Fish Profile: Firemouth Cichlid

Native Habitat

The Firemouth (Thorichthys meeki) is a species of cichlid found in Central America. It ranges from the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico through Belize and Guatemala.

Firemouths live in the murky, slow moving waters along shallow areas of rivers and ponds. They are also said to inhabit the waters of underground cave systems. These fish feed mostly on algae found among the vegetation, along with live prey when and where available.


The Firemouth is medium-sized for a cichlid, growing to about 6.5 inches (17 cm) in length. Males tend to be larger than females, though not markedly so. The body is laterally compressed with a large head.

The background body colour is white or silver to bluish grey, and the sides are marked with irregular black bars or blotches and coloration can vary. They are pale brown overall, and are often streaked with blue and green spots, The dorsal fin can be tinged with reddish orange, and may have some green and blue as well.

The Firemouth gets its name from the distinctive blaze of red covering its throat and belly. Males make good use of this feature during threat displays, when they puff up the throat sac and spread the gill covers. Females are less brightly coloured than males.

Aquarium Set-up

The Firemouth is a long-time favorite in the aquarium hobby, and for good reason. It is hardy, easy to care for, and doesn’t grow to a large size. Often referred to as a “beginner’s cichlid”, it is fairly tolerant of poor water conditions.

Tank size for a single fish is 55 gallons (200 litres) minimum. In larger tanks the Firemouth can be mixed with others of its kind and other species including Oscars, Keyhole cichlids, Severums, Festivums, and Plecostomus

Although they are territorial, Firemouths aren’t overly aggressive. Compared to other cichlids they are docile in temperament, generally showing belligerence only around spawning time. Even then, this is mostly limited to displays of throat puffing and gill-flaring. Close observation at breeding time or when adding new tank mates is still a good idea.

Like most cichlids, the Firemouth is a digger, and likes a sandy bottom to mouth and sift through. A perimeter of vertical plants with a central area for swimming and displaying works well. Hiding places are a must, especially in community tanks where they allow fish to retreat to avoid conflicts

Water temperature should be 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 30 degrees Celsius), with a pH of 6.5 to 8.0. The Firemouth loves warm water, and an increase of a few degrees above normal can help induce spawning.

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