A beautiful but violent fish, the iconic Red Devil makes for one of the most striking show cichlids in the hobby!

The Red Devil Cichlid Amphilophus labiatus (previously Cichlasoma labiatum) makes a personable and exciting display for the large show tank. It is a very large Central American cichlid, reaching up to 15″ (38 cm) and is known for being one of the most ferocious and aggressive of the cichlids. 

This cichlid has a great deal of variability in its body structure and coloration. The coloring in the wild is often a dark brown to gray which helps them blend into their natural surroundings and the substrate. Yet some are bright red, while others are white or yellow. Some of the more colorful individuals will also have a black-tipped tail and black-tipped fins. Their lips are thick and rubbery looking and can be either black or orange.

No matter what the color, this is an extremely charismatic fish that hobbyists tend to go nuts over. It is a very “owner conscious” cichlid. They will quickly form quite the attachment to their owner and will ‘play’ with you just like a dog might. They have been known to follow their owners around the room, beg for food, show off their colors and speed, and do other fun, playful things. It will also respond to interactions like feeding and cleaning the aquarium.

This fish is named the Red Devil for a very good reason. It is known for very aggressive behavior and it has the dentition (teeth) to back it up. Their big teeth and strong jaws show this is a veracious predator that needs to be respected. Although they can be kept in aquariums as small as 55 gallons, bigger aquariums can reduce their aggressiveness. They have been known to live with other fish when growing up, but as an adult these fish will usually not tolerate any other fish living in its aquarium, especially if this other fish is another Red Devil. If you are interested in keeping this fish with tankmates, you will need to either keep it as a mated pair or in a very large aquarium. 

These fish are moderately easy to care for for as long as water conditions are kept up with regular water changes. 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 so well as they will be eaten, shredded or uprooted. 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 needed for their optimum health.

When this fish was first being imported, dealers were tempted to put it in a saltwater aquarium. Which of course it simply would not tolerate. This was because it so closely resembles the large Garibaldi damselfish found in the coastal waters of California.

The Red Devil is also very similar to the Midas CichlidAmphilophus citrinellum, and some websites still list them as the same fish. However, although these two fish differ very little in their appearance there are definite morphometric differences. In size the Red Devil can attain a size of up to 15 inches (38 cm) in length while the MIdas Cichlid is a bit smaller reaching about 10 – 14″ (25 – 35 cm). In addition, they come from different areas of Central America. While the Red Devil is only found in the Nicaraguan lakes, the Midas Cichlid can range from Costa Rica to Nicaragua.

Scientific Classification


Red Devil Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Very hardy
Minimum Tank Size:55 gal (208 L)
Size of fish – inches15.0 inches (38.10 cm)
Temperament:Large Aggressive – Predatory
Temperature:75.0 to 79.0° F (23.9 to 26.1&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Red Devil Cichlid Amphilophus labiatus (previously Cichlasoma labiatum) was described by Gunther in 1864. They are found in Central America near the Atlantic slopes in Nicaragua. They live in the Nicaraguan lakes; Nicaragua, Managua, and Xiloa.   This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

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 were moved into their own various genera. Many species 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.

Red Devils like to inhabit open waters and are rarely found in rivers. These fish are normally found in areas of submerged rocks and logs and normally travel along crevices that can aid in a quick retreat if needed; this potential retreat can be very important as their habitat is very dangerous as it is the only fresh water lake to house a large population of Bull Sharks! Red Devils feed on small fish, snails, insect larvae, worms, and other bottom-dwelling organisms

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


The Red Devil is a robust and stocky fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. It is a large Central American cichlid, reaching up to about 15 inches (38 cm) in length. It takes about 3 years for this species to attain its full size, but they are sexually mature and will spawn at about 6 inches (15 cm). They have a life span of 10 – 12 years or more if well cared for.

This cichlid can be quite variable in coloration. In the wild it is often a dark brown to gray which helps them blend into their natural surroundings and the substrate. Yet some are bright red, while others are white or yellow. Some of these more colorful individuals will also have black-tipped tails and fins. They can have thick rubbery orange lips or the lips can be black. These large lips tend to decrease in size in captive fish, though it is currently unknown why.

  • Size of fish – inches: 15.0 inches (38.10 cm)
  • Lifespan: 12 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Though the Red Devil is a very hardy fish and an easy and eager eater, they are not well suited to a beginner fishkeeper. They can tolerate a wide range of different water conditions within reason and will feed on just about anything offered to them. However, they grow to be very large and are extremely aggressive and intolerant of other fish in their tank. They need a very strict maintenance routine as well as a very large tank.  A good deal of experience is needed if planning to keep other species or even other Red Devils in the same tank. 

It is thus recommended that Red Devils are best kept by experienced cichlid keepers who are aware of their requirments and temperaments. 

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

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Red Devil 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. Older fish books and other sources have listed them as carnivores because they will eat or attack most other fish, but theydo need vegetable based foods to prevent Hole in the Head disease and to complete a balanced diet. 

Be careful when feeding your cichlid warm blooded mammal meats (e.g. red meat, beef heart, chicken, etc) as these meats have amounts and types of proteins and fats not normally found in a cichlid’s diet. These foods can therefore cause intestinal blockages and organ degredation in cichlids. If you find your fish enjoys these types of foods, be sure to only feed them as an occasional treat, not as a dietary 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

The Red Devil is 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, more or less depending on the stocking density of the tank. 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 problems that occur with tropical fish tanks usually come down to one cause, decomposing organic matter.  As with most large fish, these fish are messy and produce a lot of waste. Cleaning the substrate is very important in maintaining these fish, depending what they are fed will dictate the maintenance schedule.

  • Water Changes: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

This is a large Central American Cichlid and it needs a lot of room. A 55 gallon aquarium is the minimum suggested for a single fish, with 125 gallons needed for a pair, and 200 gallons if keeping several large cichlids. They need moderate water movement along with strong efficient filtration.  Dual filters are recommended for these fish using a sump style and a canister filter. Although they are undemanding as far as water conditions, oxygen levels must be maintained for optimum color and health. To obtain this  high level of oxygen add a couple large airstones to the tank.

Provide a bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. They are avid diggers and plants don’t fare so well as they will be eaten, shredded or uprooted. Make sure rocks are well bedded on the actual glass bottom of the tank to prevent toppling. While it is important to provide Red Devils with plenty of hiding places and plants, it is equally important to provide an open center area for them to swim in. 

Make sure that fragile pieces of equiptment like heaters and inlet/outlets are provided protection as the Red Devils are known to attack and break these things. Some of these things are better placed externally or if that is not an option place them behind objects that are not easily moved by this large fish.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – A 55 gallon aquarium is the minimum suggested for a single fish, 125 gallons for a pair, and 200 gallons if keeping several large cichlids.
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 79.0° F (23.9 to 26.1&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 6 – 25 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

Red Devils are known for their aggressiveness, thus the name Red Devil. They are very territorial and are occasionally very rude toward conspecifics (same species) as well as heterospecifics (other species). For this reason they are often kept by themselves. They can be kept with other aggressive fish in a very large aquarium when growing up, but as adults they simply don’t like any other occupants in their tank. The only known way to successfully and safely keep Red Devils with other fish is to have them in a very large aquarium with plenty of caves, hiding places, and natural tank divsions to create defensible territories. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t guarantee that the Red Devil won’t attack to gain more territory and is no guarantee you can keep them with other fish. 

  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – They will only tolerate another Red Devil in a very large tank.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sexual differences

The male Red Devil grows larger than the female and has a pointed genital papilla,while  the female’s is blunt. The males in captivity will grow a permanent nuchal hump which is only present during breeding in the wild.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Red Devil Cichlid has been extensively bred in captivity. This cichlid is an open spawner with a patriarch-matriarch family. Typical of open spawners, they prefer to spawn on inclined substrates. The spawn is usually around 600-700 eggs which are a transparent, amber-yellow color. The female takes care of the initial brood. With temperatures of 77° F (25° C), the larvae hatch after about 3 days. After another 5-7 days they become free swimming. They can be nourished with Artemia nauplii. At 2-3 weeks old the young will also graze on their parents skin for additional food. See a general description of cichlid breeding habits 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, 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. It presensts as 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.  Heavy filtration will help to avoid this disease.

As with most fish the Red Devil 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 or 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 Red Devil Cichlid is readily available both online and in fish stores. They are moderately priced as juveniles while adults in excellent breeding condition are less common and cost more.



Featured Image Credit: Mircea Costina, Shutterstock