Firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki)

Firemouth cichlid (lat. Thorichthys meeki) is a tank fish of Cichlidae family. This species was named after American ichthyologist Seth Eugene Meek.

Inhabitance in the wild

Thorichthys meeki was fist described in 1918 by Walter Brind. The fish inhabits in Central America: Mexico, Guatemala, Salvatore, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa-Rica and Panama.

This cichlid habitat is in bottom and middle water layers of slow flowing waters, ponds with sandy or muddy bottom. The fish tries to stay close to thickly planted areas where it feeds on plant and animal food at the edge of these areas.


In tanks max size is about 6 inches or 15 cm (males) while in the wild it is a bit smaller. Body main color is light-gray or olive-gray with some blueish tint, while adult body color becomes completely violet.

Depending on a fish state and its environment conditions fish may have some wide dark transverse stripes and/or a lateral stripe and a black spot in the middle of its body.

Abdomen, neck and opercles are red or orange-red; male have more intense coloring. Their opercles have a black spot on them, their iris is blueish, unpaired fins are pinkish with blue sparkles.

The upper edge of the dorsal is red and both dorsal and anal fin are rather pointed. Cichlid coloring becomes brighter when the fish is excited or during its spawning period.

Keeping in a tank

Thorichthys meeki is known as one of the most peaceful cichlasoma species, so it is good to keep a couple or a group of them in a tank, although some species may appear to be rather aggressive.

Tank for cichlid can be a of 50 gallons capacity, which is enough to keep couple cichlid , however, best of all it is to keep such a fish in a spaceous tank, planted with live plants.

Though firemouths is not very demanding as for the tank water chemical characteristics (water hardness and pH level), still according to experienced aquarists practice there are lots of cases of the fish early death in tanks and there is high mortality rate when imported fish is put in quarantine.

Tank water has to be clean, with no ammonia and nitrite in it, as for nitrate – its content in the water shouldn’t be more than 20 mg/l, because cichlid can’t stand the influence of harmful nitrogen compounds.

Scientific NameThorichthys meeki
Common NameFiremouth cichlid, firemouth fish, firemouth meeki, fire cichlid, fire belly cichlid, meeki
Tank size5 gallons (20L) and more
Temperature23–30 °C (75–86 °F)
Size6 inches (15 cm)

Despite what is written about this fish in reference books, firemouth isn’t a big “digger” – the fish digs tank bottom rather moderately, especially if there is a big clay pot or some other shelter cichlid can use when spawning.

In general the fish behavior can be rather different and it depends both on the environment conditions and on each species preferences.

Some aquarists describe large cichlid as an active diurnal fish, others, in contrast, note that their pets tend to spend the majority of time in their shelters.

Newly-bought fish is quite often hard even to feed – this is how timid it is during several first months.

In such situation it may be reasonable to put fish into 10 gallons tank in quarantine (since in small tanks the fish gets used to its owner faster), however it helps even more to de-stress the fish if a school of some peaceful fish is also in a tank as a tank mates.

Tank plants should be large-leaved and put into pots surrounded with stones. As for the tank technical equipment and its maintenance: it is filtration and aeration.

At that you have to take into account that this species has strict requirements as for the tank water purity, therefore the fact that there is a good external filter and high number of live plants in the tank doesn’t exclude the necessity of regular tank water renew (at least once a week).

Lights can be bright. The recommended water temperature range is 23–30 °C (75–86 °F), the optimal water temperature is 24-26 °C. Tank water hardness and pH values don’t have any crucial influence.

Tank mates

Another significant point that isn’t usually considered is that firemouth cichlid has rather low ability to handle stress.

Surrounded by other large and aggressive species they doesn’t feel safe or confident, so the fish may easily die because of some harmless disease just due to the stress.

Male suffer the most from larger and stronger tank mates harassment, while female in this situation demonstrates a rather interesting ability to find protectors among other fish species in a tank.

However, compatibility with dwarf cichlids and angelfish is rather poor, since fish may demonstrate aggressiveness towards their tank mates, especially if their tank is not spacious enough.

Surprisingly, but in the context of all above mentioned, T. meeki can be characterized as “a cichlid that wasn’t meant to be kept in a tank with other cichlid species”.

So, we can advise to take some active schooling fish (different tetra species like serpae tetra, glowlight tetra, rummy nose tetra) as well as pictus catfish as tank mates.

Also, due to the obvious reasons, it better to avoid slow-moving and especially long-finned fishes as tank mates.

Also, I’d like to add a few words about community tank.

It isn’t a schooling fish as we usually mean by this term. In the natural biotope adult male live separately, each on it’s own territory which they ward rather eagerly, they scare off other rivals by flaring out their gills.

However, the same way they attract female swimming by to spawn with them. Female and juveniles stick together.

The majority of time they spend in still water near the shore under the cover of shore plants and snags. Cichlids form couples only for the spawning period and to look after their offspring.

In a tank behaves the same, however you have to consider the tank capacity. In large tanks one may keep 2-3 couples and some species without a couple.

It’s interesting to observe how two couples that have just had their spawning gather and divide their juveniles without trying to define which of them is whose. In group there’s no school hierarchy as, for example, discuses or uaru groups have.

It’s better if group consists of species of different age and stem. This allows first – decrease rivalry among cichlids, second – avoid inbreeding.

In tank of a medium capacity the life space is enough only for one male. If there is a rival male in the tank the fight is inevitable, during which one of the fish may even be killed. However, 2 or 3 females may successfully share the tank life space, while the male fish will spawn with each of them in turns.

Though, again, it’s not a classical type of harem which, for instance, some dwarf cichlid species have. As for completely small tanks – there may live only one cichlid or one couple.

Large tanks are also preferable because they have more stable biological balance and the fish feels more safe and comfortable. And, as you may remember, T. meeki has strong requirements for both.


They are carnivorous feeders, but first of all and the fish requires feed with high protein content. In the nature feeds on worms, larva’s, spineless species.

In a tank the fish eagerly feeds on blood worm, tubifex, white worms, brine shrimp. Frozen feed is also good for diet – brine shrimp, cyclops and artificial feed – tablets and flakes.

I myself give some of this food to my pets and as for the rest I’ve heard and read lots of good reviews.

Yet, all of the food is of high quality and it is the best one for this fish kind as well as it keeps the tank water clean.

It’s better to feed the fish twice a day with small portions of feed changing its types in the morning and in the evening.

Gender differences: male vs female

Male has larger body, brighter coloring and its dorsal and anal fins are more pointed. Both male and female have these fins elongated, though male still has longer ones.

This can be seen only when the fins are completely open out. Adult male has clearly visible genital papilla, therefore it’s easy to define the gender.

If we talk about gender of juveniles older than 3 month , it can be defined with rather high precision by the juveniles size, since even at this age male is already bigger than the female one.


Becomes mature at the age of 8-12 month. In case if there is a group of them, the couple leaves the group and stays separate.

As for this cichlids kept in a tank show more loyalty and affection to each other, than those who inhabit in the wild, where they get together just for spawning.

Although in a tank one male also my spawn with several female in turns. If the couple is formed forcibly, usually it leads to the point when cichlids in this couple eat their eggs and fight constantly.

In the wild spawns on the open bottom substrate, however in a tank it prefers to lay its eggs in some shelter (if there’s one).

At that sometimes there are some females which are “crazy about security” and they lay eggs in such a hidden place, where the male, which is larger, can’t even get into to fertilize eggs.

This fact should also be taken into account, if you want the fish to spawn successfully.

The clutch is warded by the both parents. There are about 100-400 eggs in it.

The incubation period is about 3-6 days and 4-5 days later the juveniles start to swim. If meeki cichlid spawns in a community tank, you should remove the clutch into a separate volume or wash the juveniles with a hose directly into the juveniles tank just right after they start to swim, since their parents usually appear to be not capable to protect them from other tank inhabitants.

Sadly, all the breeding process here turns out to be not very interesting for those aquarists who’d like to watch cichlid showing its parental instinct and looking after their offspring.

If you put a couple ready to spawn into a separate tank, it gets even worse.

At least this was my experience: after their environment conditions changed the fish got stressed and stopped eating.

The male got used to the new tank faster and started beating the female to force her to lay eggs. As a result, I had to get them back into the community tank and to cure the female injuries.

Firemouth cichlid has rather small juveniles, even smaller than convict cichlid has. Juveniles should first be fed with: brine shrimp nauplii, ciclopuls or some specially manufactured powders and suspensions.

Some aquarists, who tried to feed the juveniles with powdered flakes, failed and all the juveniles died. In general mortality rate of juveniles can be rather high and it strongly depends on the feed quality and the tank hydrochemistry.

In fact, provided with sufficient eagerness T. meeki keeping and breeding in a tank isn’t that complicated, which still makes this fish one of the very popular cichlids.

About author: Sergey Schulz

Sergey is a founder and author of He’s been fond of aquarium husbandry since his early childhood. His favorite aquariums are biotopes (Amazon River), with Echinodorus and freshwater angelfish. However, through the years he’s had experience of keeping almost all types of freshwater fish and shrimps.