Salvini Cichlids – Our Guide to Keeping These Beautiful Fish

Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton


Salvini Cichlids

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The Salvini cichlid is an incredibly beautiful fish from Central America, with bags of personality and a robust character.

But there’s one reason that Salvinis haven’t become more popular in the aquarium trade, and that’s because they’re one of the most aggressive fish you could find!

Here we’ll take a look at the best way to care for them, as well as some possible tank mates that can put up to their moody temperament!

Fact Sheet

Salvini Cichlids Info
Scientific NameTrichromis salvini, Cichlasoma salvini, Nandopsis salvini
Common NamesSalvini cichlid, salvini fish, salvin’s cichlid
Ease of keepingIntermediate - Advanced
LifespanUp to 12 years
Tank size90+ gallons
Tank typeLarge fish community tank
DietOmnivorous with plenty of protein
Temperature72-78.8 °F
Water hardness5–20
Size6-9 inches

Background & Origins

The Salvini cichlid (Trichromis salvini), is also known as the Salvin’s cichlid, the yellow-belly cichlid, and the tri-colored cichlid.

A Central American cichlid, the Salvini is native to the rivers of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. It has also been introduced to Florida and Texas.

It comes from hilly areas with moderate to fast-flowing, well-oxygenated water.


These medium to large-sized cichlids can grow to between 6-9 inches in length, with males growing up to an inch larger than females.

Central American cichlids are famous for growing slowly and may only put on an inch of growth every 2-3 months.

To speed this up, keep their tank meticulously clean and well-oxygenated and change their water often (up to 35% every week).

Frequent feeding of high-protein foods like bloodworms and brine shrimp will also help things along.


An adult Salvini cichlid in its prime is a stunning fish.

Both males and females are brightly colored, with bright yellow bodies, thick black lines that run the lengths of their bodies, and iridescent blue spots (known as ‘spangles’) scattered along their flanks.

They also have bright red bellies at breeding time, and, normally, four black stripes that run along their forehead.

Sexual Dimorphism

Unlike some other cichlids, there is not a huge difference between male and female Salvini cichlids.

Males can be up to an inch longer than females, with more pointed fins. The easiest way to recognize a female is by the large black spot near her gills. In terms of behavior, they also tend to be less aggressive!

Interestingly, the color in males is often duller than in females, but both sexes become more colorful towards spawning time.

At this time both sexes, but especially the females, will have a glowing bright red belly.



If you provide your Salvini cichlids with a clean, well-oxygenated tank environment and a diverse, nutritious diet, they could live for up to 12 years.

Make sure you’re ready for a long-term commitment before buying this fish!

How to Care For Salvini Cichlids

Water Conditions

Salvini cichlids are quite adaptable fish that can do well in water temperatures ranging from 72-79 Fahrenheit.

They tend to prefer water parameters that are slightly alkaline, with a pH of between 7.0 and 8.0 and a hardness of between 5 and 20 dGH.


These cichlids are renowned for being very aggressive fish! Indeed this is the most challenging aspect of keeping Salvini cichlids.

Although some fish keepers prefer to keep them alone to avoid this problem, I find this idea a little sad. Cichlids are highly intelligent fish, and need interaction and stimulation to remain happy.

A lot depends on the temperament of your individual fish. Female Salvinis are less aggressive than males and are more likely to make amenable tank mates with other similar-sized cichlids.

Males should never be kept together unless you have a huge 150-gallon aquarium, and keeping this species in pairs is also not always simple since they can easily fight and injure one another.

For breeding, you may need to keep parents separately until spawning time, but more on that later!

Compatible Tank Mates

As you might have guessed, finding compatible tank mates for these territorial fish is not the easiest task!

One option is to keep them with other robust South or Central American cichlids that are well-matched for size and speed so that neither fish gets the upper hand.

Jack Dempsey cichlids, Green Terror cichlids, Firemouth cichlids, and Convict cichlids are all possible candidates, especially for female Salvinis who are smaller, more colorful, and less aggressive.

Larger cichlids like Oscars aren’t always a good idea, since, believe it or not, Salvinis have been known to harass and attack them!

Also among good tank mates for Salvini cichlids are fast-moving fish that can escape from harm’s way.

Giant Danios, Apollo Sharks, and Bala Sharks are all examples of fish that are quick and agile and are usually able to escape the aggressive lunges of the Salvini!


Salvini cichlids are omnivorous but enjoy plenty of meat in their diet. In their native river habitats these fish feed in open water on aquatic insects, small water organisms, and small fish.

In the aquarium, they will accept dried food including fish flakes and fish pellets but will be happiest if you can satisfy their carnivorous tendencies with fresh foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp and Mysis shrimp.

As usual, a varied diet is key to good health and all-around vitality in your fish.

Health and Diseases

Salvini cichlids are susceptible to most of the same diseases and ailments as other aquatic organisms, especially where there’s poor water quality with insufficient oxygen.

Bacterial infections and overfeeding can cause dropsy, fungal infections can affect fins and scales, and parasites such as ich and velvet can be transmitted from other infected fish.

Tank Setup

Tank Size

If you were to keep a single Salvini cichlid on its own, a 55-gallon tank would probably be big enough. But like I say I wouldn’t recommend that for the fish’s wellbeing.

To keep a pair of Salvini cichlids, or to keep them with other fish, a 90-gallon tank with plenty of hiding places is the minimum!

Tank Environment

Your aquarium environment should ideally reflect the natural habitat of your fish. Like many other cichlids, these fish love to dig around, meaning sand or fine gravel make a good choice of substrate.

If you want your aquarium plants to survive their digging forays, you’ll need to choose the toughest plant species, such as java fern, Amazon sword, and anubias, and offer a generously deep substrate of at least 3.5 inches.

Consider tying plant roots to rocks or pieces of driftwood to keep them well-anchored!

These fish will love exploring rocky caves, and these become especially important during breeding time.

Caves and live plants also offer any other fish in the tank a place to retreat from the menacing attacks of this aggressive fish, so plenty of hiding places are a good idea!

Aquarium Filter and Cleaning

Salvini cichlids have a fairly high bio load and prefer clean, fast-flowing, and well-oxygenated water – so a powerful aquarium filter is essential.

A hang-on-back filter with a strong current or a canister filter would be good choices. An extra airstone could also be added to provide adequate levels of dissolved oxygen.

Keep your water quality high by cleaning your filter and gravel regularly, and performing partial water changes weekly, or every two weeks at most.

Breeding Salvini Cichlids

Salvini Cichlids

Salvini cichlids can be a bit more tricky to breed than other South American cichlids, and one of the reasons for this is their aggression towards each other.

For successful breeding, you’ll need plenty of experience, and it’s advisable to give them a separate breeding tank for spawning.

You can improve the chances of a pair breeding successfully by raising them together from a young age. They should come into sexual maturity at around one year of age and will begin their courtship ritual by digging a nesting site.

For this, it’s best if you can offer them a secluded cave. Together, they’ll begin to excavate gravel or sand from the cave to make a pit underneath it.

The female will usually lay her eggs (up to 500 of them!) on a smooth, vertical surface inside the cave and the male fertilizes the eggs soon after.

Fry are free swimming within 5-7 days and can be fed on commercial fry foods, baby brine shrimp, and chopped-up tubifex worms.

The parents are usually extremely committed to their young and become so aggressive at this time that it’s advisable to remove any other fish from the tank!

Alternatives to Salvini Cichlids

Having read through this guide, you may have decided that Salvini cichlids sound a bit of a handful to keep.

Although this fish is extremely beautiful, they’re also one of the most aggressive cichlids around and it can be challenging to get them to live peacefully with other fish.

If you’re a beginner-intermediate fish keeper looking to keep or even breed South American or Central American cichlids for the first time, I’d highly recommend getting some experience with Angelfish, Ram cichlids, and Convict cichlids before trying out this extremely fiery fish!


Salvini cichlids are not the most demanding fish, but their super aggressive temperament makes them a challenge to look after.

Keeping one specimen on its own could be considered cruel, and keeping other fish in the same tank risks someone getting injured or eaten!

For experienced cichlid enthusiasts, keeping Salvinis with other similar fish can make an interesting challenge, and breeding them could be rewarding.

But for beginners in fish keeping, I’d recommend trying out some more peaceful cichlids before keeping this super moody fish!

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