Black Belt Cichlid (Vieja maculicauda): Ultimate Care Guide

The Black Belt Cichlid is a striking and somewhat aggressive Central American Cichlid. They feature a black band encircling their mid-section and red coloration on their caudal fins and chin. Selecting suitable tank mates can be a challenge as this species can be aggressive and often sees smaller fish as food. It can be best to keep this fish in a species specific tank. They can sometimes get along with similarly sized fish which are aggressive enough to hold their own against a Black Belt.

Black Belt Cichlid can reach sizes of up to 12 inches. They need larger tanks with frequent water changes. An omnivore, this species will eat most aquarium plants. They will also dig through and rearrange substrate and smaller hardscape elements; keep this in mind when planning your aquascape.

A notable feature of this species is intelligence: they will often recognize and respond to a particular owner. If you are planning on keeping this intelligent and feisty fish there are some things you’ll want to know. Let’s look at the facts!

Black Belt Cichlid Care

Black Belt Cichlid can be hardy but water quality is critical. This fish is an omnivore and a messy eater too. You’ll want to plan for weekly water changes of 25% or more. Without clean water this species is susceptible to Ich and other freshwater aquatic diseases.


Black Belt Cichlid prefer water temperatures between 76° and 84° F.

Water pH

Black Belt Cichlid need water pH in a range from 6.5 to 7.5. Frequent water changes may be needed to maintain these levels. You will want to avoid substrates that buffer alkalinity such as crushed coral. It is best to choose a neutral substrate such as sand.

Black Belt Cichlid (Vieja maculicauda)
Black Belt Cichlid (Vieja maculicauda). Edited. Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Black Belt Cichlid Size

Black Belt Cichlid can grow up to 12 inches. Keep this in mind when deciding on tank volume.

Black Belt Cichlid Lifespan

Black Belt Cichlid can live 8 to 10 years.

Black Belt Cichlid Tank Size

Black Belt Cichlid can grow to 12 inches and will need at least a 70 gallon tank. If keeping more than one Black Belt plan for a much larger tank of 120 gallons or more. Large tank sizes can help this fish coexist with other tank mates. They can be aggressive and cramped living conditions can make this worse.

Tank Setup

Black Belt Cichlid like to dig and should be provided a sandy substrate. They will uproot and eat plants. Any plants in the tank should be chosen carefully. Floating plants are best and they are more tolerant of being tossed around by feisty Cichlids.

This species prefers dimmer lighting; floating cover plants like duckweed can be a good choice. Also provide bogwood or other hardscape elements to provide shaded areas.

Sand is the most common substrate choice as it is similar to this species’ natural environment. Black Belts like to dig so give them at least 2 to 3 inches of sand. Avoid substrates like crushed coral that can raise alkalinity. African Cichlids prefer higher alkalinity and some hobbyists use crushed coral or aragonite sand because it can raise pH. Black Belt Cichlids are less tolerant of high pH levels than African Cichlids so sand is often the best choice.

With larger tanks comes greater filtration needs. You will want a filter than can turn over 4 times the volume of your tank in an hour. So a 70 gallon tank would need a filter with at least 280 GPH (gallons per hour) capacity. Black Belt Cichlids are susceptible to hole-in-the-head disease which can be caused by high bacterial content. You’ll want excellent biofiltration. Canister filters can be a good choice. Also consider the use of a UV sterilizer. Although optional, a UV sterilizer can help keep bacterial counts low. This can be important when dealing with a densely populated aquarium.

All fish are potential jumpers and Black Belt Cichlids are no different. Because of their large mature size you will want a sturdy lid that can take an impact from a 12 inch fish!

Food & Diet

Black Belt Cichlids are omnivores. Cichlid pellets can be the main base of their diet. Provide live or prepared meaty foods such as shrimps, worms and snails. They will also eat blanched and cooled lettuce or spinach as well as fruit.

Black Belts are big eaters and should be fed two to three times a day. For best health and coloration feed a varied diet. Occasional feeding with vitamin supplemented foods is ideal.

Black Belt Cichlid Breeding

Black Belt Cichlid are egg layers and are easy to breed. For best results at least 6 juveniles should be kept and allowed to form pairs. These pairs will spawn easier than a male and female chosen at random.

This species should be kept in a separate breeding tank during spawning to prevent harm to other tank mates. They will become especially aggressive when taking care of eggs and fry. A breeding tank for this species should be large; 150 gallons or more is ideal.

They need flat rocks to lay eggs on and sandy substrate. This species will form spawning pits around the tank. Newly hatched fry are moved to these pits until they become free swimming.

During spawning the pair will clean a flat rock. The female will lay 500 to 600 eggs on this surface which the male will fertilize. After 3 days the eggs will hatch and the pair will move these fry to previously dug spawning pits to develop. A week later, fry will be free swimming and can be fed freshly hatched brine shrimp.

Black Belt Cichlid Male or Female

Black Belt Cichlid Male males are larger than females and have more intense coloration. Mature males will often develop a nuchal hump of their foreheads.

Common Diseases

Black Belt Cichlid are sensitive to water quality and can develop freshwater diseases such as Ich and “hole-in-the-head” disease. Black Belts are more tolerant of higher water temperatures. This can be an asset when treating Ich as water temperature can be raised to 86° F for a few days.

This species is also prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations. Make sure to quarantine new tank additions for a few weeks to help prevent the addition of unwanted guests. Plant material should also be treated before being introduced as food. Black Belts will eat lettuce or spinach that has been properly prepared by blanching in boiling water. Rinse and cool completely before adding to your tank. You should never add plant material to your Black Belt tank that you aren’t sure is free of parasites or pathogens.

Many diseases in this species can be traced to either low water quality or nutritional deficiency from poor feeding. This fish is an omnivore and shouldn’t live on Cichlid pellets or flake alone. Feed with a range of prepared or live meaty foods and clean plant material.

Black Belt Cichlid Tank Mates

Black Belt Cichlids can be aggressive and will see smaller fish as food. Finding suitable tank mates is a challenge. They do best in species specific tanks.

Are Black Belt Cichlid Aggressive?

Black Belt Cichlid are not the most aggressive Central American Cichlid species but can still pose a problem to tank mates. They view smaller fish as food and can bully fish that are only slightly smaller than themselves. They can get along with larger, less aggressive fish when young. But these same fish can be viewed as targets the minute your Black Belt reaches or exceeds their size.

Examples of Compatible and Incompatible Tank Mates

The best tank mates for Black Belt Cichlids are other Black Belt Cichlids. Maintaining a species specific tank is the safest choice. They can also get along with other Central American Cichlids. Other species that are similar in size and aggression can be good choices as well. Texas Cichlids and Talipia are possible choices. Convict Cichlids, while smaller than Black Belts, may be aggressive enough to hold their own as tank mates.

As this species matures they will become a hazard to most other fish and aquatic plants. Smaller fish, including members of a cleanup crew will not last long with Black Belts.

Black Belt Cichlid and Oscar Fish

Black Belt Cichlid will get along with Oscar Fish as long as the latter is larger. When Black Belts grow to match the size of Oscars they can begin to be aggressive and will often need to be separated into another tank. Black Belt Cichlid and Oscar Fish harmony can occur, but is often fleeting.

Where can I find Black Belt Cichlid for sale?

Black Belt Cichlid are hardy and easy to breed. Expect to find lower prices and easy availability. If you can’t find them in your local fish store there are many Internet sources.

Black Belt Cichlid Price

Black Belt Cichlid are priced by size. 2 to 3 inch specimens can be had for under $10 USD. 4 inch fish are available for less than $20 USD.