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Fish of the Month
Issue: December 2005

Mesonauta festivus

HECKEL 1840


Aaron Norman

Common Names: Flag cichlid, festivum

Type Locality: Rio Guapore, Brazil

Range: Widespread in the Amazon Basin

Taxonomic Troubles: Originally described as Heros festivus. Known for a long time as Cichlasoma festivum, which accounts for the common name "festivum." There are currently seven species described in this genus, and it is possible that more than one are imported under the

Size: 15 to 20 cm TL (6 to 8 inches)

Preferred Water Chemistry: Tropical fresh water, 25 to 32 degrees Celsius (77 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Fairly adaptable concerning pH and hardness.

Difficulty: Hardy enough for an intermediate aquarist. Requires very low dissolved nitrogenous compounds.

Tank Setup: This is a mild-mannered cichlid, similar to angelfish Pterophyllum, which make good tankmates. A planted tank is ideal, as they need shelter to feel secure.

Feeding: Omnivorous. Should have some vegetable matter in its diet.

Breeding: A pair will clean a surface--usually a plant leaf or flat stone--and tend their spawn in typical cichlid fashion. Reportedly difficult to breed, though pristine water conditions often will induce breeding.

Description: Body v-shaped, with the fin tips defining an angle about half as sharp in Pterophyllum.  Body silvery with prominent black stripe from the mouth to the point of dorsal fin, greenish gold coloring on back.  Several dark vertical bars are usually indistinct, giving more a mottled appearance.

Notes: For decades this fish has enjoyed moderate popularity, showing up intermittently at retailers. This cichlid is rather easygoing and is generally peaceful with any fish it cannot swallow. It uses its long pelvic fins to feel its way through plant thickets the way angels do, and it delights in picking out small invertebrates among the leaves. If you like angelfish but are looking for a bit more challenge, festivums will fit the bill nicely. They are part of a group of South American Cichlasomatini that make fairly good community residents, showing aggression only when mating or spawning; the group also includes discus Symphysodon, angels Pterophyllum, smiling acaras Laetacara, and keyholes Cleithracara. Individuals will swim as a loose schools, and a group of these fish in a well-planted tank is an impressive sight as they float gracefully around the aquarium. Do not let their mellowness fool you; these are large fish and hearty eaters, and they need a big aquarium with plenty of large water changes. Given the proper conditions, festivums will provide a beautiful display for many years.

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