Top of the Food Chain
Brief Notes on Red De vils
Perhaps as popular with cichlid fanciers as angelfish and oscars, the fishes called red devils have been staples in the aquarium
hobby for more than 40 years. Their
impressive size and attitude are just two
distinct qualities that make this group of
cichlids attractive to hobbyists young and
old alike who enjoy large, robust fish.
Brian M. Scottgraduatedfrom The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and a minor in Marine Biology. Whileincollege, his primary focus was in ichthyology, and he has conducted species urveys on coral reefs in Florida as well asthesaltmarshesofsouthern New Jersey. He has authored or co-authoredfivebooksonaquarium fishes and has published more than 90 articles on all aspects of the aquarium hobby in various popular magazines. Today, Brian keeps mostly large predatory fishes, including many species of cichlids, primarilyfocusingon Cyphotilapia of Lake Tanganyika.
photographs by Aaron Norman
It’s Just a Name!
What is a red devil? Typically when we
talk about red devils, we are most commonly
referring to one species in particular,
Amphilophus labiatus. But for years, the
red devils circulating through hobbyists’
aquariums were not pure A. labiatus, but
rather a hybrid of sorts—probably of A.
labiatus and A. citrinellus lineage—though
the exact makeup is still quite controversial
depending on who you talk to. To further
complicate matters, both of those species
will readily hybridize in an aquarium or
pond despite favoring slightly different
ecological niches in nature. Unfortunately
for any hopes of keeping pure species, this
particular hybrid proves to be extremely
robust and very hardy.
Also adding to the confusion is the fact
that red devils are highly variable in color
and pattern. Some of the most strikingly
beautiful specimens, and those most sought
after by collectors, are the blood-red fish
with black blotching and large, fleshy lips.
More commonly seen are the orange- to
creamsicle-colored fish, but yellow, white,
and barred specimens are also available.
Today we are fortunate that, through the
hard work and dedication of a handful of
importers, we have been provided with true,
wild-collected examples of many species
within the Amphilophus complex. For
hobbyists who are purists at heart, there are
now wild/pure bloodlines (often with valid
locality information) to breed and keep
going in the trade—something that I am a
huge advocate of!
For the purpose of this discussion, I
think it’s best to shy away from the specific
taxonomy of these fishes because it’s still
basically a disaster anyway, and also because
their care and husbandry in aquariums is
so similar, if not identical, with regard to
the major areas of fishkeeping. I only have
so much room here anyway, and there will
be no harm in lumping these brutes into
one article with basic care and husbandry
information that you can build upon using
other, more complete scientific resources
from a wide variety of sources.
As with all fish, the bigger the aquarium
the better. I know I say that nearly every
month, but sometimes it takes repetition
for it to stick! Red devils are certainly no
exception and, while they don’t grow much
larger than 10 or 12 inches in total length,
they certainly can have the attitude and
behavior of a fish 10 times their size.
Many people naturally want a size to go
by, so in my experience aquariums in the
75- to 90-gallon range are probably the
minimum that I would consider using for
these fish. Even smaller specimens, say, in
the 3- to 4-inch range or even smaller, are
best kept in larger aquariums with ample
swimming room. Remember—it’s not so
much the size of these fish, but their
generally pugnacious attitude that causes
problems with tankmates.
Selecting the aquarium is very important.
And though I mention it often, it’s necessary
that the aquarium be the largest that you
can both afford to purchase, outfit, and