Spangled Pike Cichlids of the Saxatilis Group

Spangled Pike Cichlids of the Saxatilis Group

Spangled Pike cichlids belong to the genus Crenichichla and are a good introductory choice if you have never kept Crenicichlas before since they are medium-sized and comparatively hardy. They are also easy to breed in captivity. If you have ever kept large Central American Cichlasomines, you will probably recognize a lot when it comes to territorial behaviors, aggression and sturdiness. 

Saxatilis group species and their distribution

albopunctata, Pellegrin 1904 “ Surinam and Fr. Guyana
alta, Eigenmann 1912 “ Venezuela, Guyana and No. Brazil
anthurus, Cope 1872 “ No. Peru, Ecuador, Colombia
britskii, Kullander 1986 “ SE Brazil (Rio Tiete)
cardiostigma, Ploeg 1991 (syn. C. alta?) “ No. Brazil
coppenamensis, Ploeg 1987 - Surinam
frenata, Gill 1858 - Trinidad
hemera, Kullander 1990 - Rio Aripuana, Brazil
hummelincki, Ploeg 1991 “ Rio Trombetas, Brazil
inpa, Ploeg 1991 - Brazil
isbrueckeri, Ploeg 1991 - Rio Aripuana, Brazil
labrina, (Spix & Agassiz 1829) “ Rio Tocantins, Brazil
lepidota, Heckel 1840 - So. Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina
lucius, Cope 1871 “ Peru and Ecuador
menezesi, Ploeg 1991 “ NE Brazil
nickeriensis, Ploeg 1987 - Surinam
pellegrini, Ploeg 1991 “ Rio Aripuana, Brazil
proteus, Cope 1872 - Peru
pydanielae, Ploeg 1991 - Rio Trombetas, Brazil
santosi, Ploeg 1991 “ Rio Madeira, Brazil
saxatilis, (Linnaeus 1758) “ Guyana, Surinam, Fr. Guyana
semicincta, Steindachner 1892 “ So. Peru, Bolivia
sipaliwini, Ploeg 1987 “ Guyana and Surinam
sp. "Approuage" “ French Guyana
sp. "Arapiuns" “ Rio Arapiuns, Brazil
sp. "Belem" “ Belem area, Brazil
sp. "British Guyana I" - Guyana
sp. "British Guyana II" - Guyana
sp. "Casiquiare" “ upper Orinoco system
sp. "Inirida I" “ Rio Inirida, Colombia
sp. "Inirida II" “ Rio Inirida, Colombia
sp. "Inirida III" “ Rio Inirida, Colombia
sp. "Jurua Eirunepe" “ Rio Jurua, Brazil
sp. "Madeira" “ Rio Madeira, Brazil
sp. "Orinoco Puerto Ayacucho" “ Orinoco system
sp. "Tocantins I" “ Rio Tocantins
sp. "Tocantins II" “ Rio Tocantins
sp. "Tocantins III" “ Rio Tocantins
sp. aff. anthurus - Ecuador
sp. aff. britskii "Rio Sao Francisco" “ Brazil
sveni, Ploeg 1991 - Colombia
vaillanti, Pellegrin 1904 (syn. alta?) - Venezuela and Guyana

Description and sexing

Pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group all feature a shoulder spot, a so called humeral blotch, behind the gill cover. The humeral blotch is often, but not always, surrounded by a light ring. Saxatilis species will also sport a tail spot on the upper part of their caudal peduncle, but this treat is not unique to the Saxatilis group. 

Differentiating between the various species found in the Saxatilis group is really tricky, even for Saxatilis experts. Spangled pike cichlids distinguish themselves from other pike cichlids by showing silver-white spangling along the flank, especially in the males. The spangling is especially noticeable in Crenichichla saxatilis and Crenichichla frenata.

Spangled pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group show a high degree of sexual dimorphism where adult females remain smaller than the males and sport a pink belly. Females do not show as much spangling as the males and are decorated with a thin white line under the outer margin of the dorsal fin. Males normally have herringbone-like muscle striations on the side of the body.


A majority of the Pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group will stay smaller than 12 inches, but the aquarium should ideally be at least four feet in length to prevent them from killing each other when they reach sexual maturity. If you want to set up a breeding aquarium for an established couple, a 55-75 gallon aquarium will be enough, provided that you know how to keep the water quality up.


The Pike cichlids of the Saxatilis group are ambush predators that will spend most of their time hiding behind sunken tree logs or similar until an unsuspecting fish ventures too close. They feed primarily on tetras and other small fish but are also fond of invertebrates such as shrimp. Some species, such as the Peruvian C. proteus are adept egg thieves and can steal eggs even from guarding cichlid parents. Pike cichlids do not eat plant matter, but they eat a lot of herbivore fish that contains plant matter and will therefore indirectly obtain such nutrients. A strict meaty diet in the aquarium can therefore lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Juvenile Pike cichlids are quite easy to train onto prepared foods, while adult specimens can require a lot of coaxing and a determined aquarist. Do not start the training right away; your fish needs some time to adjust to their new environment and their immune system should be boosted with a combination of nutritious food that they readily accept. Even if you manage to train your Pike cichlids onto prepared foods, it is not a good idea to give them prepared foods only. Pike cichlids needs a varied diet and live food also gives them a chance to engage in natural behaviors in the aquarium instead of simply hanging around.

Water maintenance

Pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group are quite resilient to poor water conditions, but it can easily cause them to lose their colors and will naturally be detrimental in the long run. A weekly water change is therefore recommended, and a major water change is known to trigger breeding. Use conditions water (i.e. water without chloramines) for the water changes.

Dealing with aggression

Juvenile specimens will never be friends, but they will normally tolerate each other and can learn to live together as long as the aquarium is well decorated with plenty of sheltered spots. It is for instance a good idea to provide at least one PVC tube for each fish. PVC tubes might not appeal to your sense of beauty, but they are invaluable when it comes to handling aggression in an aquarium inhabited by Pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group. Some aquarists solve the problem by gluing sand or small stones onto the PVC tubes to make the look more natural. Others use hollow wood-tubes or tubes made out of other natural materials.

As far as tank mates go, Spangled pike cichlids form the Saxatilis group will establish dominance over most other cichlids of the same size, but once dominance has been established they will normally let these specimens alone and refrain from bothering them any further. The main targets of aggression are instead members of the same species, and normally also members of the same genus (Crenicichla).

If a couple decides to breed, the situation in your aquarium will change dramatically since they will become highly aggressive towards virtually any other aquarium inhabitant, regardless of species or genera. It is therefore recommended to evacuate the other fish or give the established couple their own breeding aquarium. If the couple starts fighting each other it can be a good idea to give them one or a few conspecific cichlids to point their aggression against, since this will tighten the pair-bond. You should however keep in mind that this fish/these fishes will most likely be killed. A less brutal alternative is to place the breeding aquarium next to an aquarium with the old tank mates. This way, the couple can see the other fish and be angry with them, but will be prevented from actually injuring them.  


Breeding Spangled pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group is not very difficult if you are capable of handling aggression in the aquarium. The trickiest part is to obtain a compatible pair since the two fishes can fight each other a lot. One of the best methods is to purchase a group of 10-15 juvenile specimens and let them grow up together. Provide them with a lot of hiding places and feed them a varied and nutritious diet similar to what they would eat in the wild.

Spangled pike cichlids from the Saxatilis group normally commence breeding when they are 4-5 inches long. The abovementioned breeding aquarium will be necessary, unless you prefer to move all the other fishes. During the actual spawning the female will deposit 300-400 eggs inside a cave or inside sheltered parts of driftwood, and providing your couple with such spawning sites is therefore important. The eggs will stick to the substrate by a thin filament that prevents them from floating away.

Fry from the Saxatilis group are normally free-swimming within one week and can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp. They grow really fast and larger fry will eat smaller fry unless you separate them.

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