Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) Species Guide

Hailing from Central America, these beauties are a staple in home aquariums. A firemouth cichlid are great for beginners, and countless people have said how easy it is to keep the freshwater fish in a tank.

Firemouth Cichlid

The Firemouth Cichlid

Basic Facts

  • Name: Firemouth Cichlid
  • Scientific Name: Thorichthys meeki (Herichthys meeki)
  • Group: Freshwater Fish
  • Size Of The Fish: Medium-Large Fish
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive/Territorial
  • Aquarium Size Required: Large
  • Where It Swims: Bottom-Middle
  • Care Difficulty Rating: Easy-Medium
  • Good Paired With: Cat Fish, Tetra Species, Other Firemouths


The Firemouth Cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is a tropical fish from the family Cichlidae. It was discovered in 1919 by Walter Brind.

The scientific name of the Firemouth Cichlid comes from the American ichthyologist Seth Eugene Meek. (Ichthyologist means someone who studies fish.) It was named in his honor.

The common name of this fish, Firemouth Cichlid, comes from 2 factors. One, the fiery red coloration around their gills and mouths. Two, the display males do during the breeding season. To look impressive, these cichlids flare out their gills, and it seems as if their mouth is on fire.

Their natural habitat is Central America. A fish native to Mexico (the Yucatan Peninsula,) El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. They’ve also been introduced into Hawaii, the US mainland, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and even Singapore!

They live in slow moving ponds, rivers without fast currents, and canals with sandy and muddy bottoms. The cichlid firemouth inhabit the middle and bottom of the water areas.

Firemouth Cichlids taken by @tf_tropical_fish on Instagram
Firemouth Cichlids thanks to @tf_tropical_fish on Instagram


While Firemouth Cichlids aren’t some of the most vividly colored freshwater fish out there, they still have a unique coloration.

Like many types of Cichlid species, they are sexually dimorphic. However, the differences aren’t extreme. It can be challenging to tell the sex of your fish.

(Don’t bother trying to sex your firemouth cichlid when they are young. Juveniles are almost impossible to tell apart.)

Markings and Colors: The males are brighter than the females and juveniles. The male and the female firemouth gain their coloring when they reach maturity.

It becomes much more noticeable on the adults during the breeding season.

The Firemouth Cichlid has orangish-red or red coloration markings on their neck, abdomen, and gill covers (opercles). However, the males’ markings are always brighter.

The male and female firemouth also have blue spots or turquoise spots on their anal fins. The female usually has a dark spot on her dorsal fin.

Size and Shape: The males tend to be larger than females and have more sharply pointed dorsal and anal fins.

Their fin rays trail longer than females, and their pointed dorsal and anal fins are much longer too. The adult male has a visible genital papilla too.

The females are plumper and fuller looking.

Behavior: In general, males are more aggressive than females. Though, sometimes a female can be quite protective of her eggs.

You may have heard that Firemouths flare their gills and expand their throat sac. All year round, males flare their gills when they want to intimidate or are aggressive, females don’t usually.

Yet, in the breeding season, both male and female fish do it.

On color (for the juveniles), they have a light-gray to olive-gray for most of their body, with a blueish tint. When they reach maturity, their skin becomes almost entirely violet.

The Firemouth Cichlid has another marking that depends on the freshwater fish and environmental conditions.

Sometimes, they have broad, dark-colored lines that extend along the body. They might have a black spot in the middle, or a horizontal stripe.

Their opercles have one black spot on them, called an eye spot, and most of the fins are light pink, with blueish flecks. The eyes are usually a blue color, with black pupils.

In captivity, they grow larger than in the wild. The largest length for males is 6″ (15cm). Females are smaller. They have a very fast growth rate, and reach full size quite quickly.

Their lifespan is usually 10-15 years.

Firemouth Cichlids Fish taken by @christhefisherman on Instagram
Firemouth Cichlids Fish thanks to @christhefisherman on Instagram


Like most, but not all fish, they lay eggs. Also, they are mouth breeders.

In the wild, in the warmer months, the water changes. This fuels the beginning of the breeding.

There are changes in the behavior of both sexes, but the males are more noticeable. Their colors and patterns become more vibrant.

They become more aggressive. They fight other males in the fish tank to impress the females.

Over a few days, they will usually pick their mates, which they stay with for the rest of their life. Breeding follows soon after.

The female becomes fertile and begins looking for a place to put her eggs. Firemouths often lay their eggs on a flat rock. Once she is ready, lays the eggs in long rows. The male follows, fertilizing them.

Firemouth Cichlid Thorichthys meeki

The usual clutch size for a Firemouth is up to several hundred eggs.

They’re excellent parents.

The female does most of the egg looking after. She stays and tends to the eggs, while the male is on guard, protecting the territory. The eggs hatch after 3-4 days. After that, they care for the fry.

Once the fry have hatched, the parents move them to another location and stay there until the babies can swim.

The parents continue to care for the fry. They do this for around six weeks until the babies can take care of themselves.

After this, the parents and fry go their separate ways, though the same couple may raise several broods in the one year.

When you want them to start breeding, raise the tank temperature to 82°F (28°C) over the course of 2 days or so.

When they have paired off, or they are too aggressive to their tank mates, separate the couples from the other fish with a divider. Or put the pairs in a separate breeding tank.

You should have appropriate places for them to put their eggs. Like PVC pipes, upside-down flowerpots, and flat rocks.

They lay about 100 – 500 eggs.

When the fry have hatched, check up on them occasionally for the first week or so, but they don’t need feeding yet. The parents keep them in pits to guard them.

After the 7th or 8th day, they can swim. This is when you should start feeding them.

They grow fast, make sure there’s enough room in the tank.

Recommended high-quality foods for the first three weeks are brine shrimp, crushed flake food, micro worms, and other foods designed for fry.

When they reach three weeks of age, you can introduce dried fish food. When they mature, feed them what you feed other Firemouths.

When you have the fry, it’s essential to change 10% of the water every day with aged water.

(A word of warning, sometimes, first-time parents have been known to eat their hatched young. Don’t panic if this happens. But they stop eating the fry after the second or third time.)

A Firemouth Cichlid Fish taken by @tf_tropical_fish on Instagram
A Firemouth Cichlid Fish thanks to @tf_tropical_fish on Instagram

Looking After Firemouth Cichlids

It’s best to keep them with their species, or a pair if you know their sex.

They are relatively large fish, and they tend to be aggressive, so they need plenty of space and swimming room.

A freshwater aquarium with a tank size of fifty gallons (189 L) is a good starting point and makes for a perfect size for a couple.

If you are thinking about keeping a group, a tank size of 100 gallons is excellent (if you can manage it).

Live plants with large leaves is a good idea, such as Sagittaria.

It gives these cichlid fish something to hide behind. Plant them in pots, root surfaces covered with stones around the sides of the tank leaving swimming space in the middle.

That stops the fish from disturbing and moving the aquarium plants.

Have a sand bottom or fine gravel substrate so it’s easy for them to do their burrowing.

Another idea is putting rocks, roots and driftwood and arrange them to make plenty of nooks, crannies, and caves. So they can seek refuge and hide if they need to.

Group Of Firemouth Cichlids taken by @johancistrusGroup Of Firemouth Cichlids taken by @johancistrus
Firemouths taken by @johancistrus

Water Conditions k & Ideal Water Parameters

To keep the water parameters healthy for the fish, filter the tank water often, a good choice is at least once a week. Good water quality and water movement are essential for their health.

Filtering it often keeps nitrite and ammonia out of the water. However, with nitrate, it’s okay to have some in the water conditions, but nothing over 20mg a liter.

An addition of lava rocks can help keep the nitrates under control.

These cichlid fish are susceptible to harmful nitrogen compounds.

Having live vegetation in the aquarium and a good external filter helps maintain water purity and fish health. Cichlids are sensitive to changes in the pH levels, and pollutants.

It’s essential that you change 15-20% of the water weekly.

When you replace the water, you need to clean up the decomposing organic matter. Do this with a gravel cleaner.

When you clean the tank, remove most, but not all the algae growth from the glass panes. You may not like it, but alga is an excellent source of food for the Firemouth cichlid.


75–86 °F (23–30 °C) is the recommended tank water temperature range.

PH And Hardness

pH Range: 6.5 – 8.0

Water Hardness Range: 8-15 dGH

Firemouth Cichlid taken by @christhefisherman on Instagram
The Firemouth Cichlid Thanks to @christhefisherman on Instagram

Suitable Tank Mates

This cichlid quite aggressive, and they don’t seem to be afraid of anything. Also territorial, and protect what they believe is theirs.

Because of this, careful planning must go in if you wish to have a harmonious tank.

In general, having lots of tank mates for these fish isn’t the way to go. They’re not very good community fish.

The firemouth cichlid gets very defensive during the breeding season. In some cases, they have been known to eat tinier fish tank mates.

Despite everything mentioned above, if you plan carefully, you can avoid most of these problems.

Step one would be having a big community tank.

Step 2 is to choose the right tank mates! Here are some recommended species.

Others of their species are a good bet. However, have several of them.

A definite no-no 2 males together. Two females aren’t such a good idea either. It’s best to have a mix of both sexes.

Gouramis and Mollies. Many species of Gouramis (except Siamese Fighting Fish) are generally not aggressive. Mollies are excellent too. They are some of the most serene fish around,

Make sure the ones you choose are larger than the Firemouth Cichlids. This will minimize most conflict.

Other ideas would be Catfish and the Tetra group of fish.

All in all, you can keep Firemouths with other species, you have to be careful about which ones you choose. However, if you decide to keep the cichlid by themselves, that’s an excellent idea too.

Two Firemouth taken by @kevinmeeki on Instagram
Two Firemouth thanks to @kevinmeeki on Instagram


In the wild, Firemouths, like other Cichlids, have a varied diet. They are primarily carnivorous, but they are omnivores.

They feed upon all sorts of things, such as larvae, invertebrates, small fish, and worms. They also eat some algae.

The food you give them must be high in protein in a varied diet, and you mustn’t overfeed them, and must be high quality.

Newly-bought firemouth cichlid fish are often timid and shy. They aren’t familiar with their new surroundings. At first, they may refuse to be fed, but if you feed them, then leave, they might eat.

(The timidness can last up to several months, so be patient.)

Here are a few foods you should consider feeding your Firemouths.

Bloodworms and white worms are a good option for fulfilling the meaty need. As are brine shrimp and tubifex worms.

(However, shrimp and blood worms are quite meaty. So, they should only be given occasionally. Consider them as a treat food.)

Frozen Foods is good for Firemouth Cichlids too. Examples would include of frozen foods is artificial food such as flakes and tablets, Cyclops, and frozen shrimp.

Flakes and Pellets are a good supplement to their diet. Make sure they’re high quality.

Other Options To Consider

Mosquito larvae, daphnia and ocean plankton.

Vegetables are good for these fish too. Great options are spinach, blanched and finely chopped, and pieces of cucumber.

Leave some of the growth of algae on your tank. They like to eat that in the wild.

Some of the most popular cichlids in the aquarium trade. The firemouth cichlid is an appealing fish, low-maintenance and perfect for a beginner just starting in the aquarium cichlid hobby.

Do you have a Firemouth cichlid, or are planning on getting one? I’d love to hear about it.

Is there something missing from this article, or do you have a question? Let me know in a comment below.


  1. I had an electric blue acara with a firemouth. It bothered the small one but not the bigger one. That’s ok isn’t it?

    • Hi Gary!
      Thanks for getting in touch.
      Blue Acara are part of the same family, cichlids, and they also grow to be larger than firemouth cichlids.
      Since firemouth cichlids get along better with fish that are also cichlid, you’ve chosen an ideal tank mate.
      When firemouths are growing up, they can be a bit antsy around bigger tank mates.
      However, give them some time, and the smaller firemouth should grow out of its tendency to do that.
      Good luck with your tank!
      Cheers Jim


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