Amphilophus festae: The Red Terror – Cichlid Species profile

True Red TerrorJose here. A South American brute that can give many Central Americans a run for the money (when it comes to aggression), the Red Terror is one of my favorites. Ranked in the top 5 among cichlid keepers, the festae is not afraid to bite the hand that feeds it, which is good cause feeding it should be no problem as it will eat anything. The downfall would be tank space.  As an adult male can top out at 20 inches, an adult pair would be looking at a 125 gallon just for the pair, larger if you wanted to keep tank mates. Sexing young fish is pretty hard, but it’s different with adults. Besides the size difference between male and female, the male will have blue dots on his body, while retaining the overall orange red coloration. The female festae is the one out of the pair that truly lives up to the name red terror in aggression and coloration. She takes on a very vibrant red coloration, with a black or blue area in three quarters of the dorsal fin. Males lack this marking. An adult pair of Red Terrors tending fry is an awesome and scary sight (scary for the owner trying to do a water change).

A word of caution in searching for Red Terrors if you choose to invest in them, there is another species that resembles the festae, Cichlasoma uophthalmus, the False Red Terror or Mayan Cichlid.  These fish are often misidentified in the trade, or simply labeled as Red Terrors in error, as common names are sometimes assigned for convenience.  You can tell the difference by looking at the spot on the base of the tail. The eyespot on the festae only reaches half way down the base, where on the False Red Terror, the eyespot extends below the midline.

Well there it is now you know!  In closing I would say this is definitely a fish worth keeping.  If you have an empty 75 gallon tank sitting around, and you’re looking for a “WOW” fish with a lot of attitude, Amphilophus festae will fit the bill.

Until next time have fun with cichlids,


Puffer fish in action: The Puffed Up Truth

Hi, Melissa here. We are all familiar with puffer fish and what they are able to do. They have the ability to inflate their body 2-3 times their normal size. It is true they may look like a cute prickly little ball, but it is very costly to them. Puffers inflate themselves as a defense when they feel threatened or scared. They can do this by swallowing gulps of water. If they swallow too much water they can actually rupture their stomach. You can only imagine how much pain something like that would cause. So you can see why puffers should never be provoked to the point of inflation. Sadly, once their stomach is ruptured the puffer is a goner.

If puffers need to be transported it much be done very carefully. The puffer must remain under the water at all times. If they ingest air they will have a very difficult time getting the air back out. If the air remains inside the puffer it will mess with their buoyancy and will ultimately lead to their death.

While puffers may look cute when they are puffed up, always remember that it is very stressful behavior. So, next time you visit a pet store and you see a customer trying to make a puffer inflate please make them aware that puffer fish never puff because they are happy and that puffing up can potentially lead to their demise.

If you like puffers, check out our video on the Mbu Puffer:

Great Fish and Aquarium Information Websites

Hi, Desiree here.

Have you ever stopped to think where we’d be if the internet didn’t exist?  Probably stuck at the library. (Believe it or not they DO still exist!)  But, although I am a fan of books and the knowledge they contain,  the information in them can be out-dated as soon as it’s printed.  These days, our source of information is online.  If there’s anything we need to find, we can almost certainly find it on the Google machine.  As biologists and hobbyists, the internet is a valuable and fun source of information.  As we “fish” for information we often find great websites dedicated to one single class or family of animal, both fresh and salt water.  Some of these sites are public forums full of shared knowledge and experience, others are more scientific in their classification and identification, some are a combination of both.  I wanted to share just a couple of my favorite links, sites I use frequently to identify fish or find fun new species to offer in the store.  Check these out, and have fun online!  Surf’s Up!  A site dedicated to sea anemones; not all can be kept in aquaria, but are still really cool to look at.  Exactly what it sounds like.  Again, most you’ll never see in any store, but the pics are awesome!  A site for us true fish nerds, heavy on phylogeny and nomenclature – fun to explore but not for identification of a single animal.  Awesome freshwater catfish site – great for looking up L- or C- numbers.  Another freshwater site – fun for loach lovers!  A personal favorite – freshwater and brackish puffer info.

And we can’t forget to mention these two:  a wealth of hobbyist information – 

Feel free to send along any of your favorite websites, or comments on the ones I’ve listed.

Until next time,


Pearlfish and Sea Cucumber Symbiosis

Tigertail CucumberHi folks, Brandon here.  I recently re-read my article on the Candiru, and their strange relationship with humans reminded me of another strange relationship between two aquatic creatures.  Some of my favorite marine animals are sea cucumbers, a type of echinoderm related to sea stars and sea urchins.  There are varying types of sea cucumbers, some of which sift through the sand, filtering out organics and leaving sand or silt pellets behind.  Others have fan-like structures that protrude from their mouth that they use to filter small particles out of the water for food.  All sea cucumbers share one characteristic in common; they breathe through their anus using respiratory trees to extract oxygen from the water.  They expand and contract their lower intestinal tract, very similar to how our lungs expand and contract, to take in and expel water.  They can even spray water several feet when exposed to air.   Sea cucumbers are fascinating animals any way you look at them.

Another interesting animal that shares a close bond with certain types of sea cucumbers is the pearlfish.  There are many different species of pearlfish, all of which share the same characteristic long, slender body shape.  Pearlfish seek out shelter from sea cucumbers, but instead of sharing the same hiding place like pistol shrimp and gobies, the pearlfish will actually retreat into the anus of the sea cucumber.  It’s very strange to watch, but amazing nontheless.  The pearlfish will back into the sea cucumbers anus tail first where it is then safe from predators.

It is unclear whether this relationship is commensal or parasitic.  Some pearlfish have been known to nip at the respiratory system of the sea cucumber, but it does not seem to affect the host in any way.  Most sea cucumbers will expel what is known as cuvierian tubes (sections of the respiratory tree) when they are stressed to deter predators from eating the cucumber.  These sections of the respiratory system naturally regenerate over time, so the pearlfish’s nipping does not seem to affect them in any way.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this bizarre but fascinating relationship.

Until next time,


The Dangers of Mixing Cichlids and Rookie Mistakes – 1 scenario

Large Spot CichlidHey cichlid fans, Jose here again. I want to share a little story about the first time I tried to mix Centrals with Africans and Madagascars.  This is just an experience that I had when I was much younger, and I DO NOT condone my actions, nor am I proud of how I handled the situation at the time.  I have learned a lot from my mistakes, and most who have been in the aquarium hobby for as long as I have will have some similar, horrifying experiences to share. Sometimes you get lucky with a mix and sometimes you don’t, so you learn by experience and not necessarily just from the advice of others.

 The tank size was a 75 gallon, and the species were 1 Parapetenia dovii (wolf cichlid), a pair of Dimidiochromis compressiceps (Malawi eye biter) and 1 Paratilapia bleekeri (large spot). I purchased them at the same time, and they were about 3 to 4 inches.  I was told if they grew up together they would get along fine (ha ha ha). Everything seemed to work out fine for about 7 months then the fun began. On a daily basis they would take turns fighting with each other in the tank, even the 12 inch gibbicep pleco got a work out. Then one day I noticed that the compressiceps were preparing to breed (hooray!). The aggression level from the compy pair went up a notch as they both defended their spawning site.

Ok, now here is where the story really gets messed up.

So I went to work, put in my 8 hours and went home.  My girlfriend at the time tells me my fish are acting weird, and I thought it was because they were spawning (boy was I wrong). Upon entering the room, what I saw was a shock. The female compressiceps‘ head was in the dovii‘s mouth, while the bleekeri had the rear half.  There in the middle was her gravid belly. Before I could even reach for a net, they decided it was time to end the game of tug of war.  I tell you it was heartbreaking as what looked like 100 eggs fell to the bottom of the tank.

A lesson in mixing I had to learn the hard way, and a tale I hope that encourages others to research a lot before deciding which fish to house together.

Write in if you have any tank horror stories that you’ve learned from that you’d like to share.

Until next time, have fun with cichlids.       JOSE