Uaru Cichlid Care: Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Your Fish Happy

Uaru cichlid (Uaru amphiacanthoides) is a freshwater fish genus of the Cichlidae family. This is a large aquarium fish that eats plant food. Further in the article, you’ll find out how to keep uaru fish, feed it, select tank mates, and breed it.

Uaru cichlid male

Habitat in the wild

The uaru cichlid, scientifically known as Uaru amphiacanthoides, belongs to the family Cichlidae. This family is quite diverse, containing a wide range of freshwater fish species commonly referred to as “cichlids.” Cichlids are well-known for their vibrant colors, unique behaviors, and interesting breeding habits. They’re popular among aquarium enthusiasts due to their fascinating characteristics.

Cichlidae is a large family, and it includes many genera and species, each with its own distinct characteristics and distribution. Uaru cichlids are a relatively peaceful and visually striking species, native to South America, primarily found in the Amazon River Basin.

The fish’s specific name is amphiacanthoides, where «amphi» translated from Greek means «around,» «acanth» – spine, and «oides» – alike. The name originated due to some similarities of uaru fish body shape and eating preferences with fishes of the Acanthurus genus.

Acanthurus includes about 30 fish kinds that are mostly herbivorous ones from the West of the World Ocean.

Where are uaru fish from? Uaru amphiacanthoides habitat is in the Amazon River basin and fresh waters of Guiana. Its generic name originated due to the natives living on the benches of these rivers. They call the fish «uaru ura,» which is translated as «mirror-like.» It is most likely that this is because of the fish’s saucer-shaped body. Locals eat it.

For the first time, uaru cichlid was described by Heckel in 1840 as a large cichlasoma. In 1913 the fish were first brought to Europe. This kind first was bred Nuremberg Zoo. In the wild, uaru cichlid prefers areas with complex underwater topography. Typical nature biotope, as a rule, is a slowly flowing water, thickly planted which bottom is covered with stones of various sizes and snags. This is where the fish feels relatively safe. Water in such ponds is slightly mineralized, and it has a pH < 7. Uaru cichlid prefers clean, soft waters where it feeds with worms, crustaceans, insects, detritus, fruit, and algae.

Unlike discus and freshwater angelfish dwelling in the same places, uaru cichlids don’t gather in large schools since they prefer staying in couples or small groups. For this reason, they are encountered much more seldom, and their catching involves some specific difficulties.

uaru fish in aquarium



Uaru cichlids (Uaru amphiacanthoides) can grow to a relatively large size compared to many other freshwater aquarium fish. In the wild, uaru cichlid size is 12-14 inches (30-35 cm), the largest. In a tank, their size is significantly smaller, about 8-10 inches (20-25 cm). This size makes them a prominent and impressive fish in a properly sized aquarium. It’s essential to provide them with an adequately sized tank to ensure their well-being and provide enough space for swimming and growth.

Growth rate

The growth rate of uaru cichlids can vary based on a variety of factors, including genetics, diet, water conditions, tank size, and overall care. Generally, Uaru cichlids are not known for rapid growth, especially when compared to some other cichlid species. They tend to grow more slowly and steadily, and their growth rate can also be influenced by the specific conditions in which they are raised.


Uaru cichlid lifespan in a tank is about 12-15 years. However, it’s essential to provide them with the right conditions to maximize their lifespan.


Uaru’s body is very flattened from sides and is egg-shaped. Their forehead goes straight to the beginning of their dorsal.

Yellow-brow colors prevail in the adult species coloring. They have a large triangular dark spot on their bodyside. Due to this spot, the kind has obtained several names, the most popular of which is a triangle cichlid. Another smaller-sized spot is near the fish eyes that we should pay special attention to.

Firstly, Uaru has rather large eyes, and secondly, its eyes color varies from bright yellow to red, and they really attract attention due to the general dark background.

Scientific NameUaru amphiacanthoides
Common NameUaru cichlid
OriginSouth America, primarily in the Amazon River Basin
SizeUp to about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm)
LifespanAround 10-15 years in captivity
BehaviorGenerally peaceful, but can become territorial
Tank SizeA larger tank with a minimum of 75 gallons is recommended
Water ParametersTemperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C); pH: 6.0-7.5
DietOmnivorous; prefers a variety of plant and animal matter
ColorationAttractive with metallic blue-green body and red eyes
BreedingParents care for eggs and fry
Tank SetupPlants, driftwood, and hiding spots; soft substrate
CompatibilityGenerally compatible with other peaceful cichlids
Special ConsiderationsSensitive to water quality, regular water changes needed
three uaru cichlids

Difficulties in keeping

The fish is a rather undemanding but very rare one. Despite its quite menacing look, uaru cichlids almost pay no attention even to relatively small tank mates. Most of the time, they stay in their shelters or groups of the same kind in the middle or bottom water layer. We should mention that a group of adult uaru cichlids in a large, nicely decorated with snags and stones aquarium with dim colorful lighting is a magnificent spectacle.

Uaru amphiacanthoides

Care and keeping in a tank

In the 60s and the 70s of the last century when aquarists could get only wild, and for this reason, very expensive discus fishes, uaru were called «poor man’s discus.» Both juveniles and adult species were sold for less than 1/3 of one discus price, while their body shape and behavior were quite alike.

Tank size

The recommended tank size for uaru cichlids (Uaru amphiacanthoides) depends on several factors, including the number of uaru cichlids you plan to keep, their size, and the potential tank mates. Uaru cichlids can grow to be relatively large, and they need a spacious environment to thrive. A larger tank not only accommodates their size but also provides ample swimming space, reduces stress, and helps maintain stable water conditions.

Here are some general guidelines for uaru cichlid tank size:

  1. Single Uaru Cichlid: If you plan to keep a single uaru cichlid, a tank with a minimum capacity of around 75 gallons (284 liters) is recommended. This size allows the fish to have enough space to swim comfortably.
  2. Pair of Uaru Cichlids: If you intend to keep a breeding pair, a larger tank is needed to provide enough territory and to accommodate the pair’s potential offspring. A tank with a capacity of at least 100 to 125 gallons (379 to 473 liters) would be more suitable for a uaru cichlid pair.
  3. Community Tank: If you want to keep uaru cichlids along with other compatible tank mates (as mentioned in the previous response), you should consider a larger tank to accommodate the various fish species. A tank with a capacity of 100 to 150 gallons (379 to 567 liters) or more would be appropriate.

Remember that the tank size should increase as the number of uaru cichlids and other fish in the community increases. It’s essential to provide enough space to reduce aggression, maintain water quality, and ensure the well-being of all the fish in the tank. Providing ample hiding spots, plants, and decor will also create a more natural and comfortable environment for uaru cichlids.

Water parameters

Maintaining appropriate water parameters is crucial for the health and well-being of uaru cichlids in an aquarium. These parameters should replicate, as closely as possible, the conditions found in their natural habitat in the Amazon River Basin.

Here are the recommended water parameters for uaru cichlids:

  1. Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C) – Uaru cichlids prefer slightly warmer water temperatures, which can help promote their overall health and activity. However, the fish can stand a short-term water temperature drop up to 20 °C. But excessive use of this feature is not advisable since uaru can easily get cold.
  2. pH: 6.0-7.5 – Uaru cichlids prefer slightly acidic to neutral water. Maintaining a stable pH within this range is important for reducing stress and promoting good health.
  3. Hardness (GH and KH): 2-10 dGH (for both GH and KH) – Uaru cichlids come from areas with relatively soft water, so it’s essential to keep the hardness within a moderate range. Softened water can be beneficial.
  4. Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate: Ammonia and nitrite levels should be at 0 ppm, and nitrate levels should be kept low, ideally below 20 ppm. Regular water changes and proper filtration are essential to maintain these levels.
  5. Water Movement and Filtration: Uaru cichlids prefer gentle to moderate water movement. A good filtration system should be in place to maintain water quality, but avoid strong currents that might stress the fish.

Remember that stability is key. Sudden changes in water parameters can stress uaru cichlids, making them more susceptible to diseases. Regular water testing and gradual adjustments (if necessary) are essential. Additionally, providing plenty of hiding spots, plants, and open swimming areas can help reduce stress and create a comfortable environment for your uaru cichlids.

Tank setup: decorations and plants

Wild Uaru are extremely timid, so they stay in the shadows of snags, thus in a tank, they’ll also require shelters and some dark areas. It is preferable to have scattered lighting in the tank.

Since the fish, by its nature, is a herbivorous one, it has a seeming inclination for eating aquatic flora. For this reason, planting live plants in the tank almost makes no sense since, sooner or later, they’ll be eaten. At that, uaru fish not just eats them. It looks like it is at war with them, and the aim is to destroy the latter completely. Once I’ve observed an adult uaru teaching a young one how to eat Vallisneria leaves. I was impressed. During three years of keeping these fish in a tank, none of the plants survived.


Uaru is sensitive to nitrogen compounds contained in the water. Thus, in the tank, efficient biological filtration (use canister filters), aeration, and frequent water renew are required (not less than 30% of the tank volume every week).


In the wild, the adult uaru cichlids diet is 80% plant food. The rest, 20%, is the fodder of animal origin. In a tank, their favorite food is duckweed, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, blowball, sliced apples, cucumbers, zucchini. Spinach isn’t recommended as regular food for them since its leaves contain oxalic acid.

All greenery should be washed well, gathered in a bunch, and then put in a tank with a load weight attached to it. Usually, everything is eaten very quickly.

In case of plant food deficiency in the fish diet, they often suffer from deficiency disease, and it makes them gnaw round snags on the tank, which can be easily seen on snags.

Uaru cichlid eats protein food as well: worms, blood worms, tubifex. However, such food may also contain both infecting agents and parasites. Considering that the fish is large, lives long, it is recommended to feed them with special artificial food for cichlids. On the one hand, they are rich in nutrients. On the other hand, it is impossible to bring the infection into the tank when using it.

Tank mates

Uaru cichlid isn’t a fish for community tanks with small fishes (even though it is not aggressive, but this is a large cichlid, and small-sized tank mates it treats as food). However, it is good for dwelling together with other cichlids of Central and South America. These cichlids are less aggressive than their relatives from Africa, but in general, it depends on the tank size.

Uaru can be kept together with discus fish (however, this sensitive fish isn’t the best tank mate in this case), with keyhole cichlid, Texas cichlid, firemouth cichlid, blue acara, convict cichlid, green terror cichlid, blood parrot cichlid, and freshwater angelfish.

In general, it gets on well with any cichlid, on the condition that the latter don’t demonstrate aggression towards it. Avoid aggressive or territorial species, as uaru cichlids can be easily stressed by such tank mates.

Uaru is a social fish, and it should be kept at least as a couple, and keeping several species will be even better. In this case, they create a hierarchy and demonstrate the best of its behavior. However, such a group will require quite a spacious tank.

Gender differences: male vs female

Distinguishing between male and female uaru cichlids can be challenging, as the visual differences between the sexes are not as pronounced as in some other cichlid species. However, there are a few subtle characteristics that you can look for:

  1. Size: In many cases, mature male uaru cichlids tend to be slightly larger and more robust than females. This size difference might become more apparent as they reach maturity.
  2. Body Shape: Males may have a slightly more elongated and pointed dorsal fin compared to females. However, this difference may not be very noticeable, especially in well-fed and healthy fish.
  3. Breeding Behavior: During the breeding season, you may observe some behavioral differences. Females often develop a rounder belly when carrying eggs (a sign of being gravid), and they may become more territorial in preparation for spawning.
  4. Egg Spots: In some cases, males may have small egg spots, which are tiny white or pale spots on the anal fin. However, this characteristic isn’t always present or easily distinguishable.
  5. Vent Shape: Some experienced fishkeepers claim that there’s a subtle difference in the shape of the vent (the opening near the anal fin) between males and females. Males are said to have a more pointed vent, while females have a more rounded vent. However, this can be difficult to observe and may require a trained eye.

Remember that these differences can be subtle and are not guaranteed to be present in all individuals. The best way to determine the sex of uaru cichlids with a higher degree of accuracy is by observing their behavior during the breeding season or by observing the fish as they mature. Even experienced aquarists may find it challenging to distinguish the sexes in uaru cichlids. If you’re specifically interested in breeding uaru cichlids, monitoring their behavior during breeding is the most reliable method for determining sex.

uaru cichlid male and female


Couples are formed only during the spawning period. During this time, uaru males become more aggressive. Nevertheless, other more agrressive species of other kinds (even smaller in size) often attack uaru and drive them out from their spots.

Uaru cichlid becomes reproductive when being from 16-18 months old and 18-20 cm large.

Breeding uaru in a tank is quite challenging, even though it doesn’t differ much from other African cichlids’ breeding.

Its success by 90% depends on the selected breeders. That’s why it is recommended to get 8-10 fish teens. Before the spawning, you should feed the fish with sliced cucumbers for a long time. This diet is good for the better development of genital products.

A couple formed on its own usually spawns in the same tank where it lives and selects the most shadowed space for this purpose.

You can put the breeders in a separate spawning tank about 40 inches long (100 cm) with shelters and water of the following parameters: temperature 27-30 °C, dGH 2-12°, pH 5.5-6.

The successfully selected couple later successfully spawns again.

You can use a large stone, flower pot, or any other object with a smooth surface as a spawning substrate. Together with preparing the spawning substrate, uaru makes a deepening in the tank bottom substrate. The spawning process lasts about two hours.

The maximal fertility of the females is about 500 eggs in one spawning. Usually, it is 150-300. The eggs are quite small of bright-yellow color.

Newly-minted parents may eat their first clutches. You can remove the eggs to a separate volume to resolve the issue. Good breeders who thoroughly take care of their offspring ensure that their juveniles grow faster than those in the incubator.

Sometimes the breeders may fight because of their different ideas about how to treat the juveniles. In this case, remove one of the breeders into another volume.

At the temperature of 30 °C, the incubation time is about two days. The breeders gather larvae and put them into the hole in the bottom substrate they’ve prepared in advance.

On the 3rd day, the larvae gather in a school that resembles a ball, and they spend about two more days in a state like this. Then they turn into juveniles and start to swim actively.

Like discus fish, uaru juveniles use the epithelial secretory product on the body surface of their parents as a starter food. While one of the parents has rest, the other one carries the offspring on its body. To switch the roles, uaru with juveniles abruptly gets to the water surface, at that the juveniles go to another parent.

In an aquarium, uaru have not enough epithelial secretory product, or it may be missing at all. That’s why at the beginning, the juveniles are fed with tiny plankton.

As they grow, they eagerly eat standard food of animal origin.

Except for traditional food, the diet of the uaru juvenile should include duckweed. At the age of three months, their food preferences change significantly, and they love spinach, lettuce, or blowball leaves.

Uaru juveniles have violet-blue coloring with white spots scattered around their body and fins. Just one-third of the juveniles grow to become adults.

Due to rare cases of uaru breeding in captivity and very limited import from Brazil, the aquarium population of the fish kind becomes progressively infrequent.

Not surprisingly, the fish price has become significantly higher. Even though uaru doesn’t have such an appealing coloring as that of the discus fish, it is welcome as an aquarium fish due to its challenging breeding process and interesting behavior.