The Pearl Cichlid Geophagus brasiliensis has been kept in the South American cichlid aquarium for many years. It is a durable and attractive cichlid and is most noteworthy for its propensity to change its coloring during spawning. On normal days it will present a grayish-green body covered with bluish white pearly flecks. The fins have a slight amount of red coloring and the center of the body displays a dark round spot. However, during spawning or when under stress, this fish changes to present a color ranging anywhere from a pale brown to dark blue, even almost purple. It is also called the Pearl Eartheater, Mother-of-Pearl Eartheater, Brasiliensis, and Brazilian Eartheater.

Despite its current scientific designation, this cichlid does not actually have much in common with its eartheater cousins and may eventually be removed from the Geophagus genus. Their distribution is restricted to the harder and more alkaline coastal drainage waters rather than the Amazonian waters where other Geophagus originate. In addition, they are not mouth brooders and do not sift through the substrate as aggressively as the other Geophagus. Another, more plainly seen difference between the Pearl Cichlid and the other eartheaters is the fact that the Pearl Cichild’s mouth is straight in the front of the face, as opposed to being tucked under and downward pointing as with most eartheaters.

Though the Pearl Cichlid is known to reach a good size of about 11″ (28 cm) in length (with the females generally being about 1/3 or 1/2 the size of males), they are actually a great fish for beginners. They are quite hardy and tend to be undemanding and very easy to care for. Though the fish itself is usually inexepnisve, it does require a fairly large aqarium of at least 40 gallons minimum for a single fish and 75 gallons or more if keeping a pair or keeping one with other fish. However, once the initial expense is out of the way this fish doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance and can tolerate a much wider range of water conditions than most cichlids; the perfect requirments for a beginner fish keeper!

Provide a gravely substrate with some areas of fine sand for when they do decide to sift a little bit. A decor of rocks and roots will provide caves and crannies for hiding and separating territories. These fish will also enjoy plants, but the plants need to be potted with both the soil surface and the roots protected from digging.

Along with the Convict Cichlid, they are one of the easiest fish to breed. They are excellent parents and will readily breed in the aquarium with not much more than a water change. With such a good combination of characteristics, they are a great fish for beginners and experts alike.

Pearl Cichlid / Mother-of-Pearl / Eartheater (Up-Close)

Scientific Classification


Pearl Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Beginner
Aquarium Hardiness:Very hardy
Minimum Tank Size:40 gal (151 L)
Size of fish – inches11.0 inches (27.94 cm)
Temperature:68.0 to 73.0° F (20.0 to 22.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Pearl Cichlid Geophagus brasiliensis was described by Quoy and Gaimard in 1824. They are found in eastern and southern Uruguay and Brazil. There are also feral populations in Australia, the United States, Taiwan and the Philipines.This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names they are known by include Pearl Eartheater, Mother-of-Pearl Eartheater, Brasiliensis, Mother of Pearl Cichlid, and Brazilian Eartheater.

They are found in coastal drainages of standing or brackish waters. These fish are found in a variety of biotopes that vary from fast flowing crystal clear watersto stagnantimpenetrable waters. and a wide variety of substrates. Though the pH ranges are widely variable in these waters, as a coastal form they prefer the harder, more alkaline waters found there. They feed on detritus and insects along with algae and weeds found on or under the substrate.

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


The Pearl Cichlid is a high bodied fish, much like the Convict or Texas Cichlid, with a more pointed mouth. They are a fairly large South American cichlid and reach up to 11″ (28 cm) in length with the females only reaching about 1/3 to 1/2 that size. Adult males develop a slight hump on the head which grows larger the older they become. They can live from 10-15 years with good care.

They have an overall color of gray-green, and develop a covering of bluish white pearly flecks when they reach about 3 – 4″ in length. The fins can be red or have red on the edges. They may or may not have a faded dark spot on their body at about the level of the eye, where the pectoral fins end but up higher towards the dorsal fin. The coloring of this fish can change according to their mood or when mating, ranging anywhere from a pale brown to dark blue, even almost purple.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common 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: 11.0 inches (27.94 cm) – The Pearl Eartheater Cichlid can reach a length of up to 11″ (28 cm). The males are a third to a half larger than the females.
  • Lifespan: 15 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Pearl Cichlid is an excellet choice for any level of aquarist, including beginners.They readily accept a wide variety of foods and are not picky eaters in the slightest. In addition, they can tolerate a wide range of water conditions and are are hardy enough to endure even sudden and drastic changes in their water levels. The one thing to keep in mind when housing this fish is that they will require an aquarium of at least 40 gallons or larger, though they do not require any specialized filtration, lighting, or decor.

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

Foods and Feeding

The Pearl Cichlid is an omnivoreandcan be fed a varied diet of good quality pellets, flakes, insects, krill, and artemia.In the wild they feed on detritus and insects along with algae and weeds found on or under the substrate. They are ready eaters and are not picky, so feel free to try and feed them many different types of foods. If they like it, add it to their diet.

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. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

Do not overfeed warm blooded mammal meat (i.e. red meat, poultry, beef heart, etc.) These foods were once considered a staple of many cichlid’s diet, but more recently it has been discovered they can be dangerous for fish. These foods contain high amounts of proteins and fats not normally found in a cichlid’s diet and can cause intestinal blockages and organ degradation. If your fish enjoys these foods, feed them only as an occasional treat, not as a staple.

  • 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

PearlCichlids are fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless o size all need some maintenance. With home aquariums the nitrate and phosphates build up over time and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Replace at least 25 – 30% of their water bi-weekly,more oftenif 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: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

You will need an aquarium of at least 40 gallons when keeping a Pearl Cichlid individually and at least 75 when keeping a pair of Pearls or keeping one with other fish. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater but prefer slower moving water with good efficient filtration. Provide a gravely substrate with some areas of fine sand for when they decide to sift a little bit. A decor of rocks and roots will provide caves and crannies for hiding and separating territories. These fish will also enjoy live or plastic plants, but live plants need to be potted with both the soil surface and the roots protected from digging.

Like the Convict Cichlid, this species also has some salt tolerance and can be kept in slightly brackish water conditions. However it is not suited to a full brackish water tank. A salinity that is about 10% of normal a saltwater tank, a specific gravity of less than 1.0002, would be okay.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 40 gal (151 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 73.0° F (20.0 to 22.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – 76 – 78° F (24 – 25.5° C)
  • Range ph: 6.2-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 10 – 15 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – Can tolerate a salinity of about 10% of a normal saltwater tank or a specific gravity of less than 1.0002
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Pearl Cichlid can be housed with other larger cichlids from the Americas as well as plecostomus and catfish. They are territorial fish and will want a territory of their own to defend, so keep that in mind when adding fish to their tank and be sure you have enough room to provide for all their needs.

They can be kept alone or in mated pairs. They are generally aggressive to conspecifics. During spawning they can become very aggressive toward other fish. At other times, though they are still territorial. they are tolerant of other fish. Other fish they can be kept with includeDiscus, the Blue Acara and other Aequidens species, other eartheaters, Angelfish, the Uaru Cichlid, and other easy going Central and South American cichlids.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – They are mostly tolerant of other fish except when breeding when they become territorial
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor
    • 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 sex is hard to tell as they are similarly colored. The male has a more pointed genital papillae while the female’s is blunt and more rounded. The male is larger as an adult and it may also have a longer dorsal fin and show a hint of a bump on its forehead.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Pearl Cichlids are substrate spawners and will readily bred in captivity. They will pair up at 2 – 3″ and be ready to breed at 4″. Provide an environment with neutral to slightly acidic water, a pH of 6.5 – 7.0, soft to medium hard, 5 – 10° dH, and a temperature of between 75 – 81° F (24 – 27° C).

They will meticulously clean rocks in darker, hidden places before they lay their eggs. The female may lay as many as 600-800 oval eggs, though 150-200 is more likely in the aquarium. They are excellent parents and will guard their young, so do not remove the parents after the eggs are laid. The fry can be fed crushed flake. See more about cichlid breeding in: 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, 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. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol.

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.Adding the extra filter as described in aquarium setup section will help with this issue.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 Pearl 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 Pearl Cichlid, also often called the Pearl Eartheater, is readily available both in fish stores and online. Adults are inexpensive, and juveniles can often be obtained for much less.



Featured Image Credit: nortfish, Shutterstock