Mayan cichlids

How to care for Mayan Cichlid? A Complete Care Guide

The Mayan Cichlid or the Mayaheros uropthalmus is a large species of cichlid native to the Middle American region. It is a highly invasive species so do not be surprised if you spot them in other parts of the world in the wilds. Known by several names around the world, such as Mayan Cichlid (English), Mexican Mojarra (English), Orange Tiger (English), Castarricca (Spanish) and schwanzfleckbuntbarsch (German).

They are typically found in lethargic waters, in lowlands such as swamps and large ponds, or in coastal regions. Mayan Cichlids are known to have a tolerance for brackish water because they can also be spotted spawning in mangrove swamps and coastal lagoons. They are non-migratory, so they will not move to a different habitat so long as no one takes them there. They prefer water with rich oxygen but they are also known to survive in extreme hypoxia.

Mayan cichlid
Image Source: azgardens

These large, aggressive, and territorial fish are a bit tricky to care for and maintain in community tanks. So read on to learn more about the Mayan Cichlid.

Scientific NameMayaheros urophthalmus
OriginMiddle America
Size10-12 Inches
Aquarium Size208-793 Litres
Lifespan4-8 Years
Ease of CareChallenging
TemperamentAggressive and Territorial


Shaped like a typical fish, the Mayan Cichlid has an ovule body and fins and mouth that are just the perfect size for its body’s proportion. It has a dorsal fin that is a combination of hard and soft, something that allows it to swim faster and more effectively in the Caribbean waters. The round caudal fin helps it obtain speed so it can chase its prey better.


Not as brightly colored as its other cichlid brethren but the Mayan Cichlid features beautiful brownish-olive coloration with black strips all across its body like a convict cichlid. These spots leading up to the caudal peduncle where they form a ring of silver-blue or “Halo”, inside which there is a large black spot. Something that looks like an eye and is used by the Mayan Cichlid to distract predators. Now because of this feature, it was given its scientific name, which literally means “Tail Eye”.

They are sexually dimorphic so males are brightly colored compared to females of the species. Males tend to have a pink coloration on their throat region during the breeding season.

Fish Size:

The average size of Mayan Cichlids is 10-12 inches, but there have been some recorded cases of them growing 16 inches long!

Difference between male and female:

Mayan Cichlids display minimal sexual dimorphism. The differences that exist are mainly related to size, like how males are generally larger compared to females and also have longer anal and dorsal fins. Males also feature a vibrant red, while females feature a greenish coloration.

Spawning tubes make it easier to distinguish between them during the breeding season, once they protrude out of their body.

Life Span

They have an average lifespan of 4-8 years.


They are not known to be picky eaters in captivity because they will feed on anything you feed them, from flakes and pellets to frozen or live invertebrates.

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Mayan Cichlids that were captured from the wild were studied and from their stomach was recovered plant matter and detritus, but experts are of the opinion that these contents were accidentally ingested while gobbling up invertebrates, snails, or other small animals. Another study reported a greater presence of vegetable matter in the stomachs of saltwater Mayans compared to freshwater ones.

They are aquatic predators and their build proves that, for example, their mouth has a 6.8% protrusion, which allows them to open their jaws for bigger prey and to gobble up fish that try to evade it. The design of their fins provides them with the agility to hunt down agile fish. Adult Mayan Cichlids would prefer food such as snails, slugs, lobsters, prawns, and crabs, while juveniles consume seed shrimp and organic decomposed waste of other fish in the water.

In captivity, it is recommended that the owner feeds them either one large meal or a couple of small portions per day. However, feeding them smaller portions is beneficial because that’s how they feed in the wild. If you give them a large portion one day, we would advise them not to feed them the next day.

Behavior and Temperament

Mayan Cichlids are highly aggressive and territorial, especially during mating season. They are known to harm and kill fish that are larger than them and they will outright gobble up any smaller species.

It is suggested to keep them in a community tank with medium to large fish because small fish will always be at the risk of getting eaten or suffering stress. To minimize aggression during the breeding season, one can use a net with tiny enough meshes from which the fry cannot pass or they can be shifted to a different tank because Mayan Cichlids will kill any fish that so much as look at the fry.

Mayan Cichlid as a Non-Native Species

Their robust and reliant nature with the addition of their predatory skills makes them a hardy species that can withstand hardship. Any Mayan that is seen outside of its native habitat of Middle America was taken there and is kept for a purpose. Two of the reasons humans decided to keep these invasive species in those regions are:


Their ability to breed readily in a varying degree of environments, including salt and fresh water means that a dwindling population is not an issue for these fish no matter how many are caught. This makes them a tourist attraction for fishermen to some spots where their population thrives. Easy to bait using shrimp, snails, or worm but their body structure, agility and strength make them hard to reel in.


They are farmed in some regions because of their exquisite taste. Their consumption patterns ensure that there is enough food for other fish inhabiting the same water body because they do not eat their prey whole. This is why despite being an invasive species, they are tolerated in regions outside their native habitats.

Even those kept in aquariums can be eaten by taking off the scales, gutting them, and frying them after skillful marination.

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Aquarium and Water Parameters

These resilient and hardy fish have no trouble surviving in tough conditions. They are known to live through saltwater, hypoxia, droughts, famines, severe cold, and floods. So it is safe to say that a slight disruption in water parameters will do Mayan Cichlids no harm because these fish are practically bulletproof.

The only problematic aspect of them is their aggression.

PH Level6-8
Water Hardness4-30 d
Temperature68-86 F

Tank Size:    

The ideal tank size for Mayan Cichlids can be anywhere between 208 liters to 793 liters, depending on the size and number of fish. However, it is usually better to place them in huge tanks because of their size and nature. These are community fish, so unless they are breeding or infected, they should not be isolated. They should be kept in a community tank with other medium to large-size cichlids.

It sticks to the middle and lower levels of the tank, utilizing the middle for socializing and hunting, while it uses the bottom to hunt for invertebrates in the substrate and to lay and hide eggs in the sand.


They occupy a vast array of habitats in Middle America, ranging from lakes, rivers, rocky shorelines, mangrove forests, lagoons, and coastal islands. So choosing decoration pieces should not be too hard.

Just go with the basics of keeping a soft substrate so they do not harm themselves while digging and keep firmly rooted plants so the cichlids do not uproot them. Floating plants will also make your aquarium look aesthetically good and they will be safe from being uprooted.

Lots of rocks, wood pieces, or any other decoration pieces that can double as hiding spots will do wonders to lower aggression in your community tanks. They will provide hiding spots and make it easier for Cichlids to mark their territory. Remember, the bigger the tank, the lower the aggression based on territory contestation.


A good quality filter is recommended to keep the dust at bay from all the digging your new cichlids will do.

Tank Mates

Mayan Cichlids are social, community fish but they are very tricky to handle because they can get overly aggressive and territorial during the breeding season. This easily puts the other fish in your aquarium at risk of being mortally wounded or dying at the hands of your Mayan Cichlids.

So take care only to pair them with medium to large fish that can handle a bit of aggression because Mayan Cichlids are known to attack and even kill fish much larger than them if they approach the Mayan’s nest during the breeding season.

Midas Cichlid, The Red Devil Cichlid, The Red Head Cichlid, and the Red-Spotted Cichlid make ideal tank mates for Mayan Cichlids because they have similar breeding and eating habits and they will not get in each other’s way.

Tankmates that should be avoided are any small or curious fish because their curiosity might end up in them being dead. Mayans are not known to be merciful.

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Mayan Cichlids are extremely aggressive and territorial when they breed. They are monogamous and both parents take care of the eggs and fry for at least 6 weeks until they are able to fend for themselves. They normally mate between March and November, commonly during monsoon season.

Multiple broods are raised per season, some 100-500 fry are born per batch. The fry seem more relaxed in flowing water, they have a tendency to flow to the bottom substrate and stick there using mucous glands.

In a community tank, Mayan’s are sure to severely injure other fish if they approach their mating territory but if the Mayan pair is kept in a separate breeding tank or if the main tank is divided using a plastic sheet or cardboard, the cichlids will stress out and may start attacking each other or the fry. This is why it is often recommended to keep the breeding pair in a large community tank with enough space for every fish. This way, both parents will team up to protect their eggs and fry and other fish will become targets instead of them attacking each other. In a large tank, the chances for this will be minimized if every fish has its own territory to live in.

Fry Care

The eggs are kept safe in the mother’s mouth and once they hatch, the fry should be fed quality food like brine shrimp, Artemia nauplii, hard-boiled egg yolk, or infusoria in the first week after hatching. Afterward, it is safe to feed them powdered flakes, pellets, and frozen food for their parents.

After about a month of parental care, the babies are moved to a separate tank until they can grow up to at least 2 inches. Following this stage, they can be easily placed in any community tank with other similar fish.

Common Problems

They do not have any specific diseases to worry about but common community tank problems like ich and fungal or bacterial infections should be monitored and appropriate action should be taken afterward. However, preventive care will never allow such problems to surface.


Q: How to catch Mayan Cichlid?

Luring a Mayan Cichlid is easy with bait such as worms or brine shrimp but reeling them in is difficult due to their agility and strength.

Q: Can you eat Mayan Cichlid?

Yes, you can eat them.

Q: Can you catch a Mayan Cichlid at night?



The Mayan Cichlid is a very unique cichlid with a complex care routine. They are both docile and aggressive at the same time, in a sense that in a medium sized tank they might commit homicide but in a large tank they will be very friendly and social with other fish. Understanding their nature is key and without that we would not recommend you buy this fish.

Apart from that, these fish are also considered a delicacy because of their excellent moist, white and flaky flesh. So the next time you think about buying the Mayan Cichlid, keep in mind that it can be turned into food if it miss behaves.

We hope this article answered all your curious questions regarding Mayan Cichlids but if you still have any further queries or suggestions, do not hesitate to get in touch.

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