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/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Red Devil Cichlid Fishes, Appropriately Named 

Bob Fenner

Amphilophus citrinellus

    As with so much that involves the family Cichlidae, Red Devils are suffused with confusing issues. First, there are more than one species of fish that are called "Red Devil" (there are even rare red morphs of Parachromis (Cichlasoma) dovii), next, of these, not all specimens are actually red in color (some are grey with stripes, pink, white, yellow, black... black and pink, white and pink) ... The one trait they all have in common though is their penchant for becoming "devils"! Moving all decor over and over, battling with most any choices in tankmates, maybe even their keeper!

    Years back there were as many as five "species" identified as Red Devils within the "Cichlasoma labiatum group", including the nomen nudum Cichlasoma erythraeum and valid, though not red Arrow Cichlid, A. zaliosum and Three Spot, Cichlasoma trimaculatum). Current systematic thought includes only two of these species as valid: Amphilophus citrinellus and A. labiatus (formerly of the genus Cichlasoma).

Amphilophus citrinellus (Gunther 1864), Midas Cichlid, Red Devil. Central America: Atlantic slope of Nicaragua and Costa Rica (Rio San Juan drainage, including Lakes Nicaragua, Managua, Jiloá, Masaya and Apoyo). To nearly ten inches in standard length. Feeds on snails, interstitial fauna (aufwuchs), insect larvae, worms. Has a larger nuchal hump and broader head profile (from above) than A. labiatus.

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Amphilophus labiatus (Gunther 1864), Red Devil. Central America: Atlantic slope of Nicaragua, in Lakes Nicaragua and Managua. To nearly ten inches in standard length. Feeds on small fish, snails, insect larvae, worms. Note, the species name is in reference to this species thick lips, though in actual fact these are variable in appearance, regress with age, and those of other cichlid species including A. citrinellus may be thicker in given individuals.


And... there are hybrids between these two...


Tank Size:

    The usual "as big as possible". Nothing less than a sixty gallon will adequately house a single aquarium specimen. Pairs need at least twice as much room, tanks with other species twice this and even more volume. A secure top needs to be employed that covers the entire surface of the tank. These are powerful fishes that will splash water and possibly jump out when excited... and they are easily excitable.


    In a word, should be "rugged". Red Devils literally pick up any object small enough, rocks, gravel, plants, ceramic castles... and move them about... in a big way... constantly. Most beneficial are arrangements of a few pieces of rock, perhaps some heavily anchored plastic plants and coarse gravel. A few inches of this coarse gravel is a good idea, and no need to worry re whether this substrate will turn into a detritus trap. This cichlid will be moving it around so much, all you need is sufficient circulation and filtration to remove suspended material.

Water Quality:

    Red Devils are big, messy eaters. They need over sized filtration, large-scale circulation and aeration, and regular massive (35-50% a week) water changes. Metabolite effects are obvious with these species... you can easily observe the reversal of nitrogenous waste accumulation shortly after the dilution effect of water changing.

    Filtration chosen must need take into consideration these fishes penchant for destruction. Hoses, tubing will be attacked, and if not secured perhaps tossed out of the tank altogether. Large canister filters and outside power filters with attached intake tubes that "pull water in" allowing the excess to overflow back into the tank should have their internal components fitted with large suction cups... AND if possible still hidden with large rockwork.


    These fishes are definitely not "community". The only other species (or even members of their own kind) that can be kept with them are other large, smart and or very fast fishes. Red Devils should be the last fish added to a given mix, to alleviate territoriality and MUST be watched constantly for signs of overt agonistic behavior. They can/will kill and consume most any species, even good-sized spiny and/or armored catfishes. Further, there are some "extra-aggressive" individuals that become/are incorrigible. It is likely that the individuals you find housed by themselves for sale at LFS' are that way for this reason. Even breeding "pairs" are best separated by a siliconed in place partition of egg-crate (aka louver) material that will allow "sperm access" while keeping the male away from the smaller female.


    If there are foods that Red Devils won't accept, none have been recorded. These fishes eat everything, and in good quantity. To retain or boost their red coloration, make sure and provide foods with high carotene content... e.g. shrimps (with shells), snails.


    Pairs are best formed by raising a batch of six or so individuals together in a very large system, removing all others once a couple form. Trying to match single females to adult males is a very tricky proposition, resulting in many lost females (males get to at least a foot in length, females a mere 8 inches). As previously mentioned, you are advised to erect a permanent physical barrier in the way of cut egg-crate and silicone it in place to keep your male/female apart.

    Red Devils are typical neotropical cichlids in their spawning actions. Eggs are laid on a solid material, hatch out in 2-3 days depending on water temperature. Parental care includes fanning the eggs, protecting the young and fry, moving them to pre-dug pits. The young become free-swimming in 4-5 days.

    According to Barlow (1980), the fry will consume crushed, finely divided dry food, microworms and newly hatched brine shrimp. Young are also contact feeders, nibbling on parents (mainly the males) body mucus, much as Discus fry. Broods are large, young grow slowly, and are cannibalistic, with the slightly larger individuals eating their smaller kin.

    Progress continues to be made through selective breeding with more percent than Red Devils in the wild (10%) becoming "colorful", and the time and size of depigmentation occurring shorter than the wild's four to six inches.


    Quite disease resistant with the notable exception of the resistance-diminishing effects of the aforementioned metabolite build-up.


    Few fishes have frustrated aquarists in breeding (by killing their mates), destroyed so much of their owner's livestock, or moved so much decor as the Red Devils. Are you up to and for their challenging care?

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Jennings, Ron. 1979. The red devil. FAMA 6/79.

Langhammer, James. 1971. Why aren't our red devils red? J. Amer. Cich. Assoc. 26:16-17.

Leibel, Wayne S. 1993. A Fishkeeper's Guide to South American Cichlids. A splendid survey of this attractive and diverse group of freshwater tropical fishes. Tetra Press, Blacksburg, VA. 

Leibel, Wayne. 1999. When the red devil was new. TFH 6/99.

Loiselle, Paul V. 1980. The Cichlasoma labiatum species complex. 5/80.

Loiselle, Paul V. 1985. The Cichlid Aquarium. Tetra Press, Melle Germany. 

Loiselle, Paul V. 1997. The not red devil. It turns out not all red devils are red, or even the same species. AFM 9/97.

Loiselle, Paul V. 2002. The deal with your devil. AFM 8/02.

Thompson, Kenneth W. 1975. Cichlasoma citrinellum: the red devil. TFH 6/75.

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