Your Cichlid will love rooting out the bloodworm and it can help to trigger spawning.

You may also wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or tubifex worms as an inducement to reproduction and live food will be very much appreciated. This will also tend to divert the attention of the Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is certainly not characteristic of Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki).

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump once the eggs are laid – only regular aeration is now required. Keep the lights off (or very low) and the tank dark (of fairly dark)  because eggs and fry can be particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in four to five days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around four to five days after hatching. 

Keep the tank more-or-less unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Cichlid will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone or a macro lens to see anything at all. A collection of eggs is generally easy to spot, as they look like a collection of tiny pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac and remain static but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. 

Once the fry are free-swimming and their yolk sacs are depleted, then add baby brine shrimp and/or white worms. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Unless you are breeding commercially, you may wish to consider moving the fry into the community tank sooner rather than later. It may seem harsh but the adult fish in the tank will deal with any fry that are unlikely to survive to adulthood in the wild and you are synthesizing, to the best of your ability, a wild environment. The fittest fry will probably survive whilst the rest will be dealt with by the community.

Is there a special diet for breeding Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)?

Adult Cichlids don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding tubifex, bloodworm or mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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