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Quetzal Cichlid

quetzal cichlid

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Scientific Name:  Vieja synspila     
Min. Tank Size:   100 gallons      
Personality:   Mildly aggressive      
Temperature:   75-82°F      
pH:   7.0-8.5/5-25°dGH      
Size:   12"      
Diet:   Omnivore      
Breeding:   Egglayer      


Can be kept with other Central American Cichlids of similar size, but this will require a very large tank. A species tank with a mated pair may be the best option.

Quetzal Cichlid

Also called the Redhead or Firehead Cichlid, the Quetzal Cichlid is endemic to the Rio Usumacinta basin in western Mexico and Guatemala as well as parts of Belize. These fish tend to inhabit slow-flowing lowland waters such as rivers and lakes, but is sometimes found in brackish environments. This species is one of the most colorful cichlids, exhibiting a metallic green, blue, red and orange coloration along the flanks. Many specimens also have dark spots or splotches near the caudal fin and along the belly.

Tank Set-up

Quetzal Cichlids are a mildly aggressive species, but can be kept in large tanks with other Central American Cichlids of similar size and personality. These fish prefer sand or fine gravel substrate and will often dig in the substrate, rearranging the tank. For this reason, aquarium plants are not recommended. The preferred setup for a Quetzal Cichlid tank would provide hiding places in the form of well-positioned rocks, large clay pipes and bogwood or driftwood branches. A fish of this size will produce a considerable amount of waste, therefore, strong and efficient biological/mechanical filtration is required. An oversized mechanical filtration system in the form of a large canister filter, or a combination of two, would be beneficial in maintaining water quality. Excessive currents should be avoided since this fish typically inhabits areas of slow moving waters. Weekly partial water changes should also be included as part of the regular aquarium maintenance regimen.


These Cichlids are herbivorous in the wild, but may accept a variety of foods in the home aquarium. Feed these fish a staple diet of high-quality Cichlid pellets, supplemented with meat-based live and frozen foods, as well as plenty of vegetable matter in the form of algae wafers and fresh vegetables. For best health and coloration, feed a regular varied diet.


Once you are able to establish a breeding pair, spawning comes fairly easily. One suggested way to establish a breeding pair is to raise five or six youngsters together and let them pair off naturally. The pair will typically prepare a flat rock or cave as a spawning site, cleaning it of all detritus. After spawning, the eggs typically hatch in 2 to 3 days and the fry will become free swimming about 4 days later. Though Quetzal Cichlids exhibit excellent parental care, they can become extremely aggressive during breeding periods and it may be necessary to remove the female from the tank after spawning if the male becomes too violent.

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