The Texas Cichlid Herichthys cyanoguttatus (previously Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum) is the northern most occurring cichlid  and the only cichlid native to waters of the United States. It is naturally found in the waters of southern Texas ( namely the Rio Grande) and northern Mexico. 

Though most commonly known as the Texas Cichlid, this fish is also named after its most famous river of origin and is thus also called the the Rio Grande Perch or Rio Grande Cichlid. Some sources also call it a Pearl Cichlid as well, but this is confusing as there is another well defined cichlid, Geophagus brasiliensis, that is more generally known as the Pearl Cichlid. Besides the nominate form there are also two subspecies with Herichthys c. carpintis being known as the Green Texas Cichlid, but currently there’s no common name for Herichthys c. temporatum.

The Texas Cichlid is one of most aggressive and belligernet of all cichlids, and reinforces the slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas.”  It’s a pretty large fish, reaching up to about 12 inches (30 cm) in length, but is no where near being the biggest of the American cichlids. Species like the Central American Wolf CichlidParachromis dovii and the South American Peacock CichlidCichla ocellaris are both more than one and a half times bigger in size than this fish. They are both pugnacious fish too, but even tdespite their massive size, they are no match for this contentious Texan.

In spite of its aggressive personality and territorial tendencies, or in some cases because of them, this fish has garnered a large and dedicated following. Many owners feel it is in fact one of the most beautifully colored cichlids and proudly display it as a show specimen in a large show tank. Its presents a very deep-body and sports shiny sparkling spots all over its brownish gray colored body. The male and female are very similar in appearance though the female is slightly smaller. Adult males also develop cranial hump on the forehead and have a more pointed dorsal fin.

This species has many of the typical habits cichlids are known for, including digging in the substrate, moving around the gravel, and shredding plants.This is an intelligent fish and very friendly with their owner, pushing up to the front of the tank at feeding time. They are also easy to breed. However, they are so extremely territorial, aggressive and intolerant of interupption they will even attack plants, decor, and aquarium equipment, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on plants and sensitive aquarium equiipment. 

The Texas Cichlid is definitely not a good community fish. Being naturally accustom to the close quarters provided by rivers they defend their territory vehemently against all intruders. But they are very durable and tough enough to be kept with other large and similarly tempered cichlids like the Red Devil and the Jack Dempsey.

To keep these fish healthy and thriving, they need to have plenty of room to swim and a decor that provides places to rest and retreat. A minimum 50 gallon aquarium is suggested for one and a pair will need at least 100 gallons. They like a tank bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. Being a most cantankerous cichlid, they will make short work of plants and rockwork by digging a great deal. They are large messy feeders and will need frequent water changes.

Scientific Classification


Texas Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:50 gal (189 L)
Size of fish – inches12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
Temperature:70.0 to 75.0° F (21.1 to 23.9&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Texas Cichlid Herichthys cyanoguttatus (previously Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum) was described by Baird and Girard in 1854. Three distinct subspecies were recognized by Alvarez in 1970. These include the nominate form Texas Cichlid Herichthys c. cyanoguttatus, the Green Texas Cichlid Herichthys c. carpintis, and Herichthys c. temporatum. These species are not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names H. cyanoguttatus is known by are Rio Grande Perch, Rio Grande Perch Cichlid, and Pearl Cichlid.

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 are a North American cichlid found in the rivers and lakes of Texas in the United States and in northern Mexico. The Texas Cichlid is the only naturally occuring in the United States. Originally their range was restricted to the lower Rio Grande drainage in Texas and south to northeastern Mexico. But they have been introduced on Edwards Plateau of central Texas, central Florida, and the Verde River basin of the La Media Luna region in Mexico.

They occur in pools of warm water as well as runs of small and large rivers. They hide in vegetation and sift through sand for edible food. They will eat crustaceans, insects, worms and plant matter.

  • Scientific Name: Herichthys cyanoguttatus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs – When young these fish will stay in groups, as they mature they become more solitary and will pair off to mate.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Texas Cichlid is a very deep bodied, oval shaped fish. They can reach up to about 12 inches (30 cm) in length, but with females smaller than the males. This fish may live up to 15 years, though 10 years is the average.

The body has a brownish gray coloration with bright bluish scales that give it a pearly appearance. Adults have two small black spots, one mid body and one at the base of the caudal peduncle. The juveniles have a few more spots in-between. Mature males develop a nuchal hump on their heads.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have. This is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. They also 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 positioning 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 supposedly cichlids are closely related to them.

  • Size of fish – inches: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Texas Cichlid is an easy fish to care for and will eat most anything. However, this fish is not for the beginner cichlid keeper!  This fish has a nasty attitude towards others and will make a mess out of a well decorated tank. They can be very messy depending on how they are fed and will need a very strict time consuming maintenance schedule.

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

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous the Texas Cichlid will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. They grow to be quite large so they should be fed a high quality pelleted food and earthworms. Live guppies and goldfish will also suffice when they get bigger. Feeding 2 to 3 small amounts each day rather than a large quantity once a day will keep the water quality higher over a longer time.

Do not give this fish any meats from mammals such as beef hearts or red meats which in the past was the norm.  High protiens in these foods are not metabolzed by the fish and cause excess fat deposits amd cause organ degeneration.

  • 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 Texas Cichlid tends to be a messy fish and needs a strict maintenance regiment.  A weekly water change of atleast 25% is needed for this fish. When doing water changes first clean the viewing panes of algae with an algae magnet or sponge, then use a substrate vacuum to assure all waste and other contaminates are removed.

  • Water Changes: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 60 gallon aquarium is suggested for a single fish, while a pair will need at least 100 gallons. They need good water movement along with strong and efficient filtration. They do well in a bit cooler aquarium with temperatures between 70 – 75° F (21 – 24° C). This cichlid loves to dig and burrow, so make sure you have provide them with plenty of substrate (at least 3 – 4 inches deep). Most live plants won’t do well with them since they like to both dig in the substrate (potentially uprooting the plant) and also enjoy attacking and eating leafs. While all cichlids prefer at least some cave like structures, Texas Cichlids are generally fine with less of this type of decor than most cichlids unless you have a very large tank. Be sure they have plenty of room for swimming.  Make sure to have a tight fitting secure lid and the lighting is up to personal preference, can be bright or dim.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – 50 gallons for a single fish and 100 gallons for a pair.
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 70.0 to 75.0° F (21.1 to 23.9&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 72.0° F
  • Range ph: 6.5-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 8 – 15 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Texas Cichlid is not a good candidate for living in a community tank and should be kept in very large aquariums either alone or in a pair. As a juvenile, the Texas Cichlid is extremely passive and will be in danger from most other juvenile cichlids, though it is possible to keep a young specimen with other non-aggressive fish. The timid young Texas Cichlid will have trouble getting enough food if kept with fast eaters or aggressive tank mates. Interestingly, as the fish ages it loses this passive attitude and becomes extremely aggressive, presenting a clear threat to almost any tank mate. Once they are older, reaching about 5 or 6 inches, they then become the threat. At this point some fishkeepers have reported successfully keeping a Texas Cichlid in a very large tank with other large fish, but many others have said the fish will simply harass each other to death. 

Texas Cichlids generally get territorial and should mostly be kept alone or as a pair in a species tank. They are aggressive toward other cichlids, especially those of the same species although they can get along with other non cichlids. As with all larger cichlids, room is the utmost importance to keep aggression down. Because they are a cooler water fish, they can be kept in a large aquarium with bass. They will generally burrow and they will dig up plants.

  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – These fish will tolerate each other when young, but will attack each other as they mature. A male and female are normally fine together in a large tank.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Threat

Sexual differences

The male has a more pointed dorsal fin and is larger. The male will also develop the cranial hump on its forehead.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Texas Cichlid has been bred in captivity and is known to hybridize with other related species. This fish is an egg layer and a pair will form a bond after a “jaw locking” contest between them. A large water change and a temperature higher than 72° F will induce spawning.

Though they reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) when fully grown, they are able to spawn when the male reaches around 4 inches (10 cm) and the female around 3 inches (7.5 cm). The female will begin the spawning process by cleaning off a solid space to lay her eggs, such as a flat rock of bottom of the tank. She can lay hundreds to thousands of eggs and both parents will protect the eggs and fry. When it is time to hatch, the female will chew them out of their egg shells and deposit them in a pit that her and the male have dug out.

The eggs will hatch in 3 – 4 days and are free-swimming in about 4 – 6 days. The male may be a little too serious about protecting his young and perceive the female as a threat, so be prepared to use a divider in the tank for her safely. They are not always as good at being parents as most cichlids, and may eat the fry. See the description of how these types of cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids for monogamist cichlids

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

They are pretty disease resistant in comparison to other fish. If they are in a tank with ill fish, they can contract the disease, but they respond to all forms of chemical remedies. 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 there are several copper based fish medications are available Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions.

Large American cichlids are also prone to Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which use to be called “hole-in-the-head” disease. It 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 Texas Cichlids need good monitoring. Though they are a durable and hardy fish, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for 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.

Remember 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 Texas Cichlid, also known as the Rio Grande Perch, Rio Grande Cichlid or Pearl Cichlid, is readily available both online and in fish stores. It is usually not very expensive as a juvenile. Adults in excellent breeding condition are less common and will cost more.



 Herichthys cyanoguttatus (Rio Grande Cichlid) (Image Credit: Clinton & Charles Robertson, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)