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

Firemouth Cichlid

The Firemouth Cichlid is one of the most preferred cichlids among many hobbyists. This freshwater cichlid has many desirable qualities you can seek for in a fish. 

First of all, they are amazingly beautiful. Thanks to their fiery bright red coloration you can’t mistake them for any other fish and will stand out in any aquarium.

Secondly, they are hardy and can survive a varying range of water conditions. This is part of the reason why they are ideal for beginners.

Thirdly, aggressive temperament has made many cichlids unsuitable for beginners keeping, like the Oscar for example.

Firemouth Cichlid, on the other hand, have a very manageable temperament and mostly prefer staying out of trouble.

That said, they can become territorial in some circumstances. However, provided you fashion the ideal tank for them they should be fine.

This is where this guide comes in. It also provides you with all you need to successfully keep the Firemouth Cichlid in your tank.

Let’s dive in!

The Firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is a Cichlid that originated from the rivers of Central America. They can specifically be found in the shallow and murky rivers that run through the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. 

The rivers are characterized by low velocity and contain muds and sands as their substrate. 

Firemouth cichlid usually sticks to swimming between the lower and midsection of the river to benefit from the vegetation cover near the shoreline.

These fish also love hanging out in caves formed by rocks and fallen woods.

Because of their ability to adapt to different environments, they were reportedly found in Singapore, Philippines, Australia and Israel.

They were released to these areas by humans probably unwittingly. Currently, Firemouth Cichlid are regarded as an invasive species in North America

Firemouth Cichlid Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 7.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 30 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – Expert
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Temperature: 75°F to 86°F
  • PH: 6.5 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 8-15dH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Relatively Easy
  • Ideal tank mates: Glowlight Tetra, Rummy Nose Tetra, Serpae Tetra, Pictus CatfishKuhli Loach, Clown Pleco, Swordtails, Cory Catfish, et Cetra.


Appearance is undoubtfully the reason many hobbyists keep the Firemouth Cichlid. These cichlids got the name “Firemouth” from the bright red coloration the underside jaw of their males turns during the spawning period.

From head to body (excluding the fins), they are covered in grey to blue-olive coloration with the males exhibiting a bright red-orange on the underside of their jaw. 

They have beautifully designed fins with red edging (except the pectoral fin) and blue spots. Coming from the class of ray-finned fish, their fins are covered by a web of skin strengthened by a set of spines and rays.

Similar to most species, male and female Firemouth Cichlids look different.

The differences go like this:

  • Males usually have a brighter red-orange coloration which is why they stand out more in the tank.
  • Males are usually bigger and have longer fins.
  • Females have bigger and rounder belly than males. 

Peculiarly, Firemouth Cichlid body coloration depends solely on where they originate from. Different color variations are available and the most colorful variation is known to be found in lower Grijalva, Tabasco in Mexico. 

Firemouth Cichlid


Male Firemouth cichlid have an average maximum size of around 6 inches while females top at 5 inches. This makes them among the most conveniently sized cichlids. The thing is though, they have a very fast growth rate and it doesn’t take long before they reach the full size. 

Considering this, I advise you go for the recommended tank size from the start even if you are buying a juvenile. 

Like with any aquarium fish, the key to achieving full growth is giving your Firemouth mouth very qualitative care. That entails proper tank conditions, proper tank size, qualitative diet and ideal tank mate inclusion. 

Firemouth Cichlid Lifespan

With proper care and ideal tank conditions, the average lifespan of the Firemouth Cichlid is around 10 years. It’s not impossible for this species to live for up to 15 years as it was stated in some reports but understand that it’s extremely rare.

Even with the best care possible, genetic factors play role in the fish longevity. 

That said, you can increase the chance of your Firemouth living pass 10 years by first making sure you get it from a very reputable pet store with excellent breeding and care practices. 

Temperament and general behavior

Compared to Cichlds like ConvictGreen Terror or Oscar; the Firemouth Cichlids have an easy-going temperament. That is if you set them up with a spaciously adequate tank where they can establish their territories.

As long as they have that, they will very rarely cause trouble. 

In the wild, males usually live separately in their carved out habitat. 

During breeding time, male Firemouth Cichlid become aggressive. As a warning sign to other fish to stay clear from their territory they extend their gills. They also use this same sign to show off and impress the females. 

Generally, these fish are quite quiet active and mostly swim close to the middle of the tank. They also like sticking around plants. Like most cichlid, they like digging the substrate and moving things around occasionally.

Tank size and Requirements

The recommended minimum tank for keeping a single Firemouth Cichlid is 15 gallons. However, since its more advisable to keep a pair, its best to go for a minimum of 30 gallons.

A 30-gallon tank will have enough space for each fish to carve out its territory. 

In case you want to keep more than 2, you will need to upgrade to a bigger tank, a 5 to 10 gallon of space per fish should be allocated. 

After selecting the appropriately sized tank the next thing you need to do is equip the tank with the necessary elements the fish will require to live at their best.

Like with virtually all aquarium fish, the key to maximizing the Firemouth Cichlid potential is a tank with elements and conditions that closely resembles their habitats.

Those tank elements include: substrate, aqauscaping, tank decoration, lighting and filtration.

A Firemouth Cichlid near a tank's vegetation

Substrate For Firemouth Cichlid

Sand and mud is the substrate you will find at their habitat. Taking this and their digging habit in to account, the best substrate for their tank is something soft and sandy. 

This kind of substrate will conveniently settle back after they dug it, as opposed to a coarse substrate which will end up living a pile of mess in your tank.


Firemouth Cichlids are fond of plants, which is why they like hanging out around and playing with them. Additionally, plants help create more hiding places in the tank and also help them when demarcating their territory. 

Given their habit, it’s highly recommended you make use of a hardy and resilient plant that can survive disturbances. It’s a good idea you pot the plants so that the roots can be protected. 

Tank decoration For Firemouth Cichlid

Tank decoration includes driftwoods, pieces of rocks and caves. These elements will help create the hiding places these fish love and at the same time beautify the tank.  


These fish have no special lighting requirement but make sure you use a moderate level of lighting. 


A proper filtration system is one of the key elements of an aquarium and it becomes more important when you are keeping tropical fish like the Firemouth. 

You must ensure you maintain a clean tank so that harmful level of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate will not build up. 

Water Parameters

When setting up the tank you need to make sure you establish water parameters similar to their habitats. As previously discussed, Firemouth Cichlid originated from the warm rivers Central America and Mexico regions. 

This is why they do best when kept in warm temperature of between 75- 86°F. They also do best in pH of between 6.5-8.0 and water hardness of between 8-15dGH.

What’s fascinating is that even though these fish are considered freshwater they can also survive moderate brackish water conditions with salinity concentration of about 10% or less than what’s contained in the average seawater tank. 

It’s highly recommended you invest in qualitative test kits and test your water regularly so as not to jeopardize the well being of your fish. 

Food and Diet

Another reason why Firemouth Cichlid are easy to care for is that they are not choosy eaters. Their diet mostly consists of crustaceans and plant detritus in the wild. 

In captivity, they are mostly fed high-quality flakes or pellet foods. 

Don’t forget that it’s highly important you diversify their diet. This will make sure their body gets all the required diet it needs to grow and avoid diseases. 

Consequently, you should supply them with a protein-enriched diet like bloodworms and brine shrimp from time to time. 

The fact that they are not choosy eaters makes some owners supply them with vegetables like spirulina and spinach. They may not always consume those, so it’s important you clear out any food they leave behind later.

It’s recommended you feed them twice daily, the standard morning and night routine is alright. I want to stress that you don’t overfeed them to avoid problems.


Fortunately, breeding Firemouth Cichlid isn’t so knotty and in most cases will happen without requiring a specific water conditions. 

As a typical cichlid, they are good parents and will protect both their egg and fry. Due to this, they form monogamous pairs and will require no intervention on your part. 

If you don’t have an existing pair you can buy them at a pet store, or buy 5 or 6 at once and let them choose their companion. 

Although they don’t usually require a particular set of condition to breed, the breeding is sometimes induce by setting the water to a temperature range of 75°F to 79°F, a pH of 7.0 and water hardiness of 10dGH. You may not need these but if they fail to do, maintaining these parameters will help. 

It’s highly recommended you provide their tank with flat surfaces such as pieces of rocks and driftwood so that they can conveniently lay their eggs. 

Once the female lay her eggs (usually around 100-500) the male will fertilize them. 

Henceforth, the parents will fiercely protect the eggs until they hatch. The fry will also receive the same level of protection from the patents. 

Microworms and Artemia nauplii should be given to the fry before they start to swim freely in 4 to 5 days. 

Firemouth Cichlid Tank Mates

Because of their peaceful temperament in an ideal tank set up, the Firemouth Cichlid can be a good candidate for some community tank. 

That being said, you need to consider size, aggression and water parameters before keeping them with any other species.

Regarding size, you need to avoid fish within the size range of Chili Rasbora or Celestial Pearl Danio for example. That’s because they are just too small and can get eaten by the Firemeouth. 

On the other hand, you need to avoid large fish like the Flowerhorn Cichlid. A fish this size will stress out your Firemouth Cichlid even if it’s not aggressive.

In terms of temperament, you should avoid keeping them with any known aggressive species. This is why it’s not recommended to keep them with the Convict Cichlid

The ideal tank mate for these fish are non-aggressive fish within their size range. 

Keeping these considerations in mind these are some of the most ideal Firemouth Cichlid tank mates.

  • Peacock Cichlid
  • Clown Pleco 
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Rainbowfish
  • Swordtails 
  • Platies
  • Kuhli Loach
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Rummy Nose Tetra
  • Glowlight Tetra

It’s imperative you stick to the above guideline if you are considering any tank mate that is outside of the ones listed above. 

Lastly, avoid keeping Firemouth Cichlid with any shrimp or aquarium snails because they can get eaten. In the wild, these cichlids are used to consuming crustaceans. 

Common Diseases

Common freshwater diseases like bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections are what you have to watch out for when you are keeping the Firemouth Cichlid. 

Thanks to hardy and sturdy nature they don’t have any species-specific diseases. 

Your fish can become very susceptible to those infections when the water quality plummet. 

Ich is one of the most common infections that afflict freshwater fish and its mostly as a result of poor water quality. 

This disease is caused by a parasite which causes the body, fins and gills of the fish appear as if they are sprinkled with salt. 

It causes the feeling of itch to the fish in which case you will see it attempting to rub itself against objects. Luckily, this infection in most cases can be easily treated by increasing the water temperature by 2 or 3 degrees for 48 hours.

Thankfully, Firemouth Cichlid can survive temperature as high as 86°F. 

It’s important to remember that diseases are easier to treat at an early stage. This is why I highly recommend you develop a habit of observing your fish activity.

This will help you become familiar with the pattern of their activities and you will easily be able to spot a problem when there is one.

You can lower the chances of diseases by maintaining top-notch water quality and feeding them a healthy diet. 

Other practices that will also help include; equipping the tank with all they require and suitable tank mate inclusion. 

One last thing to point out is, remember that any foreign material either synthetic, dead or alive you add to the tank can potentially be carrying a parasite, fungi or bacteria.

In light of this, you need to make sure you thoroughly clean object like driftwood and pieces of rocks before adding them to the tank. 


While many cichlids aren’t ideal for beginners, Firemouth Cichlid isn’t one of them. I hope by now you have realized keeping them isn’t at all precarious.

You basically need to have a 30-gallons tank for a pair and equip it with a decent amount of vegetation and decoration so that they can carve out their territories.

After that, you need to make sure you achieve water parameters that are similar to their native habitat in the tank. Feeding them isn’t so challenging, you just need to make the diet as varied as possible. Don’t forget it needs to be of high quality as well.

Should you choose to include other species in the tank, make sure they are passive and within their size range.

This pretty much sums up the Firemouth Cichlid care. If you are a beginner I advise you pay extra attention to them during breeding times.

That’s when they can become difficult to handle especially if you have other species in the tank. As long as you follow the recommended guidelines you should be fine.

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with all you needed to know about keeping the Firemouth Cichlid. And if you are contemplating whether to give them a shot or not, I hope it helps you make the right call.

Please feel free to rich out if you have any question we haven’t covered or if you have any info you think will help improve this guide. We’ll be more than happy if you do.

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