The Nicaragua cichlid is a very beautiful cichlid that has grown very popular within the hobby. It is today readily available in most fish stores and can also be ordered online. Some pet shops do not keep Nicaragua cichlids since juvenile specimens look very dull and are hard to sell.
Since the Nicaragua cichlid can be a bit aggressive, it is not recommended for beginner aquarists. On a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 denotes really easy fish (think Black Skirt Tetra) and 10 denotes the ones that should only be kept in huge public aquariums, the Nicaragua cichlid is a number 3 or 4. If you have some previous experience with moderately aggressive fish and are prepared to obtain live food for your Nicaragua cichlid it is not a very tricky fish to house and care for.
The Nicaragua cichlid is not included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Nicaragua cichlid has been known under several different scientific names, including Amphilophus nicaraguense, Cichlasoma balteatum, Cichlasoma nicaraguense, Cichlasoma spilotum, Heros nicaraguensis, Nandopsis nicaraguense and Theraps nicaraguensis. The current name for this species is Hypsophrys nicaraguensis.
Some sources use the name “Parrot Cichlid” as common name for Hypsophrys nicaraguensis, but this is not advisable since the name Parrot Cichlid is more commonly used for another colourful cichlid - Hoplarchus psittacus. Calling both fishes Parrot Cichlid can naturally cause a lot of confusion and create misunderstandings within the hobby. Calling the fish Nicaragua cichlid is therefore recommended. In its native environment in Central America, one of the most widespread common names for the Nicaragua cichlid is “Moga”.
The Nicaragua cichlid is considered one of the most beautiful cichlids in Central America, and unlike most other cichlids, the female is much more flamboyant than the male. One of the reasons why many people miss out on these cichlids is that juvenile specimens tend to look really dull. If you purchase one of these gray or brownish youngsters and provide it with a good home you will however be rewarded with a truly beautiful fish once it reaches adulthood. The Nicaragua cichlid needs a fairly big aquarium to do well since males can reach a length of 10 inches (25 centimetres). Females normally stay under 8 inches (20 centimetres).
The Nicaragua cichlid is an elongated, oval-shaped and laterally compressed fish. It has a dark line that runs through the middle of its body and the fish is also decorated with a big black blotch at mid-length. The head profile sports a characteristic curve and the small mouth is located at the lower part of the head. The eyes are of a golden or amber colour. The pectoral fins are big and the caudal fin is shaped like a fan.
There exists several different colour and pattern variations within this species and each geographical population has its own characteristics. In Nicaragua, you can for instance find a population where the fishes feature a golden body colour and a beige head, and where the parts under the gill cover to the middle part of the abdomen are of a pale lavender shade. Females from this population are decorated with a black lateral stripe that runs from the caudal fin to just behind the eye. Sometimes a barely detectable stripe can be found in male specimens as well, but in many cases the stripe has turned into a small black spot near the mid section of the body. If you purchase Nicaragua cichlids from Costa Rica, you can for instance get a fish that sports a paste blue-green head and a light green back that gradually turns into shades of lavender before the lateral stripe. The purple lateral stripe runs from the caudal fin to right behind the eye and the belly is of a highly sought after golden colour. The base of the dorsal fin shifts from yellow to green, the edge sports a turquoise hue and the rear tip is of a vivid red colour.
Wild caught specimens are generally more striking than the commonly available captive bred ones, but there are naturally exceptions to this rule.
Distribution and habitat
The Nicaragua cichlid is native to Nicaragua and Costa Rica in Central America. It lives in freshwater rivers and lakes along the Atlantic slope, from the San Juan drainage (including Lake Nicaragua) in Nicaragua and Costa Rica to the Matina River drainage in Costa Rica. The typical Nicaragua cichlid habitat is a lake or a river with slow to moderate currents and rocky areas. This fish is found from sea level up to elevations of 200 metres.
Nicaragua Cichlid Behaviour
The Nicaragua cichlid is a territorial fish, but compared to other Central American cichlids of the same size it is actually fairly non-aggressive. You can house it with other small cichlids, as long as you avoid really aggressive species such as Red Devil Cichlid and Texas Cichlid. It is often combined with Cichlasomines or other South American cichlids, big Characins, Tilapia, Hemichromis and Loricarids. A male Nicaragua cichlid can be kept with one female as monogamous breeders. If your Nicaragua cichlids start to spawn, they will become much more aggressive than usual since they need to protect their offspring. They can also destroy plants by digging them up and burrowing in the substrate.
The Nicaragua cichlid spends most of its time swimming in the middle and lower areas of the aquarium and is often found near the bottom.
Nicaragua Cichlid Care
If you want to house an adult Nicaragua cichlid you should provide it with at least a 48 inch (122 cm) aquarium with a capacity of 50 gallons (190 L) or more. The aquariums should be well decorated and include a lot of hiding spots. You can for instance use roots, wood, rocks and caves to form sheltered spots. Sand or fine gravel is recommended as substrate. If you want to include plants, go for hardy and well-rooted plants, or hardy plants that do not have to be planted in the substrate.
The water temperature should be kept in the 74-80° F (23-27° C) range. The pH-value should ideally be neutral (pH 7), but the Nicaragua cichlid will endure a pH-value from 6.5 to 7.5. The acceptable water hardiness range is 4-20 dH, where 10 dH is ideal.
Nicaragua Cichlid Feeding
The Nicaragua cichlid is an omnivore species that needs a varied diet to thrive. In the wild, this cichlid feeds on plant seeds, leaves, bottom detritus, snails and other molluscs. Juvenile specimens feed primarily on aquatic insects. This fish is not a picky eater in captivity and will accept anything from flakes to live and fresh food. You can for instance use a high quality flake food or pellet as a base and supplement with brine shrimp, blood worms, blanched zucchini and lettuce, shrimp, mussels etcetera.
Breeding Nicaragua Cichlids
Sexing this species is not very difficult, because the female is smaller and displays much brighter colours. Unlike the male, her dorsal fin is not pointed and she will not develop any hump. Nicaragua cichlids forms patriarch-matriarch families and are generally good parents to their offspring. It can be hard to obtain a compatible pair, but once such a pair has been established the rest of the process is normally without any major obstacles.
As mentioned above, spawning Nicaragua cichlids become really aggressive and they will also start digging a lot. In addition to this, they are known to occasionally eat soft leaved plants during the breeding period. Due to the extensive digging, aquarium decorations must be firmly secured to avoid injury and a fine or sandy substrate with no sharp edges is recommended. Being a cave spawner, this fish will appreciate an aquarium filled with numerous caves or other suitable hiding spots where eggs can be deposited.
If you want to breed Nicaragua cichlids, a water temperature around 79-82°F (26-28°C) is recommended. The couple will start digging out a big pit in the substrate, often under a rock or inside a cave. The eggs are then deposited and fertilized in this pit. The eggs are not sticky and can therefore not be attached to the walls or roof of the cave. In most cases, only about 20-50% of the eggs will hatch. If you have a young and not yet fully mature male, the hatching rate can be even lower.
The eggs of a Nicaragua cichlid will normally hatch within three days and the fry will be free swimming after 4-5 more days. Both sexes are devoted parents; the female will fan fresh water over the eggs and guard eggs and fry, while the male will protect the territory around the spawning site from any intruders. One the fry has consumed the yolk sac, you can start feeding them newly hatched brine shrimp.
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