Top of the Food Chain: "Cichlasoma" beani, A Rare Middle American Cichlid

Author: Brian M. Scott

Once quite common in the aquarium trade, the cichlid “Cichlasoma” beani is now one of the rarest, most desirable, and hardest-to-obtain cichlids on the casual cichlidophile’s wish list. It is known as the Sonoran cichlid and the green guapote, and by the Spanish forms mojarra de Sinaloa and mojarra verde.

Changes in Availability

For many years, and until fairly recently, it was very easy to get a hold of specimens of this fish. In fact, swimming wild in southern California was a small but reproductively active population, but it is now thought to be entirely extirpated. Several zoos and other institutions that either displayed the species or did research on it had many adults that actively reproduced. Often the fish reproduced with such success that the keepers were faced with hundreds, if not thousands, of fry to contend with.

Today, however, this fish is quite scarce in the hobby, and due to its rarity we find it is in great demand among keepers nationwide who want to add it to their living cichlid collections. There is one institution that still maintains a reproductively active population of “C.” beani, the Arizona Desert Museum, located in Tucson, Arizona. Aside from that, I am aware of only a few scattered adult specimens that are displayed in various places, as well as a few dozen subadults and juveniles that are in the capable hands of highly experienced hobbyists.


The generally accepted taxonomic status of the Sonoran cichlid at the time of this writing is “Cichlasoma” beani (Jordan, 1889). Essentially, a small group of Cichlasoma-like cichlids have been identified as to not belonging to the other genera that the former Cichlasoma fishes have been split into (Vieja, Nandopsis, Parachromis, Herichthys, Archocentrus, etc.). Along with the Sonoran cichlid, several other popular (although generally far more common) cichlids come to mind as belonging to the “Cichlasoma” group: “C.” grammodes, “C.” haitiensis, “C.” pearsei, and “C.” bocourti. The latter two are often placed in Herichthys, but that is generally not accurate according to several taxonomists.

That said, when doing a search for more information on this species you may wish to try several generic names along with the specific name. For example, performing an Internet search for Cichlasoma beani will produce slightly different results compared to using Nandopsis beani or Heros beani. Of course, since this species is very uncommon in the aquarium trade, I strongly suggest utilizing every available resource for acquiring as much information as possible on them.

Natural Habitat

This cichlid prefers clear water with moderate to strong water flow. Usually found associated with rocks and other submerged structure, it actively searches for tasty edibles by day and rests in the large cracks and crevices by night. Generally, such habitats have a slightly alkaline pH with moderate hardness. However, aquarium specimens are able to withstand quite a large variation in chemistry as long as extremes are avoided. The temperature, while tropical by definition, may be on the cooler side of the tropical temperature spectrum with averages in the low to mid 70s.


I have been keeping cichlids since I was six years old, and that was 24 years ago. I have had my fair share of red devils, oscars, Jack Dempseys, green terrors, and many of the other common “nasty” cichlids that exist in the aquarium trade. Through natural progression I have been fortunate to keep many cichlid species that are quite rare and highly desirable here in the United States. Recently (about a year ago, actually) a good friend sent me a load of these cichlids, which were collected from the Rio Tepic, Mexico. The race of “C.” beani from this river system is quite unique in coloration and pattern, and tends to show a pronounced gold coloration, thus making them a little more desirable. There were 17 juveniles in my shipment, and all measured about 2 cm in total length (TL), except for a big female that measured around 7 cm TL.

There are no words for the aggression that these little cichlids exhibited on one another! Within about a day or two I was left with 13 individuals. I immediately separated them, and it proved to be life saving for many of the remainders. Even still, I was only left with a few more than half of that number by the time I passed them on to a good friend of mine for his collection. Based on my experience, I strongly believe that Sonoran cichlids need to be kept in a single-specimen aquarium. All other fishes are in extreme danger of being murdered if housed with them!

Basic Aquarium Care

Like most large-growing, robust cichlids, “C.” beani needs a spacious aquarium. While the overall length this species ultimately attains is arguable, it’s safe to say that any cichlid over a foot long is a very large fish by aquarium standards, and this species certainly reaches that size with ease. In fact, the largest specimen that I recall seeing was upwards of 16 inches in length and quite thick in girth—similar to that of an oscar (Astronotus) or wolf cichlid (Parachromis). So any hobbyist lucky enough to obtain this fish should surely provide the absolute largest tank possible to house it.

Water chemistry does not seem to be a major factor in the success of keeping Sonoran cichlids. Since I had to split my group up due to aggression, I was forced to house them in different tanks on somewhat of an emergency basis. Therefore my setups were rather haphazard in design, but they functioned at least. And with fish so rare, all I could think about was keeping them alive! Because of the rush job in setting up my emergency tanks, I paid very little attention to water chemistry. In the end I was faced with various pH levels from the mid 5s to the upper 7s. The cichlids were doing well in all of them. The nitrogen was always kept very low because of the exceedingly large and frequent water changes that I tend to perform on my fishes. (I am sort of known as a water changing fanatic.) So in my experience, as long as extremes are avoided I don’t find exacting water parameters necessary.

Fighting Bloat

“Cichlasoma” beani are very susceptible to acquiring the disease bloat. While the exact cause of this problem is still under debate, it is generally considered a problem most easily prevented by lowering the protein and raising the plant matter in their diet. I made a point to feed a high-quality flake food rich in fish oils and using fish meal as a protein source along with several different plant and algae components. I fed to satiation twice daily. I had absolutely no problem keeping these fish with this diet regimen in combination with large and frequent water changes.

Diet & Feeding

These cichlids are voracious feeders on live fishes, insects, and crustaceans. In the aquarium their diet should replicate that, in combination with a staple dry pellet or flake food. I strongly suggest feeding a prepared food that is high in omega fatty acids and vitamin C, along with a high plant matter content, as this will help to reduce the chances of the cichlid getting bloat. I tend to favor those prepared foods geared toward marine species, as I feel the algae they contain has some importance in any fish’s diet.

Use Live Fishes Sparingly

While this species relishes small live fishes as a treat, I would err on the side of caution and refrain from offering them, except for maybe some very rare occasions where just a few are given at a time. Never feed so many live fishes as to hyperextend the gut to accommodate for overfeeding, as this is one surefire way to increase the likelihood of the cichlid vomiting. As with snakes, prey regurgitation is a stressful and sometimes fatal problem.

Consider Size

Also, the size of the fish is important. Even though an 8-inch guapote is capable of downing several small feeder goldfish, I would only offer a few guppies and maybe some pellets to mix up the gut contents a bit. I have always felt that prepared foods offered in combination with live fishes (in the same feeding) aids in the fish’s ability to digest the feeders more easily. I find this especially true with cichlids that are not geared toward feeding specifically on fishes all the time, like oscars for example.

Prepared Diets

Many of the hobbyists I know who have kept this fish never fed them anything other than a prepared diet. They started out with flakes, then graduated to pellets and sticks as the cichlid grew. Generally the results were good, and often the fish lived long lives. Maybe it’s best to take that route rather than a mix-and-match diet with high variation. I am generally a huge fan of a varied diet, though—after all, I don’t want to eat the same thing everyday, so why would my fish? However, I admit that I may be anthropomorphizing a bit.

Nutritional Note

It is not very difficult to provide cichlids with a good diet—or at least a suitable diet—if your specimens are accustomed to feeding on prepared foods, such as flakes, pellets, wafers, or tablets, as these types of diets have raised millions upon millions of fishes throughout their existence. Some fish have been fed exclusively on prepared foods, often on just one type of prepared food, and have lived for decades. So, thankfully nutritional disorders are rare in most cichlids, especially such robust species as “Cichlasoma” beani.


This cichlid is a monogamous, biparentally custodial, substratum-spawning species (Loiselle, 1994). Adults are usually able to be sexed with relative ease. Males, generally speaking, are larger, have more elongated fins, more robust heads, and are more colorful. Females usually have smaller, semi-sharp heads, shorter fins, and a less colorful appearance. However, there certainly are instances where females appear more male-like than even the males themselves, so take these observations with a grain of salt. This is most common in captive bred specimens, which have often been line-bred to pronounce specific traits, such as elongated fins, brilliant colors, and a pronounced nuchal hump, but line breeding has not been done with great care for this species. The most accurate method of discerning the sex of cichlids is by the examination of their genital papillae. The male’s papilla is longer and narrower, while the female’s papilla (ovipositor) is rather blunt and rounded.

When attempting to spawn “C.” beani, try to obtain semi-adult or adult specimens and attempt to pair them yourself. This is tricky, as these fish seemingly hate everything alive and certainly do not appreciate the presence of a conspecific—even if they were raised together—in a huge tank. Once bonding is established, these bonds are often not very sturdy, which is somewhat odd in most cichlids. In almost every occasion that I know of, the use of a divider has been necessary, as the males may get increasingly aggressive with the females if they are not quite ready to spawn when he is. In such instances, a different method of division may be needed.

The Holy Grail

“Cichlasoma” beani is one of those prize fish, or “Holy Grails” if you will, of any cichlid keeper’s collection. This rare, large-growing brute is among the most aggressive cichlids that I have ever had the pleasure of keeping. They need a spacious aquarium, and one that is all to themselves, as their intolerance for anything else with a heartbeat is unrivaled in the cichlid world, and if they can’t kill it they will die trying.

Their diet should contain at least one type (and preferably more) of prepared food rich in plant matter. As long as the proper diet is offered along with a large aquarium and extremes are avoided, this is a great fish to care for, and perhaps in the future we will all be able to have better access to these magnificent cichlids!