A long time staple of the fishkeeping hobby, the Golden Severum is a beautiful and fun cichlid!

The Golden Severum is one of a slew of varieties derived from the common and popular Severum Cichlid. All Severum Cichlids are easily recognized and popular with both beginner and advanced aquarists. Severum Cichlids tend to resemble their larger cousins, the Discus cichlids, in body shape and feature a laterally compressed oval-shaped frame. Their strongest deviation from the Discus fish is in their coloring and size. The Severum Ciclids tend to only reach about 7 inches (18 cm) whereas Discus can reach up to about 12 inches (31 cm).

In its natural form, the Severum Cichlid is a greenish color with a yellow/gold tint to the belly. Juveniles have eight pronounced black vertical bands, though these tend to fade as they become adults. This striping has led to some other interesting common names like Banded Cichlid, Convict Fish, Deacon, Sedate Cichlid, Hero, and Striped Cichlid. The Golden Severum, or Gold Severum, is a captive bred color morph that lacks the black bands of the orginal form and has a yellow color over its entire body except for the dorsal and tail fins, which tend to be whiter with yellow specks.

Severum Cichlid varieties are avialable in a wide range of colors and tend to be very inexpenisve, prompting the reference to them as the “poor man’s discus.” Don’t let this remark bias you, however. Since they are so inexpensive, require less stringent care than discus, and are still a beautiful and interesting addition to an aquarium, they might be a much better choice for many fishkeepers.

They also have a great disposition and display some unique behaviors which has helped them accumulate a wide and devout following. They tend to be less aggressive than many cichlids but do need plenty of space. They are mostly peaceful when kept with other similarly sized and tempered fish (except when spawning) and can be kept singly or as a mated pair. That being said, do not keep them with fish significantly smaller than themselves or with aggressive fish.

Golden Severums are moderately difficult to care for, but not as difficult as Discus and many other cichlids. As long as the owner is diligent in performing frequent water changes, they will generally respond well and live long and comfortable lives. They prefer softer water and it is important that you keep a lid on their aquarium as they tend to jump in the air when startled.

To keep them happiest, Include a decor of rocks along with pieces of sunken driftwood. Try to setup the aqairum decoration so that it provides natural “barriers” and divisions in the tank; this way the fish will feel like it has a defined and secure “territory” to defend They enjoy living in well planted aquariums and will appreciate floating plants as they like to spend time hiding in the leaves and appreciate the security offered by the plants.

Scientific Classification


Golden Severum – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:45 gal (170 L)
Size of fish – inches7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
Temperature:74.0 to 84.0° F (23.3 to 28.9&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Golden Severum or Gold Severum is a captive bred color-morph of the Severum Cichlid and as such are not found living in the wild. The Severum Heros severus was described by Heckel in 1840. The wild Severum is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Common names or different spellings these fish are known by include Convict Fish, Deacon, Sedate Cichlid, Hero, and Striped Cichlid.

They are from South American rivers such as the Orinoco River basin and drainage in Colombia and Venezuela, as well as the Amazon River basin and the upper Negro River basin. They eat plants, algae, zooplankton, insects and detritus.

  • Scientific Name: Heros severus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs
  • IUCN Red List: – This fish does not appear in the wild.


The Severum, like the Discus, is a high-bodied and laterally compressed fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. They are a moderately sized cichlid which reach around 7 3/4 inches (20 cm) in length and have a life span of about 10 years.

The original Severum Cichlid presents a greenish body color with a yellowish gold belly. Juveniles display eight dark and pronounced black vertical bands along their sides, though these bands generally fade as the the fish ages into maturity. It is these bands which gave rise to their common name ‘Banded Cichlid’. They have an interesting ‘stance’ giving them the seeming appearance of always looking up. Several colors have been produced by tank breeding such as brown, green, gold, and turquoise.

The Golden Severum is one such captive bred color morph of the Severum Cichlid. They have the same deep oval shaped body but are pale yellow/gold in color. Their anal, pelvic and pectoral fins are all yellow, while the tail and dorsal fin tend to be a white with yellow specks. Their eyes are yellow as well.

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: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Severums are one of the most popular cichlids in home aquariums. Though they can be appropriate for fishkeepers of all experience levels, it is important to understand that they are a large fish and will have rapidly changing needs as they grow. They are fairly easy to take care of for a fishkeeper with some cichlid experience and can be kept by a begginer who is well informed and diligent in their maintenance.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Golden Severum is an omnivore that likes pellets or stick foods for large cichlids. They can be fed green peas (which is a favorite), or zucchini that you have blanched. Earthworms, bloodworms, mealworms, and marine crustaceans are also enjoyed.

Do not feed beef heart or liver as these items are very hard for the Severum to digest and can lead to illness. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. A one day a week fast is also beneficial. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

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

Aquarium Care

The Golden Severum are fairly easy to care for provided the water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size all will need some maintenance. Over time decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever changing conditions water should be replaced on a regular basis. Perform water changes of 10 – 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers.

In addition, use an algae magnet or scraper to keep viewing panes clear of built up algae. Also note that for this fish to maintain the best coloring you will need to maintain oxygen levels.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

These are large fish and require a relatively large aquarium, at least 45 gallons for a single fish and at least 100 gallons for a breeding pair. The larger the aquarium, the lesss aggressive they will be. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater and prefer slow to moderate moving water along with good efficient filtration. Maintain low to moderate lighting and softer water as well as a lid to keep them from jumping out of the tank when scared.

Provide a decor that will allow a ‘natural’ division in territories, including using rocks and sunken driftwood to create caves and alleyways for them to guard and retreat into. The driftwood will help lower the pH and also give off the ‘teastained’ look common to the South American rivers where they originate. They do enjoy a densely planted aquarium and will do well with both living and plastic plants. Be sure to include some floating live plants as they enjoy “hanging out” amongst their leaves. Plants in the substrate will need to be anchored down since they do tend to dig. If using live plants try Anubias or Cryptocoryne.

To give these fish a natural feel add a few handfuls of dried leaves and add a bag of aquarium safe peat to the filter to simulate black water conditions.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 45 gal (170 L) – 45 gallons for a single fish and 100 gallons for a pair.
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 84.0° F (23.3 to 28.9&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – 78.8 – 80.6° F (26 – 27° C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-6.5
  • Hardness Range: 4 – 6 dGH
  • Brackish: Yes – Slightly brackish water is acceptable.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Middle
Gold Severum Cichlid
Image Credit: Lmnopg007, Shutterstock

Social Behaviors

The Golden Severum should be kept with other fish of the same size and temperament, and who enjoy the same water conditions. Do not keep it with aggressive fish.

While South American cichlids (including the Golden Severum) tend to be less aggressive than their African cousins, providing adequate space is still very important. They can be kept singly in a 45 gallon tank or as a mated pair in a tank of at least 100 gallons. They will tolerate other Severum varities only in a very large tank, well over 100 gallons, but are more tolerant of other species of fish. Having a lot of room will alleviate general aggression and having some very fast and alert dither fish will help the mated pair’s aggression towards each other during spawning.

Suitable tankimates include other cichlids such as theFlag Cichlid, Aequidens species such as theBlue Acara, eartheaters such as the Pearl Cichlid, and large Angelfish. In addition, they can do well with catfish species such as those from the Loricariid and Callichyid genera. Other suitable large tankmates include some of the cyprinid species such as barbs and sharks, loaches, large characins like the Silver Dollars, and similar sized gouramis.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They can be kept in pairs and with others of the same species if kept in a large aquarium.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor – They will eat anything small enough to fit in their mouth.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

The female has a dark spot on the dorsal and lacks patterning on her head. The male has more pointed anal and dorsal fins. Mature males that are well fed can develop a nuchal hump.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Golden Severum are a captive-bred color form of the Severum. Like their parentage, they are open breeders and both parents will care for the young. They do not pair up as readily as some, so buy 6 to 8 young (just like with Discus) and let them choose their partners. The sexes can be identified when young, with the female lacking marks on her gills and presenting a smaller body size than the male.

Compared to their normal water conditions, the water must be softer, warmer and more acidic for the eggs to develop properly. They will accept a fairly wide range of water conditions. For optimal breeding conditions maintain the water at a total hardness of 50 ppm with a pH in the 6’s and a temperature between 78.8 – 80.6°F (26 – 27° C). Some have said adding live feeder crickets to the water helps them to be conditioned to spawn. The male will darken and intensify his colors when breeding. They will lock lips and tail slap before actually spawning.

A tank with a bare bottom and an air stone works great. Also a heater and lots of water changes are needed for success.They like flat or round rocks and chunks of wood upon which to spawn. The female will lay up to 1,000 oval eggs on roots or stones, depending on her age and size. The male will fertilize them and they will both defend them.

Once the eggs hatch and they are still in the pre-swimming larval stage, the parents will take them into their mouths. Once they are free swimming the parents will allow them to hunt for foods like freshly hatched brine shrimp, ground up flake or pellet food, micro worms, and daphnia. The parents will care for them for up to 6 weeks. Removing the egg clutch after the pair have spawned will result in a larger brood if you are breeding them. 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 a few days since they can tolerate higher temperatures. They are sensitive to medications, so make sure you do your research.

Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which is also called “hole-in-the-head” disease is common with poor water conditions. This looks like 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, and phosphorus. It is thought to be caused by a poor diet or lack of variety, lack of partial water changes, or over filtration with chemical media such as activated carbon.

As with most fish the Severum 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.

Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. 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.


The Golden Severum is readily available online and usually found in fish stores, but can be special ordered if you are willing to wait. They are moderately priced as juveniles, just make sure you examine them for defects before purchase.



 Heros severum 金波羅 (Image Credit: lienyuan lee, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)