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Satanoperca rhynchitis KULLANDER, 2012


Satanoperca: from the Ancient Greek Σατάν (Satán), meaning ‘Satan’ (the devil), and πέρκη (pérkē), meaning ‘perch’.

rhynchitis: from the Ancient Greek ρύγχος (rýnchos), meaning ‘snout’, and -ῖτις (-îtis), meaning ‘pertaining to’, in reference to this species’ relatively long snout.


Order: Perciformes Family: Cichlidae


Known only from the Oyapock/Oiapoque, Approuague, Kaw, Kourou, Comté, Iracoubo, and Sinnamary river systems in French Guiana.

Type locality is ‘Crique Sikini, left bank, tributary to Oyapock River, 3.2513, -52.2563; French Guiana’.


Unconfirmed, but may inhabit environments with greater water flow than other Satanoperca species.

More than 90% of French Guiana is covered by tropical rain forest. There are well-defined annual weather patterns with year-round high temperatures and two distinct wet seasons; the first between December and February and the second from April to June. During these periods flow rate and depth of rivers can vary enormously, even on a daily basis, and turbidity also increases.

Other species from the Oiapoque River known in the aquarium trade include Corydoras oiapoquensis, C. solox, Pseudancistrus niger/L039, Guyanancistrus brevispinis/L041, Apistogramma gossei, Astronotus ocellatus, Cichla monoculus, Geophagus camopiensis, Guianacara geayi, Pterophyllum scalare, Hyphessobrycon roseus, H. takasei and Gasteropelecus sternicla.

Maximum Standard Length

130 – 145 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

An aquarium with a base measuring at least 180 ∗ 60 cm or equivalent is required.


The most essential item of décor is a soft, sandy substrate so that the fish can browse naturally (see ‘Diet’).

Coarser materials such as gravel or small pebbles can inhibit feeding, damage gill filaments and even be ingested with the potential of internal damage or blockages.

Additional furnishings are as much a case of personal taste as anything else but the most favoured set-ups tend to feature relatively dim lighting plus some chunks of driftwood and scattered roots or branches.

Leaf litter is a typical feature of the natural environment but not really recommended in aquaria because the feeding behaviour of Satanoperca spp. tends to cause an excess of partially-decomposed material in suspension which not only looks unsightly but can block filter and pump mechanisms.

Water quality is of the utmost importance since these cichlids are extremely susceptible to deteriorating water quality and swings in chemical parameters so should never be introduced to a biologically immature aquarium. S. daemon also requires soft, acidic conditions and in most cases will not thrive in untreated tap water.

The best way to achieve the desired stability is to filter the tank using a combination of external canister filters and/or a sump system and perform minimum weekly water changes of 50-70%.

If the maintenance regime is insufficient health issues such as head and lateral line erosion or stunted growth can occur.

Mechanical filtration should also be tailored to trap small particles stirred up by the fish as sand can cause blockages and wearing issues with filter mechanisms if allowed to continually run through the system. High flow rates should be avoided so position filter returns accordingly.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 22 – 28 °C

pH5.5 – 75

Hardness: 36 – 215 ppm


Satanoperca spp. are benthophagous by nature, employing a method of feeding whereby mouthfuls of substrate are taken and sifted for edible items with the remaining material expelled via the gill openings and mouth. For this reason they are commonly termed ‘eartheaters’ and the provision of a suitable substrate is essential to their long-term well-being. Once settled they readily rise into the water column when food is introduced but continue to browse normally at other times.

The stomach contents of wild specimens mostly comprise small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates including cladocerans, ostracods, and insect larvae (particularly chironomids), plus plant material (seeds), organic detritus and sediment.

Even large individuals seem unable to properly ingest larger food items, meaning the diet should contain a variety of high quality, fine-grade prepared foods plus small live or frozen bloodworm, Tubifex, Artemia, mosquito larvae, etc. At least some of the dried products should contain a high proportion of vegetable matter such as Spirulina or similar.

Home-made, gelatine-bound recipes containing a mixture of dried fish food, puréed shellfish, fresh fruit and vegetables, for example, are proven to work well and can be cut into bite-sized discs using the end of a sharp pipette or small knife.

Rather than a single large meal offer 3-4 smaller portions daily to allow natural browsing behaviour as this seems to result in the best growth rate and condition.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Unless breeding this species is surprisingly peaceful and will not predate on fishes larger than a few millimetres in length. Suitable tankmates are numerous and include most peaceful species enjoying similar environmental conditions. Best avoided are aggressive or territorial substrate-dwelling species, or those requiring less acidic or mineral-rich water.

Some aquarists keep Satanoperca spp. alongside freshwater stingrays of the genus Potamotrygon which in many cases has proven successful but in some has resulted in the cichlids disappearing at night.

S. rhychitis is gregarious and tends to exist in loose aggregations unless spawning, with juveniles in particular displaying strong grouping instincts. A group of 5-8 individuals should be the minimum purchase and these will form a noticeable dominance hierarchy. When maintained in smaller numbers weaker specimens can become the target of excessive antagonism by dominant individuals or the group may fail to settle and behave nervously.

Sexual Dimorphism

Adult females tend to grow slightly smaller than males and are deeper-bodied when gravid.


This species is an ovophilous maternal mouthbrooder that has been bred in aquaria. There does not appear to be any particular trigger for the spawning process with the main requirements being good diet and stringent maintenance regime involving relatively large weekly water changes.

Since accurate sexing is very difficult it is perhaps best to begin with a group of young fish and allow pairs to form naturally, while a degree of patience is also required since it can be at least a year, often two or more, until they become sexually mature.

Courtship is initiated by the male, with nuptial individuals forming territories which are typically centred around a piece of driftwood or other solid object. Gravid females are courted and when a pair forms they may defend the territory together for a few days prior to spawning. Other fishes, especially conspecifics, are not tolerated in the vicinity and in smaller aquaria may need to be removed.

Eggs are deposited in small batches and once fertilised immediately collected by the female, the process normally being repeated until she is carrying several hundred. In some cases the male may also pick up some eggs but does not usually hold them for long, and the female is normally ejected from the territory soon after spawning is complete although apparently some males do display extended brood care behaviour.

Once the fry are free swimming they are easily-fed, accepting good quality powdered dry foods, Artemia nauplii, microworm, etc.

If maintaining the adults in a community situation it is recommended to remove brooding females since the fry become easy prey for other fishes, including conspecifics, once released.

NotesTop ↑

S. rhynchitis was previously referred to S. jurupari and known as S. sp. ‘red lips’ in the ornamental trade.

It can be distinguished from congeners by the following combination of characters: lips red in live adult specimens; absence of dark blotches or bands on the sides of the body; absence of white spots or vermiculations on sides of head; 8-10, modally 9, soft dorsal-fin rays (vs. 12-14 in other Satanoperca species); 25-27, modally 26, scales in the E1 row above the lateral line (vs. 27-31); 12-14, modally 14, ceratobranchial gill rakers (vs. 17-23).

Among the described species S. rhynchitis is most similar to S. jurupari but can be distinguished by possession of: a modal dorsal-fin count of XV.9 (vs. XV.10); 26 (vs. 27) scales in the E1 row above the lateral line; 13-15, usually 13-14 gill rakers (vs. 14-18, usually 16-17); gill blade narrower (vs. wider) than ceratobranchial; snout generally longer, measuring 14.3-19.4 % SL (vs. generally shorter, 11.3-15.9 % SL).

The precise identity of S. jurupari is a confusing issue, however, with differences in colour pattern and morphological characters observed across its range. In addition, a red-lipped form similar to S. rhynchitis occurs to the immediate south of its range, in Amapá state, northeastern Brazil, but specimens from the rio Araguari in Amapá were not recovered as genetically distinct from S. jurupari in phylogenetic analyses, and in morphological terms they appear intermediate between S. jurupari and S. rhynchitis.

It is still unclear whether these intermediate fish (1) are natural hybrids between S. jurupari and S. rhynchitis, (2) represent a distinct species themselves, (3) signify a clinal gradient of variation between populations from Amapá and French Guiana, or (4) S. rhynchitis is a rheophilic phenotype of a more widespread species.

There is also a possibility that populations from the Río Orinoco watershed in Colombia and Venezuela, currently referred to as S. mapiritensis (Fernández-Yépez 1950), may turn out to be conspecific with S. jurupari. There appears to be no clear genetic separation between these two putative species nor a form known to aquarists as S. sp. ‘Negro-Alto Orinoco’. It is also worth noting that both S. mapiritensis and a form from the Río Madre de Dios watershed in Peru both have orange-coloured lips as adults.

Based on current knowledge, it thus remains impossible to deduce whether the group of putative species currently comprising S. jurupari, S. mapiritensis, and S. rhynchitis, plus populations from Amapá and the upper Negro/upper Orinoco region, represent distinct taxa or a single meta-population which can be referred to as S. jurupari sensu lato. Here on SF we include the named species separately, since they continue to be considered valid.

Satanoperca was considered a synonym of Geophagus for a number of decades before being revalidated by Kullander (1986). It is separated from all other members of the putative cichlid subfamily Geophaginae by presence of a small ocellated spot at the upper caudal-fin base, and from Geophagus by a number of morphological characters as follows: equal numbers of abdominal and caudal vertebrae or one more abdominal vertebra (vs. more caudal than abdominal vertebrae in Geophagus); no ribs on caudal vertebrae and no postabdominal swimbladder extensions (vs. presence of both in Geophagus; cheek scaled rostrally to centre (vs. naked on anterior half; dorsal and anal fins naked (vs. scaled); external gill rakers on lower limb of first gill arch attached to the skin covering the gill filaments (vs. attached to ceratobranchial skin); jaw dentition reduced to one or two short series in each jaw (vs. pluriseriate with wide band of inner teeth); absence (vs. presence) of tooth plates on 4th ceratobranchial; presence (vs. absence) of an ocellus on caudal-fin base; both or only upper lip fold continuous (vs. both interrupted anteriorly); preoperculum and supracleithrum frequently serrated (vs. entire); absence (vs. presence) of median hypural cartilage; 3 (vs. 4) infraorbitals.

The genus is likely to contain additional species, and has been separated into three groups with distinctive morphology, namely the S. jurupari group, the S. daemon group, and the monotypic S. acuticeps group.

Among these, members of the S. jurupari group are characterised by a colour pattern comprising a dark lateral stripe or row of blotches along the side of the body, normally XV.10 (XIV-XVII.8-11) dorsal-fin rays, normally 27 (26-28) E1 scales (the longitudinal row immediately above the lower lateral line, excluding the pectoral girdle), and 12-18 rakers on the first gill arch.

S. daemon group members grow larger than other congeners, possess one or two large dark blotches on the side of the body and a prominent ocellus at the upper caudal-fin base, usually XIX.13 (XII-XIV.12-14) dorsal-fin rays, 29-31 E1 scales, and 18-22 gill rakers. S. acuticeps is unique in that it has a relatively more terminal mouth than all other genus members, normally XIII.12 (XIII.11-12) dorsal-fin rays, 27-28 E1 scales, and 17-20 gill rakers.

The groups also differ in reproductive strategy, with the S. daemon and S. acuticeps assemblages being substrate spawners, and the S. jurupari group mouthbrooders.

Satanoperca and a number of related genera are often included in the putative subfamily Geophaginae, and Kullander (1998) conducted a morphology-based phylogenetic study in which the neotropical Cichlidae was divided into six subfamilies of which the Geophaginae contained 16 genera divided among three ‘tribes’:

Acarichthyini – Acarichthys and Guianacara.
Crenicaratini – BiotoecusCrenicaraDicrossus and Mazarunia.
Geophagini – GeophagusMikrogeophagus, ‘Geophagus‘ brasiliensis group, ‘Geophagus‘ steindachneri group, GymnogeophagusSatanopercaBiotodomaApistogrammaApistogrammoides and Taeniacara.

Later molecular studies by Farias et al. (1999, 2000, 2001) resulted in the additions of Crenicichla and Teleocichla to the Geophaginae, a result supported by López-Fernández et al. (2005) who conducted the most detailed molecular analysis of the grouping to date including 16 of the 18 genera and 30 species.

However their conclusions regarding interrelationships between genera did vary somewhat from previous hypotheses and can be summarised by the following loosely-defined groups:

– a weakly-supported sister group relationship between Acarichthys and Guianacara.
– a well-supported ‘Satanoperca clade’ comprising SatanopercaApistogrammaApistogrammoides and Taeniacara.
– a ‘big clade’ with GeophagusMikrogeophagus, ‘Geophagus‘ brasiliensis group, ‘Geophagus‘ steindachneri group, GymnogeophagusBiotodomaCrenicara and Dicrossus.
– a ‘crenicarine clade’ with Biotoecus and Crenicichla.

No representatives of Teleocichla or Mazarunia were included in the study but the former is well-established as sister to Crenicichla while the latter has grouped closely with Dicrossus and Crenicara in earlier works.

The other main conclusions of the paper are confirmation that Geophaginae is a monophyletic group exhibiting strong signs of having undergone rapid adaptive radiation.


  1. Kullander, S. O., 2012 - Cybium 36(1): 247-262
    A taxonomic review of Satanoperca (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from French Guiana, South America, with description of a new species.
  2. Kullander, S. O., 1986 - Swedish Museum of Natural History: 1-431
    Cichlid fishes of the Amazon River drainage of Peru.
  3. Kullander, S. O., 1998 - EDIPUCRS, Porto Alegre: 461-498
    A phylogeny and classification of the South American Cichlidae (Teleostei: Perciformes). In: Malabarba, L. R. , R. E. Reis, R. P. Vari, Z. M. S. de Lucena and C. A. S. Lucena (eds). Phylogeny and classification of Neotropical fishes.
  4. López-Fernández, H., R. L. Honeycutt, and K. O. Winemiller, 2005 - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 34(1): 227-244
    Molecular phylogeny and evidence for an adaptive radiation of geophagine cichlids from South America (Perciformes: Labroidei).
  5. Willis S. C., H. López-Fernández, C. G. Montaña, I. P. Farias, and G. Ortí, 2012 - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 63(3): 798-808
    Species-level phylogeny of ‘Satan’s perches’ based on discordant gene trees (Teleostei: Cichlidae: Satanoperca Günther 1862).

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