Cichlid Room Companion

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'Cichlasoma' festae and urophthalmus

By , 1995. printer

Classification: Captive maintenance, Central and North America.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1995-Oct-18 "

Melissa says: OK, meetings starting now people. Please keep 'says' to questions.

Melissa says: Welcome to this week's cichlid meeting. Today's topic is 'Cichlasoma' festae and 'C.' urophthalmus. The genus is still under debate. They may also be listed under the genus names Heros and Amphilophus in some references.

Melissa says: Although the festae is most commonly sold as the red terror, the urophthalmus is also sold as the red terror in the US. While these fish are similar in appearance (red and black vertical stripes), they come from different areas. The festae is a South American cichlid from Ecuador. The urophthalmus is a Central American cichlid found in south México and neighboring C. American countries.

Melissa says: At this point, you're probably wondering how to tell these two species apart. If you're lucky enough to know exactly where your fish came from, that will tell you. For the rest of us, there is one easily noticeable feature that distinguishes the two.

Melissa says: Both cichlids have a black eye spot on the base of the caudal (tail) fin. With the festae, this spot is small, only taking half the height of the base. The urophthalmus spot is large, taking the entire height of the base. The red coloration is also usually less intense with the urophthalmus, but this is not always true.

Melissa says: Another difference between the two is adult size. Festae can get well over a foot (30 cm) in length while the urophthalmus usually only gets around 8 inches (20 cm). Thus makes a difference in the size of tank that these fish can be kept in.

Melissa says: For single specimens, urophthalmus can be housed in a 55g (210L) and a festae in a 75g (285L). Breeding pairs need at least 100g (380L), preferably over 150g (570L) for the festae. A community cichlid tank with other cichlids of equal size and temperament needs to be at least 100g (380L) for single specimens and at least 200g (660L) for a breeding pair.

Melissa says: Because of the large volume of waste these fish produce, strong filtration along with frequent water changes is a must to keep up water quality. I have found that a 15-20% change a week keeps the nitrates in my tank under 50ppm. Nitrates can build up quickly so do not neglect the water changes.

Melissa says: These fish are not picky about food. Although they would like to eat just feeders (and what cichlid wouldn't :) ), they will accept most pellet foods. Bloodworms, beefheart and other treats are also readily accepted. If the red coloration is to remain intense, a color enhancing food should be fed. I use a commercial color enhancing pellet. Krill is also reported to help color but I have not tried it. I feed mostly pellets and bloodworms with feeders as an occasional treat.

Melissa says: As mentioned before, both species require large tanks for breeding. Pairs guard the eggs and young very aggressively and will kill or seriously injure tankmates if the tank is too small. There is also the possibility that one mate, usually the male, will turn on the other even in large tanks. Dividers or spare tanks should be kept on hand in case this happens.

Juanmi says: They should eat mainly inverts in their natural habitat

Melissa says: Thank you Juan. That reminds me, one of the special treats my urophthalmus gets is crushed snails. She loves them.

Melissa says: Both species are monogamous breeders. The eggs are laid on a hard surface such as a rock or the tank glass. Usually, the female tends the eggs while the male guards the territory. The development and care of the fry is similar to that of other cichlids. Both fish take a while to grow to breeding size. Urophthalmus takes around 18mth-2yr and festae take a little longer.

Melissa says: Male festae are fairly easy to distinguish. Males have green-blue iridescent flecks on their flanks and caudal and dorsal fins. They also tend to be a bit larger and tend to lose their black stripes as they age. Female festae retain their bright red and black stripes.

Juanmi says: Urophthalmus fry grow real fast.

Melissa says: That is true Juan. Mine was about 4 inches when I got her. I believe she was 6 months old then. Maybe she was 9 months. I can't remember exactly.

Melissa says: As far as the urophthalmus goes, I have difficulty distinguishing the sexes even with known breeding pairs. Males are supposed to be larger. A column in AFM said that females have a black blotch in the spiny dorsal, but I have not observed this with my female. It is possible this black blotch is only present in certain populations of urophthalmus. I only know mine is a female because I saw her lay eggs.

Juanmi says: One was to distinguish sexes is to look at the genital papillae, males will have pointed white papillae, females chunkier with a small hole at the rounded tip of it.

Juanmi says: It is also true about the black blotch in the dorsal fin, although as you mention Melissa, it only occurs in some populations or lack in some individuals. It is actually a trait of the Nandopsis cichlasomines, present in most species

Melissa says: This particular column was talking about urophthalmus found in Belize.

Juanmi says: Like salvini and trimaculatum, closely related to urophthalmus

Juanmi says: there are 10+ subspecies of urophtalmus, most inhabit the Yucatan peninsula in México, as well as some Mexican small islands in the Caribbean

Juanmi says: Many isolated populations have develop into sub-species according to the well know ichthyologist Carl Hubbs 1936

Melissa says: Both species can withstand a wide range of pH and hardness although extremes are to be avoided. There should be no need to adjust your water to keep these fish happy. They prefer temps in the mid 70's to low 80's Far (23-28C). They have a tendency to attack heaters so care must be taken to protect the heaters. I keep my urophthalmus at a pH of 7.4, a hardness of 9GH and a temp of 79F (26C).

Melissa says: A final word on tank description. These fish like to dig a lot. My urophthalmus has worked with my octofasciatum to move all the gravel to one end of the tank. All rocks should be securely placed to avoid toppling. Alternately, egg crate can be used to keep the fish from the bottom layer of the gravel. The rocks can then be embedded in this layer through holes in the egg crate. Caution must be taken. There is nothing worse than a cracked glass or an injured (or dead) fish caused by overzealous digging.

Melissa says: Well, that's the end of my prepared notes. Any questions?

Juanmi says: How many fry does your pair produce Melissa?

Melissa says: The pair does not belong to me. I have one of their offspring. The typically laid over 100 eggs. If the eggs were removed or destroyed, they would lay again in two weeks. The one spawn that was allowed to develop resulted in about 40 fry most of which were removed after two months.

Juanmi says: I have seen pairs of urophthalmus lay 1000+ eggs

Melissa says: My urophthalmus was the one fry that refused to be caught until they tore down the tank (a 250g, 950L). I believe that is why she grew nicely.

Melissa says: This was a fairly young pair and the owner seldom allowed the eggs to remain. I only saw the eggs of that one spawn a couple of years ago. The also spawned in a cave so it was hard to tell exactly.

Juanmi says: They are known to support sea water, they inhabit very low lands rivers and salty lagoons

Juanmi says: They are quite plentiful in those habitats in southern México from Veracruz to the border with Guatemala in the gulf basin, and they extend to Belize and part of Guatemala also

Melissa says: My urophthalmus seems tolerant of salt. I added some to her tank when I first got her because she got slightly cut on the rocks when they were netting her out of the parents' tank.

Juanmi says: there are quite a variation in coloration with subspecies (morphs?), some green and some very red

Melissa says: Loiselle mentioned in that AFM column that he has seen pairs guarding fry in mangrove roots near islands off the coast of Belize.

Juanmi says: There are urophthalmus in islands in the Caribbean sea, where lagoons are very salty

Melissa says: I think I should also mention some of the requirements for tankmates. Otherwise, you might end up with mangled fish.

Melissa says: Anyway, tankmates should be of equal size and aggression. I have had little problem keeping mine with an octofasciatum (jack dempsey). Oscars would also be good choices.


Danforth, Melissa. (May 27, 1996). "'Cichlasoma' festae and urophthalmus". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on October 17, 2017, from: