Firemouth Cichlid: Care Guide, Breeding, Tank Size & Disease

With a name like Firemouth, you can expect a fiery fish that dominates the tank. The Firemouth Cichlid, or Thorichthys meeki, their scientific name, can add a bit of spunk and color to your otherwise monochrome tank. This is a species of fish that are native to Central America, ranging from countries such as Mexico to Guatemala.

Firemouth Cichlid: A Quick Summary

Firemouth cichlids are colorful fish native to Central America. They are popular in aquariums and require a planted tank with hiding spots. They should be kept with non-aggressive species.

Firemouth Cichlid Overview

Firemouth’s scientific name ‘Thorichthys meeki’ gets divided into two parts. Thorichthys comes from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘leaping fish.’ The word meeki pays homage to the great Ichthyologist Seth Eugene Meek (1859-1914). He was the first person to write a book on Mexican freshwater fishes.

The Firemouth Cichlid is a monogamous fish, pairing with their mate for life and are quite easy to care for. This is what names them quite popular with many aquarists and they sport some bright colors to make the tank more interesting. Their more common name, the Firemouth, was taken from the bright coloration that is seen running from their underside up to the bottom of their mouths.

The Firemouth is nowadays considered an Invasive species. Due to its adaptive abilities and quick growth, you can also find these in parts of the Philippines, Singapore, Israel, and Australia. These fishes get categorized as hardy, peaceful fishes. Although, they can become aggressive during the spawning seasons.

Let’s take a closer look at these interesting and colorful fish.

Information Chart
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful (aggressive during spawning)
Color: Red with some blue spots
Lifespan: 15 years
Size: Up to 7 inches
Family Cichlidae
Diet: Omnivorous
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
Temperature: 75-86 ºF (24-30 ºC)
pH 6.5 to 8 and water hardness should be at 8-15 dGH
Tank Mate Compatibility Other peaceful fish

Firemouth Cichlids Appearance

The Firemouth Cichlid has red undersides that give them a unique look. It is said their color variations affect their behavior. This is a very interesting fun fact and makes sense since the red color develops during spawning season, which is also when they happen to be more aggressive. Some species are almost indistinguishable between the sexes, but the Firemouth Cichlid is not one of these cases.

Mexican Fire Mouth (Thorichthys ellioti) - Male

Male and female Firemouth Cichlids have fins with red around the edges, and occasionally some blue spots can decorate the surface of the fin. Their appearance is greatly affected by their environment. If you look at ones from Central America, they tend to be brighter and more vivid in color.

The Lifespan of Firemouth Cichlids

The typical lifespan of a Firemouth Cichlid is around 15 years, only if suitable conditions are provided to the fish. 

For such small fish, it does live for quite a long while. The best way to ensure your fish live long and healthy lives is to give them the right environment. They are freshwater fish that are used to more tropical temperatures.

Be careful to feed them what they are used to and not overfeed. Adhering to the right water qualities and cleaning the tank regularly will ensure your cichlids will live longer.

If you take care of the Firemouth wholeheartedly, it will not go anywhere from your aquarium for the next 15 years.

Firemouth Cichlids Size

An average Firemouth typically grows up to 5 inches on a lower end and 7 inches for the larger ones. 

The males are at least an inch larger than the females, and that alone makes them easy to identify in a tank. The usual color of the Firemouth Cichlid is a greyish blue tinge, and the males develop the bright orangey, reddish color. All Firemouth Cichlids sport a darker stripe across their sides.

If you still find identifying the sexes difficult, focus on the attractiveness of the fishes.

The males are subjectively the more attractive of the sexes with brighter colors, longer fins, and are larger. Similar to humans, the female Firemouth Cichlids have a rounder and more voluptuous shape.

Natural Habitat and Origin

The Firemouth Cichlid species have their homes in the beautiful freshwaters of South America, the Philippines, Israel, Singapore, etc.

Firemouths also get termed as native South Americans.

Their natural habitat is generally slow-moving and shallow. The pH of the water should remain around 6.5-8.0 for their survival and optimum growth. Since Firemouths are tropical fishes, they grow best in warm water with a temperature range of 23-30 °C (75–86 °F).

Firemouth Cichlid Care & Tank Set-up

The Firemouth Cichlid thorichthys meeki is considered a beginner care level fish. They are an invasive species, which is something to consider when introducing tank mates. Invasive species can force native species out when introduced to a new area. They can also be found in other areas of the world, including Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Israel.

Knowing about the Firemouth Cichlid’s natural habitat will allow you to create a more suitable environment. Since they are tough and quite peaceful, the Firemouth Cichlid will give beginner and experienced aquarists alike an easier time. However, that’s not to say that they don’t have an aggressive streak at times, but more on that later.

Firemouth Cichlids Tank Size and Specifications

Central America is where the Firemouth Cichlid is indigenous. As you can imagine, you may be looking at warmer waters and weather compared to where you set up your aquarium

Optimum Tank Size for Firemouth Cichlids

The tank size they need isn’t too large, and most spaces can accommodate a 30-gallon tank. This size needs to be larger with the more fish you intend to keep. 

If you intend to get a couple of Firemouth Cichlids, you will need a tank that would suffice their needs. Usually, a 30-gallon tank is sufficient for a pair of Firemouths. Hence, the recommended tank size for Firemouth Cichlids is 36 x 16 x 16 inches. 

Firemouths are peaceful fishes, but they get aggressive during the spawning season. 

Despite their peaceful nature, they can also get quite territorial and will do better in larger tanks. So, It would be better if you could get a bigger tank. This will allow them to draw out their territories and limit the aggression that may occur.

Tank Shape for Firemouth Cichlids

There are various types of tank shapes and sizes in the market. Whether a cuboidal one or a cylindrical one, you can buy any of them for your firemouth cichlid. 

But what shape is the best for Firemouth Cichlids? Well, the shapes that prove to be good luck for you and your fishes are either a rectangular one or a circular one.

We would recommend you to get a rectangular one for the simple reason that it provides a larger surface area between air and water. It facilitates the exchange of gases hence being the best choice for water quality and overall fish health.

Filter Type

The Cichlids need to install a good filtration system to clean their habitat. They can be quite sensitive to ammonia and nitrogen buildup in the water.

A canister-type filter is sufficient for your beloved Firemouth Cichlids. The canister type first sucks out the water from the fish tank through an intake tube, sieve, or valve. Then the water runs through a filter media in a pressurized canister, which pumps the filtered aquarium water back into the fish tank via spillway or spray bar. 


A substrate for your fish tank is necessary to create a pleasant habitat for the fish. It minimizes reflections within the tank, saving your fish from a stressful life. It also helps in improving the water chemistry of the tank. 

The ideal substrate for the Firemouth Cichlids would be sand. Even though it is a freshwater fish, it can withstand brackish water conditions. It can even withstand a water salinity of 10%.

How Many Firemouth Cichlids In 30 Gallons Of Water?

The number of Firemouth Cichlids may vary depending on your fish tank. If you intend to have one Firemouth, you will need at least a 15-gallons tank.

Firemouth Cichlid or Firemouth Meeki, thorichthys meeki

Although, we recommend you get a pair of Firemouth Cichlids as they thrive together. For a couple, at least a 30-gallon tank would be required. We would advise you to get a 40-gallon tank for them as it gives them more space to roam around in the tank. 

Water Parameters For Firemouth Cichlid

Water Temperature

The optimal water temperature for Firemouth Cichlid is between 23–30 °C (75–86 °F). The Firemouths are tropical fishes meaning that they can not withstand low temperatures. Hence, try maintaining this temperature range for the ideal growth.

Water Flow Rate

There should be some water flow in the tank, but it should not be too strong. Combining this with the sand substrate would be best to imitate the sandy shores. 

pH level

The perfect water pH range for Firemouth Cichlids is between 6.5 to 8. The water pH should revolve around the neutral pH. It should not hover onto the basic or acidic side as it is harmful to the Firemouths.

Water Hardness

Water Hardness gets defined as the number of minerals like calcium and magnesium dissolved in the water. For the optimal growth of Firemouth Cichlids, the water hardness should be at 8-15 dGH.

Firemouth Cichlid Tank Landscape

Firemouth Cichlid is a tropical wish. 

The water flow rate in these areas is slow but can get muddy. The Firemouth Cichlid often hides and darts around rocks and spends most of their time in midstream. 

They are freshwater fish, but since they can be found in other areas of the world, they can withstand saline up to 10% with no trouble. They are tough little creatures, and as long as you abide by the tank conditions mentioned above, they will thrive.

Feed the proper food, and they should live long and healthy lives. Getting the ideal water pH, hardness, the substrate is a must for a Firemouth landscape. 

They are not too sensitive to sunlight, so having moderate sun by placing the aquarium near a window is also a good idea. 

Now, you can start adding decorations to your tank landscape. 

Best Plants for Firemouth Cichlid Tanks 

The Firemouth Cichlids like dark around plants, driftwood, and rocks, so having lots of that in your tank is ideal. Just be sure to prick pants with strong roots since they like to move things around and dig things up.

Decorations for Firemouth Tanks

You can add rocks to the tank, which help the Cichlids to create their territories. Limestone and dolomite rocks can maintain the water chemistry too. Ideally, any rock or virtual decor would do the work.

Best Lightning for Firemouth Tanks

For most Cichlids, a 10,000K white light works fine. You can even use a marine LED light high in 10,000K white light with blue wavelengths and a bit of RGB light.

Feeding Firemouth Cichlid

What do Firemouth Cichlids eat? Like many fish, the Firemouth Cichlid isn’t picky for food. This is a good thing because they will never go hungry, but it’s also a danger because they will eat anything you give them even if it’s not the best. Again, the best care you can give to your thorichthys meeki is to provide them with what they could get in the wild.

Best Diet for Firemouth Cichlid

In their native environment, they can be seen feeding on small crustaceans, which is why brine shrimp is a good idea. It’s also why you shouldn’t consider snails and shrimps as Firemouth Cichlid tankmates as they may eat them as well. They like to dig and rearrange things, but sometimes they look for food. It’s not uncommon to see them gulping mouthfuls of the substrate.

You can feed them a mix of greens, live food, flakes, and supplements. Flakes, pallets, and frozen food would be good options as well. It will keep their diet nutritious and well-balanced.

How Often Should You Feed Firemouth Cichlid?

Don’t overfeed them. Try feeding smaller meals (about twice per day) and give them a varied diet to cover all bases of their dietary needs. 

Firemouth Cichlid Temperament and Behavior

As previously mentioned, the Firemouth Cichlid is quite a peaceful fish but are Firemouth Cichlids aggressive? Their aggression tends to rear its face during spawning season. Even if you have many Firemouth Cichlids in your tank, they still keep to themselves individually as the thorichthys meeki are not a schooling fish.

Feeding Firemouth Cichlid

They are exemplary fish in terms of relationships and parenting, being monogamous and completely dedicated when they have children. It’s also useful to note that the thorichthys meeki aren’t naturally aggressive and suddenly resort to violent behavior. During spawning or when a male fish wants others to stay out of their territory, they expand their gills to warn potential intruders.

There is another really cute trait about the Firemouth Cichlid thorichthys meeki, and it is that they have slight OCD. They like to move things around in the tank and rearrange things just so. Watching their behavior day in and day out includes moving the substrate you put in and maybe even digging things up. This is something to consider when choosing how to decorate your tank.

Are Firemouth Cichlids Lonely In Nature?

Firemouth species can have tank mates, and they live peacefully with them(except during the spawning season). But they should also have ample space to have their territory. Males usually live alone, but they can form monogamous pairs with the females in the tank.

Tank Mates

What is most important to ensure a peaceful cohabitation is getting a large tank. A large enough tank will give them enough space to thrive, reducing stress and the potential for diseases and more territorial attacks. 

They are generally peaceful, which makes them easy to live with. Just remove the other fish when it’s spawning season as the Cichlids will do better in tank conditions they are used to during this crucial time.

What fish can live with Firemouth Cichlids? Other Cichlids can do well with the Thorichthys Meeki, and finding tank mates of a similar size is also important.

Ideal Firemouth Cichlid Tank Mates 

Peaceful tetras and catfish are also good tank mates for your Thorichthys Meeki to have. The other fishes you can include as Firemouth Tank Mates are:

Bad Tank Mates for Firemouth Cichlid 

Many people get curious whether they can get an African Cichlid as a Tank Mate for Firemouth Cichlid.

Are you wondering the same? If yes, then the answer is No. Both of them seem to be each other’s arch-rivals. There are exceptions, but we have heard more terrifying stories than good ones.

Breeding Firemouth Cichlid

As we have mentioned, the Firemouth Cichlids are what we humans strive to be in a relationship. They are monogamous and great to their fry. You could be able to purchase a bonded pair from the start and just take home two of the species. However, if you don’t, you can purchase at least 6 (males and females) and have them pair off together naturally in the aquarium.

They do not need you to make too many adjustments for breeding to happen, but slightly raising the pH level to 7 would help. Just make sure all the other parameters are in place. Their eggs aren’t usually hidden away and are found on flat surfaces, including aquarium glass.

Each laying will produce 100-500 eggs, with the parents guarding the babies with their life. Breeding can occur several times a year, so having an extra tank ready is good. The fry can eat anything small, but make sure you choose good food (micro worms are good).

They are free to swim on their own within a week, but their parents will continue to care for them for a while after that. If you don’t intend to breed, you can keep one or two of the opposite sex, but a male and female pair is best. Just be aware of how many fries you can end up with and make the proper arrangements for them.

Firemouth Cichlid Breeding Level 


Firemouth Cichlid Sexual Dimorphism?

Many species exhibit little to no sexual dimorphism. If you are a Cichlid enthusiast, you may know how challenging it is to distinguish between a male and a female Firemouth. However, Firemouth species do have some subtle differences between the genders.

To distinguish between male and female Firemouth Cichlids, we need to look at the coloration. The female Firemouth has a duller coloration than the males. They also have more blunt-looking genital papillae. The males have more sharply pointed dorsal and anal fins.

Firemouth Cichlid Common Diseases and their Treatment

The Firemouth Cichlid Thorichthys Meeki is part of the Cichlidae family. Like many other freshwater species, the Cichlids are susceptible to Ich, which means they grow fungal-like white spots on their bodies. 

Always keep the tank clean and maintain water conditions with the right pH, dGH levels, and temperature. Before you introduce new substrates, make sure they are clean well as new objects in the tank often cause illnesses in fish.

Ich: The Most Common Disease

The main cause of Ich, is a protozoan named Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Although, it can even happen due to poor diet, subpar water, and a stressful environment.

The symptoms of the Ich include

  • Small white spots on the body and gills.
  • Frequent scraping of the body against objects in the environment.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Abnormal hiding behavior.

It can be tougher to find as they mostly grow on gills and fins because the Firemouth Cichlids can sometimes have spots on their fins due to natural coloration, and their natural hue is a grayish-blue tone.

If your fire mouth has developed Ich, slowly increase the tank water temperature. 86 Fahrenheit should do the work, and you should see significant improvement in a day or two. If the situation does not improve, consider medications specifically made for Ich.

Facts about Firemouth Cichlids

Here are some fantastic facts about Firemouth Cichlids:

  • Male Firemouths are bigger than female Firemouths
  • A female Firemouth has a rounded shape due to a larger belly
  • The common name Firemouth got derived from its distinct red coloration
  • Male Firemouths bloat their gills up to assert dominance. This is how they show aggressive nature.
  • Firemouths do not have a fast-swimming speed because they live in a tropical habitat.
  • An average Firemouth Cichlid weighs around 0.22lb(99g)
  • Firemouth Cichlids are adversely used in behavioral studies.

Are Firemouth Cichlids Right for You?

Now you know everything about the Firemouth Cichlids, from its breeding to diet. So, the decision is yours to make. Do you want Firemouth Cichlids? If you ask us, our advice would be to go for it.

Firemouth Cichlids are the perfect fish for beginners. We are already a big fan of the Firemouths, and you would become one too!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many Firemouths Cichlids should I possess?

The number of Firemouths we advise you to possess is two because they live very well in pairs. However, you need to be careful with the size of the tank. If you intend to keep one Firemouth, a 15-gallon tank would be sufficient. However, for a pair of Firemouths, you will need to get a tank of at least 30 gallons.

How many times should I feed my Firemouth Cichlid?

Feeding them twice a day is sufficient. Make sure that the portions are small. Also, try providing varieties in food for the Firemouth. It will keep their appetite levels high and keep their diet nutritious.

How fast can a Firemouth Cichlid grow?

Firemouths are slow growers as it takes them 4-5 years to reach their full-size potential. On average, they grow 2.5 inches(approx.) in 6-7 months before stopping at 5-6 inches.

Can Firemouth Cichlids be aggressive?

Firemouths are generally considered harmonious fish. Firemouths belong to a Cichlids family known for their toughness and aggressive nature. Likewise, Firemouths can get extremely truculent and territory-oriented during the reproductive season.


The Firemouth is a freshwater fish species that are quite easy to care for. This is why they are great options for beginners, and they possess an exotic look with their namesake red underbellies during spawning. They are also easy to feed; the only thing you need to pay attention to is their tank conditions (best if it imitates their natural environment) and look out for other fish during spawning (if you have any).

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