Keyhole Cichlid

Keyhole Cichlid

Keyhole cichlid information:

Scientific name: Cleithracara Maronii    
Common name:  keyhole cichlid                  
Max. size: 12.5 cm / 5 inches
pH range: 6.0 – 8.0
dH range: 20
Temperature range: 22 - 27°C / 72 - 81°F

The keyhole cichlid is a rather friendly cichlid that is suitable to be kept with a wide variety of different friendly species. This combined with the fact that the keyhole cichlid is a relatively small fish and the fact that they usually leave plants alone makes it ideal for community aquariums.  Keyhole cichlids can usually be kept with tetras and other small fish but some specimens can be too aggressive to be kept with tetras. The keyhole cichlid has been popular in the aquarium hobby for a very long time and was earlier know as Aequidens maronii.

They are easy to breed and care for. Most keyhole cichlids found in the trade today has been breed in captivity for the aquarium trade

Keyhole cichlid habitat and range:

The keyhole cichlid is a benthopelagic species that primarily inhabits South American waters with low current and clear water. They are often found in small freshwater creeks in coastal zones. Their main populations can be found in the Orinoco River basin and in a number of rivers found between the Barima River in Guyana to Ouanary River in French Guiana as well as in Venezuela. There are also smaller populations on Trinidad Tobago.

Keyhole cichlid common names:

You might find the keyhole cichlid sold under a number of other names even if keyhole cichlid is the by far most common name for them. They are sometimes sold as keyhole Acaras which goes back to the no longer valid scientific name Acara maronii. In Australia they are commonly referred to and sold simple as keyholes. They have a long row of different names in their native area since numerous languages are spoken in this area. Such names include Prapra, Pakawété boko olékopo, Awalipa and Awifi.

Keyhole cichlid description:

The keyhole cichlid isn’t very colourful but are still a beautiful addition to any aquarium due to its distinct pattern. The body is a yellow cream colour but turns more towards brown if the fish is stressed. There is a black spot in the middle of the body which looks like a keyhole and is what gives this fish its name.  The spot doesn’t always look like a keyhole, in some specimens it simply looks as a black dot. This black dot can turn into a band across the fish when the fish is stressed. The colour of the fins can vary between different populations and can be everything from soft yellow to neon blue. Most populations have some blue in their fins but not all.

Their bodies are oval shaped and rounder than many other cichlids.

Keyhole cichlid setup:

Keyhole cichlids should not be kept in tanks that are smaller than 28 gallon / 100 L and at least 40 gallon/ 150 L is recommended. The aquarium should be decorated using plants, rocks and roots. Flat substrates such as flat rocks are required if you want your keyholes cichlids to be able to breed. Such substrates are not required if you don’t want your keyhole cichlids to breed. The main purpose of the decoration is to make the fish feel safe while at the same time look good to the observer. A good way to do this is to create numerous hiding places among plants and rocks. Decorating the aquarium so that the fish can hide not only from each other but also from the observer makes the aquariums seem more alive since new fish can appear from nowhere. This also helps making the fish feel more secure. You are free to choose whatever plants you want since keyhole cichlids usually leave plants alone. Make sure to leave some open areas for swimming.

They prefer low current and to strong current should therefore be avoided. You can due to the keyhole cichlid’s large tolerance for different pH values set the pH of the tank in accordance to the preferences of your other fish as long as you keep it between pH 6.0-8.0.

Keyhole cichlid tank mates:

keyhole cichlid
Keyhole cichlid picture. Copyright

Keyhole cichlids are as earlier mentioned suitable for community aquariums and can be kept with most calm species. You should however avoid keeping small tetras together with large keyholes cichlids as they might eat the tetras.  You should try and find calm species that has the same requirements as your keyhole cichlids; this means species that has the same preferences in regards to setup, pH, water hardness, temperature etc. I recommend keeping keyhole cichlids in pairs and the best way to obtain a pair is to let 6-8 fishes grow up together in an aquarium and form their own pairs. You can than remove the other fishes from the aquarium if you only want one pair.  If your aquarium isn’t big enough to do this you can try and buy a pair and hope for the best. You can keep just one keyhole cichlid but I recommend against this as it prevent the keyhole cichlid from displaying a large part of its behaviour.

Keyhole cichlid care:

The Keyhole cichlid are easy to care for and is due to this and their mild mannered temper one of the most suitable beginner cichlids around. They will adapt to most water conditions as long as extremes are avoided. They are resistant towards most disease. Observe that I say resistant not immune. They can still get sick and you still need your eyes open for signs of disease.

The keyhole cichlids are usually happy as long as you keep the nitrate/nitrate levels within acceptable parameters and can even survive in lower quality water even if this of course should be avoided and will make the fish more susceptible to diseases. You should therefore only introduce keyhole cichlids to already cycled tanks and make regular water changes. Removing debris on a daily basis is also strongly recommended when keeping keyhole cichlids as well as any other fish.

Make sure to keep the pH between pH 6.0-8.0 and avoid rapid changes. They do bets with a water temperature of 25°C / 75°F but can tolerate a temperature span of 22 - 27°C / 72 - 81°F.

Keyhole cichlid feeding:

The keyhole cichlid will accepted most types of food and are omnivores that in the wild mainly feed on small crustaceans, insects, larvae, worms and to a lesser extent fish fry and plant matter. They are easy to feed and can be fed flakes, pellets and frozen food. It is important to try and give them a varied diet. A good diet can use a base of pellets that are complemented with different types of frozen food and shrimps. It is also beneficial if the diet contains a small amount of vegetable food such as vegetable flakes.

Keyholes cichlids will usually not feed on your plants or of algae. They will eat fish fry (not their own) and small fish if kept in the same aquarium as them. This is however true with most fish species and the keyhole cichlid is not predatory in its nature. This does however not mean that they won’t eat a fry or other snack sized animal that swims in front of them.

Keyhole cichlid breeding:

Keyhole cichlids are easy to breed and will care for their young just like most other cichlids. They lay their eggs on a flat surface that they have cleaned in advance. Each breeding can result in upwards to 300 eggs.  The parents then work together to protect the young. The female usually watches the eggs while the male guard a larger territory around the eggs. They will fan fresh oxygen rich water over the eggs and remove any unfertilized eggs from the spawning site. This helps prevent fungus. Young parent often fails there first (first few) spawning and eat their eggs. This is to be expected and they will soon spawn again with better results. The keyhole cichlid eggs hatch after 3-5 days and are free swimming a few days later. The fry can be feed newly hatched brine shrimp once they are free swimming.

Keyhole cichlids usually make good parents which guard their young for up to 6 months.

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