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

Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara maronii) originates from South America found in the lower Orinoco Basin in Venezuela . It is the only one species in the genus Cleithracara. They are also found in Trinidad Tobago.

These fishes usually come from quiet waters, slow-moving ponds, coastal creeks,tributaries with slow currents or rivers.They are one of the most peaceful Cichlids, being reclusive and shy and make a great addition to the water tank.They were earlier known as  Aequidens maronii. Other names include Prapra, Pakawété boko olékopo, Awalipa and Awifi.

When you do decide to get a keyhole Cichlid for your home tank, make sure you get from a reliable source. If you get from a contaminated source, then your entire aquarium can become infected.

Quick Stats

Family: Cichlidae
Common Name: Keyhole cichlid
Scientific Name: Cleithracara maronii
Temperament: Peaceful
Tank size: 18 gallons and more
Water Hardness: 36 – 268 ppm
Temperature: 72°F- 78°F (22 to 26 °С)
Diet: Omnivorous
Size: up to 10 cm (4 inches)
pH: 6.5-7.2
Lifespan: up to 8 years


Their body is overall mottled yellow cream color sometimes towards light brown to tan and have a rounded shape. They turn in brown color when in stress.The male fishes are larger than females as their dorsal and anal fins have long extensions.This is the only way to tell them apart.

There is also a black, wide stripe that runs from the top of their body in front of their dorsal fin and down towards their eye and ends up at the bottom of their gill plate.

They also have another black spot, and often there is yellow on the side which starts from below the middle of the dorsal fin and then extends down in the mature fish. This very black spot can turn into a band across the fish when the fish is stressed.It is usually in the shape of this spot which gives this fish its common name of ‘keyhole Cichlid’.


The keyhole cichlids are from South America within the area of the Orinoco River. They can be found from the Barima River (Guyana) towards the Ouanary River (French Guiana).

These are one of the only fish species from the Cleithracara family. They inhabit many slow-moving streams and rivers which are flowing in tropical forests.They grow well around submerged roots, decayed woods and quite dense vegetation.

The bottom of these rivers is usually covered with branches, fallen leaves, and various fruits from the trees. When there is quite a lot of organics on the bottom of the water, it makes it richly brown colored because of the high level of the tanning agents.

Appearance and Sexing

These Cichlids are small and brown colored with an oval-shaped body. They are also identified under the name ‘Oval Cichlid’ because of their shape. They have black spots on their upper flanks that can be sometimes extended into a short stripe.

This is the reason why they have been named as ‘keyhole’ Cichlid from which their genus name Cleithracara originates from. Cleithracara means “lock acara.”

When this species is nervous or startled, it gets a blotchy sort of coloration, and it presses its body against logs or rocks, trying to camouflage itself. It is generally quite non-aggressive, shy, and peaceful.

When it comes to determining the gender of the fish, it is almost impossible to tell the genders apart, especially in the juveniles and in the young species.Since these fishes are not very brightly colored, they are not one of the most popular choices in fish stores or tanks.


The fishes are omnivorous and must be fed vitamin rich.They usually feed on crustaceans, worms, insects, green flake, slow sinking granules/pellets, vegetable flakes, and larvae.

These Cichlids can be fed live, dry, or frozen food. They are generally not fussy in the aquarium and will accept the majority of the prepared foods which is a varied diet containing Bloodworms, Daphnia, Artemia, and more.

These fishes even feed on beetles which can be dropped down in the water tank. This diet should be offered to the fish to keep them healthy and in an optimal condition.


It is best to start with a group of young fishes and allow them to form pairs themselves naturally. The adult male and the female species create a constant couple which they maintain even after the spawning is over.

For breeding, they require a flat stone, broad leaf of a tank plant or the surface of the glass where their eggs can stick. The female fish swims over the spawning site and starts depositing the eggs.Up to 300 or more eggs can be deposited at one time.The male immediately follows the female and fertilises the eggs.

The female usually stays near the clutch , for guarding it and the male fish defends their territory.

After the juvenile fishes hatch, the parents take care of their offspring, and this may last for several months.The fry can be feed newly hatched brine shrimp once they are free swimming by end of first week. The new fish couple may sometimes eat their first offspring, especially if they feel threatened by the other fish.

The off springs are likely to die in an overcrowded tank even when both the parents are guarding it. Therefore, it is advised to put the fish into another tank for spawning.

Tank Conditions

The recommended volume for the tank is about 80 liters for a couple. These fishes are monogamic, and they form couples.

It is important to understand that these fishes are territorial and so need adequate shelters inside the tank.

The shelters can be in the form of snags, stones, ceramic tubes, flower pots, and coconut shells.Keeping these many shelters will help these fearful fishes to survive peacefully.Placing the rocks at bottom makes it a suitable condition for breeding.Also,setting up plants and rocks at different spots create different hiding shelters for these fishes giving a natural feel. This will let them hide and feel secure.Do make sure to have an open space for them to swim as well.

These fishes do not dig the substrate in the fish tank and so, can be easily kept with most amateur planted fish tanks as well.

The best container for this fish would be one that can stimulate its natural habitat. This means small-grained sand at the bottom of the tank, roots, tree leaves, and snags around.

Aquarium Conditions

A few flat stones should also be available for spawning. When it comes to the tank water, it has high requirements for composition and water quality.

The fish originates from tropical areas so the temperature of the water should be within the required limits.It must also be soft and slightly acidic.Although these fishes are resistant to diseases,we must make sure to look for signs if they behave differently.

The water tank must be filtered and some volume must be replaced with fresh water regularly. Also,special care must given to the bottom substrate.However, the use of powerful filters may sometimes create an excessive flow of water, making a less likable situation for these slow water fishes.


The canopy and the lighting of your water tank must ensure that your fishes do not jump out of the water and there are no contaminants that can enter your aquarium.

As such, you must have a canopy that can completely cover your entire aquarium. The lighting must be maintained in such a way that the fishes get a feel of their natural habitat. If the room is short of natural light then there must be enough lights fitted in the tanks. 2-3 hours of light per day is good enough to nurture them.

 Keyhole Cichlid Tank Mates

These fishes are timid and small, they prefer to hide when they feel endangered. It is advisable to keep them in a school of six to eight species . As they are quite peaceful fishes,their friends can be  Corydoras catfish, hatchetfish, pencilfish, and suckermouth catfish. Make sure that they are not accommodated with very small fishes like Tetras as they might eat them.

The water tank should have enough room for their shelter. It would be ideal to keep them in a biotape along with the other species compatible with them.

They do not generally show aggression towards their tank mates if they are at least a few centimetres long. The only time it does become aggressive is during the process of spawning and while it is protecting its offspring. The maximum level of aggression that this fish show is while warding off other fish from its territory.

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