Mayan Cichlid – Care, Size, Habitat, Tank Mates & Details!

Mayan Cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus), also commonly known as the Mexican Mojarra, is a striking and unique species of fish native to Central America.

This captivating and resilient fish boasts an array of vibrant colors and intriguing patterns that have made it increasingly popular in the aquarium hobby.

In this article, we will delve into the Mayan Cichlid’s natural habitat, appearance, behavior, and care requirements, providing a comprehensive guide for those considering keeping these fascinating fish.

Quick Stats

Scientific Name: Cichlasoma urophthalmus
Difficulty: Challenging
Tank Size: 208 Litres (55 US G.)
Size: 25.4-30.5cm (10-12 “)
sg: Freshwater
pH: 6 – 8
Temp: 20 -30 °C (68-86°F)
Water Hardness: 4-30 °d
Stocking Ratio: 1:1 M: F
Availability: Uncommon
Diet: Omnivore, Pellet Foods, Flake Foods, Live Foods
Life Span: 4-8 years
Habitat: Central America
Family: Cichlidae

The Mayan Cichlid’s Natural Habitat and Distribution

The Mayan Cichlid can be found in the freshwater systems of Central America, with its range extending from the Río Coatzacoalcos basin in eastern Mexico southward to Nicaragua, Isla Mujeres, and the Yucatán Peninsula.

These fish thrive in a variety of environments, including rivers, lakes, swamps, and estuaries, with a preference for shallow waters with dense vegetation and submerged roots.

An Adaptable and Hardy Species

One of the reasons the Mayan Cichlid has become so popular among aquarium enthusiasts is its adaptability and hardiness.

In recent years, it has been introduced to other regions, including Florida, where it has successfully established itself in various freshwater systems.

This adaptability has enabled the species to withstand fluctuations in water conditions, making it a relatively low-maintenance choice for aquarium hobbyists.

Appearance and Characteristics of the Mayan Cichlid

The Mayan Cichlid’s captivating appearance is characterized by a base color of brown, adorned with varying hues of red.

Each fish has five to seven broken vertical green lines along its sides, with a small, circular, darker-colored area near its fin.

Wild Mayan Cichlids typically exhibit more intense red pigmentation than their captive counterparts, with bright red spots sometimes appearing on the chin and breast.

Distinguishing Features

A key distinguishing feature of the Mayan Cichlid is the single nostril opening on each side of its head, which sets it apart from other similar species within the same genus.

Additionally, these fish can grow up to 15 inches (38 cm) in length, with males generally being larger and more brightly colored than females.

Tank Setup for Mayan Cichlid

Setting up the perfect environment for your Mayan Cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus) is crucial for their health, happiness, and longevity. In this section, we will cover the key aspects of an ideal tank setup, including tank size, substrate, decorations, water parameters, filtration, and lighting. By following these guidelines, you can create a thriving habitat that closely mimics the Mayan Cichlid’s natural surroundings.

Tank Size

Mayan Cichlids are active and territorial fish that require ample swimming space and hiding spots. A minimum tank size of 55 gallons (208 liters) is recommended for a single fish or a pair. If you plan to keep a group of Mayan Cichlids or house them with other large, robust species, you should consider a larger tank of at least 75-100 gallons (284-378 liters) to accommodate their needs.


In their natural habitat, Mayan Cichlids are often found in environments with sandy bottoms. To replicate this in your aquarium, opt for a fine, sandy substrate that is gentle on the fish’s delicate barbels and allows them to exhibit their natural digging behavior. This will also facilitate the growth of beneficial bacteria and provide an anchor for live plants.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Mayan Cichlids are known for their territorial nature, so it is essential to provide plenty of hiding spots and territorial boundaries in your tank. Incorporate a combination of rocks, driftwood, and live plants to create a visually appealing and functional environment. Arrange these decorations in a way that breaks up the line of sight and establishes distinct territories, which will help to minimize aggression among your fish.

Live Plants

In addition to rocks and driftwood, live plants are an important component of a Mayan Cichlid’s ideal tank setup. Hardy plants like Anubias, Java Fern, and Amazon Sword are suitable choices, as they can withstand the Cichlid’s tendency to dig and rearrange their environment. Live plants not only provide shelter and hiding spots but also help maintain water quality by absorbing excess nutrients.

Water Parameters

Mayan Cichlids are adaptable and can tolerate a range of water conditions. However, for optimal health and well-being, aim to maintain stable water parameters that closely resemble their natural habitat. The ideal temperature for Mayan Cichlids is between 72-82°F (22-28°C), with a pH of 7.0-8.0, and a hardness of 10-20 dH. Regular water changes and monitoring are essential to ensure these parameters remain consistent.


A powerful and efficient filtration system is crucial for maintaining water quality in a Mayan Cichlid tank. Opt for a canister filter or a hang-on-back filter with a flow rate of at least 5-10 times the tank’s volume per hour. This will help to remove excess waste, ammonia, and nitrite, providing a clean and healthy environment for your fish.


Mayan Cichlids do not have specific lighting requirements, so standard aquarium lighting will suffice. However, consider using a full-spectrum LED light to promote the growth of live plants and enhance the vibrant colors of your Mayan Cichlids. A consistent day-night cycle is essential for the well-being of your fish, so establish a routine of approximately 10-12 hours of light per day.

In conclusion, creating an ideal tank setup for your Mayan Cichlid is essential for their health and happiness. By considering factors such as tank size, substrate, decorations, water parameters, filtration, and lighting, you can replicate

Mayan Cichlid Tank Mates

When selecting tank mates for your Mayan Cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus), it is essential to consider their territorial and moderately aggressive nature.

The key to creating a harmonious community is to choose compatible species that can coexist peacefully and withstand the assertive temperament of your Mayan Cichlids. In this section, we will discuss ideal tank mates for Mayan Cichlids, as well as species to avoid.

Ideal Tank Mates for Mayan Cichlid

1. Other Large Cichlids

When kept with other similar-sized cichlids, Mayan Cichlids are more likely to exhibit natural behaviors and form territories. Suitable cichlid tank mates include:

Keep in mind that each cichlid species has its temperament, and it is essential to monitor their interactions to prevent excessive aggression.

2. Large Catfish

Catfish can be an excellent addition to a Mayan Cichlid tank, as they are typically bottom dwellers and can help clean up uneaten food. Some suitable catfish species include:

  • Plecos (Hypostomus plecostomus)

  • Synodontis Catfish (Synodontis spp.)

  • Pictus Catfish (Pimelodus pictus)

3. Larger Characins

Larger characins, such as the Silver Dollar (Metynnis argenteus) and the Black Skirt Tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi), can make suitable tank mates for Mayan Cichlids, as they are fast swimmers and can evade potential aggression.

4. Rainbowfish

Rainbowfish, such as the Boesemani Rainbowfish (Melanotaenia boesemani) and the Australian Rainbowfish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis), can coexist with Mayan Cichlids due to their size and speed. They also add vibrant colors and variety to your aquarium.

5. Large Livebearers

Larger livebearers, such as the Sailfin Molly (Poecilia latipinna) and the Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii), are capable of sharing a tank with Mayan Cichlids, provided that ample space and hiding spots are available.

Species to Avoid

When housing Mayan Cichlids, it is crucial to avoid smaller, delicate fish that may become targets of aggression or prey. Some examples of species to avoid include:

  • Small tetras (e.g., Neon Tetras, Cardinal Tetras)

  • Guppies

  • Dwarf cichlids (e.g., Apistogramma, Rams)

  • Slow-moving fish (e.g., Angelfish, Discus)

  • Invertebrates (e.g., shrimp, snails)

Additionally, avoid overstocking your tank, as this can increase the likelihood of aggression and stress among your fish.

In conclusion, choosing compatible tank mates for your Mayan Cichlid is essential for a harmonious and thriving aquarium community.

Feeding and Diet of Mayan Cichlid

Understanding the dietary needs of your Mayan Cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus) is crucial for maintaining their health, vibrant colors, and overall well-being. In this section, we will discuss the ideal diet for Mayan Cichlids, including the types of food, feeding frequency, and portion sizes to ensure they receive the proper nutrition.

Natural Diet in the Wild

In their natural habitat, Mayan Cichlids are omnivorous, feeding on a diverse range of food sources. Their diet primarily consists of insects, small crustaceans, algae, and plant matter. This varied diet provides them with the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed for their growth, reproduction, and immune system function.

Balanced Diet in Captivity

To mimic their natural diet and ensure optimal health, it is essential to provide a balanced and varied diet for your Mayan Cichlids in captivity. A combination of high-quality commercial foods, live or frozen foods, and vegetables is recommended.

1. High-Quality Commercial Foods

High-quality pellet or flake foods formulated specifically for cichlids should make up the base of their diet. These foods are nutritionally balanced and contain essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals to support their growth, health, and coloration. Choose a reputable brand to ensure the quality and nutritional value of the product.

2. Live or Frozen Foods

To add variety and additional protein to their diet, supplement commercial foods with regular offerings of live or frozen foods. Some excellent options include:

  • Brine shrimp

  • Bloodworms

  • Daphnia

  • Krill

  • Mysis shrimp

These foods can stimulate your Mayan Cichlid’s natural hunting instincts and provide essential amino acids for their overall health.

3. Vegetables

Since Mayan Cichlids are omnivorous and consume plant matter in the wild, it is essential to include vegetables in their diet. Some suitable options include:

  • Blanched spinach

  • Zucchini

  • Peas

  • Cucumber

  • Lettuce

These vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, promoting a healthy digestive system and overall well-being.

Feeding Frequency and Portion Size

Feed your Mayan Cichlid two to three times a day, offering only what they can consume within a few minutes. Overfeeding can lead to water quality issues and health problems, such as obesity and swim bladder disorders. Be mindful of portion sizes and remove any uneaten food promptly to maintain water quality and prevent the accumulation of waste.

Breeding Mayan Cichlids

Breeding Mayan Cichlids can be a rewarding experience, as these fish display fascinating parental behaviors.

Here are some steps to encourage breeding:

  1. Set up a separate breeding tank: Provide a separate breeding tank with slightly warmer water (around 82°F or 28°C) and a higher pH (7.5-8.0). A 20-30 gallon tank should suffice.

  2. Introduce breeding surfaces: Include flat rocks, slates, or clay pots for the female to lay her eggs on, as well as adequate hiding spots for the pair.

  3. Monitor pair formation: Once a compatible pair has formed, the female will lay between 100-500 eggs on the chosen surface, which the male will then fertilize.

  4. Guarding the eggs: Both parents will guard the eggs, which typically hatch within 3-5 days.

  5. Feeding the fry: The fry will become free-swimming within a week and can be fed with newly hatched brine shrimp or finely crushed flake food.

  6. Frequent water changes: As the fry grow, it is essential to monitor water quality and perform regular water changes to support their development.

  7. Introducing the young fish: Once the young fish are large enough, they can be gradually introduced into the main tank or rehomed.

Diseases and Treatment of Mayan Cichlid

Like any fish species, Mayan Cichlids can be susceptible to various diseases. Early detection and appropriate treatment are crucial for their recovery. Some common diseases and treatments include:

  1. Ich (White Spot Disease): Ich is caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis and appears as white spots on the fish’s body. Treat by raising the water temperature to 86°F (30°C) for 3 days and using an ich-specific medication.

  2. Fin Rot: Fin rot is a bacterial infection that causes the fins to appear frayed or discolored. Treat with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, and maintain good water quality to prevent recurrence.

  3. Hole-in-the-Head Disease: This disease causes small holes or pits on the fish’s head and lateral line. Improve water quality, provide a balanced diet, and use medications containing metronidazole to treat.

  4. Swim Bladder Disorder: This disorder affects the fish’s ability to swim and maintain buoyancy. Provide a high-fiber diet, such as peas or daphnia, and maintain good water quality.

Other Tips for Keeping Mayan Cichlid

  1. Regular water changes: Perform at least 20-30% water changes weekly to maintain optimal water quality and prevent ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate buildup.

  2. Water testing: Regularly test water parameters, such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, to ensure a healthy environment for your fish.

  3. Tank maintenance: Clean the tank, including the substrate, filter, and decorations, to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and algae.

  4. Avoid overfeeding: Overfeeding can lead to poor water quality and health issues. Feed your fish only what they can consume in a few minutes.

  5. Monitor aggression: Mayan Cichlids can be territorial, so monitor their interactions with tankmates and provide ample hiding spots to minimize aggression.

  6. Acclimatization: When introducing new fish to the tank, ensure a proper acclimatization process to help reduce stress and minimize the risk of disease.

  7. Quarantine: Quarantine new fish or plants before adding them to the main tank to prevent the introduction of diseases or parasites.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mayan Cichlid

1. Can Mayan Cichlids live in a community tank?

While Mayan Cichlids can coexist with compatible tank mates, they are territorial and moderately aggressive. Choose tank mates of similar size and temperament, and provide ample space and hiding spots to minimize conflicts.

2. What is the ideal water temperature for Mayan Cichlids?

Mayan Cichlids thrive in water temperatures between 74°F to 82°F (23°C to 28°C). Maintain a stable temperature within this range to support their health and well-being.

3. How long do Mayan Cichlids live?

With proper care and a suitable environment, Mayan Cichlids can live for 8-10 years or even longer in captivity.

4. How big do Mayan Cichlids grow?

In the wild, Mayan Cichlids can reach lengths of up to 12 inches (30 cm). However, in captivity, they typically grow to around 6-8 inches (15-20 cm).

5. Are Mayan Cichlids aggressive?

Mayan Cichlids are territorial and can be moderately aggressive, especially during breeding. Providing ample space, hiding spots, and compatible tank mates can help minimize aggression.


Mayan Cichlids are fascinating fish that require dedicated care and attention. By understanding their breeding habits, addressing diseases and treatments, and implementing proper care tips, you can ensure a healthy, thriving environment for your fish. Addressing frequently asked questions will help you become a knowledgeable and responsible Mayan Cichlid owner.