Mayan Cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus)

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Mayan Cichlid

Mayan Cichlid

Cichlasoma urophthalmus

208 Litres (55 US G.)

25.4-30.5cm (10-12 ")




6 - 8

20 -30 °C (68-86°F)

4-30 °d

1:1 M:F

Pellet Foods
Flake Foods
Live Foods
Other (See article)

4-8 years



Additional names

Mayan Cichlid, Mexican Mojarra, Mojarra Castarrica

Additional scientific names

Nandopsis urophthalmus


Central America: Atlantic drainages from Mexico to Nicaragua.


Among fish of the same age, the males tend to be a bit larger than the females. The colours of Mayan Cichlids in breeding dress may also vary slightly. Males may have a slightly more vibrant red, and females may have a slight greenish sheen on their flanks. Once they are ready for breeding and their whitish spawning tubes protrude from the bottom of the body, it is somewhat easier to tell the sexes apart. As in other Cichlids, the female has a shorter, wider, and blunter vent, while the male's vent is slightly longer, thinner, and more pointed.


The Mayan Cichlid is territorial and aggressive when breeding. As parents, Mayan Cichlids are highly protective of their young, and have several broods per year. This species is a monogamous, biparental substrate spawner that exhibits minimal sexual dimorphism and guards its fry (babies) for up to six weeks, which is one of the longest guarding periods in any Cichlid. In its native Mexico, the Mayan Cichlid spawns for a nine-month period from March to November, particularly during the wet season from June to September. This corresponds to a period when the water temperature is at least 24 degrees Celsius. Multiple broods are raised per year. The fry appear to be adapted to lotic (flowing) water. They exhibit strongly positive geotactic behaviour, actively swimming down to the substrate upon hatching from the egg and adhering themselves to the bottom by means of three pairs of mucous glands.
In captivity, as with most Neotropical Cichlids, a breeding pair of Mayan Cichlids should be kept on their own to avoid injuring other fish, as well as to avoid stressing the parents to the point of turning on each other or their brood. The only reason to keep a breeding pair in the company of others is so that they have "target fish" on which to focus their aggression. If this is done safely with enough space, then no fish need be injured, and it can help strengthen the pair bond and increase the motivation to protect the territory and the babies. As with other territorial fishes, one way to keep the aggressive parents in the same tank as other fish is to separate them with a plastic screen or mesh, such as egg crate. The fish can see one another, and even smell and taste one another through the mesh, but are unable to injure each other. However, this latter arrangement is more appropriate for introducing belligerent breeding partners, or for separating incompatible community tank mates, than it is for housing a breeding pair. This is because the baby fish are likely to swim to the other side of the barrier and get eaten, and the parents might still get too nervous. A safer approach is to house the parents in an aquarium right next to the aquarium that contains the other fish. Although unable to smell or taste their opponents, the parents will still see these other fish and perceive them as a threat like any other target fish. A barrier to vision, such as a piece of cardboard, can be placed between the tanks to give the parents a break from aggressively defending their territory from time to time. Another way to achieve this illusion of a community is to hold a mirror up to the parents' aquarium for short periods. The pair will perceive their reflections as strangers and will feel like "teaming up" to protect their young, but will do no harm to anyone and will not get so stressed out that their pair bond breaks down.
As in most substrate-spawning Cichlids, the adults are excellent parents, mouthing the eggs to keep them free of fungi, and then caring for the babies diligently. The young can be reared in much the same way as those of other substrate spawners. They are typically born in broods numbering from about 100-500. They must be given frequent feedings of brine shrimp Artemia nauplii, hard-boiled egg yolk, or infusoria for their first week of life. After that they can be given finely powdered flake food and frozen food along with their parents. The parents will often guard the babies for a month, after which time the babies can be removed from their parents' care and placed in their own separate aquarium. They can remain there until they reach about 5.1cm (2"), at which time they will be ready to be kept with other fish of similar temperament.

Tank compatibility[edit]

The Mayan Cichlid is a member of the Cichlidae family of fishes. Like all large aquarium fishes, the Mayan Cichlid needs a large aquarium with good filtration, whether kept in a breeding pair or displayed in a community tank. In general, unless they are being quarantined because of a disease, social animals like these should not be kept alone, and should be provided with enough room to interact safely with other fishes. A 208 Litres (55 US G.) aquarium should be regarded as the minimum size for an aggressive, large Cichlid like this one. Even better would be to house these fish in a 70, 100, 120, or even 568 Litres (150 US G.) tank. The Mayan Cichlid occupies the middle and lower portions of the water column. It uses the middle layer when hunting or interacting with other fish, but it can also dig in the substrate to feed on detritus or excavate a territory, either for general purpose or for spawning with its mate.
If Mayan Cichlids are to be housed with other species, its tank mates must be of similar size and temperament. Some good potential tank mates would be other Central American Cichlids, such as the Midas Cichlid, Amphilophus citrinellus, the Red Devil Cichlid, Amphilophus labiatus, the Black Belt Cichlid, Cichlasoma maculicauda, the Redheaded Cichlid Cichlasome synspilum, and the Redspotted Cichlid Cichlasoma bifasciatum. It is not advisable to house the Mayan Cichlid with other Cichlids from the Nandopsis group, such as the Wolf Cichlid, Parachromis dovii, the Jaguar Cichlid, Parachromis managuensis, or the Motagua Cichlid, Parachromis motaguensis. Because they are more closely related, the Mayan Cichlid may perceive these species as too similar to itself and as a threat, which may lead to dangerous fighting for both the Mayan Cichlid and its opponent. Other fishes that may be compatible with the Mayan Cichlid are large Neotropical catfishes, such as the suckermouth armoured catfish of the Loricariidae famil. This family includes favourite aquarium denizens like Hypostomus plecostomus and Pterygoplichthys pardalis.


The Mayan Cichlid is an omnivore and a generalist. However, a relatively large proportion of its diet should consist of animal protein, or else it will become malnourished. It feeds on shrimp, fish, snails, plants, algae, and detritus. In captivity, it will accept proprietary pelleted foods.

Feeding regime[edit]

In an established aquarium, the Mayan Cichlid should be fed daily, either one large meal, or two to three smaller meals. If a Mayan Cichlid eats a particularly large meal on a given day, then one may skip feeding it the next day. However, this is not advisable because, unlike its cousins the Jaguar Cichlid and Wolf Cichlid, the Mayan Cichlid is not a strict piscavore but a generalist, so rather than periodically gorging on fish, it prefers to eat somewhat smaller meals every day.

Environment specifics[edit]

In its native Mexico, the Mayan Cichlid inhabits lakes, rivers, rocky shorelines, lagoons, estuaries, coastal islands, red mangrove Rhizophora mangle swamps, and turtle grass Thalassia testudinum flats off the mainland. It can be found in oxygen-rich areas near submerged vegetation and over muddy substrates. However, despite its preference for waters with dissolved oxygen content of at least 3.5 mg/L, it is capable of surviving in extreme hypoxia.
This is because it is an oxygen conformer, becoming much less active in hypoxic water. The Mayan Cichlid is capable of surviving in a variety of conditions, but it is a tropical fish. In the wild, it inhabits waters with temperatures from 18-34°C (64.4-93.2°F) , with an optimal range of 28-33°C (82.4-91.4°F) . It is also euryhaline and can survive in a range of salinity, from 0 - 40 ppt (pure freshwater to full-strength seawater and more). However, it prefers to live in freshwater or brackish water.


In its native Mexico, the Mayan Cichlid is philopatric, or site tenacious, i.e. - individuals are non-migratory and prefer to stay within a home range. Like most other Mesoamerican Cichlids, the Mayan Cichlid is quite aggressive. It can coexist with other fish of similar size if they have a similar temperament, or somewhat larger than itself if they are not too aggressive. However, it will prey on fish much smaller than itself, and it will injure or even kill more docile fish, even if they are too large to be eaten. Like other Cichlasomines, this species is a substrate-spawner that pairs off to breed. As is typical for cichlasomines, this fish has heightened aggression during the courtship, breeding, and fry-rearing periods.


The Mayan Cichlid is characterized by eight black bands (starting just behind the eye) and a large ocellus (eyespot) on the caudal peduncle (base of the tail), which gives this fish its scientific name. It has a base colour of brown to red that becomes more intense during breeding. As in many animals, the red colour is much more brilliant in wild specimens than captive ones, but one can help maintain some of its vibrancy by feeding the fish live foods and foods that contain vitamin A, which breaks down into the red pigment beta-carotene in the body.
The Mayan Cichlid's colour, size, and behaviour make it resemble the Red Terror (Cichlasoma festae), to which it is fairly closely related. However, the two have separate ranges in nature, with the Mayan Cichlid coming from the Atlantic slope of southern North America and northern Mesoamerica, and the Red Terror coming from the Pacific slope of southern Mesoamerica and northern South America. There are some physical differences, too. The Red Terror looks a bit more robust overall. It gets to be a bit larger than the Mayan Cichlid, attaining a longer and taller body, but with a relatively shorter snout and a slightly larger nuchal hump (bulging forehead). It also has longer trailings on its dorsal and anal fins. The Red Terror has more dark bands on its body (about nine starting behind the eye, rather than eight), and a smaller ocellus on its caudal peduncle. It also tends to retain more of its red colour in captivity than does the Mayan Cichlid. However, some Red Terrors lack the commonly seen bright red base colour and have an overall green colour with a yellow tinge. The Red Terror is reputedly the more aggressive of the two species, but both can be very belligerent in an aquarium and can bully or even kill smaller or weaker fish, especially when pairing off for breeding.


External links[edit]


Barlow, G.W. 1991. Mating systems among cichlid fishes. In: Cichlid Fishes: Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution. M.H.A. Keenleyside, ed. Chapman and Hall: New York. 173-190.

Bergmann, G.T. and P.J. Motta. 2004. Infection by Anisakid Nematodes Contracaecum spp. in the Mayan Cichlid Fish 'Cichlasoma (Nandopsis)' urophthalmus (Günther 1862). Journal of Parasitology 90 (2): 405-407.

Bergmann, G.T. and P.J. Motta. 2005. Diet and morphology through ontogeny of the nonindigenous Mayan cichlid 'Cichlasoma (Nandopsis)' urophthalmus (Günther 1862) in southern Florida. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 205-211.

Caso Chávez, M., A. Yáñez-Arancibia, and A.L. Lara-Domínguez. 1986. Biologia, ecologia y dinamica de poblaciones de Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Gunter) (Pisces: Cichlidae) en habitat de Thalassia testudinum y Rhizophora mangle, Laguna de Terminos, sur del Golfo de Mexico. Biotica 11: 79-111.

Conkel, D. 1997. Cichlids of North and Central America. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc.: Neptune City, New Jersey.

Faunce, C.H. and J.J. Lorenz. 2000. Reproductive biology of the introduced Mayan cichlid, Cichlasoma urophthalmus, within an estuarine mangrove habitat of southern Florida. Environmental Biology of Fishes 58: 215-225.

Flores Nava, A., M.A. Olvera Novoa, A. Garcia Cristiano. 1989. Effects of stocking density on the growth rates of Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther) cultured in floating cages. Aquaculture and fisheries management 20: 73-78.

Gamboa-Pérez, H.C. and J.J. Schmitter-Soto. 1999. Distribution of cichlid fishes in the littoral of Lake Bacalar, Yucatan Peninsula. Environmental Biology of Fishes 54: 35-43.

Kullander, S.O. 1983. A Revision of the South American Cichlid Genus Cichlasoma. Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm.

Loftus, W.F. 1987. Possible establishment of the Mayan cichlid, Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther) (Pisces: Cichlidae), in Everglades National Park, Florida. Florida Scientist 50: 1-6.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A. and L.G. Ross. 1986. The effects of temperature, body weight and hypoxia on the oxygen consumption of the Mexican mojarra, Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther). Aquaculture and Fisheries Management 17: 243-248.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A. and L.G. Ross. 1988. The feeding ecology of the Central American cichlid Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Gunther). Journal of Fish Biology 33: 665-670.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., L.G. Ross, and M. Rosado-Vallado. 1990. The effects of salinity on the survival and growth of juvenile Cichlasoma urophthalmus. Aquaculture 91: 65-75.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A. and L.G. Ross. 1992. The reproductive biology and growth of the Central American cichlid Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther). Journal of Applied Ichthyology 8: 99-109.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., C. Chavez-Sanchez, and M.A. Olvera Novoa. 1993. The potential for culture of the American Cichlidae with emphasis on Cichlasoma urophthalmus. Recent advances in aquaculture IV: 193- 232.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., M.C. Chavez-Sanchez, and L.G. Ross. 1996. The effects of water temperature on food intake, growth and body composition of Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther) juveniles. Aquaculture Research 27: 455-461.

Miller, R.R. 1966. Geographical distribution of Central American freshwater fishes. Copeia 1966: 773-802.

Salgado-Maldonado, G. and C.R. Kennedy. 1997. Richness and similarity of helminth communities in the tropical cichlid fish Cichlasoma urophthalmus from the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Parasitology 114: 581-590.

Sands, D. 1987. A Fishkeeper’s Guide to Central American Cichlids. Tetra Press: Blacksburg, Virginia.

Stauffer, J.R. Jr. and S.E. Boltz. 1994. Effect of salinity on the temperature preference and tolerance of age-0 Mayan cichlids. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 123: 101-107.

Stiassny, M.L.J. 1991. Phylogenetic intrarelatiohips of the family Cichlidae: an overview. In: Cichlid Fishes: Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution. M.H.A. Keenleyside, ed. Chapman and Hall, New York. 1-35.

Vidal-Martínez, V.M., D. Osorio-Sarabia, and R.M. Overstreet. 1994. Experimental infection of Contracaecum multipapillatum (Nematoda: Anisakinae) from Mexico in the domestic cat. Journal of Parasitology 80: 576-579.