Yellowbelly Cichlid

Yellowbelly Cichlid, Parachromis salvini

The Yellowbelly Cichlid, Parachromis salvini, whose common Spanish name is guapote tricolor, is a species in the Cichlid and Tilapia or Cichlidae Family, known collectively as tilapias and mojarras de agua dulce in Mexico. This fish is also known as the Salvini Cichlid and the Tricolor Cichlid globally and as mojarra pico de gallo in Mexico due to its intense coloration. This species was very recently moved from the Cichlasoma genus to the Parachromis genus. Globally, there are six species in the genus Parachromis, one of which is found in the freshwater systems of Mexico and is described here.

The Yellowbelly Cichlids have elongated, deep, oval-shaped, and compressed bodies with a shape similar to that of an elongated bluegill. They are yellow overall and have four black horizontal lines across their forehead and two lines of black spots running down the middle and upper middle of their body. They have greenish-blue dots on their body. Their anal and caudal fins have red tips. Their colors are more intense in breeding females and in fish caught in the wild. They are dimorphic, especially when breeding. Females are more intensely colored and develop reddish coloring along their back and belly and black spots with blue edges in the middle of their dorsal fin and the edge of their gill cover. Males are larger than females and have more pointed fins; they develop blue streaks on their head and blue hues along their back. In contrast, juveniles are drab yellow or gray in color. Their head has a pointed snout, large eyes located high on the head, and a large mouth with a longer lower jaw equipped with strong canine-like teeth. Their anal fin has 7 or 8 spines and 9 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; and their dorsal fin has 17 spines and 10 or 11 rays. The middle rays of their anal and dorsal fins are the longest.

The Yellowbelly Cichlids are found in moderate to fast moving waters of rivers and lagoons at elevations up to 1,500 feet with water temperatures between 24oC (75oF) and 30oC (86oF). They are found in jungle and tropical forest areas that include a variety of substrates such as muddy, rocky or sandy bottoms which are generally off-colored and have an abundance of aquatic vegetation, organic debris, driftwood, and related cover. The off-colored juveniles are found in bodies of water with higher water flow than those inhabited by adults. Due to their striking colors, adults rely on camouflage from their habitat and the presence of numerous other fish species to avoid predation by birds. They reach a maximum length of 22.0 cm (8.7 inches). They are omnivores that feed on small fish and small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Reproduction is oviparous with each female laying between 500 and 600 eggs in well-protected areas. Eggs are fertilized externally by males and then stick to the substrate. Large numbers of eggs are required to maintain population levels as fry and juveniles are prone to massive kill rates due to predation and changes in habitat such as large water flows. Males vigorously defend the territory while females mind the eggs. The fry hatch within a few days and are guarded by both parents for up to one month. They grow rapidly and reach sexual maturity quickly. They have a lifespan of up to 13 years in captivity.

In Mexican waters the Yellowbelly Cichlids have a very limited distribution and are found in the freshwater systems that drain into the Atlantic in the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Veracruz, however, they are absent from the northern portions of the Yucatán peninsula.

Due to its unique coloration pattern, the Yellowbelly Cichlid cannot be easily confused with any other species.

The Yellowbelly Cichlids are of limited interest to most, however, they are a very popular aquarium fish since the drab-colored juveniles undergo dramatic and very attractive color changes with maturity. Live specimens are available for purchase online or in fish stores. They require fairly large aquariums as they are moderately aggressive, highly territorial, and intolerant of intruders and also require a high level of maintenance. From a conservation perspective they have not been evaluated but should be considered of Least Concern being widely distributed and abundant throughout their range. There are currently non-indigenous populations established in Florida and Texas, presumably from aquarium releases, where they have become highly invasive.

Yellowbelly Cichlid, Parachromis salvini. Fish caught out of the New River, Sunrise, Florida, December 2012. Length: 10.1 cm (4.0 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.