Salvin’s Cichlids (‘Cichlasoma’ salvini)

Information on the aggressive Salvin’s cichlids (‘Cichlasoma’ salvini).

Q. Recently I had four Salvin’s cichlids (‘Cichlasoma’ salvini) in a 33-gallon fish aquarium. I say “recently” because now I only have one – the largest cichlid killed the other three cichlids. I’d like to get some more because I’d like to try and breed these fish, but I really don’t want a repeat of the first experience. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might be able to add new cichlids to the aquarium and then how I could get Salvin’s cichlids to successfully breed?
Mike Bradley
Newark, New Jersey

A. I have to start out by saying that I really like ‘Cichlasoma’ salvini; it is an extremely beautiful cichlid species with an exceptionally striking color pattern of yellow, black and red. However, the challenge with this species is that its beauty is easily matched by its potential for aggression. In the very close confines of a 33-gallon tropical fish aquarium (usually 36 inches long, 12 inches wide and 18 inches high), there is simply not be enough space for one Salvini cichlid fish to get far enough away from another to avoid territory disputes. Because the losing fish of a territory dispute cannot simply swim away like it would in the wild, weaker or less dominant fish often become a victim of continued aggression until it is either removed from the tropical fish aquarium, or as you’ve seen, killed by the more dominant fish.

Adding additional fish to the fish aquarium you already have might be a bit of a challenge, but there are some techniques you could use that will minimize the potential for a repeat performance of the tragedy you describe in your question. The 33-gallon tropical fish aquarium should not play a role other than to serve as a sanctuary for those not able to eek out a living in the company of their own. First, consider how much you really want to keep this cichlid fish species. What are you prepared to provide in order to maintain a small group of potentially breeding Salvini cichlid fish? You will need a 6-foot-long aquarium – for only a pair or two. Next, consider adding a pair of one or two robust species of Central American cichlids to the fish aquarium along with the Salvini. Quite often pairs of potentially very aggressive cichlid fish behave better when faced with the prospect of competing for breeding territories with equally aggressive neighbor fish. Next, when you get the larger fish aquarium set up, try to arrange for a well-seeded aquarium filtration system, and add all of the cichlid fish at the same time. That way, none of the fish will have the opportunity to stake out territories and then treat subsequent additions as intruders.

In addition to a much larger tropical fish aquarium, I’d also suggest you aquascape the fish aquarium so that the entire length of the aquarium is not visible from either end. By this, I mean that if a more dominant cichlid fish can see a neighbor or subdominant tropical fish, it will fight. On the other hand, if the fish aquarium is divided up into discreet territories, visually separated from each other by aquarium rocks, driftwood or aquatic plants, then individual fish or pairs seem more concerned with their space rather than trying to control a larger area of complex topography. Lastly, I’d suggest you make it standard practice not to offer fish food to the cichlid fish at one location in the tropical fish aquarium – it encourages competitive behavior. Rather, feed the different cichlid fish from separate locations throughout the aquarium, if possible. If the fish don’t have to compete with each other for space or fish food, chances are higher that the mixed community, including the potentially aggressive Salvini, will get along for the most part. Despite all this, remember that cichlid fish will do what they want – after all, they don’t read this column, as far as I know!

As for breeding Salvini cichlids, that’s the easiest part of keeping them. If you can get a compatible pair, getting them to spawn is usually a simple matter of maintaining good water quality through a schedule of regular water changes, feeding them a varied and nutritious diet of frozen bloodworms, frozen or live brine shrimp, a good-quality flake and/or pellet ration, and some larger items, like frozen krill or plankton. Last, ‘C.’ salvini are cave spawners, so provide a few different cave options in their territory. I’ve used appropriately sized clay flowerpots in the past with great results; the caves need not be anything elaborate or expensive. Other than that, let them do all the work – as you’ll see, they are good at it! Best of luck with the Salvini!

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