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Texas Cichlid: Care Guide For A Large Freshwater Species

Last Updated August 4, 2020
Texas Cichlid

If you have a large freshwater setup and you’re looking for an impressive specimen that’s sure to be a conversation starter, you might want to check out this guide to the Texas cichlid.

These are big fish, and they can be aggressive, so we don’t recommend one of these big bruisers for inexperienced hobbyists who aren’t accustomed to keeping fish of this type.

However, if a large, beautiful, feisty fish sounds like your cup of tea, here’s everything that you need to know about the Texas cichlid.

Origins and habitat

The Texas cichlid has the scientific name, Herichthys cyanoguttatus. The fish is also known by several common names, including the Pearl cichlid, Rio Grande Perch, and Rio Grande cichlid.

The fish was first described in 1854 by Baird and Girard when it was given the name, Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum. Later, the name was changed to Herichthys cyanoguttatus. In 1970, three distinct subspecies were identified by Alvarez, including:

  • Texas cichlid herichthys c. cyanoguttatus
  • Green Texas cichlid herichthys c. carpintis
  • Herichthys c. temporatum

None of these species is listed on the IUCN Red List and are not considered to be endangered or vulnerable.

Cichlid herichthys cyanoguttatus originates in North America, where it’s found in lakes in Texas and in Northern Mexico. The fish has the distinction of being the only naturally occurring U.S. cichlid species.

Until recently, the species’ range was limited to the lower Rio Grande drainage in Texas and in parts of northeastern and southern Mexico. However, the fish has now been introduced in central Florida, Edwards Plateau in central Texas, and the Verde River basin in Mexico’s La Media Luna region.

The Texas cichlid occurs in warm water and in small and large rivers, hiding in dense vegetation and foraging through the soft substrate for food. In the wild, the Rio Grande Perch eats insects, worms, crustaceans, and plant matter.

When the fish are youngsters, they tend to hang out in small schools, probably for safety in numbers. However, mature fish are inclined to remain solitary, pairing off to mate. The life expectancy of the species is around 10 to 15 years.

Red Texas Cichlid

The Red Texas cichlid, Texas Red cichlid, or Texas cichlid red is a hybrid that’s created by mating a male Texas cichlid with a Red Parrot female. Hybrids do not have a scientific name and are not present in the wild.

These stunning fish are extremely attractive, having the same basic markings as their male parent but the bright red coloration of their mother.

Texas Cichlid

Appearance

Don’t make the mistake of buying a juvenile Texas cichlid that’s just a few inches long and adding it to a small tank. These are large fish, growing to around 12 inches in length as adults, and they need plenty of space.

The Rio Grande Perch is an oval-shaped, deep-bodied fish. Females are slightly smaller than males.

Both sexes have a brownish-gray colored body with bright blue scales, giving the fish a pearlescent appearance. Adult Texas cichlids have two small black spots, one located near the caudal peduncle base and the other mid-body. Juvenile specimens have more spots between those two main ones.

Male fish develop a nuchal hump as they mature, which is absent in females. Also, males are larger than females and have a pointed dorsal fin.

Like all cichlids, the Texas cichlid has a well-developed set of pharyngeal teeth that are found in the throat, together with regular teeth. Another feature of these fish is spiny rays in the rear of the dorsal, pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins as a deterrent to predators. The anterior area of the fins is soft and adapted to enable the fish to accurately position itself in the water, rather than for fast swimming.

Texas cichlids have only one set of nostrils that are used for “smelling” the water, which the fish do by drawing in and expelling water once any aroma has been detected.

Care and maintenance

Although the Texas cichlid is relatively easy to care for in that it will eat pretty anything that is offered, this is not the species to choose if you are a beginner.

These bruisers are very aggressive toward others, and they can also wreck your tank decoration by digging and ripping up plants. Also, the fish are extremely messy, and you’ll need to be keen on tank maintenance and cleaning if you take on a Texas cichlid.

You’ll need to carry out a weekly water change of at least 25% to keep the environment clean. During the process, always use an aquarium vacuum or siphon cleaner to remove all the fish waste from the substrate.

Tank size

You will need a tank of at least 60 gallons to accommodate a single texas cichlid herichthys cyanoguttatus. If you want to keep a pair, the tank must be at least 100 gallons.

These South American cichlids need plenty of swimming space, so choose a long tank, rather than a tall one. Also, these fish can jump, which can be a hazard when cleaning the tank and makes these fish unsuitable for life in a tank without a tightly fitting lid or at least a sturdy cover slide.

Tank setup

Texas cichlids need plenty of deep, sandy substrate to accommodate their habit of digging and burrowing. You’ll need to use at least three to four inches of substrate for the fish to be comfortable.

Although your fish will appreciate lush planting, the plants that you choose need to be robust, tough-leaved, and very securely rooted if they are to withstand the Texas cichlid’s attentions. Not only do the fish dig around the roots of plants, but they are also inclined to attack and eat the leaves.

Most species of cichlids appreciate some cave-like structures where they can hide. However, as these are potentially very large fish, you can get away with a few pieces of driftwood and maybe a rocky overhang.

Lighting in the aquarium can be light or dim, as these fish have no real preference.

These South American cichlids need fairly good water movement and extremely efficient filtration to cope with the mess that they make.

Texas Cichlid

Water parameters

The ideal water temperature in the tank should be around 70o to 75o Fahrenheit.

The pH range that’s preferred by these aquarium fish is between 6.5 and 8.0, with a water hardness of between 8 and 15 dGH.

Diet and nutrition

The Texas cichlid is omnivorous and will happily take more or less any kind of fresh, live, and flake foods. You can also feed these fish earthworms and cichlid pellets, and feeder fish will also be well received if you don’t mind taking that route.

It’s recently been discovered that feeding these cichlids mammal meat, such as beef hearts, is potentially harmful because of the high protein levels in the foods. The fish can’t metabolize the proteins, which can cause excess fatty deposits that damage the organs over time.

You can help to maintain the aquarium water quality over a longer period of time by offering the fish small amounts of food two or three times per day.

Tankmates

When it comes to company, the Texas cichlid is never going to win any awards for making friends! So, it’s recommended that you keep these fish alone or in a pair in a very large aquarium.

Although juveniles are timid and are vulnerable to attack by other large, aggressive fish species, that all changes as the fish mature. The older the Rio Grande cichlid becomes, the more aggressive it gets, presenting a clear and present danger to pretty much any other tankmate. A definite no-no is invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp, and snails, all of which are likely to be eaten.

Once the Texas cichlid reaches five or six inches in length, it becomes a threat. You may be able to keep one of these feisty fishes with other very large fish, but even that may end in tears. At best, your fish will become stressed, leaving them open to disease. At worst, your Texas cichlid might even kill his tankmates.

A species-specific setup is a possibility, but these fish are territorial, so you’ll need a very large tank if harmony is to be maintained. Ideally, a mated pair may be kept together without problems.

Breeding

It is possible to breed the Texas cichlid in a home aquarium setting, and it can be hybridized with other species, for example, with a Red Parrot to create the Red Texas cichlid mentioned earlier in this guide. Crossbreeding with other related species is also known to happen in both the wild and tank environments.

Spawning

Spawning behavior can be triggered by raising the tank temperature to over 72o Fahrenheit and carrying out a large water change. Note that the Texas cichlid can spawn once the male reaches roughly four inches in length and the female around three inches.

Following a jaw-locking courtship “battle,” the fish form a bonded pair. The female cleans a solid place where she will lay her eggs, usually on a flat rock or on the tank bottom. Hundreds or even thousands of eggs are laid in one spawning. Both parents guard the eggs and the fry.

The female chews the eggshells to release the fry, and then bury the babies in a pit that both parents have dug in the substrate. The fry is generally free-swimming in around four to six days. Some males become very aggressive when protecting their young, so at this time, it’s sensible to use a divider or remove the male fish from the tank for the female’s safety.

Texas Cichlid

Health and diseases

Texas cichlid herichthys cyanoguttatus is a hardy fish in comparison to other species. However, like many other large cichlid species, Texas cichlids can be prone to Ich and Hole-in-the-Head disease (HLLE).

Ich

Ich is a very common disease in freshwater fish that’s caused by the parasite, Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. The parasite is usually present in the water in most tropical and coldwater tanks, but it doesn’t cause a problem unless a fish is weakened by disease, poor water conditions, or incorrect diet.

The Ich parasite attaches itself to the fish’s skin, fins, and gills, appearing as a rash of tiny white spots, hence the disease’s common name, White Spot Disease. Infected fish flick against objects in the aquarium and rub their bodies on the substrate as a reaction to the irritation caused by the parasite.

Luckily, Ich is easily treated by raising the water temperature to 86o Fahrenheit for three days and treating the water with an over-the-counter product.

Hole-in-the-Head disease (HLLE)

Hole-in-the-Head disease or Hexamita is usually caused by poor water conditions and an incorrectly balanced diet.

Affected fish develop pits or “holes” on the face and head together with lesions along the fish’s lateral line. Eventually, infection develops, and the fish will die if the problem is not treated promptly.

Start by improving the water quality in the tank, and treat the water with antibiotics that you can obtain from good fish stores or from your vet. Check that the fish’s diet is correct and well-balanced to prevent future problems.

Disease prevention

You can prevent outbreaks of disease in your tank by maintaining good water quality, feeding your fish correctly, and isolating any new specimens in a quarantine tank for at least 14 days before adding them to your main aquarium.

All new items of decoration, substrate, and plants should be thoroughly washed and cleaned before you add them to your tank. 

Availability

Texas cichlids are pretty easy to find in good fish stores and through online dealers.

These large cichlids are not expensive, ranging in price from under $10 for a juvenile to more for a full-grown adult specimen in breeding condition.

FAQ

In this section of our guide, we answer some of the questions that are most commonly asked by people who are thinking of adding a Texas cichlid to their collection.

Q: How big do Texas cichlids get?

A: When fully mature, the Texas cichlid can reach 12 inches in length.

Q: What fish can live with Texas cichlids?

A: Texas cichlids are very aggressive fish. They can be kept safely as a mated pair, provided that you have a large tank of at least 100 gallons.

Q: Do Texas cichlids have teeth?

A: Yes. These fish have a well-developed set of pharyngeal teeth that are found in the throat, together with regular teeth

Q: Can you eat a Texas cichlid?

A: Yes, you can! These fish are often caught wild and eaten by anglers, usually grilled or pan-fried.

Final thoughts

Although easy to care for, these fish don’t mix well with others, and they can be extremely messy too.

That said, these are very attractive fish that make an imposing specimen in a big display tank. If you are an experienced hobbyist, you have a very large aquarium, and you’re looking for something a little different to keep in a species-only tank, the Texas cichlid could be a fish you would like to consider.

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