Firemouth Cichlid

Firemouth Cichlid

Family: Cichlidae Firemouth Cichlid, Thorichthys meeki (Cichlasoma meeki)Thorichthys meeki
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I have a 20 gallon tank with a male fire mouth ciclid named Id (ego died a long time ago). He is celebrating his 12th birthday this week. Thank you for your artical... (more)  Melinda C Foster

The beautiful Firemouth Cichlid is known for its distinctive shape and fiery red colors.

The Firemouth Cichlid Thorichthys meeki (previously Cichlasoma meeki) is one of the most popular cichlids due to its vibrant red coloring, pleasant demeanor, and easy care. This is an extremely beautiful fish and fun to keep. The Firemouth is a relatively small fish when compared to many other Central American cichlids, only reaching about 6.5" (17 cm) and is extremely laterally compressed. Its body has a unique 'teardrop' shape characterized by a steeply sloping forehead emphasizing its pointed snout. 

The Firemouth is so named due to the fiery coloration on the underside of its mouth and throat. In addition, it has a vivid red coloration on the belly extending from the mouth to the base of the tail. The rest of the body is generally blue-gray with several black blotches while the fins are brown and streaked with blue. Slight differences in coloration are present on particular fish depending on where the fish originated.

This is a great fish for both beginning fish keepers and advance aquarists alike. It is generally a peaceful cichlid and makes for a suitable addition to a large community tank. It's best kept with its own kind and other large and similar tempered species. The one time when these fish tend to become more than marginally aggressive is when they are attempting to spawn. During breeding they can turn aggressive towards other fish and are especailly threatening towards smaller members of their own species.

During spawning the male Firemouth Cichlid is even more vivid in appearance as he displays an impressive bluff. A 'bluff' is an aggressive stance where he inflates his fiery red throat sac and gill covers to impress females and ward off competitors. It has been discovered by ethologists, scientists who study animal behavior, that just this red coloring alone is intimidating to other fishes!

Firemouths like to burrow on occasion, so it's best to provide a substrate of fine sand for them to dig and nest in. They will also appreciate a number of hiding places and caves formed out of rocks, wood, or any other type of aquarium decoration. Although they like to have some living plants in their tank, make sure the plants are potted so as to avoid them being uprooted if the Firemouth happens to dig around their roots. Place hardy plants, such as Sagittaria, around the inside perimeter leaving an open area in the center for swimming. 

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: Thorichthys
  • Species: meeki
Flaring Firemouth Cichlid

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Firemouth Ciclid flaring his gills out!

The video takes a little bit of time to finally start showing the Firemouths, but when it gets there it is spectactular! The filmed aquarium has two Firemouths, both displaying brilliant reds along the underside of their bodies. At one point one of the Firemouths flares out his gills in a "bluffing" maneuver. Really cool to see!

Firemouth Cichlid - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish - inches: 6.7 inches (16.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 75.0° F (21.1 to 23.9° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Firemouth Cichlid Thorichthys meeki (previously Cichlasoma meeki) was described by Brind in 1918. They are found in Central America; Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. They have also been introduced into the continental USA, Hawaii, Singapore, and Colombia. Though these fish are still imported on occasion, but most available specimens are captive-bred fish. The species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

They inhabit the middle and bottom areas of slow moving rivers, ponds, and canals with sandy or muddy bottoms. They stay close to vegetation near the shore where they feed on algae along with some meaty foods.

  • Scientific Name: Thorichthys meeki
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The body of the Firemouth Cichlid is strongly compressed laterally with a sloping forehead emphasizing a sharply pointed mouth and accented by broad and pointed dorsal and anal fins. They are known to reach up to about 6.5" (17 cm) in the wild, making them a moderately sized Central American cichlid, though they tend to be a bit smaller in captivity with males reaching about 5" (12.7 cm) and females about 4" (10.15 cm). They have a life span of about 10 - 15 years.

The eponymous coloring of the Firemouth cichlid presents along the underside of the fish, extending from the mouth along the body to the base of the tail. The rest of the body is generally blue-gray with several black blotches while the fins are a light brown accented with streaks of metallic blue. Note that depending upon where the particular fish came from or where its parentage originated, it may have some slight coloration differences. Males have more pointed dorsal and anal fins and are more intensely colored, especially during breeding.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a trait 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: 6.7 inches (16.99 cm) - These fish can get up to 6.69 inches (17 cm) in length, though are usually smaller in the aquarium with males reaching about 5 inches (12.7 cm) and females getting up to about 4 inches (10.15 cm).
  • Lifespan: 15 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Firemouths are a great choice for the beginner cichlid keeper in part due to their adaptability to a wide variety of environments. Their natural environments tend to vary widely in terms of water conditions, temperature, pH levels, etc, and the same adapatability which allowed them to thrive in so many disparate environments in the wild aids them in being able to similarly thrive in many different types of aquariums. They are extremely easy to feed and will take a variety of foods. They are also a more tolerant and peaceful cichlid and are able to get along well in some types of community tanks. 

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

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Firemouth Cichlid will generally eat all kinds of flake, fresh, and live foods. A varied diet is an important part of keeping your fish in good health, so it is recommended that you provide your fish with a high quality flake food or pellet everyday. In addition, vegetables such as blanched spinanch and cucumber should be offered regularily and meaty foods such as brine shrimp or blood worms should be occasionally offered as a treat. 


  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Live foods will incourage spawning.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Firemouth Cichlids are fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size all will need some maintenance. With home aquariums the nitrate and phosphates build up over time and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Because fish can be sensitive to pollutants and pH instabilty, it is important that at least 15- 20% of the tank water is replaced weekly, especially if the tank is densely stocked. When doing the weekly water changes always use a gravel cleaner to make sure 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!

When cleaning the tank, scrap view panes of algae but keep a good growth of algae to be used as supplemental food source for the Firemouth.

  • Water Changes: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 30 gallon aquarium is suggested for a pair, though a larger tank would be needed if keeping several. They require good water movement along with strong and efficient filtration. Provide a substrate of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. Plants are appreciated but should be hardy, such as Sagittaria. Place the plants around the inside perimeter leaving an open area in the center for swimming. These fish enjoying doing a bit of burrowing and rearranging the substrate of the tank, so be sure your plants are potted so as to protect their roots. 

The Firemouth has some salt tolerance and can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However, it is not suited to a fully brackish water tank. It can tolerate a salinity that is about 10% of normal a saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002, though it prefers to live in fresh water. 

  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 75.0° F (21.1 to 23.9° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: - 75 - 78.8° F (24 - 26° C)
  • Range ph: 6.5-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 8 - 15 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes - Can tolerate up a salinity of about 10% of a normal saltwater tank or with a specific gravity of less than 1.0002.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All - Prefers middle to bottom.

Social Behaviors

The Firemouth Cichlids can get along fine in a community tank filled with tankmates of similar size as the Firemouth. they are not usually aggressive except when spawning. When spawning they become a bit more aggressive and territorial and will chase off and potentially kill any tankmate they perceive as invading their territory. It is recommended to keep an eye on spawning Firemouths as well as their tankmates and, if necessary, to remove any threatened tankmates. Firemouths are monogamous and like to pair off and form strong nuclear families and are excellent parents to their fry. It is possible to keep more than a single pair of Firemouths, but it is only recommended to do so if their tank is fairly large. They like to burrow and rearrange the substrate, especially when spawning, so keep an eye on your plants to ensure they don't become uprooted or damaged.

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

Sex: Sexual differences

The male has a more pointed dorsal and anal fins and is more intensely colored, especially during breeding. Males also have a pointed genital papilla which is blunt on females.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Firemouth Cichlids are egg layers and regularly breed in captivity. They are tricky to sex however, so it is easiest to simply have 6 or so in a tank and let them pair off themselves. Once paired they form a monogamous nuclear family and are excellent and quite prolific parents.

The breeding water should be neutral with a pH of 7.0, medium hard at about 10° dGH, and have temperatures between 75 - 78.8° F (24 - 26° C). The female spawns 100-500 eggs on carefully cleaned rocks. Once hatched, the fry become free swimming in about a week. They are herded into pits in the substrate by the parents and ferociously guarded by both parents. The parents may actually raise several broods per year. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

These fish are subject to infections as well as other diseases that can affect all freshwater fish. One common problem is Ich. Since the Firemouth can tolerate higher temperatures, one available remedy to Ich is to simply elevate the temperature of the tank up to 86° F (30° C) for a few days. If this rememdy fails, you can try a copper based medicine bought either at your local pet store or from an online retailer. Be sure to comply with the manufacturer's recommendations and instructions to obtain the best results. 

As with most fish the Firemouth 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.

As a general rule, be cautious when adding anything to the tank. Any foreign material (alive, dead, organic, synthetic, whatever) is a potential carrier of harmful bacteria, fungus, parasites, chemicals, etc. To minimize the risk of introducing a harmful element into your aquarium, it is recommended you thoroughly clean and disinfect or quarantine any additions to the tank. 


The Firemouth Cichlid is readily available both online and in fish stores and is moderately priced.


Author: David Brough CFS, Jeremy Roche
Lastest Animal Stories on Firemouth Cichlid

Melinda C Foster - 2019-03-03
I have a 20 gallon tank with a male fire mouth ciclid named Id (ego died a long time ago). He is celebrating his 12th birthday this week. Thank you for your artical on this species, I learned some things about them. Now maybe he will make it to thirteen. Thank you.

Troy - 2012-10-16
Hi, I was thinking about getting a pair of firemouths and a pleco to go in my 55 gallon tank, are there any other fish that i could also add to my tank that will be easy to care for and that would go well with the others?

  • Clarice Brough - 2012-10-16
    The Firemouth Cichlid is such a nice fish, they are very nice tempered for a cichlid. All sorts of fish make good tankmates, as long as they are large enough, and even other South American Cichlids of about the same temperment like the Kribensis, even Convict Cichlids. Some other suggestions are a school of larger tetras like the Buenos Aires Tetra, Black Tetras, Red-Eyed Tetras, the larger barbs like a group of Tiger Barbs, Rainbowfish, Giant Danios, and there's a variety of sharks like the Black Shark, Rainbow Shark, or Red Shark. So you really have a lot you can choose from.
  • Melissa - 2017-11-20
    I have a firemouth. He seems very dominant. I also have a convict and a blood parrot which is a hybrid but it's my favorite. So cute and have a great little personality. They can also be paired with other cichilds such as the that and green terror. Google it
    They can also be paired with Jack Dempsey's. We've had ours for 2 days now and at first our firemouth was very skiddish but the next morning he had doubled in size and became very dominant chasing both our other fish even our bigger blood parrot. So we're going to be getting another blood parrot tomorrow. Because all's our blood parrot does now is hide. Good luck!
steve - 2007-10-07
I have a breeding pair of firemouths that are about 2.5 years old and have just had their fifth brood. i think they are the easist fish to breed for beginners and provide hours of fun just watching them.

Joe - 2016-04-20
Hey guys. I was wondering if you can put a pair of firemouths with gouramis, sharks, severums and barbs? Please reply

  • Anonymous - 2016-04-23
    It would depend on what kind of gourami, shark, and barbs. If you have kissing gourams, bala sharks, and tin foil barbs then sure
  • Anonymous - 2016-06-16
    I have firemouths with 8 tiger barbs, electric yellow, yellowfin acei and red tail shark and the get along great.