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Written by: Dan Colodney

Cichlasoma cf. Herichthys labridens

Herichthys labridens point map
Herichthys labridens point map



Herichthys labridens 'blue' male
Image courtesy of Tangled Up in Cichlids



Cichlasoma labridens currently comprises a complex of several species that occur throughout the Rio Panuco-Tamesi river system, and the basins of the Santa Maria and Verde rivers in north central Mexico. Water conditions in the springs and those of the river differ significantly. Springs are characterized by clear water fed by thermal underground aquifers with a stable temperature ranging from 78° to almost 90° F depending on the individual spring. Water chemistry is quite hard, averaging 50 German degrees or more, while pH is over 7.5. The springs have a soft substrate of detritus and mud, submerged wood and aquatic vegetation of which water lilies Nymphaea species) predominate. Verde river water has much less transparency than that of the springs, with variable temperatures depending of the time on the year. With an estimated temperature range from 68° - 82° F. Water hardness is significantly less in the river although pH is similar.

There are two recognized forms of C. labridens which can be distinguished on the basis of the habitats they occur in. The two populations differ with respect both to their external and internal morphology; the riverine "yellow labridens", found only in the Rio Verde and Santa Maria rivers, exhibits an elongate body and rounded anterior profile, while the morph found restricted to the springs of the Rioverde valley possesses a steeper forehead with a prolonged 'snout' and deeper body. Other distinguishing features exhibited by C. labridens and shared by all members of the labridens complex include: a scaleless area of red to purple behind the base of the pectoral fin, a small slightly sub-terminal mouth with a slightly overshot upper jaw profile and small brown spots speckling the head region. Light blue spangles cover most of the body and fins of both forms.

Herichthys labridens 'Media Luna yellow' female
Image courtesy of Tangled Up in Cichlids

Feeding behaviour of the two forms of labridens is quite different as one might expect, given the different substrate types. The spring form spends much of its time foraging for snails on the substrate. During these periods of intensive searching for food, the color of the fish darkens significantly to an almost black with blue spangling. When a feeding spot is located, labridens wags its body and pectoral fins in an exaggerated manner, stirring up snails within, whereupon they are quickly injested and crushed in its specialized pharyngeal jaws. When the meat of the snail is sifted out, the shells and other debris are ejected from the mouth and gill-slits. The riverine form of C. labridens feeds in a completely different manner, again the result of the substrate and faster moving water. This form moves over the bottom in small groups, foraging among the boulders for small invertebrates and crustaceans which are injested in a single bite.

The breeding coloration of C. labridens, particularly those of Media Luna, is certainly among the most beautiful of any middle American cichlid. The body takes on a contrasting bi-color pattern of yellow over black.

C. labridens has been found to spawn throughout the year in both spring and riverine forms, though the primary breeding period seems to be during the dry season from January to June in central Mexico, likely the result of higher water temperatures. Labridens pairs are late in reaching sexual maturity and thus spawning males will have reached 6+ inches and females at least 5 inches. After cleaning an appropriate site, usually the underside of leafy vegetation or rock or a similar vertical surface, about 300 yellow-orange eggs are laid by the female who then tends them by fanning to keep silt from accumulating and to aerate them. As with a great many American cichlids, after the eggs hatch, wigglers are placed in pre-dug pits in the substrate where they remain for about 5 days until free swimming. At this stage, both parents herd the fry around the habitat, guarding them from predators and helping to stir up the substrate for food. At about ¾ of an inch, the group of fry begins to separate and individuals seek shelter among the vegetation and rocks where they continue feeding as solitary juveniles.


Aquarium husbandry: C. labridens is a highly aggressive species and in the home aquarium, a tank of at least 4 feet in length is necessary, while 6-7 foot tanks allow for perhaps a more 'normal' expression of group interraction and behaviour. While water chemistry isn't extremely important as long as it's hard and alkaline, VERY clean water is a must with weekly 50 percent water changes recommended. Feeding is no problem as C. labridens will take whatever you offer.

An existent disease in the natural habitat in the Pánuco river basin, while rarely exhibited by wild specimens, seems to express itself very often in aquarium specimens, probably due to the stress of shipping. The disease manifests itself by a flairing of scales in one area of the flanks, growing concentrically and causing an ulcer in the skin, which spreads until it kills the fish. At the beginning the fish seems not to notice the ulcer, but in a few days will stop feeding, at which time it will be nearly immpossible to eradicate. These fish must be quarantined prior to introduction to your established aquarium. The disease can be prevented or even successfully treated prophylactically with Clout®.



    Bean, T.H., 1891, "Notes on fishes collected in México", Procedures U.S. Natural Museum.
    Kullander, Sven, 1983. "A revision of the South American Cichlid Genus Cichlasoma (Teleostei: Cichlidae)", Stockholm.

    Kullander, Sven, 1986, "Cichlid Fishes of the Amazon river drainage in Perú", Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm.

    Miller, R.R. and J.N. Taylor, 1983 "Cichlid fishes (Genus Cichlasoma) of the Rio Pánuco Basin, eastern México, with description of a new species", Occasional papers of the Museum of Natural History, the University of Kansas 104; pp 1-24.

    Pellegrin, Jaques, 1903, "Description de cichlidés, nouveaux de la collection du Museúm", Bull. Mus. Hist. Nat., Paris. 9:120-125.

    Regan, C. Tate, 1905. "A revision of the fishes of the American Cichild Genus Cichlosoma and of the Allied Genera." Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. Ser 7(16): 60-77, 225-243, 432-445.

    Staeck W. and Seegers L., 1984, "Die Fishe der Laguna Media Luna und der Laguna Los Anteojitos, río Verde, Mexiko. 3 Die Cichliden", Datz 37:204-209.

    Rivera Anaya, José, 1981, "Rioverde, la ciudad y el valle", Ayuntamiento de Rio Verde, S.L.P. pp:38-50.

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