South American Cichlid Species List (Top 12)

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What are South American Cichlids?

South American Cichlids are a diverse grouping of Cichlid fish that originate from Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, and the surrounding areas within South America. Among the numerous bodies of water, the Amazon River constitutes the largest system. In fact, it constitutes one-fifth of the total flowing fresh water of the world. Naturally, many fish inhabit this river system.

These Cichlids can be found in many home aquariums across the globe. They are such a diverse grouping of fish that it is impossible to describe South American Cichlids without looking at each species individually. They can be found in a wide range of sizes from large to small, varied diets with vastly different needs, and even many different water parameters.

With so many different characteristics for this grouping, it is better to look at each species as an individual instead of trying to describe them as a group. If you are looking at purchasing South American Cichlids for your home aquarium, you will want to make sure that you do your research to ensure that you know what you are getting yourself into. This diverse grouping of fish does have one thing in common, they all enjoy large aquariums with lots of space to swim around.

Amazon River of South America
Amazon River of South America

List of South American Cichlid Species

While there are many South American Cichlids, here’s a list of some of the most popular species in the aquarium hobby.

Oscar Fish (Astronotus Ocellatus)

South American Cichlid
Oscar Fish (Astronotus Ocellatus)

Oscar Fish are a South American Cichlid that can be found in many parts of South America including Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, and Venezuela. They can be found in the Amazon, and in Amazon River systems. Small populations of Oscar Fish have even been found in China, Australia, and even in Florida due to people wrongfully releasing  them into the wild. 

Wild Oscar Fish are omnivorous, and in the wild they can be found eating insects, snails, and insect larvae. During certain times of the year, fruit and nuts are also available as a food source for Oscar Fish. In captivity, it is important to make sure that they are being fed the correct diet. Oscar Fish need vitamin C in their diet or they will develop health problems. This species of Cichlid has been selectively bred to have different variations that can not be found in the wild. They have developed a long fin variety, and even different colors. Oscar Fish reach full maturity at around 1 year old, and when they pair off to spawn, both parent fish take on the responsibility to care for their offspring.

Ram Cichlid

German Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus Ramirezi)
German Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus Ramirezi)

Ram Cichlids in captivity are often not as colorful as their wild counterparts. This is said to be due to breeders injecting them with hormones to get them to reproduce, and from poor breeding and care. Ram Cichlids are often referred to as dwarf Cichlids because of their small size. They are often chosen by aquarists that love Cichlids, but do not have enough room to keep a much larger aquarium. They can grow up to 3 inches in length, and can live up to 4 years when cared for properly.

Ram Cichlids can be found in many colors such as yellow, blue, and green. These different colorations have led to Ram Cichlids being called other common names such as Butterfly Cichlid, Blue Ram Cichlid, and Electric Blue Rams Cichlids. These flashy colors are not just to attract a mate, they are actually used as a defense mechanism. The flashing colors warn off potential predators. This is not their only method of self defense either. They have many spines that run along their dorsal fin. If a predator fish tries to swallow them, the spines will stick into their throat.

In the wild, Ram Cichlids have a relatively small natural habitat. They can be found in the Orinoco River Basin.

Apistogrammas (Dwarf Cichlids)

Apistogramma Agassizii
Apistogramma Agassizii

Apisotgrammas refers to the genus of Cichlids that are known as Dwarf Cichlids due to their small size. They are typically smaller than other Cichlids, and require much less room to house. It is said that the males of this genus tend to grow much faster than the females, and reach a larger length at full maturity. They all are still under 4 inches in length at full maturity. Even though they do not require as much space as some of the larger species, they still appreciate lots of room to roam.

Apistogrammas can be found in South America in the lowlands east of the Andes. The mature adult Apistogrammas range in size from less than an inch to up to 3 inches. Apisotgrammas can change coloration depending on what they are doing. Their color tends to change when they are ready to spawn, fight, or defend their territory. There are other species that have been selectively bred to display different colorations as well. The most popular Apistogrammas color variations are, Apistogramma Cacatuoides with its black horizontal line and its fiery colored finage, Apistogramma Borellii with its yellow body and pale blue speckles, and Apistogramma Trifasciata with its dark, black, body line and long, jagged fins. There are over 90 different species of Apistogrammas, and there are other species still being discovered and identified today.

Apistogrammas are omnivorous fish but they prefer to eat meat. In the wild, they can be found eating insects, insect larvae, fish fry, and even detritus. When planning an aquarium to house Apistogrammas, you will want to place decor and plants in such a way that provides them with many places to hide and claim as their territory and ensure that they are comfortable. Choose plants and decor that are as close as possible to their natural environment.. Many wild species of Apistogramma natural environments are threatened due to deforestation and by pollution.

Apisotgrammas typically occupy the bottom of the tank, and will not interfere with other species that prefer to swim around the top and middle water columns. In comparison to other South American Cichlids, Apistogrammas are very different. They are not as large, or as aggressive as other Cichlid species. When setting up a tank for Apistogrammas, you will want to make sure that there are lots of hiding spaces for them.

Green Terror (Andinoacara Rivulatus)

Green Terror Cichlid (Aequidens Rivulatus)
Green Terror Cichlid (Aequidens Rivulatus)

Green Terror Cichlids are considered a more difficult fish to care for due to its needs and requirements. They are not recommended for the first time Cichlid owner. In the wild, Green Terror Cichlids can be found in tropical river basins in Peru and Ecquador.

Green Terror Cichlids tend to grow rather fast, and it is for this reason that they need to be kept in an aquarium of at least 50 gallons. The aquarium needs to be large enough to house them at their full adult size. At full maturity, captive Green Terror Cichlids can grow up to 8 inches. Some owners of Green Terror Cichlids have reported maximum growth of 10 inches or more with proper care, but some wild Green Terror Cichlids have been reported up to 12 inches in length.

Female Green Terror Cichlids tend to be a duller coloration than the males, and some female Green Terror Cichlids do not have their signature stripes on their bodies. Captive Green Terror Cichlids display their nuchal hump all the time, while wild Green Terror Cichlids only display these forehead humps around spawning season.

Green Terror Cichlids are omnivorous, but they prefer more meaty foods. In captivity, they will accept a wide variety of foods, but you have to be careful as overfeeding these fish is quite easy and can lead to digestive issues.

Severum Cichlid (Heros Severus)

Severum Cichlid
Severum Cichlid (Heros severus)

Severum Cichlids are also known as Banded Cichlids. This is due to the thick, black bands that run along their bellies. Severum Cichlid refers to a grouping of fish rather than a single fish. Severum Cichlids are fish that have more docile personalities that make them more easily kept in community setups in the home aquarium. Even though they can be kept in a community setup, their tank mates should be chosen with caution as smaller tank mates and even snails will still become a meal for a hungry Severum Cichlid.

Severum Cichlids are hardy fish that can survive and thrive in even the most harsh environments that other fish could not. In the wild, they eat a mostly omnivorous diet, and in captivity they will accept a wide variety of foods. They will eat pellets, flakes, and freeze dried worms and vegetables. They should be fed fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, and zucchini regularly.

If you are planning on breeding Severum Cichlids, you have to get a breeding pair, or raise a grouping of juveniles until they pair off to spawn. They reach maturity at around 2 years of age. Most of their growth is not in their length, but in their width, and if they are being kept in the correct conditions, you can expect them to get larger.

Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara Maronii)

Keyhole Cichlid
Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara maronii)

The Keyhole Cichlid is among the most docile of Cichlids, and they do not root through the substrate or tear up the plants and decor like other Cichlids either. This docile behavior and calm nature have made Keyhole Cichlids very popular for all aquarium enthusiasts from beginners to experts.

Keyhole Cichlids have a distinctive black, keyhole shaped marking on their bodies. They have yellow colored bodies that get lighter in shade as they age. They have elongated fins and more rounded, oval shaped bodies. In the wild they grow to be slightly larger than Keyhole Cichlids that are kept in captivity. At full maturity, Keyhole Cichlids can grow up to 4 inches long, and with proper care they can live up to 10 years.

Keyhole Cichlids are omnivorous fish that will accept a wide variety of foods in captivity. Their diet should also be supplemented with fresh, finely chopped vegetables as well to ensure that they are getting all their nutrients. It can be easy to overfeed these fish, so to help prevent this, you should set up a regular feeding schedule. Keyhole Cichlids should only be fed enough food that they can completely consume in 2 to 3 minutes. This will help cut down on waste in your aquarium and help keep the water more clean for your fish.

Geophagus Tapajos

Red Head Tapajos (Geophagus Tapajos)
Red Head Tapajos (Geophagus Tapajos)

Geophagus Tapajos are often commonly called Red Head Geophagus. This species of Cichlid is easily identified by its beautiful markings. They have reddish, sometimes orangish, heads, and they have gold to green iridescent scales as well as translucent fins.

Geophagus Tapajos prefer to live in groups, and to accommodate this you will need to house them in a tank that is at least 90 gallons. This size of tank will house at least 5 Geophagus Tapajos. They are an active species, so it is important when setting up a tank for them that you keep this in mind. Place pants and decor in such a way that you are still leaving them as much swimming space as possible. Geophagus Tapajos also enjoy many places to explore and hide.

Mature male Geophagus Tapajos develop larger nuchal humps that grow as they mature and become more dominant. It is fairly easy to get this species of Cichlid to breed in the home aquarium setup. If you are trying to get your Geophagus Tapajos to spawn, you will want to feed them a diet that is rich in protein for a few weeks, as well as increase their water temperature. Geophagus Tapajos are a mouth brooding species. This means that they gather their eggs, and fry in their mouths to protect them and keep them safe until they are big enough to care for themselves.

Chocolate Cichlid (Hypselecara Temporalis)

Chocolate Cichlid
Chocolate Cichlid (Hypselecara temporalis)

Chocolate Cichlids are a larger species of Cichlid that can grow up to 12 inches in length at full maturity. This means that to house a single fish, you will need a tank of at least 75 gallons. Even though they are larger, they are not as aggressive as other species of Cichlid, and can be kept in a community setup with other fish of roughly the same size and temperament. If they are cared for properly, they can live up to 10 years.

Chocolate Cichlids are also known as Emerald Cichlids. They have green backs and white bellies, with some reddish coloration in their fins and around their eyes.

Chocolate Cichlids are not just great fish in community setups with other species, they are also great parents. They take care of their fry for up to 3 weeks until they are able to care for themselves. Parent Chocolate Cichlids who are new to raising fry may not fully grasp the concept of parental care for their first few groupings of offspring, and they may even eat them. If you see this behavior, do not worry as they will eventually get the hang of it.

Umbee Cichlid (Kronoheros Umbriferous)

Juvenile Umbee Cichlid. Ictiologia Universidad Católica de Oriente, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Umbee Cichlids can be found in the rivers of Columbia and South America. They can grow to be rather large, and in the wild they can be found as long as 24 inches in length. The females do not grow quite so large. Umbee Cichlids are identified easily by their bright, reflective blue dots under their eyes and on the rest of their bodies. Female Umbee Cichlids are duller in contrast to the males. Since they can grow to be so large, Umbee Cichlids require a minimum of at least 150 gallons to house just one fish. Due to their large tank requirements it can deter aquarists from keeping them. If Umbee Cichlids are not kept in the appropriate setup, they quickly become stressed and become sick.

Umbee Cichlids are carnivorous fish that prefer a diet that is high in protein. Juvenile Umbee Cichlids require more feedings per day than mature ones. If you are using pelleted food to feed your Umbee Cichlids, it is important to remember to presoak their food so that it does not swell up in their stomach.

It is possible to breed Umbee Cichlids in captivity, and if you are planning to do so, you will want to set up a dedicated breeding tank to help ensure the survival of the fry.

Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum Scalare)

Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum Scalare)
Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum Scalare)

Freshwater Angelfish are one of the most beautiful Cichlids and they are often chosen for home aquariums for this reason. You can find Freshwater Angelfish in any local pet store or from breeders online. Freshwater Angelfish can be found in a wide variety of places. They are typically found throughout Columbia, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru and Brazil. Freshwater Angelfish inhabit various river systems including the Rio Oyapock, Rio Essequibo, and the Amazon.

Freshwater Angelfish grow taller opposed to longer, and when choosing a tank you should choose one that is taller as well. They can grow up to 3 to 4 inches long, and can live from 10 to 12 years. They have triangular noses, and flowy fins. They can be colored in silver with black stripes on their bodies. These black stripes tend to decrease as they mature. There are different color variations of Freshwater Angelfish as well. They require a minimum of 20 gallons to house a single Freshwater Angelfish. This species of Cichlid is very sensitive to changes in their water parameters, and it is a good idea to check their water every week to make sure that it is correct. When Freshwater Angelfish are stressed or ill their colors dull.

Peacock Bass

Peacock Bass
Peacock Bass

Peacock Bass are a large species of Cichlid that inhabit the freshwaters of the Amazon and Orinoco River basins as well as the rivers in Guiana. They have been found in other places too, this is most likely due to them escaping from fish farms, or from people releasing them into the wild where they have become an invasive species. They are an edible species of fish, and they are often caught for this reason. Their taste is compared to a Grouper. If you would rather keep this fish in the home aquarium, you would need a minimum of a 70 gallon tank up to 500 gallon tank for certain species. The size of the tank is largely dependent on which species of Peacock Bass you are trying to keep. It is important to research exactly which species you are getting so that you can correctly meet their requirements. The largest Peacock Bass species, Butterfly Peacock Bass can grow up to 30 inches long and up to 30 pounds when fully grown, and that deters most people from choosing them for their home aquarium.

Peacock Bass are carnivorous fish. In the wild, Peacock Bass will almost exclusively eat other, smaller fish. They are opportunistic feeders as well, and will not hesitate to eat the occasional small animal that happens to fall into the water. In captivity, they need to be fed fresh, frozen, and live foods. They are voracious eaters, and during feeding time you should take care to make sure that they have a secured lid as they will jump and thrash about as soon as the food hits the surface of the water.

Red Terror Cichlid (Amphilophus Festae)

Red Terror Cichlid (Mesoheros festae)
Red Terror Cichlid (Mesoheros festae). Vonedaddy, CC BY-SA 3.0

Red Terror Cichlids can be found in tributaries and rivers in South America and Western South America. They can be found as far south as the Rio Esmeraldas River in Ecuador, and the Rio Tumbes River in Peru. It has even been found in the waters of Singapore, but there they are regarded as an invasive species. Red Terror Cichlids get their name from their coloration, and aggressive behavior.

Red Terror Cichlids grow rather large. At full maturity, male Red Terror Cichlids can grow up to 18 inches in length and live up to 15 years if cared for properly. Male Red Terror Cichilds are a greenish blue coloration with reddish fins and spots on their tails, while the female Red Terror Cichlid is reddish in coloration with black bars and blue spots on her body. Their beautiful colorations would make them a much more popular choice for the home aquarium if not for their tank requirements. Red Terror Cichlids require a rather large tank of at least 180 gallons. However, if you have room for a larger tank, then they would be appreciative. Red Terror Cichlids are an active species of fish that requires lots of swimming space.