The Black Belt Cichlid

The Black Belt Cichlid is an intriguing looking fish with its unique color combination of white, black, and red!

The attractive Black Belt Cichlid is a fairly large fish, reaching up to 12″ in length. This is a great beginner cichlid for the aquarist who wants a water pet. Besides their attractive coloring they are intelligent. With their typical cichlid nature they come to know and respond to their owner. Once established they are easy to feed and raise as long as the water is kept very clean. Along with these great characteristics, ease of breeding and a more tolerant manner are what make them most appealing.

Though they can be aggressive and are not considered a community fish, the Black Belt Cichlid has a somewhat more docile manner than many of its relatives. It can be kept with others of its own species, a group of 6 if they are raised together in a very large tank. In a breeding pair the male is not aggressive towards its mate if there is plenty of room, though it can become very territorial and aggressive towards others when spawning. These cichlids can also be kept with other Central and South American cichlids of a similar temperament as long as there is plenty of room. Aquariums 120 gallons or more can work well with these groupings.

The Black Belt Cichlid is easy to moderate to care for as long as large and frequent water changes are done. They can be kept in both fresh and brackish water. They are not demanding and can take a wide range of pH, though it must be kept stable. They will feel at home with moderate or subdued lighting, and will appreciate a sandy substrate with a decor of bog wood, roots, and rocks having plenty of hiding places. Plants will not do well as they will be eaten. Provide flat smooth stones for spawning.

Distribution:
The Black Belt Cichlid was described by Regan in 1905. They are found in Central America on the Atlantic slope from the Usumacinta River drainage in Guatemala to the Chagres River in Panama. Their range is large and encompasses both brackish and marine water. They like the slow currents of the lower river valleys, areas with sandy and muddy bottoms. They prefer shady spots among logs and submerged trees. They feed on benthic detritus containing seeds and fruits, along with aquatic and land plants.

Status:
The Black Belt Cichlid is not on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.

Description:
The Black Belt Cichlid is a deep bodied oval disk shape fish with anal and dorsal fins that are pointed. The body of the male is silvery white with a black band, either solid or sketchy, encircling the midsection just behind the pelvic fin. The caudal fins is all red or partially red and there is red blotching on the chin and throat that runs from the lips to just before the pelvic fin. The female is a dark gray in color with a red tail and black freckling. Older fish, especially the males, develop a nuchal hump on the head. Because of its extensive distribution area in the wild, there are several color morphs.
All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

Size – Weight:
The Black Belt Cichlid grows to a length of up to 12” (30 cm).

Care and feeding:
The Black Belt Cichlid is an omnivore that primarily feeds on benthic detritus containing seeds and fruits, along with plant matter in their natural environment. In the aquarium they can be fed a pellet base for food, but supplement it with vegetables (lettuce, spinach, vegetable flake foods) and fruits. They love snails and will eat them with gusto. Fed them a few times a day. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.
These fish need a lot of room, a minimum of 70 gallons for one , with 120 gallons or more being needed for keeping them in groups. They prefer slow to moderate moving water along with good efficient filtration. They can be kept in both fresh and brackish water. They are not demanding and can take a wide range of pH, though it must be kept stable. They will feel at home with moderate or subdued lighting, and will appreciate a sandy substrate with a decor of bog wood, roots, and rocks having plenty of hiding places. Plants will not do well as they will be eaten. Provide flat smooth stones for spawning.
Do water changes of 50% up to twice a week, give or take depending on your water quality and the size/age of your fish. They are subject to infections as well as other diseases that ail all freshwater fish. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for a few days since they can tolerate higher temperatures. They are prone to the same diseases as discus. Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which use to be called “hole-in-the-head” disease is common with poor water conditions. This looks like cavities or pits on the head and face. It is believed this may be a nutritional deficiency of one or more of: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus. It is thought to be caused by a poor diet or lack of variety, lack of partial water changes, or over filtration with chemical media such as activated carbon.

Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom:
These fish will swim in the middle to bottom areas of the aquarium.

Acceptable Water Conditions:
They can tolerate brackish and marine water.
Hardness: 8 – 17° dH
Ph: 6.0 – 7.0
Temp: 78 – 84° F (26 – 29° C)

Social Behaviors:
Though they can be aggressive and are not considered a community fish, the Black Belt Cichlid can be docile or aggressive depending on the size of the tank you provide them with. If you provide with a very large tank, 120 gallons or bigger, they can be kept with larger fish that have the same temperament. In aquariums with hundreds of gallons they are a lot less aggressive. If you put two in a 60 gallon, then there can be trouble.
It is suggested to house them in a species specific tank by some. They can be kept alone or as a mated pair, or kept in a group of 6 if they grow up together in a very large tank. Make many places for the female to hide when spawning.

Sexual Differences:
Males are more intense with white, black, and bright red accents. The female is a dark gray with black speckling. Both have a red tail fin.

Breeding/Reproduction:
The Black Belt Cichlid has been bred in captivity. For breeding larger cichlids, this fish is a great choice. The male does not thrash the female like other large cichlids do as long as there is a lot of room, a 150 gallon tank or more. Provide flat smooth stones as a spawning substrate. The pair will circle each other, and after moving the gravel out of the way, the female will lay up to 600 eggs. The fry are free swimming in 8 days are are very small. They will eat artemia and grow quickly. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish.

Availability:
The Black Belt Cichlid is usually available online and sometimes in fish stores. They will run about $7.00 USD for juveniles.

Author: Carrie McBirney
Additional Information: Clarice Brough, CFS

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