With its docile temperament and unique white, black, and red coloring the Black Belt Cichlid makes for an intriguing and beautiful foray into fishkeeping!

The attractive Black Belt Cichlid Paraneetroplus maculicauda (previously Vieja maculicauda and Cichlasoma maculicauda) is a popular choice for both beginner and experienced fishkeepers. As with most cichlids, the Black Belt Cichlid is an intelligent fish and can come to recognize and respond to a particular owner. In addition, the Black Belt presents a beautiful and unique red, black, and white color combination and a relatively docile temperament. These characteristics coupled with fairly easy maintenance and breeding requirments make this fish a wonderful choice for any devoted aquarist. 

Though they are large at a maximum of 12″ and can be aggressive and are not considered a community fish, the Black Belt Cichlid has a somewhat more docile manner than many of its relatives. It can be kept with others of its own species, a group of 6 if they are raised together in a very large tank. In a breeding pair the male is not aggressive towards its mate if there is plenty of room, though it can become very territorial and aggressive towards others when spawning. These cichlids can also be kept with other Central and South American cichlids of a similar temperament as long as there is plenty of room. Aquariums 120 gallons or more can work well with these groupings while a single fish will require a recommended minimum of 70+ gallons. 

The Black Belt Cichlid is easy to moderate to care for as long as large and frequent water changes are diligently performed. They can be kept in both fresh and brackish water. They are not demanding and can take a wide range of pH, though it must be kept stable. They will feel at home with moderate or subdued lighting, and will appreciate a sandy substrate with a decor of bog wood, roots, and rocks having plenty of hiding places. Plants will not do well as they will be eaten. Provide flat smooth stones for spawning.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Vieja
  • Species: maculicauda
Black Belt Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 70 gal (265 L)
  • Temperament: Large Semi-Aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 84.0° F (25.6 to 28.9&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Black Belt Cichlid Paraneetroplus maculicauda (previously Vieja maculicauda and Cichlasoma maculicauda) was described by Regan in 1905. The species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. They are found in Central America on the Atlantic slope from the Usumacinta River drainage in Guatemala to the Chagres River in Panama. Other common names they are known by are Red Black Vieja, Vieja, and Blackbelt cichlid.

Until the mid 1980’s there were some 100+ species that were described under the genus Cichlasoma. But around this time it was determined that they no longer fit in that genus and so were moved into their own various genera. Many were left orphaned and are now designated as “Cichlasoma” (with quotation marks) until the scientific community decides what genus to place them in. This allows only true Cichlasoma to remain in this ‘corrected’ genus, currently comprised of 12 species.

Their range is large and encompasses both brackish and marine water. They like the slow currents of the lower river valleys, areas with sandy and muddy bottoms. They prefer shady spots among logs and submerged trees. They feed on benthic detritus containing seeds and fruits, along with aquatic and land plants.

  • Scientific Name: Vieja maculicauda
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Black Belt Cichlid is a deep bodied oval disk shape fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. These are very large fish, with the males reaching almost 12″ (30 cm) in length. They are also very deep bodied so its easy to underestimate their actual size. They have a lifespan of 8 – 10 years.

The body of the male is silvery white with a black band, either solid or sketchy, encircling the midsection just behind the pelvic fin. The caudal fins is all red or partially red and there is red blotching on the chin and throat that runs from the lips to just before the pelvic fin. The female is dark gray in color with a red tail and black freckling. Older fish, especially the males, develop a nuchal hump on the head. Because of its extensive distribution area in the wild, there are several color morphs.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common feature of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located 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: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Black Belt Cichlid is fairly easy to care for, but as with most Cichlids they are best to be cared for by fish keepers with some experience.  A beginner fishkeeper might find it difficult to diligently perform the amount of requisite water changes needed by these fish and to maintain the size of aquarium these fish perfer. As with most cichlids they can be aggressive and difficult to find the right mix of tank mates as their personalities vary. However, any prepared and devoted fishkeeper will be able to properly care for these fish. 

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – Beginners can likely handle this fish fine as long as the owner is willing to maintain a large aquarium and diligently perform water changes.

Foods and Feeding

The Black Belt Cichlid is an omnivore that primarily feeds on benthic detritus containing seeds and fruits, along with plant matter in their natural environment. In the aquarium they can be fed a pellet base for food, but supplement it with vegetables (lettuce, spinach, vegetable flake foods) and fruits. They love snails and will eat them with gusto. Fed them a few times a day. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.


  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Occasionally
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily – It is important to feed a high variety of food.

Aquarium Care

The Black Belt Cichlids are fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of 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 25- 30% of the tank water should be replaced weekly, especially if the tank is densely stocked. When doing the weekly water changes always use a gravel cleaner to ensure all of the decomposing organic matter that has built up is removed. The majority of of problems that occur with tropical fish tanks usually come down to one cause, decomposing organic matter!

As with most predatory species a highly efficiant filter is needed because of the amount of waste that thet produce. The filters or a powerhead should provide moderate water movement for the Black Belt Cichlids.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – These are messy fish and need frequent water changes.

Aquarium Setup

As with most large cichlids, the Black Belt Cichlid needs a great deal of space. If keeping just one or two of these fish, an aquarium of at least 70 gallons is recommended. If keeping a small group of Black Belt Cichlids an aquarium of at least 120 gallons is recommended. These fish can be kept in freshwater or brackish water with low to moderate salinity of less than 1.010 sg. The substrate should be a smooth sand/gravel mix and decorated with twisted roots, bog wood, rocks, and caves large enough for the fish to retreat into. Providing flat smooth surfaces to the substrate will help facilitate spawning. No need to add plants to the tank unless they are planned to be used for food!

The Black Belt Cichlid requires very clean water and is sensitive to pH changes. To aid in accomplishing this, use highly efficient filtration systems that can provide moderate water movement. Canister or sump style filtration works best. A secure top should be installed with moderate lighting.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 70 gal (265 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 78.0 to 84.0° F (25.6 to 28.9&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.0
  • Hardness Range: 8 – 17 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Brackish water should have low to moderate salinity under 1.010 sg.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Middle

Social Behaviors

These fish are moderately aggressive and are not considered a community fish. However, a Black Belt Cichlid can be more docile or aggressive depending on the size of the tank you provide them with. If you provide a very large tank, 120 gallons or more, they can be kept with larger fish that have a similar or the same temperament. In aquariums with hundreds of gallons they are a lot less aggressive. If, however, two or more are kept in an aquarium of 60 gallons or less it is likely they will become aggressive towards one another. 

Some experts have suggested maintaining these fish in a specieis specific tank and isolating them from other species. They can be kept alone or as a mated pair, or kept in a group of 6 if they grow up together in a very large tank. Make many places for the female to hide when spawning. Suitable tank mates for the Black Belt Cichlids are Texas Chichlids, Green Terror, Convicts, Synspilums, Pimelodids, large Characins, Tilapia and Hemichromis.

  • Temperament: Large Semi-Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are larger with a slight cephalic hump and pointed genital papilla. Males are also more intensely colored with white, black, and bright red accents. The genital papilla on females is blunt and their coloring is a dark gray with black speckling. Both males and females have a red tail fin.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Black Belt Cichlid has been bred in captivity. For breeding larger cichlids, this fish is a great choice. The male does not thrash the female like other large cichlids do as long as there is a lot of room, a 150 gallon tank or more. Provide flat smooth stones as a spawning substrate. The pair will circle each other, and after moving the gravel out of the way, the female will lay up to 600 eggs. The fry are free swimming in 8 days are are very small. They will eat artemia and grow quickly. For more information about breeding cichlids, see: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

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 a few days since they can tolerate higher temperatures. They are prone to the same diseases as discus. Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which use to be called “hole-in-the-head” disease is common with poor water conditions. HLLE presents with what appear to be cavities or pits on the head and face. It is believed this may be a nutritional deficiency of one or more of: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus. It is thought to be caused by a poor/insufficiently varied diet, lack of partial water changes, or over filtration with chemical media such as activated carbon.

As with most fish the Black Belt Cichlids 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.


The Black Belt Cichlid is usually available online and sometimes in fish stores. They are moderately priced for juveniles.