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Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus (previously Herotilapia) multispinosa

Rainbow Cichlid - Archocentrus multispinosa - Male

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.

Is Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa a good community fish? Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa should be considered to be an excellent community fish assuming that the community is one of non-aggressive, non-predatory species. Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa is suitable for all community aquariums although it can be somewhat territorial during breeding. 

Key Facts about Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Rainbow Cichlid
Scientific nameArchocentrus multispinosa
Originate fromAtlantic slope of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica from Patuca River (Honduras) south to Matina River (Costa Rica) in Central America. It is also found on the Pacific slope of Nicaragua and Costa Rica from Guasaule River south to Tempisque River in Central America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid shoaling fish (unless breeding)
Colour & FormGourami-shaped body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 9 years
Adult size4 inches – up to 7 inches in the wild
DietOmnivorous – eats algae, Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms and pellet food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size36 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches that live in fairly neutral water
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species in too small an aquarium
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp72 – 82 Fahrenheit
Water pH7.0 to 8.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)Up to 20 dGH

Origins of Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa is found on the Atlantic slope of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica from Patuca River (Honduras) south to Matina River (Costa Rica) in Central America. It is also found on the Pacific slope of Nicaragua and Costa Rica from Guasaule River south to Tempisque River in Central America. 

It is usually found in nature in lakes and swamps with turbid (muddy) bottoms and equally turbid water.

Basic Characteristics of Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will grow up to around 4 inches in length in the aquarium but can grow to 7 inches in the wild. The male will tend to be the larger of the adults. In young fish, it is difficult (pretty impossible) to distinguish between the sexes so if you are purchasing young fish then buy half-a-dozen or more and you should have a mix of the sexes. When you find that two of the group have paired off then the remaining fish should be moved to a different tank, as the male can be particularly territorial whilst breeding.

There is very little if anything to distinguish the male from the female but, you will see that the male’s dorsal fin (shown in the featured image above) comes to a point whilst that of the female (shown below over a brood of eggs) has a rounded end to her dorsal fin.

In shape, Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa resembles a Gourami, with its relatively tall and slender body and long dorsal fin.

The Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa has evolved to make best use of its environment and it is evolved to remove algae from recks and other solid objects.

The lifespan of Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa is around seven to nine years but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa prefers neutral to slightly hard, alkaline water, with a pH of 7.0 to 8.0 in and a temperature range between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 20 dGH. Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will be comfortable with other species of similar size that prefer this type of water chemistry.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa, being a Cichlid, is a very gentle species but will become very territorial whilst mating and the male, in particular, will chase other fish to the other end of its territory, should they come close.

The Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa gets on well with pretty well all other fishes (that are not reputed to be predatory) and is generally an excellent community species.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will generally dwell near the bottom of the water column and will enjoy a fine substrate, and plenty of rocks, as the female will spawn either on the substrate or on rocks which the breeding pair will prepare for the purpose.

The physical appearance of Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa has a slim body, tall in height rather like a Gourami. The body is gold and grey in color with black, marbled areas running along the spinal line, starting behind the head and extending to the caudal peduncle.

The golden color spans the head, the body above the spine, the dorsal, anal and caudal fins. Behind the gill plates and beneath the central black marbling, the body is a grey color

A few more characteristics may be described as follows:

  • The dorsal fin is shallow, with spiny rays which flares up above the caudal peduncle.
  • The caudal fin of the adult male tends to be more extended at the rear than that of the female and ends in a point, whilst that of the female is more rounded.
  • The ventral fins are swept back and have a black leading edge running right to the tip.
  • The anal fin has a long, black leading-edge, black rays along the front half but gold at the rear third, ending in a point.
  • The lips are quite thick and are more black than grey and the lower lip is the more prominent because the jaw has evolved to grind algae off rocks and other hard surfaces.
  • The eyes have a beautiful, orange iris.

The male, adult Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa tends to become the larger of the pair but this can be marginal to imperceptible and is unreliable for sexing the species.

The living environment for Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa enjoys being in and around. Only one adult pair from a single generation should be kept in the aquarium unless the aquarium is of sufficient size to facilitate two (or more) territories.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will appreciate a soft substrate, as they will tend to make new hollows into which they will move their fry once hatched but not free-swimming.

Note that Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa is biparental will generally make good parents for any brood that they are rearing. They are not, however, monogamous for life.

It is recommended that Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa are kept as a small shoal only until two of the adults have paired up, after which, the remainder of the shoal should be relocated to a different aquarium. The male, in particular, can be very territorial (but does not appear to launch a physical attack, merely chasing away “trespassers”) but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general. 

When purchasing Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa it is generally recommended to buy around six fish. It will 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, generally both biparental.

Overall, Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa are the most attractive, unusual and elegant addition to your aquarium.

The diet of Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa is primarily omnivorous but has a preference for algae. It also loves 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 Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will readily eat pelleted food and flake food. That said, they prefer to stay close to the bottom of the water column and browse the rocks. For this reason, a fine substrate is recommended.

Sexual differences in Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

It is very difficult to distinguish the sex of the adult Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa. The adult male is slightly larger, but this is unreliable. The female is also fuller-bodied when viewed from above when carrying eggs (gravid). The best clue is the pointed tip of the adult male’s dorsal fine and the rounded tip of the female’s dorsal fin. 

Rainbow Cichlid - Archocentrus multispinosa - Female guarding her eggs
Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa – Female guarding her eggs

Aquarium size for Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa 

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa should be one of at least 36 inches in length or more due to the fact that a shoal of around six per species should be maintained initially and the adult fish are territorial within their own species and within their own genus. This will enable your Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa to find an area of the aquarium which the pair can call home. 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 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. Plenty of rocks are advised for Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa because they have evolved to grind algae off them.

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 Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa enjoy a flow of water.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa – Videos

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa – overview video

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa – breeding video

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 Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa breed?

In total, the female Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa could lay between 500 to 1500 eggs during a single spawning. Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will lay the eggs either on a rock or on the substrate. The eggs are white and adhesive.

The female will constantly fan the eggs to ensure that they are getting sufficient oxygen (bear in mind that in nature it inhabits turbid waters) and she will eat any unfertilized eggs. In the meantime, the male will chase away any and all threats to his territory. Interestingly, In the included videos you will see the female warn off her mate from getting too close before the eggs hatch.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa eggs will hatch in around two days and the fry (or “wrigglers”) will become free-swimming several days later. This is conditional on water temperature and condition. The parents will move the fry by mouth to keep them safe from predation.

It is generally true that Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa 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.

Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa will guard their brood for around one month or so, to give them the chance to grow sufficiently not to become snacks.

The female will tend to stay close to the eggs, fanning water over them which will remove any unfertilized eggs and thus protect the rest from the risk of fungus.

The male will provide “overwatch” around the broader area, gently warding off potential predators.

The Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become aggressive if it feels that the brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended.

If Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa feels threatened, it will defend its brood.

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 or, with Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa, in the crevices and caves of the rocks.

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.

Breeding tank for Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa

You should prepare a tank of around twenty gallons in size with mature, hard, acidic and flowing water. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with lots of clusters of rocks on which the female will lay her adhesive eggs. 

It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges. 

Arrange your tank heating so that you can slowly remove up to half of the tank water and then replace it with collected rainwater (very 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 may encourage spawning, as it mimics nature. The rainwater is most important though some argue that tap water is fine.

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 Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is not characteristic of Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa.

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 two days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after several days more. 

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 where they will join the existing shoal. 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.

Should your Rainbow Cichlid – Archocentrus multispinosa have a special diet for breeding?

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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