Top of the Food Chain
Experiences with Cichla temensis
Cichla is the genus that the family
Cichlidae was based on, and
thus it serves as a flagship for
the group. Ironically, biologists
knew very little about this primitive genus
in comparison to other more commonly
studied genera (i.e., Metriaclima,
Pterophyllum, Symphysodon, Apistogramma,
and Cryptoheros) even though the family
as a whole is shrouded in controversy and
debate. One species, Cichla temensis, is the
focus of this month’s column.
of well-established, introduced C. temensis.
Localities in Brazil, which were thought to
have introduced populations of C. temensis,
are actually invaded with its close cousin C.
pinima, and perhaps C. vazzoleri.
The availability of C. temensis to hobbyists
is very sporadic. Since they are a food
and sport fish in Brazil, Venezuela, and
Colombia, they are only allowed to be
collected and exported by special permit and
in limited numbers. Therefore, obtaining
a “true” C. temensis, which is also wild
collected, is somewhat tricky and can be an
insanely frustrating feat. So it’s wise to take
advantage if given the chance, but it will
often be an expensive investment.
Cichla temensis was described in 1821 by F.
H. A. von Humboldt, a well-known explorer
and naturalist, in the famous paper co-authored by A. Valenciennes: “Recherches
sur les poissons fluviatiles de l’Amérique
Équinoxiale” (In Voyage de Humboldt et
Bonpland, Deuxième partie. Observations de
Zoologie et d’Anatomie comparé).
Named after the type-locality river, the
Rio Temi in Venezuela, C. temensis is one
of the most distinguishable species of the
genus. Until recently, the distribution of this
fish was thought to be far more expansive.
However, a recent paper by Dr. Sven
Kullander and E. J. G. Ferreira, “A review
of the South American cichlid genus Cichla,
with descriptions of nine new species,”
clarifies the true distribution of the species.
Brian M. Scott graduated
from The Richard Stockton
College of New Jersey with a
Bachelor of Science Degree in
biology and a minor in marine
biology. Brian has authored
or co-authored five books
on aquarium fishes and has
published more than 75 articles
dealing with all aspects of the
aquarium hobby in various
popular magazines. Today,
Brian is a wildlife biologist
for a private environmental
consulting firm in his home
state of New Jersey, where he
is involved in a radio-telemetry
study with the northern pine
snake in the NJ Pine Barrens.
Naturally occurring populations of C.
temensis are restricted to the Orinoco River
Basin in the drainages of the Rio Orinoco in
Venezuela and Colombia, and the Amazon
River Basin in the drainages of the Rio Negro
and Rio Uatumã. The species has been
introduced elsewhere, including southern
Florida and Texas, but it is not established
in either locality. However, Lake Guri,
Venezuela, is home to a large population
Many of the farm-bred specimens of C.
temensis, commonly available through fish
farms in Asia, are actually hybrids of C. temensis
and other species of Cichla (i.e., C. monoculus).
It is often difficult to identify hybrids due to the
dominant appearances of C. temensis, which
tend to overshadow the traits shown by other
Cichla when hybridization occurs. Those of
you who have been interested in Cichla since
the early 1990s may remember the different
“look” the true species from these farms had
back then: more elongated bodies, unbroken
bars, sharper heads, clearer eyes (as opposed
to red/orange eyes today), and a faster growth
rate—all attributes of pure C. temensis.
With an average adult size of more than
24 inches in total length (TL), it should
be of little surprise that C. temensis need
huge aquariums. A single mature specimen,
which is approximately 16 inches TL at 12
to 14 months of age, should be housed in
an aquarium at least 24 inches wide and as