Known for its high variety of colors and a showstopping appearance, the Midas Cichlid is a guaranteed eye-catcher in any aquarium!

The Midas Cichlid Amphilophus citrinellus (previously Cichlasoma citrinellum) is a large, eye-catching, and gorgeous show specimen. The coloring of the wild Midas Cichlid is a naturally camouflaging dark brown, gray to blackish body with six dark bars and a large black blotch on the side. However, this bar patterning seems to disappear once the Midas is introduced into the aquarium. In addition to their normal colorling, there is also a naturally occuring but seemingly out of place bright yellow color morph.

This cichlid has been extensively bred in captivity and has seen the development of a wide variety of striking color morphs. They range in colors from oranges, yellows, whites, and combinations of these colors. The most popular color morph is a creamy and sometimes spotted yellow colored specimen. In addition to the development of these various color morphs, breeding the Midas Cichlid has also been instrumental in developing the now very popular Flowerhorn Cichlid hybrid. Also, the Midas is currently being used in scientific studies examining certain aspects of fish behavior.

The Midas Cichlid is often very similar in color to the Red Devil CichlidAmphilophus labiatus, and some websites mistakenly list them as the same fish. But although these two fish differ very little in their appearance, there are definite morphometric differences. For instance, the Midas Cichlid is a bit smaller than the Red Devil and will only reach about 10 – 14″ (25 – 35 cm) in length while the Red Devil can attain a size of up to 15 inches (38 cm). Their places of origin are also different. While the Midas Cichlid can range from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, the Red Devil is only found in the Nicaraguan lakes. Further confusing the issue is the fact that the number of available wild caught MIdas Cichlids has been much reduced in recent years, and thus many that are offered for sale today are actually a hybrid between the Midas and Red Devil.

The Midas Cichild is a moderately easy fish to care for but will need to be housed in a large aquarium. They are generally a fairly peaceable cichlid compared to other large Central American cichlids, but are almost guaranteed to become quite aggressive if kept in a tank that is 4′ long or less. This increase in aggression is attributed to the fact that in the wild they are known to commonly keep and defend an area of 4′ around their nests. They are extremely aggressive and territorial when breeding. Thus, it is recommended to keep this cichlid in a large tank of at least 6′ in length, especially during their breeding cycle. If housing them with other fish, decorate in a way that provides natural borders for their territory. Keeping other fish out of their ‘line of sight’ will also help to lower aggression.

They appreciate a bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. They are avid diggers and live plants don’t fare so well as they will be eaten or shredded. Make sure rocks are well bedded on the actual glass bottom of the tank to prevent toppling. Be sure to leave an open area in the center for swimming. Good water quality and a very large tank are both necessary for their optimum health.


Scientific Classification


Midas Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:55 gal (208 L)
Size of fish – inches14.0 inches (35.56 cm)
Temperament:Large Aggressive – Predatory
Temperature:72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Midas Cichlid Amphilophus citrinellus (previously Cichlasoma citrinellum) was described by Gunther in 1864. They are found in Central America near the Atlantic slope. They are mostly found in lakes of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, such as Lake Apoyo, Masaya, Nicaragua and Manaua, and on rare occasions in the slow flowing areas of rivers. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Interesting note; Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake to house a large population of Bull Sharks!

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 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.

They primarily live in waters that are slow and calm at depths of 3 – 114 feet (1 – 35 m). They generally inhabit areas around rocky outcroppings and tree roots where they feed on aufwuchs, snails, small fish, insect larvae, worms and other benthic creatures.

  • Scientific Name: Amphilophus citrinellus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Midas Cichlid is a thick and deep bodied fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. They are a large Central American cichlid and will reach up to 10 – 14″ (25 – 35 cm) in length. Though both males and females will develop a nuchal hump on their heads as they mature, the males’ will be significantly larger and the females will only develop a small hint of a lump. They have a life span of 10 – 12 years or more if well cared for.

Their wild coloring is a dark brown, gray to blackish body with six dark bars and a large black blotch on the side. There is also a naturally occurring yellow variety. Interestingly, when a wild Midas Cichlid is introduced into an aquairum they will lose this natural barred pattern and tend to become more solidly colored.

Captive bred coloring is quite variable and the color morphs that can be acquired are very interesting. Some of the color morphs now available include orange, all yellow, all white, white and orange, or piebald. The most commonly available color morph is a creamy yellow to orange fish that may have blotches. There is also a recently introduced strain of Midas that retains the original bars of a wild caught specimen called a “Redhead Barred Midas”.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common 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: 14.0 inches (35.56 cm) – The Midas Cichlid grows to a length of 10 – 14″ (25 – 35 cm).
  • Lifespan: 12 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Midas Cichlid is a large and potentially aggressive fish which is best kept by an aquarist with a fair amount of experience, though a less experienced fish keeper who is diligent, well informed, and properly prepared would be able to keep this fish as well. Keep in mind, this fish will need a large tank and will only be compatible with a very select few tankmates.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – If you are a beginning aquarist, be certain you are well informed of this fishes’ setup and maintenance requirements before owning this fish!

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Midas Cichlid will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food or pellet everyday. Feed high quality cichlid pellets, krill, frozen bloodworms, earthworms, night crawlers, crickets, spirulina based foods, and carotene enhanced supplements. In addition, it is recommended to feed vegetable based foods such as lettuce or blanched cucumber in order to prevent Hole in the Head disease, a common large cichlid ailment.

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

Lastly, though some websites and experts will advise that feeding warm-blooded animal meats (such as poultry or beef hearts) is a great way to encourage the quick growth of your fish, you should only feed these foods as an occasional treat. These types of foods contain high amounts of proteins and fats not normally found in this fishes’ natural habitat and can cause dangerous digestive blockages and ruptures if fed too often.

  • 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

TheMidas Cichlidsare 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 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.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

As with many larger Central American cichlids, the Midas Cichlid requires a very large aquarium, especially if you are wanting to keep it with other fish. Be sure to have a tank of at least 55 gallons for one female, 75 gallons for one male, and 125 gallons for a pair. If you are keeping them with other large fish, 200 gallons and at least 4′ long or more may be required. If keeping this fish with other fish, it is important to remember that their territory in the wild is usually about 4′ in diameter, so it is important to keep them in a tank which is larger than that in order to keep them from killing their tankmates. They do fine with low to moderate water movement and strong efficient filtration. Oxygen levels must be maintained for optimum color and health.

As with most large aggressive fish, make sure equipment such as heaters and inlet and outlets are provided protection as these large fish will often break these things. It is best to keep the heater externally or conceal them behind unmovable objects. To achieve the high levels of oxygen that this fish needs add a couple large airstones to the tank.

They appreciate a bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. They are avid diggers and plants don’t fare well as they will be eaten or shredded. Make sure rocks are well bedded on the actual glass bottom of the tank to prevent toppling. Leave an open area in the center for swimming. Make sure to have a tight fitting secure lid to prevent the Midas Cichlid from jumping out of the tank.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – 55 Gallons for a single fish and 125 Gallons for a pair.
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.6-7.3
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 20 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Midas Cichlid can be kept alone or in a pair. This fish is aggressive, yet in a large tank of at least 200 gallons and at least 4′ long can be relatively tolerant of other large South and Central American cichlids of different species. In a small tank, this fish will become very aggressive, a ‘predator’ that can wipe out your entire tank.

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

Sexual differences

Adult males are larger than females and have extended dorsal and anal fins and a much larger nuchal hump on the head. This hump is usually premanent in aquariums but interestingly only develops during spawing in the wild. Females are much smaller with only a hint of the nuchal hump.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Midas Cichlid has been extensively bred in captivity. This is a cave spawner that needs slate, caves made out of rock formations, or flowerpots. They are sexually mature at 6 to 7″. The spawning ritual starts with the two fish swimming in circles around each other and slapping each other on the side with their tail fin while their mouths are wide open. The female will then swim in front of the male and rub her side across the male’s nuchal hump. The male will do this to the female as well which results in the nuchal humps growing larger. This ritual can go on for 2 weeks to 6 months before they are done.

Keep in mind that during this spawing ritual, the male might become aggressive towards the female. In some instances, a tank divider may be needed to protect the female if the male is too brutal. Some breeders have constructed dividers with holes large enough for the female to pass through but too small to allow the male passage in order to allow the female a place to escape to and rest in. After the display is done, they will then start cleaning and digging down to the bottom of the tank, all the way to the glass. When you see this, remove the divider and watch to be sure that the ritual is truly over and she is safe.

The female will lay her eggs and the male will fertilize them as she lays a few rows at a time. In 2 to 5 days, the eggs will hatch and any unhatched eggs will be eaten by the parents. The parents will then move the wigglers to another pit of gravel and 5 to 7 days later, the fry are free swimming. The male now becomes more protective to the point of considering the female a threat and may attack her, so it may be necessary to replace the divider if you have removed it. If you make the decision to remove the fry, the male will likely become extremely distraught and may attempt to spawn with the female again. The female will not be ready and she can be killed very easily if not protected. It is better to just leave the fry with the male. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate – Keep an eye on the female during the spawning ritual and provide a divider if necessary or you risk significant injury to her by the male!

Fish Diseases

Midas Cichlids are subject to infections as well as other diseases that ail all freshwater fish, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. 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.

The notorious ‘Hole-in-the-Head‘ disease (HLLE – Head and Lateral Line Disease) that large cichlids are prone to 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. Hard water can also contribute to Hole-in-the-Head disease, so using driftwood can help pull the pH down if you have very hard water. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol.

As with most fish the Midas 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 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.


The Midas Cichlid is usually available in fish stores and sometimes found online. They are moderately priced as juveniles and tend to increase in price as they age. Many pet stores will likely allow you to special order one if you are willing to wait. Regardless of your purchase method, be sure to thoroughly inspect your fish for disease or malformations.



 Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus) (Image Credit: idk, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)