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Theraps bocourti

Chisel-tooth cichlid




Type locality is Lake Izabal, eastern Guatemala and this species has since been recorded from various Atlantic drainages of both Guatemala and neighbouring Belize.


Izabal is the largest lake in Guatemala and is surrounded by lush vegetation. For its size it is relatively shallow due to runoff of sediments from the surrounding mountains. It is home to a rich diversity of fish species, including various cichlids, as well as perch, tarpon and the endangered fresh-water manatee or sea cow. As a result game fishing is a popular activity, among both locals and tourists alike.

Maximum Standard Length

An adult male can measure at least 12″ (30cm). Females are usually a couple of inches smaller.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

An adult male or pair will need a tank measuring at least 60″ x 24″ x 24″ (150cm x 60cm x 60cm) – 566 litres. As with most Central American cichlids, a massive tank is required if you want to keep a community containing mixed species.


It’s recommended to provide a rocky substrate that is arranged to form lots of hiding places. A few driftwood branches penetrating the surface could also add to the effect, and would serve to mimic the shoreline of Lago Izabel. The water should be clear and well-filtered.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 78 – 82°F (26 – 28°C)

pH: This species is quite tolerant of different water types, but for ease of maintenance and breeding a pH around neutral is considered ideal.

Hardness: 10 – 15°H


An omnivorous species. Wild fish feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates as well as algae and other zooplankton. In captivity it proves unfussy, and will do well when fed on most high quality prepared foods. Supplementary meals of live and frozen foods such as bloodoworm or Artemia will help to bring the fish into optimum condition.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

As with many Central American cichlids, this is an aggressive, territorial species and tankmates should be chosen with care. In a very large (upwards of 1000 litres) tank it can be kept with other cichlids, provided the decor is arranged to form distinct territories of sufficient size. You could also keep shoals of medium to large-sized characins or cyprinids as long as these are large enough to escape predation and swift enough to avoid attack!

A tank set up to resemble Lago Izabel could make an interesting project. In its natural waters the golden mojarra can be found swimming alongside other cichlids including “Cichlasomasalvini, Archocentrus spilurus, Vieja maculicauda, Amphilophus robertsoni and Thorichthys aureus. Characins from the genera Astyanax and Hyphessobrycon are also present in the lake, as well as Rhamdia catfish and several species of livebearer.

Sexual Dimorphism

Can be tricky to sex, as both sexes can exhibit similar colouration and patterning. Mature males tend to be a larger and deeper-bodies than females and often develop extended dorsal and anal fins. They are also more dominant and territorial in their behaviour.


Provided you can obtain a compatible pair, breeding is fairly straightforward. A tank of around 6′ in length is required, and this should be decorated with large, flat rocks and flowerpots to act as potential spawning sites. It goes without saying that tankmates are not an option, as even if they are tolerated by the pair for a while, they will almost certainly be killed by the male when spawning commences.

By far the best way to get a pair is to buy a minimum of six young fish and grow them on together, allowing pairs to form naturally. Once the first pair is spotted (this is usually quite obvious, as the others will most likely be cowering in one corner of the tank), the other fish should be removed immediately for their own safety. The fish can take some time to become sexually mature, often requiring 18 months or more.

Once you have a pair in good condition they should spawn without too much encouragement from you. When in spawning condition, both fish take on quite an intense yellow colouration with dark vertical barring. Courtship can be quite a prolonged and sometimes violent affair, with much tail slapping and gaping by both sexes. The female also tends to rub her lateral area along the hump of the male. Have a tank divider to hand at all times as the male can turn on his supposed mate at any time.

Just prior to spawning itself the ovipositor of the female will be clearly visible. The male will then join her in cleaning a single selected site. Spawning occurs in a similar fashion to many other cichlids, with the female laying a line of eggs before moving away, allowing the male to take her place and fertilise them. Up to 500 eggs may be fertilised in this manner.

The eggs hatch in around 48 hours, and during this period the male will defend the spawning site while the female tends to the eggs. Some exchange in roles may occur here. Also during this period the pair dig a number of shallow depressions in the substrate around the spawning site. The eggs are laid on a flat rock or other solid surface. Parental care is excellent and a joy to watch, with both sexes tending to the eggs and defending their territory against all comers. This can include the fingers of unwary aquarists, so take due care if performing tank maintenance during this period.

The eggs hatch in 2-3 days and the fry are then moved to a pre-excavated pit in the substrate. They become free swimming in another 3-4 days and the pair will continue to share parental responsibilities for several weeks. The fry can be fed on brine shrimp nauplii initially, before being offered supplementary dried foods.

NotesTop ↑

A rather elusive species in the hobby, this beautiful cichlid is sometimes referred to as the “Chisel-toothed” cichlid. Despite being described in 1902 it was not until the mid-1990s that it appeared in the aquarium trade, wild specimens being collected by American aquarists Ross Socolof, Harry Specht, and Rusty Wessel in 1994.

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