Green Terror Cichlid: Colorful And Easy To Care For

Alison Page

Alison Page


Green Terror Cichlid Care Guide

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Experienced aquarists with large display tanks may be interested in adding a Green Terror cichlid to their collection.

These cichlids are colorful and moderately easy to care for, provided that you keep the water quality in the tank within acceptable parameters and feed your fish a high-quality diet. You can breed Green Terrors quite easily too, and the fish do make excellent parents.

In this guide, we explain how to care for these beautiful but aggressive fish.

green terror cichlid

Green Terror cichlid overview

The Green Terror has the scientific name, Andinoacara rivulatus, although the fish was formerly known as Aequidens rivulatus. Other common names that the fish have are the Gold Saum, White Saum, and the Orange Saum.

Green Terrors also have a close relative, Andinoacara stalsbergi, which was also rather confusingly known as the Green Terror until 2009, when the fish was described as a separate species.

The best way to differentiate the two species is that Andinoacara rivulatus grows slightly larger, and its scales have a lighter blue-green edge with a darker center. The caudal and dorsal fins have a thick white or orange edging. In Andinoacara stalsbergi, the colors are reversed, and the fins have a thin white edging.


Green Terror cichlids come from South America, central Peru, and Ecuador. The species is not considered to be endangered and doesn’t appear on the IUCN Red List.

The fish live in rivers and river basins, beginning at the Pacific slope and extending in their range from the Esmeraldas River in Ecuador to the Tumbes in Peru. Amazonian cichlids cannot tolerate a high pH level, which keeps them absent from many coastal streams in the area. Green Terrors prefer mostly still waters of both clear and turbid flowing stream basins where they eat crustaceans, insects, and worms.


Andinoacara rivulatus is a stunningly beautiful fish with a blue and green metallic sheen all over its body and striping on the face and body. The fish also have a wonderful array of colors and can be pink, purple, electric blue, and red. The male fish is the most colorful of the species and also develops a brilliant scarlet edging around their blue anal fin and red-banded tail fin.

However, the females are just as striking, having a darker tone, a green anal fin, and no red banding around the tail fin.

The fish is deep-bodied with pointed dorsal and anal fins. When they mature, male fish develop a rounded hump on their heads. As part of a deterrent against predators, Green Terrors have spiny rays in the back area of the pelvic, dorsal, and pectoral fins. The softer front part of the fins is perfect for enabling the fish to maneuver accurately and effortlessly in the water, rather than for fast swimming.

The Green Terror grows to between 10 and 12 inches long in the wild, although tank-kept specimens generally reach between 6 and 8 inches long. Female fish are a little smaller in size than males.

Along with some saltwater species such as parrotfish and wrasses, cichlids have a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are located in their throat, as well as their regular teeth.

Cichlids have a single nostril on either side of their face while other fish have two sets. The nostrils are used to suck in water and expel it once the fish has detected the aromas that the water carries. Interestingly, saltwater damselfish have the same feature and the two species are thought to be closely related.

You can expect to enjoy your Green Terror cichlid for between 7 and 10 years, maybe longer if the fish is healthy and well-cared for.

Green Terror Cichlid

Care of the Green Terror cichlid

These beautiful fish are relatively easy to care for, but they can be very aggressive, and, for that reason, this cichlid should only be taken on by experienced hobbyists.

Tank size

These big fish need a large tank of at least 30 to 40 gallons for a single fish. If you want to keep a pair, you’ll need a tank of a minimum of 75 gallons or more.


Like many of the large fish in the cichlid family, Green Terrors are aggressive.

When the fish are young, you can keep them in a community tank with other South American cichlid species. However, as the Green Terror matures, it becomes very belligerent, so you’ll need to separate them into a separate tank or one with other aggressive fish of a similar size.

If you decide to try breeding the Green Terror cichlid, be aware that the females can be incredibly aggressive toward their mate, especially during spawning, so do be vigilant at that time.

It’s not recommended that you house Green Terrors with African Cichlids as the African cichlid varieties are too small and are often harassed or even eaten.

Some suitable tankmates for the Green Terror cichlid include:

  • Plecostomus
  • Pacus
  • Oscars
  • Silver Dollars
  • Gars

Do not keep crabs, snails, or shrimp with Green Terrors, as these invertebrates will be attacked and eaten.

Water parameters

South American Green Terror cichlids prefer neutral to slightly acidic water conditions and a moderate amount of current. Tank water quality is extremely important for this species, and you will need to pay close attention to the hygiene in your aquarium.

The Green Terror cichlid is very sensitive to poor water conditions, so you will need to use a very efficient biological filter, together with a stringent maintenance schedule. Also, you will need to carry out partial water changes each week to prevent ammonia and nitrates from building up. In addition, as water evaporates, nitrate, and phosphates accumulate, and the water hardness increases too.

It’s recommended that you change at least 15% to 20% of the water bi-weekly or weekly if the aquarium is very densely stocked. Use a gravel vacuum to remove any decomposing organic matter that has accumulated in the substrate.

Water temperature should ordinarily be between 70° and 80° Fahrenheit, or between 77° and 79° Fahrenheit if you are planning on breeding your fish.

The pH range in the tank should be between 6.5 and 8.0, with a water hardness range of 5 to 13 dGH.

Aquarium setup

Green Terror cichlids do not need special lighting; your regular LED aquarium lights are fine.

Use a medium gauge sandy gravel substrate to replicate the fish’s natural habitat, and include plenty of caves and rockwork to create hiding places for the fish. However, when aquascaping your tank, bear in mind that the fish are quite active swimmers, so do leave plenty of open swimming space.

The inclusion of driftwood not only makes a lovely decoration, but it also acts as a water conditioning agent, helping to keep the pH levels down.

You can include plenty of planting in the aquarium, but be sure to choose robust species that are well-anchored, as the Green Terror cichlid may uproot fragile plants.

Diet and nutrition

Green Terrors are mainly carnivorous, and they will eat a variety of foods, although they can be fussy feeders.

You can tempt your fish with frozen foods, including bloodworms, krill, and brine shrimp, as well as green vegetables, and plankton. They can also be offered cichlid pellets, and you’ll get the best color from your fish if you include some red earthworms in their diet.

Do not feed red meat, such as beef hearts to your Green Terrors, as these foods are too high in protein and can cause problems for the fish’s digestive system.

Young fish can be fed two to three times daily and adult specimens once or twice a day. It’s better for the fish’s digestive system to offer them several smaller amounts a few times each day than it is to feed them a large quantity all in one go.

The addition of supplements and vitamins to the fish’s diet will be of benefit.


Green Terror cichlids are moderately easy to breed in captivity, and breeding them makes an interesting and rewarding project for all keen fishkeepers.

Breeding pairs

Fortunately, in the case of this species of fish, differentiating between the sexes is relatively straightforward, as described earlier in this article.

Rather than choosing two fish and hoping that they hit it off, it’s advisable to buy at least several juvenile fish of both sexes and allow them to pair-up naturally before attempting to begin a breeding project.

Breeding tank

As female Green Terrors can become aggressive after spawning, it’s best to set up a separate breeding aquarium. That means that you can give the fish the preferred conditions to trigger spawning, and it also means that you can remove the female fish once spawning has taken place.

The water in the breeding tank should be very slightly acidic with a pH of around 6.5, soft to medium-hard water at between 4 and 12° dGH, and at a temperature of between 77° and 79° Fahrenheit.

Green Terror Cichlid Care Guide


Before spawning takes place, the male and female fish will clean a flat rock on which to spawn, and the female will then lay up to 400 eggs.

Green Terrors are egg layers and egg scatterers. That means that the female fish deposits her eggs in the open water, and the male fertilizes them.

The fry will hatch in three to four days, and they will be free-swimming in around 11 days. Throughout this period, the parents will be protective and attentive to the young.

Once the fry is free-swimming, remove both the parent fish from the breeding aquarium. Feed the fry on newly hatched baby brine shrimp, fry food, and flake that you’ve crushed into a fine powder.

You’ll need to carry out frequent water changes to keep the environment clean and fresh.

Initially, the fry is slow-growing until they reach a half to three-quarter inches when their growth rate accelerates rapidly.


Like most freshwater fish, Green Terrors are susceptible to some common fish diseases. Generally, problems are exacerbated by poor water quality and insufficient oxygen levels in the tank water.


Perhaps the most common fish disease that affects freshwater, marine, coldwater, and tropical fish species is Ich, or White Spot disease, as it is commonly known.

Ich is caused by the Ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite. This free-swimming parasite lives in most aquarium environments, going unnoticed until conditions in the aquarium change, weakening or stressing the fish, and leaving them vulnerable to attack by the parasite.

Fish that are affected by Ich develop a rash of tiny white spots over the body, gills, fins, and tail. The fish flick and rub against the substrate and aquarium decorations in an attempt to remove the irritating parasites. If left untreated, the parasites can clog the fish’s gills, and the affected fish eventually suffocates.

Since the Ich parasite is present in the water, you’ll need to treat the whole aquarium, rather than a single fish. Start by increasing the water temperature to 86° Fahrenheit for three days, and treat with an over-the-counter product that you’ll find in good fish stores.

Hole-in-the-Head disease

If the water quality in the tank is incorrect and too hard, large fish in the cichlid family, including Green Terrors, can develop Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE) or Hole-in-the-Head disease.

Again, if this condition is treated quickly, the fish should survive. The cause of the disease varies. HLLE can be caused by parasite activity, poor water quality can be to blame, and a vitamin or mineral imbalance can be a contributory factor.

Fish with HLLE develop lesions, typically on the head. The lesions become infected by bacteria or fungus, leading to other diseases and potentially death. The treatment to combat HLLE largely depends on the cause of the disease, and there are over-the-counter medications that are usually effective. The experts in your local fish store should be able to advise you on what to use.


The key to keeping your fish healthy is to prevent any diseases from arriving in your aquarium in the first place.

Check the water quality regularly to make sure that it is within the parameters that the Green Terror cichlid needs, and carry out weekly water changes.

Anything that you put into your aquarium can potentially bring disease with it. So, be sure to place any new fish in a separate quarantine tank for at least two weeks when you get them home. Plants, substrate, live food, and decorations can also harbor harmful chemicals or bacteria. Wash decorations, substrate, and plants thoroughly before introducing them to your main aquarium.


Green Terrors are readily available in good fish stores and online. Juvenile specimens can be purchased for around $6 or $7, while more mature fish are more expensive, depending on their size.

Remember that fish purchased through an online supplier will also incur a shipping fee, which will push up the cost.


In this section of our guide, we answer some of the questions that are most often asked about the Green Terror cichlid.

Q: How aggressive are Green Terror cichlids?

A: The Green Terror cichlid can be aggressive toward smaller fish that it may regard as food and with other males. Also, female Green Terrors become highly aggressive toward the male fish after spawning. Generally, the fish are more peaceful when kept in a very large aquarium of at least 75 gallons.

Q: What fish can live with Green Terrors?

A: Other large cichlid species are generally safe to keep with a Green Terror cichlid. Also, fish of a large size that won’t be intimidated by the Green Terror usually make suitable tankmates.

Q: How big do Green Terror cichlids get?

A: Captive Green Terror cichlids grow to around eight inches in length. Wild specimens grow larger, reaching up to 12 inches long. Generally, females are smaller in size than males.

Q: Can Green Terrors live with African cichlids?

A: No. African cichlids generally don’t mix well with Green Terrors, as the African cichlids are too small and may be attacked.

Final thoughts

The Green Terror cichlid can make an exciting, beautiful addition to a collection of large South America cichlids, provided you have an aquarium of sufficiently large size to accommodate them.

Green Terrors are relatively easy to care for freshwater fish, but they are best left to experienced fishkeepers who are used to keeping cichlids due to their aggressive tendencies. Also, you must have an understanding of how to maintain good water conditions to ensure that the fish thrive.

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