Keyhole Cichlid – Tankmates, Care, Habitat and Details You Need!

Keyhole Cichlids, scientifically known as Cleithracara maronii, are distinctive members of the cichlid family renowned for their unique keyhole-shaped marking and tranquil demeanor.

Originating from the tropical regions of South America, these docile freshwater fish have won the hearts of aquarists worldwide due to their relatively easy care, making them an ideal choice for novice and experienced fishkeepers alike.

Keyhole Cichlids are a captivating species from the Cichlidae family, characterized by an intriguing keyhole pattern on their bodies.

The term ‘Cleithracara’ beautifully intertwines the Greek word for lock, ‘kleithron,’ and the Guaraní term for cichlids, ‘acará,’ symbolizing the iconic keyhole marking that makes these fish so unique.

Quick Stats About Keyhold Cichlid

Family: Cichlidae
Common Name: Keyhole cichlid
Scientific Name: Cleithracara maronii

Care Level Easy
Temperament Timid and even-tempered
Color Cream, yellow tint
Lifespan ~10 years
Size ~4.75 inches
Diet Omnivore
Family Cichlidae
Minimum Tank Size 20 gallons
Tank Setup Slow-moving water, dense vegetation, hiding spots
Compatibility Similar-sized peaceful fish

Overview Of Keyhole Cichlid

Keyhole Cichlids’ natural habitat comprises slow-moving waters teeming with dense vegetation. They inhabit river basins, tributaries, and coastal creeks, with a significant population concentrated in the lower Orinoco basin in Venezuela.

The life expectancy of Keyhole Cichlids can extend up to a decade in ideal tank conditions. Keyhole Cichlids available in the trade are primarily captive-bred, and their cost varies based on factors such as maturity, size, and unique markings.

Keyhole Cichlid’s Appearance

The Keyhole Cichlid, scientifically recognized as Cleithracara maronii, is a sight to behold, thanks to its distinctive aesthetics.

As the name suggests, these freshwater fish are adorned with a unique keyhole-shaped marking on their bodies that sets them apart from their kin.

The Keyhole Cichlid’s overall hue is an elegant cream to yellow-cream, giving it a subdued yet charming appeal.

Unlike other vibrant cichlid species, they offer a more subtle allure, perfect for an aquarium owner seeking understated beauty.

The color of their fins can vary, often complementing their primary body color.

This species’ dorsal and anal fins are considerably elongated. The body is more oval-shaped and combined with their rounded foreheads, they portray a graceful silhouette.

Notably, the size of the keyhole marking may vary among individuals and can sometimes appear as a simple black spot.

Another notable feature is the black line running across their head, bisecting the eye, which adds a dash of intrigue to their appearance. Matured Keyhole Cichlids can reach up to 5 inches in the wild, while in captivity, they usually grow up to 4 inches.

Gender differences become noticeable when they reach maturity. Males are typically larger, boasting more pointed and extended dorsal and anal fins compared to their female counterparts.

The Keyhole Cichlid’s Natural Habitat

To appreciate the Keyhole Cichlid’s adaptability and resilience, it’s essential to understand their natural habitat.

These freshwater species reside in the slow-moving river basins and tributaries of South America, primarily the lower Orinoco basin in Venezuela.

The environment they thrive in is teeming with dense vegetation and is known as a blackwater environment due to the tannins released from decaying organic material.

Their abode comprises sand, leaves, branches, submerged tree roots, and aquatic plants such as Cabomba, creating a diverse ecosystem that supports various forms of aquatic life.

The warm water in these habitats is moderately soft, with a pH level that can reach as low as 4.0.

This environment has shaped the Keyhole Cichlid’s preferences and behaviors, making them ideal for aquariums that can mimic these conditions.

Origin and Distribution of Keyhole Cichlid

Keyhole Cichlids originate from South America, specifically the lower Orinoco basin region in Venezuela.

The slow-moving waters filled with dense vegetation provide an ideal environment for these fish, and they are primarily found in river basins, tributaries, and coastal creeks in this region.

Over the years, the popularity of Keyhole Cichlids in the fishkeeping world has surged, resulting in their widespread distribution worldwide.

Thanks to captive breeding, they are now readily available at pet stores globally. This has not only made them more accessible to aquarium enthusiasts but has also contributed to the preservation of their wild populations.

Growth, Size, and Lifespan of Keyhole Cichlid

Keyhole Cichlids are slow growers. A juvenile measuring around one inch can take more than six months to grow an additional inch.

They reach maturity at around two years of age, when males become larger than females and exhibit more pointed and extended fins.

In their natural habitat, Keyhole Cichlids can grow up to five inches, while in captivity, they typically reach a size of four inches.

However, the size can vary depending on factors like diet, tank conditions, and overall care. A well-cared-for Keyhole Cichlid in an optimal environment may grow larger than those in less than ideal conditions.

A fascinating aspect of Keyhole Cichlids is their lifespan. With proper care and a well-maintained environment, these fish can live up to 10 years, and some have been reported to live even longer.

This makes them a long-term commitment for aquarium enthusiasts, offering years of companionship and entertainment.

Behavior and Temperament of Keyhole Cichlids

Keyhole Cichlids are renowned for their peaceful demeanor and timid nature. Unlike some other members of the Cichlid family, Keyholes are not aggressive and instead display a more reserved and cautious temperament.

They typically exhibit a shy character, often camouflaging themselves or seeking refuge in hiding spots if they feel threatened.

Their non-aggressive nature makes them an excellent choice for community tanks. Keyhole Cichlids get along well with similar-sized, peaceful fish species.

They display only mild aggression during breeding seasons, mainly for protecting their territory and fry. Their laid-back swimming style and preference for spending time amidst rocks, caves, and vegetation makes them a delight to watch.

The Perfect Tank Setup for Keyhole Cichlids

Creating a suitable environment for your Keyhole Cichlid is essential for its well-being.

Here are some factors to consider for an ideal tank setup:

Tank Size

Keyhole Cichlids are not large fish, but they still require ample space. A 20-gallon tank is the bare minimum for a pair of Keyhole Cichlids.

For each additional fish, consider adding an extra 10 gallons of water.


A fine-grained sandy substrate is most suitable for Keyhole Cichlids. This mimics their natural habitat and is gentler on their bodies than a rough substrate.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Keyhole Cichlids appreciate a tank with plenty of hiding spaces. Include rocks, caves, pots, and tangled driftwood to provide shelter and security.

Water Parameters

Keyhole Cichlids thrive in slightly soft to moderately hard water with a pH balance between 5.5 and 7.5. The temperature should be between 72°F and 82°F.

Filtration and Aeration

A quality filtration system is crucial to maintain a clean and healthy environment. Keyhole Cichlids prefer slow-moving water, so the filter should not generate strong currents.


Keyhole Cichlids prefer dim lighting conditions, mirroring the shaded waters of their natural habitats. Avoid bright lights which can cause stress and discomfort.

Tank Mates

Suitable tank mates for Keyhole Cichlids include similar-sized, peaceful fish. Avoid keeping them with aggressive species, which can cause undue stress and potential harm.


A balanced diet for Keyhole Cichlids should include high-quality pellets or flake food, supplemented with live or frozen foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia.

Monitoring Health

Regular monitoring of your Keyhole Cichlids is crucial to spot any signs of disease early. Common freshwater diseases, such as ich and fin rot, can be avoided by maintaining high water quality and providing a balanced diet.

In nutshell, the Keyhole Cichlid is a peaceful, charming, and relatively easy-to-care-for addition to any home aquarium.

Its gentle temperament, intriguing behavior, and distinct appearance make it a favorite among both novice and experienced aquarium enthusiasts alike.

Tank Maintenance for Keyhole Cichlids

Maintaining a clean and healthy tank environment is essential for the well-being of your Keyhole Cichlids. Regular upkeep can prevent diseases, boost fish health, and ensure a longer, happier life for your aquatic pets.

Water Changes

Regular water changes are a must when caring for Keyhole Cichlids. Replace about 20-30% of the tank water every two weeks.

This helps to eliminate waste, maintain optimal water parameters, and keep the environment fresh and healthy for your fish.

Always ensure the new water is dechlorinated and has a similar temperature to the tank water to avoid shocking the fish.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Over time, algae and uneaten food can accumulate on the tank walls and decorations. Use an algae scraper or pad to clean the inside of the tank walls.

Decorations can be removed and scrubbed clean with a soft brush under warm running water. Avoid using soap or detergents, as they can leave toxic residue.

Filter Maintenance

The filter plays a critical role in maintaining water quality by removing waste and harmful chemicals. It needs regular cleaning to function efficiently.

However, avoid cleaning all filter media at once, as it can disrupt beneficial bacteria colonies. Instead, clean or replace only a part of the filter media every few weeks.

Monitor Fish Health

Stay vigilant about your Keyhole Cichlids’ health. Regularly check for any signs of disease, like changes in color, loss of appetite, unusual behavior, or visible spots and wounds.

Early detection of illness can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment.

Keyhole Cichlids are hardy fish, but they can fall prey to common freshwater diseases if their environment is not kept clean and stress-free.

Therefore, maintaining a well-kept tank is not just about aesthetics; it’s a critical part of ensuring your fish’s health and longevity.

Tank maintenance for Keyhole Cichlids involves regular water changes, thorough cleaning, diligent filter upkeep, and consistent health monitoring.

By following these steps, you can create an environment where your Keyhole Cichlids can thrive and bring you years of joy and fascination.

Acclimating Keyhole Cichlids

When you bring your new Keyhole Cichlid home, acclimating it to its new environment is a crucial step.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure a smooth transition:

  1. Float the Bag: Initially, float the sealed bag (which contains the fish) in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes. This will allow the water inside the bag to gradually match the tank’s temperature.

  2. Add Tank Water: After the temperatures have equalized, open the bag and add a small amount of the tank water into it. This helps the fish get used to the water chemistry of the tank.

  3. Repeat: Continue this process, adding a little more tank water every 5 minutes for the next half hour.

  4. Release the Fish: Finally, use a net to gently transfer the fish from the bag to the tank. It’s crucial to avoid adding the bag’s water into your tank, as it might contain harmful bacteria or parasites.

  5. Monitor: Keep a close eye on your fish during the first few hours and days. Ensure it is adjusting well to its new home and look out for any signs of stress or illness.

Keyhole Cichlid Diet and Feeding

Keyhole Cichlids are omnivorous by nature, meaning they consume a mix of meaty foods and plant matter. Maintaining a varied diet is critical for their health and color vibrancy.

Here’s what you need to know about their dietary needs:

Variety is Key

Offer a mix of high-quality commercial foods and live or frozen foods. This might include:

  • Flake or Pellet Foods: These are typically fortified with the essential nutrients your fish needs. However, don’t rely solely on these.

  • Live and Frozen Foods: Brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia are all excellent choices.

  • Vegetable Matter: Spirulina flakes, blanched spinach, and peas can provide necessary plant matter.

Feeding Frequency and Quantity

Feed your Keyhole Cichlids once or twice a day, offering only as much food as they can consume in 2-3 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and water pollution.

Monitor Their Eating Habits

Pay attention to your fish’s eating habits. Any changes can be an early sign of illness. Also, ensure all fish get their share of food, as some might be slower eaters.

Dietary Supplements

You can also consider dietary supplements, like vitamins and minerals, to ensure your fish gets all the necessary nutrients. Always follow the product’s instructions or consult a vet.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to keep your Keyhole Cichlids healthy and thriving. Remember, a good diet is the cornerstone of fish health and longevity.

Keyhole Cichlid Tank Mates

Keyhole Cichlids are known for their peaceful nature, making them excellent candidates for community tanks.

When choosing tank mates, consider the following species:

  1. Tetras: Neon Tetras, Cardinal Tetras, and Rummy Nose Tetras are all good choices. Their small size and peaceful demeanor make them excellent tank mates for Keyhole Cichlids.

  2. Corydoras Catfish: These bottom dwellers are peaceful and won’t compete with your cichlids for territory.

  3. Gouramis: Dwarf Gouramis or Honey Gouramis can cohabit well with Keyhole Cichlids, given their similar temperament.

  4. Angelfish: Despite being cichlids themselves, Angelfish are generally peaceful and get along well with Keyhole Cichlids.

  5. Rasboras: Harlequin rasbora or Scissortail Rasboras can add some activity to the upper levels of your tank.

  6. Loaches: Kuhli Loach and Clown Loaches are both excellent choices due to their bottom-dwelling habits and peaceful nature.

  7. Plecos: A smaller species like the Bristlenose Pleco can make a great addition.

  8. Dwarf Cichlids: Species like the Apistogramma can be a good fit due to their similar size and peaceful nature.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Just as there are species that make great tank mates for Keyhole Cichlids, there are those that should be avoided.

Here are a few:

  1. Large, Aggressive Cichlids: Species like the Oscar or Jack Dempsey can be territorial and may harm the more peaceful Keyhole Cichlids.

  2. Small, Nippy Fish: Tiny, fast-moving fish like Danios can stress Keyhole Cichlids by nipping at their fins.

  3. Large Predatory Fish: Species like Arowanas or large catfish can view smaller fish, including Keyhole Cichlids, as food.

  4. Very Active Fish: Species like Barbs can stress Keyhole Cichlids with their fast, boisterous behavior.

  5. Fish That Prefer Different Water Conditions: Fish that require significantly different water conditions, such as Saltwater Fish or Brackish Water Fish, should be avoided.

Breeding Keyhole Cichlids: A Comprehensive Guide

Breeding Keyhole Cichlids can be an enriching endeavor for any aquarist.

Follow this detailed, step-by-step guide for a rewarding breeding experience:

Step 1: Set Up an Ideal Breeding Environment

To breed Keyhole Cichlids, create a conducive environment for spawning:

  • Tank Setup: Select a spacious tank, preferably a 30-gallon one for a pair. This provides ample space for the couple to lay eggs and tend to their offspring.

  • Decor: Mimic their natural habitat with ample hiding spaces. Include rock formations and caves, which are crucial for the cichlids’ spawning behaviors.

  • Water Conditions: Maintain a water temperature of 77-80°F and a pH range of 6.0-7.5, replicating the warm, slightly acidic waters of their natural habitat.

Step 2: Facilitate Pairing and Spawning

Keyhole Cichlids are monogamous and form strong pair bonds. They will select a flat surface within the tank, like a rock or the aquarium wall, to lay eggs.

Step 3: Monitor Egg Care

Once the eggs are laid, both parents contribute to their care. They will fiercely guard their eggs against any perceived threats. The eggs should hatch within 3-4 days, after which the parents will transport the fry to pre-dug pits within the substrate.

Step 4: Care for the Fry

Caring for Keyhole Cichlid fry involves the following steps:

  • Feeding: Once the fry begin swimming freely, introduce infusoria or finely crushed flake food as their first meals. After about a week, graduate them to baby brine shrimp.

  • Water Quality: Fry are highly sensitive to water conditions. Regularly check and adjust the water parameters to ensure their health and growth.

With patience and close attention to these details, you can successfully breed and raise Keyhole Cichlids in your home aquarium.

Signs of Stress in Keyhole Cichlids

Stress in Keyhole Cichlids can manifest in several ways.

These may include:

  • Change in Color: A stressed Keyhole Cichlid may show a significant color change, often becoming paler.

  • Erratic Behavior: This could include swimming rapidly around the tank, hiding more than usual, or showing signs of aggression.

  • Loss of Appetite: A stressed fish may eat less or not at all.

  • Physical Signs: Look for signs like clamped fins, spots or lesions on the body, or unusual swimming patterns.

Common Health Issues and Treatments for Keyhole Cichlids

Keyhole Cichlids, like other aquarium fish, can be susceptible to a few common health issues.

Here’s how to identify and treat them:

  1. Ich: This is a common parasitic disease that causes white spots on the fish’s body. Treat it with an Ich-specific medication and raise the tank temperature slightly to speed up the parasite’s lifecycle.

  2. Fin Rot: This bacterial infection can be recognized by fraying or decaying fins. Antibacterial medications are effective in treating this condition.

  3. Bloat: Often caused by overfeeding or a parasitic infection, bloat can be fatal if not treated. Reduce feeding and consider using an over-the-counter treatment.

  4. Pop-Eye: This condition, marked by bulging eyes, can be a sign of poor water quality or bacterial infection. Improve water conditions and consider using a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

Remember, maintaining excellent water quality and feeding a balanced diet are key to keeping your Keyhole Cichlids.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

Maintaining a healthy aquarium ensures that your Keyhole Cichlids and other aquatic life thrive.

Here are some additional tips to keep your aquarium at its best:

  1. Avoid Overcrowding: Each species in your tank needs enough space to swim and grow comfortably. Overcrowding can lead to stress, disease, and increased waste levels.

  2. Regularly Test Water Parameters: Regular testing allows you to detect and adjust imbalances in the water’s pH, temperature, hardness, and ammonia levels.

  3. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Each fish species has specific dietary requirements. Ensure you’re providing a balanced diet that caters to their unique needs.

  4. Quarantine New Fish: Before introducing new fish to your tank, keep them in a separate quarantine tank for a few weeks. This helps to prevent the spread of diseases.

  5. Provide Enrichment: Fish need mental stimulation, too. Live plants, caves, rocks, and other decorations can provide hiding spots and exploration opportunities.

Should You Get a Keyhole Cichlid for Your Aquarium?

Keyhole Cichlids make an excellent addition to most aquariums. Their peaceful temperament makes them compatible with a variety of tank mates.

Their unique appearance and interesting behaviors add visual appeal and liveliness to your tank.

However, they’re best suited for aquarists who can commit to their specific care requirements, including maintaining appropriate water parameters and providing a well-balanced diet.

In the right conditions, Keyhole Cichlids can live up to ten years, making them a long-term commitment.

If you’re up for the task, Keyhole Cichlids can be a rewarding choice for your aquarium.

Conservation Status

The Keyhole Cichlid is not listed as threatened or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are fairly common in the aquarium trade and reproduce readily in captivity, which helps to lessen the demand for wild-caught specimens.

However, always source your fish from responsible breeders or suppliers to ensure sustainable practices. Check updated resources for the most current conservation status.

Availability & Pricing

Keyhole Cichlids are widely available in both physical pet stores and online aquatic retailers due to their popularity in the fishkeeping community.

You can often find them in stores specializing in freshwater fish. They are usually affordable, with prices typically ranging from $6 to $10 per fish. However, prices can vary based on factors such as the fish’s size, age, and the region in which you’re purchasing.

Buying from a reputable breeder or store ensures that you get a healthy fish that’s been well cared for.

It’s always recommended to ask about the fish’s origin and check for signs of good health before making a purchase.

Frequently Asked Questions About Keyhole Cichlid

  1. Are Keyhole Cichlids aggressive?

No, Keyhole Cichlids are known for their peaceful and calm demeanor. They are usually non-aggressive towards other fish in the tank, making them a great choice for community aquariums.

  1. How big do Keyhole Cichlids get?

Keyhole Cichlids can grow up to 4 inches in length in a home aquarium environment.

  1. What do Keyhole Cichlids eat?

Keyhole Cichlids are omnivores and thrive on a varied diet. They should be fed a mix of high-quality commercial fish food, supplemented with live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods like brine shrimp, bloodworms, and vegetables.

  1. Can Keyhole Cichlids live with other fish?

Yes, Keyhole Cichlids can live peacefully with a variety of other fish. However, due to their calm nature, they should be kept with other non-aggressive species.

  1. How long do Keyhole Cichlids live?

With proper care, Keyhole Cichlids can live up to 10 years in a home aquarium.


Keyhole Cichlids are a fascinating species that add a unique charm to any aquarium. Their peaceful temperament, manageable size, and striking appearance make them an excellent choice for both novice and experienced aquarists.

Despite their relatively easy care requirements, they still need a balanced diet, specific water parameters, and a well-maintained environment to thrive.

With the right care, these delightful creatures can live a long, healthy life, providing endless entertainment and companionship.

Remember, responsible fishkeeping contributes to the health and happiness of your pets and the sustainability of the hobby.

So, whether you’re a seasoned aquarist or just beginning your journey, Keyhole Cichlids can be a rewarding addition to your aquatic family.