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Breeding Firemouth Cichlids

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Thorichthys Meeki (Meek, 1904) - The Firemouth Cichlid Breeder Report
By Rich Dietz aka Mr.Firemouth

Thorichthys Meeki (Meek, 1904) or The Firemouth Cichlid, is an incredible aquarium fish that are found in their natural habitats in the following countries; Mexico, Guatemala, Merida, Progresso, Yucatan Peninsula, and Central America. They prefer slow moving rivers with rocky shorelines and sandy substrates. The climate is sub-tropical with temperatures in the mid 70's to 80's and native waters for this fish have a pH of 7.0-7.8. Males achieve a size of 6-8 inches and are richly colored with a grey to blue body, orange to red throat and belly, with blue and red pigments in their fins. The fins of the male have elongated and pointed ray extensions. The body is tall with a large curved forehead. The dorsal fin starts just behind the gill plate and follows the contour of the body until the end where it rises sharply. There are ocelli markings on the gill plates and mid body of the fish and sometimes a third ocelli just before the caudal fin. These ocelli are wrapped in a ring of gold. . Females achieve a size of 5-6 inches and have much of the same characteristics as the males making sexing the fish somewhat difficult. The females are thicker bodied and their dorsal fin is slightly rounded at the end rather than pointed as in the males. Her colors can rival that of the male but sometimes are subdued to avoid aggression from the males. The female will protrude her vent tube for egg deposits during mating which is the best way to sex the individual fish after they pair off to mate.

I have been keeping Firemouths for close to 25 years now. In the mid 70's when I was a child there were incredibly colored specimens available, but by the late 1980's the fish were being mass produced and indiscriminately bred and the vivid colors were beginning to fade. Another decade later the fish I was seeing at my local fish store were more of a silver/grey with very little red in their throat. It was 1999 when I decided to begin line breeding firemouths to enhance their colors, size, and finnage. I share with you now that journey.

In the spring of 1999 I obtained four 1 inch long fish from Greater Chicagoland Cichlid Association's mini-auction and began to grow them out together hoping for a pair. Male dominance is key to controlling the pack with groups of firemouths. An Alpha male will emerge and be brightly colored and will spar with all others forcing them to be submissive. This male will be the first to breed with a ripe female. These fish exchange melee rounds of gill flaring and jaw locking to determine dominance. Real damage is rarely occurred during these challenges. The fish paired off once they reached a size of about 2 inches total length. I assumed that they were between 14 months and 18 months old and had reached sexual maturity. Two fish began to dig a pit in the sand at the base of a rock and clean the sides of the rock. The larger male defended his territory while the female stayed at the base of the rock. I left the pair alone and they soon laid eggs. The pair guarded the eggs and kept them clean. Two days later they eggs began to hatch and there was dozens of free swimming fry. I siphoned these fish out away from the parents and placed them in a 5 gallon filtered aquarium. This is known as stripping the fry. The fry were fed frozen baby brine shrimp and liquid fry foods. After the third week I introduced crushed flake food and began to grow out the fry.

The mated pair soon spawned again and I again stripped the fry to another 5 gallon aquarium. The smaller aquariums make feeding the fry much easier. I grew the two batches of fry out separately. Once the fish were one half inch in total length I began to remove the top 5 largest individuals that had the most coloration. At this size the color I saw was some black edging on the pectoral fins and some blue spangling in the dorsal fins. I separated a total of ten fish from both batches to a 20 gallon aquarium for grow out. I then culled the other fish to my local fish store for fish food credit.

It was now the Fall of 2000 and I was again looking at new breeders beginning to pair off! I separated the most colorful pair of fish and let them breed in a separate 20 gallon aquarium. By the end of winter 2000 I had some 300 fry and was working on my third generation of fish. These fry already began to show signs of improvement. They had much more blue metallic coloration in their fins. Selective breeding was working! The fish were coloring up nicely! I once again repeated these steps of stripping the fry to the 5 gallon aquariums and then transferring the top 20 most colorful fish. The fish that grew the fastest also had the best coloration so I was selecting for size and color all at once. I allowed the brood stock to grow out to three inch fish and began looking for some excellently colored firemouths from another breeder to breed my fourth generation males with. I did this to avoid immune deficiencies and mutations caused by inbreeding. I found just what I was looking for at a Greater Chicagoland Cichlid Association auction. They were perfect! So now in the summer of 2002 I began to isolate the most colorful firemouths from the auction and tried to pair them with adult fish from my third generations spawn.

The fish quickly paired off and began spawning rituals. The largest most colorful male intensified his coloration and began flaring his fins and gills at the ripe females. They would jaw lock and threaten each other to establish dominance and then finally the male and female would accept each other and pair off. During the breeding cycle their colors are most impressive! Once they paired they soon laid eggs and I was rewarded with fry! These fry were the fourth generation and I let them grow out until the beginning of 2004. No, I didn't skip a year, it just takes time to grow fish out and I felt I was forcing pairs with fish that were too young.

I was working with roughly 200 fry at this time and only about 40 of them were extremely colored while the rest were smaller and seemed to be washed out. I separated 20 of the reddest fish in the brood stock. This was the first time I began to isolate the reddest of fish. I felt that I finally had a significant amount of blue coloration throughout the body and fins. I had previously been selecting fish based on the intensity of reflective blue scales to get away from the dull grey coloration of the original fish. In the summer of 2005 I bred the reddest firemouth pairs of my fourth generation fish I had to one another and came out with some incredibly colored fry! My fifth generation of firemouths had been born!

I once again stripped the fry to smaller aquariums and began rearing them. I started the fry off on baby brine shrimp. After 14 days I started feeding crushed flake food. The fry grew quickly and had great color. There was much redder coloration in the dorsal fins and throat of the fish. I grew these fifth generation juveniles out and bred them in the summer of 2006. The fish bred in a 20 gallon tank which contained sand and was planted with Java fern, hornwort, and hygrophylia. . The tank was filtered by a hang on the back power filter from Hagen and airstones helped aerate the water. The pH was 7.6 and the water hardness was 180ppm.I performed weekly water changes equal to 90% of the tank volume. I used fluorescent lighting for a duration of 10 hours each day. I fed the fish Tetra flake, frozen bloodworms, and frozen brine shrimp.

I am growing out my seventh generation for breeding again as I write this! Line breeding firemouth cichlids leave me year after year excited to see just how the fry turn out as mature adults. Their ray extensions get slightly longer and their colors intensify with each new generation! Firemouth cichlids are an excellent beginner cichlid for many aquarists that will reward them with the joys of breeding these fish! Their threat displays are always exciting to view and their colors are mesmerizing! I recommend this fish to all cichlid lovers!

My future goal is to make a deep red Firemouth and to possibly work with albino T.Meeki. I believe an albino form would be stunning! Line breeding cichlids is a long term commitment (I have been at it for 8 years) so be up to the challenge if you choose to enhance some colors, size, or finnage on your cichlids!


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  1. irishspy's Avatar
    Great article and photos! Thanks for sharing.
  2. Fishfriendz2's Avatar
    great article, wondering if I could buy a mating pair off you?
  3. mcgrady7761's Avatar
    wonderful article, very informative.
  4. RDTigger's Avatar
    Love the in-depth info. Great ideas for building a stronger breed. Gotta few questions for you about their temperament with peaceful fish such as Clown Loaches...
  5. dragon54's Avatar
    My pair just spawned I had 100-300 eggs and after 4 days I only see around 6 fry with egg sacks.
    What should I do next?
  6. troynathan's Avatar
    i have 2 very colorful firemouth and i would like to buy like 3 of your 2 inch ones?