Common Names: Firemouth, firemouth cichlid
Type Locality: Progreso, YucatÁn, Mexico
Range: Atlantic slope of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize—Usumacinta and Belize drainages
Taxonomic Troubles: The original name was Thorichthys helleri meeki. After tumbling around with the rest of the “Cichlasoma” crowd, it has wound up back in the genus erected by Meek in 1904.
Size: 17 cm (6.7 inches) TL.
Preferred Water Chemistry: Tropical freshwater, native habitats fairly hard and slightly basic, but the fish is quite adaptable.
Difficulty: An easy cichlid and only mildly aggressive. May not hold its own against more-aggressive cichlids.
Tank Setup: Fine gravel substrate and rock caves. This is a medium-size cichlid and needs a large aquarium. Can be part of a cichlid community with fish of similar size and level of aggression.
Feeding: Omnivorous, eats mostly algae. In the aquarium it will take anything offered.
Breeding: A good first cichlid to breed, as a conditioned pair will soon spawn. The best way to get a compatible pair is to raise six or more juveniles together in a large tank. Firemouths make excellent parents and defend their fry vigorously.
Convergent evolution has given this genus a form similar to the geophagines of South America, and Thorichthys do sift through the substrate for food particles. The most striking feature of this species is the red throat. When the fish flares its gill covers, the full extent of the red is visible, and the ocelli on the opercula make intimidating eye spots. The medial black coloration changes among stripes, bars, and spots. Males generally have longer fins and deeper red coloration. The species in this genus can show considerable variation over their range, and some meeki have a more intense red coloration than others.
The firemouth is a perennial favorite, if occasionally underappreciated with all the furor over new cichlid species. It has been in the hobby for decades and remains popular and widely available. While too boisterous for the typical community tank and too much of a digger for a planted tank, this fish can be kept with similar cichlids such as convicts provided there is sufficient room for territories and plenty of caves to go around. It is also a good candidate for a biotope tank with large fish such as wild swordtails or Mexican tetras. The fish begin to color up when still quite small, but full development of the red throat and belly takes a while and, of course, intensifies in spawning specimens.