Cichlids are one of the most loved groups of fish in the hobby.
And firemouth cichlids even more so.
They are both pretty and rewarding to keep. In fact, 80% of their care can be summed up in the following table:
|Lifespan||10-15 Years (on Avg; can live longer)|
|Tank Area||Bottom/Middle of Tank|
|Hardness||4-10 dKH; 8-15 dGH|
|Size||Typically 5” – up to 6.5”|
|Diet||Omnivorous (Cichlid pellets/flakes, brine shrimp, frozen foods, etc)|
|Recommended Tank Size||40-gallon breeder (29g bare minimum)|
|Ease of Breeding||Easy|
It’s not all smooth sailing, however. There are quite a few things you need to be aware of before you buy your first firemouth.
Especially if you’re planning on adding them to an existing community tank.
Firemouth cichlids can cause problems with a lot of other commonly kept types of fish, and if you don’t plan everything out in advance, you might be in for a lot of headache.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know in order to successfully care for firemouth cichlids.
Firemouth cichlids are classified as semi-aggressive fish, but they are quite aggressive even compared to other semi-aggressive fish.
And it only gets worse if you have a mated pair in the tank. (Firemouths are monogamous fish that pair off and mate for life.)
This problem may decrease a bit if you keep them in a tank with more room, but you’ll likely still experience some aggression.
This means there are a lot of fish they shouldn’t be mixed with. For example, they seem to particularly enjoy chasing Corydoras around and bullying them.
We’ll cover compatible tank mates later in the article, but it’s a good idea to stock them with other fish their same size or larger if your tank is big enough.
Like any fish, a properly set up tank is key to successfully keeping firemouth cichlids.
If you start off with the right tank conditions (and do your regular maintenance), you’re a lot more likely to have a good experience with firemouths.
A single firemouth cichlid can live in as little as a 29-gallon tank. You can even squeeze a pair of them into a 29 or 30-gallon, but you would be much better getting a 40 or 55+ gallon tank for them to live in.
This will cover you when your pair spawns and you get more cichlids in your aquarium.
Also, if you have a choice, a X gallon long aquarium is a better choice than a regular x gallon aquarium.
“Long” aquariums are shorter and longer, giving your fish more room to swim in. Since firemouth cichlids mostly inhabit the lower and middle sections of the aquarium, they’re not likely to miss the extra height.
|Tank Size||Number of Firemouth Cichlids|
|30 Gallons||1 firemouth cichlid (species only)|
|40 Breeder||1 breeding pair + spawn (species only)|
Larger tanks might let you fit other types of fish in (see the tank mates section later), but it’s recommended that you don’t keep more than 1 breeding pair in a tank.
Let’s move onto filling up your aquarium with water:
Firemouth cichlids are extremely adaptable fish that can do well in a wide range of water conditions.
They can live in PH anywhere between 6.5-8 and with hardness between 4-10 dKH. They also can live in any tropical tank temperature, doing best between 75-82F.
As always, ammonia and nitrite should be at 0, and nitrates should be at or below 20 ppm. If you’re putting them in a new tank, you should run the tank 4-8 weeks first to build up the right amount of ammonia and nitrite eating bacteria in your tank.
The key to successfully keeping firemouth cichlids is keeping your water parameters stable.
As much as possible, you should avoid making any sudden or drastic changes in PH, temperature, or anything else regarding your aquarium’s water.
Water changes should be done at a rate of 30% every other week.
This is especially important with firemouths, because they like to stir up the substrate, which pollutes the tank with waste that would otherwise be buried at the bottom.
If possible, when doing water changes, fill your bucket up with water and do the following before putting the water back into the tank:
- Dechlorinate your water
- Match your water temperature to your tank temperature (using a heater if necessary)
- Match your PH and hardness to that of your aquarium
This will reduce how much you stress out your cichlids during water changes.
The ideal habitat for a firemouth cichlid is a long tank with plants and decorations breaking up the line of sight in the aquarium.
This will reduce the potential for conflict between your cichlids and the other fish in your aquarium and will make your fish the most comfortable.
Some good things to include are driftwood, rocks, and large props like you can find commercially. If you can find things that will provide “caves” large enough for them to go into, even better. Clay pots work well for this.
Plants are another great option.
Most cichlids have a reputation for tearing up plants, making them a bad candidate for planted tanks.
Luckily, firemouth cichlids seem to be the exception to this rule.
Most people I’ve spoken to have said that their firemouths have more or less ignored the plants in their aquarium. (With the occasional uprooted plant being the exception.)
Based, on this, I do recommend that you plant out the aquarium you keep your firemouth cichlids in.
This will serve the purpose I mentioned above, but it will also help to draw harmful contaminants out of the water.
Anubias and anacharis are two good options, but there are plenty of others. Just start with some cheaper plants so that if they do get destroyed it didn’t cost you much.
You do still want to leave some bare spots so your firemouths can dig around without uprooting everything.
Firemouth cichlids are omnivores that will eat just about anything you put in front of them.
Commercially, you can feed them a wide range of pellets or flakes, and there are plenty that are formulated specifically for cichlids.
Hikari bio-gold sinking pellets is one good option that is available.
They will also eat frozen or freeze dried foods (with frozen being the preference) that are available. Worms, shrimp, and other similar frozen foods are some examples of good choices.
You may also occasionally get live feeder shrimp, if you’re into feeding live foods.
The key here is to vary their diet. They can eat a wide range of foods, so you should include as much variety as you can.
You have to be careful what you put in the tank with your firemouth cichlids.
Firemouths can be aggressive, meaning the wrong fish will get bullied and possibly killed by your cichlid.
Shrimp and snails, for example, will quickly get eaten.
Smaller and more peaceful fish, such as Corydoras, are commonly chased around and harassed by firemouth cichlids.
Luckily, there are plenty of options. Here are a few:
- Blue Acara
- Rosy Barbs
- Odessa Barbs
- Black Skirt Tetras (And other large tetras)
- Upside-down Catfish
- Yo-Yo Loaches
- Appropriately Sized Plecos (Bristlenose, Rio-Negro, or Rubber)
- Convict Cichlids (and other semi-aggressive cichlids)
I’ve even heard of firemouths successfully being kept with larger and more aggressive cichlids like Jack Dempsey, but this isn’t necessarily recommended. In any case, the Jack Dempsey would quickly supplant the firemouth as the biggest/baddest fish in the aquarium.
Firemouth cichlids are one of the easiest fish to breed. (As long as you have a mated pair.)
They practically do all the work for you.
You don’t have to move them into a dedicated breeder tank if your aquarium is big enough, but you can if you want to. If you decide to move them, you want to do so before they start spawning.
Raising the temperature of the water to 80-82F will encourage them to start breeding.
Before they start spawning, they will pick out a spot for the female to lay her eggs. This will usually be something flat like a rock or a clay pot.
The female will lay hundreds of eggs, and the male will then fertilize them.
Unlike some fish, firemouth cichlids are good parents, and they will protect the eggs and care for the young until they are ½ – ¾ of an inch long.
During this time, the male will get much more aggressive, and he will attack and chase other fish out of his territory.
All you need to do is make sure there is plenty of food for the fry.
Some good options include powdered pellets or flakes as well as young brine shrimp.
Once the fry get to be close to an inch long, you can separate them from their parents.
Firemouth cichlids are generally hardy fish, but they do have a few parasites and diseases that they are likely to come down with.
Luckily, these are easily treatable and aren’t very serious with the proper care.
Hands down the most common parasite you are likely to run into is ich.
Ich floats around in your aquarium and will start growing on any fish or snails that live there. If you have ich, the first symptom you are likely to notice is white spots covering everything.
Other symptoms include:
- Clamped fins
- Decreased appetite
- Gasping for air
- Rubbing up against objects in the aquarium
There are many ways to treat ich, but the one I recommend is ParaGuard from Seachem. Use as directed for 3-4 weeks, and it should disappear.
Gill flukes are another parasite that can afflict your firemouth cichlids. Left untreated, it will kill your cichlids.
Again, the good news is that they aren’t super difficult to get rid of.
- Red spots
- Rubbing up against stuff in the aquarium
- Clampet fins
- Gasping for air
- Bad looking gills
Treatment is much the same as with ich.
Use Seachem ParaGuard according to the instructions on the bottle for 3-4 weeks; longer if your fish aren’t looking better by then.
Quarantine New Fish
The easiest way to avoid the above parasites as well as all other manner of infections is to quarantine any new fish you add to your aquarium.
It’s not difficult to do, but it does take a bit of time.
Set up a new 10-gallon or 20-gallon long aquarium. Instead of putting your new fish directly in your display tank, put them in the quarantine tank.
Keep them there for a bare minimum of 2 weeks. 60 days is optimal.
If you don’t notice any signs of illness, you can move them into your display tank after that time is up without doing anything extra.
If you do notice that your new fish is sick, you can medicate appropriately without getting your other fish sick.
It is extremely important that you have a separate set of tools and buckets that you use for your quarantine tank. Sharing tools will just transfer disease into your display tank.
In the event of a sick fish, disinfect everything afterwards. Vinegar (or varying amounts of bleach mixed into water) are commonly recommended for this purpose. Hospitals will commonly use a 10% bleach to 90% water mixture for disinfecting things, and that will probably work here as well.
Just be sure to wash everything out well and let it dry before reusing.
Plants should also be sterilized using something like Potassium Permanganate. This will ensure that they aren’t bringing disease into your aquarium.
Firemouth cichlids are easy and rewarding fish to take care of. They get to be quite large, they are pretty, and there isn’t much to dislike about them.
If you keep them in the right water parameters and do water changes normally, care comes down to feeding them and not introducing parasites into your aquarium.
The other big thing to keep in mind is that you can’t just put any fish in with them. You have to make sure the fish you want to keep can live peacefully in the same aquarium.
Do that, and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.