Redhump Eartheater

Red Humped Eartheater, Redhump Geophagus

Family: Cichlidae Redhump Eartheater, Geophagus steindachneri, Redhump GeophagusGeophagus steindachneriPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Ken Childs
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The Redhump Eartheater sifts through the substrate with its mouth looking for tidbits of food!

The handsome Redhump Eartheater Geophagus steindachneri is a fascinating type of fish known for "eating" the substrate of its aquarium. The word 'geophagus' literally means "earth eater" and is attributed to fish, like the Redhump Eartheater, who find food by grabbing mouthfuls of sand and gravel and sifting it to find food. The remaining substrate is then expelled either through the gills or the mouth. Note that while many 'geophagus' are avid diggers and use their digging skills to create holes or pits for hiding or spawning, a much smaller number of them literally eat what they find in the substrate. The Redhump Eartheater is one of the latter and displays a trait which is fairly uncommon even in the cichlid family. 

The Redhump Eartheater is not the most dramatic fish in terms of coloring, but it does present and unique and subtle beauty. The most distinctive feature is the handsome red nuchal hump on mature males. A metallic bluish green speckling along the back half of its body contrasts nicely with the red on its forehead. Its common names are all derived from this feature, with a couple others being Red Humped Eartheater and Redhump Geophagus.

The Redhump Eartheater is considered a highly specialized species because it is the only South American mouthbrooder where the female will immediately retrieve the eggs into her mouth before they are even fertilized. Note the orange spot on the corner of the mouth in the picture of the male above. These spots are used as dummy eggs by this species. Just like with certain Haplochromis mouthbrooders, the female will be lured towards the male and will mouth the spots, attempting to take the "eggs" into her mouth. While the female is thus engaged, the male will release a cloud of sperm and ensure the eggs in the female's mouth are fertilized.

This is an undemanding fish that's considered a good beginner's cichlid, and it stays fairly small in the aquarium. Although it can grow up to almost 10" (25 cm) in the wild, in captivity the males will generally reach only about 6" with females being an inch or so smaller. Generally it will get along with other non-aggressive tank mates. Its a very peaceful cichlid that can be kept with tetras and other non-cichlids. However, like other cichlids it will become territorial, especially toward conspecifics, during spawning.l

They like to dig and will help keep the substrate clean, but they do not unnecessarily move the substrate. Some keepers have stated that even in a planted tank, this eartheater will not disturb the roots of plants. It is probably wise to monitor the status of the roots of any living plants, just to be sure they are not being uncovered by this fish. Also, take care that the substrate does not contain any sharp pieces or items as these fish like to pass it through their gills once it has been sifted for food. 

The Redhump Eartheater is easy to breed and care for as long as water changes are performed on a regular basis. Because of their vigorous digging an under gravel filter is not recommended. It is better to use an external filter such as a hang-on-the-back type or a canister filter. They need places to hide and will enjoy rocks and sunken pieces of driftwood along with dense vegetation.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

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  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Geophagus
  • Species: steindachneri
Geophagus steindachneri Redhump Eartheater

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Wonderful shot of a mature male Redhump Eartheater!

A nice and short video of a mature male Redhump Eartheater lounging in his tank. The side shot displays the Redhump's coloring and body shape and even shows off the red hump on the male's forehead that gives this fish its name.

Redhump Eartheater - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 6.0 inches (15.24 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 76.0° F (23.9 to 24.4° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Redhump Eartheater Geophagus steindachneri was described by Eigenmann and Hildebrand in 1910. They are found in South America in upper reaches of the Rio Magdalena and its tributaries, the Sinu River and Cauca river basins of Colombia. They are also found in the Limon River which is Lake Maracaibo's drainage in Venezuela. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names they are known by include Red Humped Eartheater and Redhump Geophagus.

They are found mostly in forested streams, tributaries, and related types of backwater habitats with a sandy substrate. They feed primarily on plants and detritus found on or under the substrate, and most likely consume some small aquatic and land invertebrates as well.

Unfortunately, many of the areas inhabited by this fish are becoming heavily polluted from heavy drilling operations that are leaking and remain unrepaired. There is also a growth of agriculture and settlements that are having a negative affect on the Redhump Earther's habitat.

  • Scientific Name: Geophagus steindachneri
  • Social Grouping: Solitary
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed

Description

The Redhump Eartheater is a higher bodied fish, much like the Convict or Texas Cichlid. It has a turned down mouth and a triangular-shaped head. This cichlid can grow up to about 10 inches (25 cm) long in the wild, but is quite a bit smaller in captivity. Males will generally reach about 5 - 6 inches (13 - 15 cm) and females about 4 inches (10 cm) or so. They can live from 8 - 10 years or longer with proper care.

Their body displays a cream to orangish coloring and a metallic bluish green speckling. The specks are predominantly on the back half and onto the caudal peduncle. There are also dark broken bars and blotchings exhibited on some individuals. The male's back has metallic green spots and as he matures, he develops a red hump on the forehead that gives the Red Humped Eartheater its name. He also has orange patches on the corners of his mouth. The female looks similar, but with less green on the back and lacks the orange spots on the corners of the mouth. A golden strain, oligomelanic, is also available.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish - inches: 6.0 inches (15.24 cm) - The Redhump Eartheater can reach up to lengths of 9.84" (25 cm) in the wild, though usually only about 6" (15 cm) in the aquarium
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Redhump Eartheater is a good choice for the beginner Cichlid keeper. They are very adaptable to many levels of water chemistry and are ready and easy eaters. They are also not difficult to breed and as a fairly peaceful fish, they can be kept in a smaller aquarium with a wide variety of tank mates. In short, they are a great cichlid for both a novice fish keeper and an experienced veteran!

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Redhump Eartheater is an omnivore and in the wild they feed on detritus found on or under the substrate and probably consume some small invertebrates, too. In the aquarium they can be fed a varied diet of good quality pellets, flakes, insects, krill, and artemia.

Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. This will help satisfy their browsing behavior and keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.


 

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Occasionally
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Half of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

The Redhump Eartheater is fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless on size all need some maintenance. With home aquariums the nitrate and phosphates build up over time and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Because these fish are very sensitive to pollutants and pH instabilty, it is important that at least 15% of the tank water should be replaced bi-weekly, more often if the tank is densely stocked. When doing the water changes always use a gravel cleaner to make sure all of the decomposing organic matter that has built up is removed.  Remember these fish sift through the substrate for food so take great care that all potential contaminants are removed often.  The majority of of problems that occur with tropical fish tanks usually come down to one cause, decomposing organic matter. 

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

A minimum of 50 gallons or a tank that is 48" in length is suggested. When keeping two males a much larger aquarium, 125 gallons or more, will be needed. They do fine with moderate water movement and strong efficient filtration. As these fish are sand sifters, provide a 2 to 3" deep substrate of sand.  Do not provide gravel or other rough substrates as this can harm this fish when sifting and expelling the substrate out their mouth and gills.  Because of their vigorous digging an under gravel filter is not recommended. It is better to use an external filter such as a hang-on-the-back type or a canister filter.

Include a decor of rocks and roots to provide caves and crannies for hiding places. These fish will also enjoy plants, and though some keepers say they will not bother the plants, it might be best to keep your live plants plants potted with both the soil surface and the roots protected from digging.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) - If trying to keep two males a tank of at least 125 gallons is needed.
  • Substrate Type: Sand - Take care to remove all sharp items and substrate from the tank as these fish sift through the substrate and expel it out their gills. Sharp items could damage the delicate filaments of the gills.
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 76.0° F (23.9 to 24.4° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 79.0° F - 76-82.4 is the range for spawning.
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.0
  • Hardness Range: 5 - 15 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

The Redhump Eartheater is a very peaceful cichlid that can be kept with tetras and other non-cichlids. They should not be kept with aggressive fish or with non-predatory South American fish that are under 6".

They can be kept alone or in sets of one male with one or two females. Even two males can be kept together as long as the tank is very large (125 gallons or more) with plenty of hiding places. They are generally only mildly aggressive to conspecifics. During spawning they can become aggressive if the tank does not have enough hiding places for the females.

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - If keeping 2 males a very large tank is needed.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor - These fish should not be housed with aggressive fish.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive - Will feed on small invertebrates that are in the substrate.
    • Plants: Monitor - These fish don't generally bother plants, however, they may end up digging up the roots of live plants so keep an eye on this.

Sex: Sexual differences

The males have orange spots on the corners of the mouth, and as they mature they develop a red hump on the forehead and elongated fins. The male will also exhibit more green on his back than the female will on hers.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Redhump Eartheaters will readily breed in captivity. They are substrate spawners that are mouth brooders and are sexually mature at 7 months.

The male will lay close to the substrate and flare his fins while extending his mouth and lower jaw, then shake to attract the female.They will make a small pit where the female will deposit her eggs. Immediately she takes them into her mouth and then mouths the males ventral fin to fertilize the eggs. It can take about an hour for the female to lay and have the male fertilize all of the approximately 100 yellow eggs. After the female gathers up the eggs, the pair splits up, and only the female provides care. They will hatch in 2 days at 78 ° F and are free swimming 7 days later. The fry can be fed finely crushed flake and artemia. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

They are subject to infections as well as other diseases that ail all freshwater fish. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test also can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol.

As with most fish the Redhump Geophagus are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria and harmful chemicals. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance

Availability

The Redhump Eartheaters, also called the Redhump Geophagus, is rarely seen in fish stores or online. If you do happen to chance upon one, they are generally not very expensive and go for a moderate price.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CFS
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