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Herichthys - Colourful, robust cichlids from Mexico
Fish taxonomists currently recognise no fewer than nine species within the genus Herichthys, but only two are regularly seen in the aquarium hobby, the 'true' Texas Cichlid (Herichthys cyanoguttatus) and the Green Texas Cichlid (Herichthys carpintis). For a long time these two species were assumed to be the same fish, and since both were kept and bred together in the same aquaria, hybrid forms are very common; in fact any inexpensive, farmed Texas Cichlids on sale are more likely to be hybrid Herichthys than true pure-bred specimens. But in recent years the better retailers have started to import true Herichthys species, and in addition to the two commonplace species, other Herichthys species are turning up at the more enterprising retailers like Wildwoods.
All Herichthys are robust cichlids with laterally compressed bodies and moderate sexual dimorphism. The smallest species is Herichthys deppii with a maximum standard length of about 12 cm while the biggest species is Herichthys steindachneri, reported to reach standard lengths of up to 40 cm. The rest comfortably fall between these two extremes, and under aquarium conditions at least Herichthys cyanoguttatus and Herichthys carpintis both get to between 20-30 cm in length, males generally being bigger than the females.
The different species of Herichthys all display distinctive colour patterns. However, one common theme is the way they adjust their colours with mood, particularly when breeding. Extensive dark patterns are often seen on the flanks of breeding specimens, with both the male and female displaying similar colours. There is some sexual dimorphism though; as well as being slightly larger than the female, male Herichthys often have visibly longer and more pointed dorsal and anal fins, and older males may develop a nuchal hump as they age.
Herichthys are a strictly North American group of cichlids, most species being only found in Mexico, but one species, Herichthys cyanoguttatus, is also found in Texas and is consequently known to many hobbyists as the Texas Cichlid. In fact Herichthys cyanoguttatus is the only cichlid native to the United States, though several non-native species have, of course, become established in southern Florida, including the Texas Cichlid.
Herichthys are found in a range of habitats but like most other cichlids they prefer still or sluggish waters with plenty of shade and vegetation.
Basic care of Herichthys is similar to that of Central American cichlids, but with the note that Herichthys cyanoguttatus prefers somewhat cooler conditions to the other species in the genus. Water quality needs to be excellent, and like all large cichlids, Herichthys place a heavy strain on the filtration system best managed through the use of a high turnover rate and frequent water changes. Large external canister filters are recommended, with turnover rates of not less than 8 times the volume of the tank per hour. Nitrite and ammonia levels must be zero, no mean feat given the hearty appetites of healthy specimens, but the aquarist must also keep the nitrate level as low as practical, ideally below 20 mg/l. High nitrate values are associated with problems caused by Hexamita infections that are difficult to treat.
Herichthys like to dig, which makes undergravel filtration systems non-viable. But they also like to move objects around, including heaters, so these should either be securely protected by a heater guard or replaced with an external heating system of some sort (such as the Hydro ETH). Needless to say, plants don't usually do well in tanks with Herichthys, though hardy Java ferns and Anubias attached to bogwood or rocks may work. Otherwise, use large plastic plants alongside rocks and roots to provide the shade and hiding places these fish need.
Herichthys are not sociable fish and are best kept alone, singletons requiring an aquarium no smaller than 250 litres. They are especially intolerant of one another, but they may be kept with similarly robust Central American cichlids of other species in large aquaria from 650 litres upwards. Under such conditions they work well with things like Amphilophus and Nandopsis spp. Needless to say there will be a certain amount of aggression in the tank, so it's important not to add cichlids that aren't able to hold their own. Firemouth Cichlids and their allies (Thorichthys spp.) do notoriously badly when kept with aggressive cichlids, and are a classic example of cichlids not to keep with Herichthys. Similarly, South American cichlids, such as Severums, also make poor choices, not only because they're much less aggressive, but also because they have very different water chemistry requirements.
One peculiarity of many Herichthys is precocious sexual maturity; in other words, relatively small and young fish are able to breed successfully. In the case of Herichthys cyanoguttatus for example, specimens as small as 6 cm have been known to breed successfully, a remarkable fact given that fully-grown adults may be 30 cm in length! Precocious sexual maturity may be a useful trick in the wild where predation or environmental disturbance prevents many fish reaching their full adult size, but in the aquarium it can cause problems. One problem is that siblings may breed if kept together in a rearing tank, but another problem is that precocious spawners won't yet show their genetic quality in terms of adult size and colouration.
Serious breeders will probably want to dispose of eggs produced by precocious spawners, but putting together two fully-grown adults is fraught with risks. Herichthys are notoriously grumpy fish that resent territorial infractions, and jaw-locking fights are very common, even between potential partners. In a very large aquarium the two adults may settle border disputes without doing any serious harm, but the aquarist should keep an eye out for signs of damage to the mouth or fins. Dislocated jaws are particularly common among mismatched pairs where one fish is much larger than the other, as well as between two males kept in an aquarium that doesn't allow sufficient space for them. Paul Loiselle recommends the use of egg crate to build a tank divider with a hole in it big enough for the female but too small for the male. This will provide the female with a secure area in one half of the tank without interfering with water circulation.
Once they have paired off, Herichthys usually make superb parents. Spawning follows the usual pattern for Central America cichlids, with the two adults cleaning the spawning site (usually a flat rock) before laying several hundred eggs. The eggs hatch within 4 days, and the fry become free swimming another 4 days later, at which point they will be big enough to take brine shrimp nauplii. They fry are quite greedy, and besides brine shrimp nauplii they also consume algae and appropriately fine powdered flake foods (such as Hikari First Bites).
Herichthys are generalists, and in the wild consume a range of prey including benthic invertebrates and small fish. Algae and organic detritus also make up significant parts of their diet in the wild.
Under aquarium conditions they are not difficult to feed. Good quality flake and pellet foods are readily taken, for example Hikari Cichlid Gold. In addition to these dried foods, fresh, frozen and live foods can be offered as well. Brine shrimps and bloodworms are enjoyed by juveniles, while adults will readily take meatier fare such as earthworms and river shrimps. Occasional offerings of white fish fillet, for example tilapia, will help to round out the carnivorous side of their diet, while algae-based flake, cooked spinach, Spirulina-enriched brine shrimp and canned peas can all be used to provide vitamins and fibre. Green foods will thereby help to stave off problems such as constipation, bloating, and possibly diseases like Hole-in-the-Head and Head and Lateral Line Erosion that seem to have links to poor diet, among other factors.
This is the 'true' Texas Cichlid, sometimes called the Rio Grand Cichlid. Juveniles are pearl-coloured with white spots and a black blotch in the middle of the flank and a second black blotch near the base of the tail. As they mature the body becomes more yellowy and the black blotches become less distinct. They may also display three vertical bands depending on their mood, and in breeding condition their colours change even further, the back half becoming darker while the front half become lighter.
Herichthys cyanoguttatus are big fish, adult males reaching lengths of up to 30 cm; females are usually somewhat smaller. They are belligerent, intolerant and highly territorial. Given their subtropical distribution they do prefer somewhat cooler water than most other cichlids, 20-24 degrees C being ideal. Water chemistry values do not matter too much, provided soft, acidic water is avoided; aim for 10-20 degrees dH, pH 7-8.
Green Texas Cichlid, Herichthys carpintis
This is the second commonly traded member of the genus. Compared to the true Texas Cichlid, Herichthys cyanoguttatus, the Green Texas Cichlid, Herichthys carpintis, is more greenish than yellow, and the blue speckles on its flanks are larger than those on Herichthys cyanoguttatus. Juveniles usually have multiple black blotches on their flanks rather than just two, and females commonly have a black blotch on their dorsal fins as well.
Herichthys carpintis appears to be a strictly Mexican species and is less tolerant of cool water than Herichthys cyanoguttatus. But while it should be kept at tropical temperatures, between 24-26 C is ideal, its care is otherwise very similar to that of Herichthys cyanoguttatus as outlined above. Maximum length is about 30 cm, with females being noticeably smaller than the males.
Herichthys deppi is an infrequent import from the Nautla and Misantla River systems of Mexico. They are striking fish peppered with silvery-green speckles and sporting a row of black blotches along the midline of the flank. They also have bright red squiggles on the head and fins, particularly when sexually mature. Maximum length is around 20 cm, and basic care is similar to that of Herichthys carpintis.
Herichthys labridens is a very variable species that exhibits a range of colours depending on its age and mood. Juveniles are mostly silvery-green with a few irregular vertical dark bands, but they sometimes turn completely black. In breeding condition the adults adopt a most striking colouration, yellow above and black below. Males get to a maximum length of around 20 cm, females a bit less. Basic care is similar to that of Herichthys carpintis, but this species seems to be a specialist snail-eater, so the addition of small snails to its diet may be worthwhile. Herichthys labridens isn't regularly traded, but it is a fascinating species with lovely colours, and highly recommended to advanced aquarists looking for an interesting challenge.
This species is currently referred to as a Cichlasoma species pending a better understanding of its relationships to other cichlids. 'Herichthys' pearsei is greenish-gold with a dark patch that covers the lower flanks, throat and belly. It's basically an herbivorous species from Mexico and Guatemala, and though it has the same sort of shape as Herichthys, there are some important differences in anatomy. It is also much less aggressive than true Herichthys, and gets along well with easy-going fish of appropriate size, such as large barbs and catfish. Maximum length is around 20 cm, males being a bit bigger than females and more strongly coloured. 'Herichthys' pearsei appreciates moderately high water temperatures, around 26-30 degrees C. Given its preferred diet, it can't be kept in a planted tank and will need regular offerings of suitable green foods such as spinach and cooked peas.
Turquoise or Blue Texas Cichlid, Herichthys sp.
This as-yet unnamed species of Herichthys has been sold under a variety of trade names such as Herichthys sp. "Poza Rica" and Herichthys sp. "Rio Cazones", these names reflecting the localities in northeastern Mexico where it has been collected. Some reports suggest that it is becoming increasingly scarce in the wild for a variety of reasons, including competition from non-native cichlids (tilapia) that have become established in their habitat.
As its common names suggest, this Herichthys species is strikingly coloured. Males are more or less solidly coloured metallic blue, while females are similar but less uniformly coloured. They are smaller than Herichthys cyanoguttatus, only getting to around 20 cm in length, and as is usual for the genus, the males are a bit bigger than females. Although very infrequently kept, maintenance and breeding seem to be similar to that of other Herichthys.
Red Texas Cichlid
This is not a true Herichthys species but some sort of hybrid between Herichthys and one or other Central American cichlid, probably an Amphilophus species of some sort. It isn't much seen in the UK but is quite popular in the US. Like most other hybrids is a very variable fish, and within each brood of fry, only a few develop the prized red colouration; most of the others end up as pretty nondescript 'mutts' of no great value.
The Red Texas Cichlid is a big (to 30 cm) fish with precisely the sort of waspishness and aggression you'd expect from a fish derived from Herichthys and Amphilophus species! Care is basically similar to that of true Herichthys, as outlined above.
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