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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Geophaginae

Scientific Name: Crenicara punctulatum

Origin and Habitat: Amazon River basin: tributaries of the Rio Ucayali, Maranon, Solimoes and Amazon (Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Brazil), upper Mamore basin (Bolivia); Rio Essequibo system in Guyana; Rio Amapa Grande (Brazil). The populations from Brazil, Guyana, Colombia and Peru are said to have slight variations in colour and size. Found in shaded forest creeks and river shores among plants and fallen leaves, never in open water.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful, well suited to an aquarium with non-aggressive fish such as most characins, Corydoras, smaller loricariids and similar catfish. This cichlid should always be kept in a group of at least 3 but preferably 4-6 with one male and the rest females.

Checkerboard Cichlid Diet

Naturally feeds on insect larvae, small crustaceans, zooplankton. Live foods such as blackworms, daphnia and artemia (brine shrimp); frozen bloodworms, daphnia and shrimp. May come to accept prepared dried foods such as sinking cichlid pellets.


Males attain 10cm (4 inches), females remain slightly smaller at 8 cm.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

36 inches in length for 3-4 fish [see details under Description]

Water parameters for Checkerboard Cichlid

Soft (1-10 dGH) and acidic (pH 5-6.5) water, temperature 24-27C/76-81F. Available fish will be wild caught or from a local breeder.


This is one of a group of commonly-called "checkerboard cichlids" from the patterning on the fish, though in this species the horizontal line of black squares is frequently less defined and can be more of a dark lateral band, as illustrated in the second photo below. It may be distinguished from its sister species C. latruncularium in having 16 or 17 spines in the dorsal fin, whereas C. latruncularium has no more than 15; the third photo below is of a male C. latruncularium. The Crenicara species are easily distinguished from the species in Dicrossus by the taller profile, somewhat egg-shaped, rather than linear.

Females have orange-red ventral fins and are slightly smaller than males, which usually have a yellowish lower body colour and bluish ventral fins. This species is a protogynous sequential hermaphrodite, at least in captivity. This means that the fish are all born female, and at maturity (about eight months of age) the more aggressive female will transform into a male. The male forms a hierarchy and selects his dominant female; should the male die, the dominant female then turns into a male. Histological studies have shown that the fish do change gonadal sex. Only the dominant female will change in these circumstances. (Carruth, 2000)

This is a very shy species and should be housed in a well planted aquarium with plenty of hiding places made from bogwood. A substrate of very small gravel or sand is preferred, as the fish enjoys "chewing" the sand. Floating plants should be included to shade the light, as this fish does not appreciate bright light or open water [see comments under Origin & Habitat]. Nitrate must be kept low, which will occur with live plants and regular weekly partial water changes. These fish are very sensitive to chemicals and thus medications should be used very sparingly. Water stability is crucial.

The common name "checkerboard" (or sometimes "chessboard") that is applied to the two species in Crenicara and also to the species in Dicrossus comes from the pattern of black squares on the sides of the fish. The checkerboard cichlids are within the Crenicarine clade of the subfamily Geophaginae and contain the species in Crenicara [2 valid species, C. punctulatum and C. lamincularium], Dicrossus [currently 3 valid species, D. filamentosus and D. maculatus, and D. gladicauda erected in 2008 by Schindler & Staeck, and possibly 2 undescribed species (Schindler & Staeck, 2008)] and Mazarunia. The latter genus was erected by Kullander in 1990 for the new single (and type) species M. mazarunii.

This subject species was described by A. Gunther in 1863 as Acara punctulata. Kullander (1986) reassigned the species to the genus Crenicara. Regan (1905) regarded the genus Dicrossus as a synonym of Crenicara, a view held by others until Kullander in 1990 determined that Dicrossus and Crenicara are distinct enough to be treated as separate taxa and he re-validated Dicrossus for the two species D. filamentosus and D. maculatus. Work by Lopez-Fernandez in 2005 agrees, and further shows the two genera as sister taxa sharing a serrated posterior margin of the preopercule, a conspicuous and relatively rare character state in SA cichlids according to Kullander (1990).

The name Crenicara derives from the Latin noun crena [=notch] and the Tupi-Guarani native word acara [=cichlid]. The species epithet is from the Latin for "minutely dotted" and refers to the pattern on the side of the fish.

This same fish was described by F. Steindachner in 1875 as Crenicara elegans; by H.W. Fowler in 1913 as Aequidens madeirae; and by W.R. Allen in 1942 as Aequidens hercules. Kullander determined these were all conspecifics [the same species] and the names are now synonyms (invalid) for the subject species.


Carruth, Laura L. (2000), "Freshwater Cichlid is a Protogynous Sequential Hermaphrodite," Copeia, 2000(1), pp. 71-82.

Kullander, Sven O. (1986), Cichlid fishes of the Amazon River drainage of Peru, Swedish Museum of Natural History, p. 140.

Kullander, S.O. (1990), "Mazarunia mazarunii (Teleostei: Cichlidae), a new genus and species from Guyana, South America," Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwater 1(1), pp. 3-14.

Schindler, Ingo & W. Staeck (2008), "Dicrossus gladicauda sp.n.--a new species of crenicarine dwarf cichlids (Teleostei: Perciformes: Cichlidae) from Colombia, South America," Vertebrate Zoology 58(1), pp. 67-73.

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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