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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Cichlinae

Common Name: Keyhole Cichlid

Origin and Habitat: Rio Orinoco basin (Venezuela) eastward through Suriname, Guyana and as far as the Rio Ouanary in French Guyana; possibly Trinidad. This species is not abundant, occurring in small populations within this geographical area. It is found in slow-moving, shallow coastal forest streams that are often stained brown from the tannins of decaying wood. The population reported from Trinidad has not been encountered since 1965 according to Kullander.

Compatibility/Temperament: Very peaceful except when spawning. This is a very shy and retiring species, easily frightened [see additional discussion under Description] and should not be combined with other more aggressive cichlids. Peaceful characins, rasbora, and substrate fish are ideal as "dither fish" to lessen this species' natural shyness. In larger tanks, it may be combined with discus, angelfish and some of the dwarf cichlids.

Keyhole Cichlid Diet

Feeds naturally on worms, crustaceans and insects. Accepts most prepared foods and should be given a varied diet of flake and pellet with frozen bloodworms, live worms and brine shrimp.


Some sources report up to 5 and even 6 inches, but most suggest 3-4 inches as maximum in aquaria. Females are normally slightly smaller than males.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

20 gallon long for a pair, but this should only be for spawning; this fish will be much better in a larger tank with some dither fish.

Water parameters for Keyhole Cichlid

Soft to medium hard (< 15 dGH), acidic (pH < 7), temperature 22-25C/72-77F.


An ideal cichlid for a community aquarium of non-aggressive fishes. Kept on its own, it will likely be very shy and retiring, and prone to stress. The presence of other fish (termed dither fish) will keep it more settled and relaxed. This is certainly not a fish for a barren tank, in which it will be highly stressed.

The aquarium should have a dark substrate, with some flat stones and several chunks of bogwood, and floating plants to shade the light that should not be bright. This would replicate its natural habit, but additional plants will also be suitable especially as they will provide more cover. Keeping in mind its natural habitat, the flow from the filter must be minimal, something that will also suit most forest fish that make good tankmates. Cichlids other than discus, angelfish and the South American dwarf species should not be kept with this species to avoid stress.

When this fish is frightened or endangered, it will fix itself against a log and change its colouration and patterning in an attempt to blend in with the background. This camouflage is very useful to the fish in the wild.

This species is monomorphic, showing no external differentiation between male and female. A substrate spawner, eggs will be laid on a flat surface, preferably a flat stone, and guarded in the typical cichlid fashion. This is the only time when this species shows any aggressive behaviour towards other fish. Both parents care for the eggs and fry, and parental care lasts a long time--several months--with this species. The fry can easily digest newly hatched brine shrimp from the first.

When initially described in 1881, F. Steindachner placed this species in the genus Acara. The species epithet maronii comes from the Rio Maroni in French Guyana, the collection site of the holotype specimen used for the description. The species was later considered to be in the genus Aequidens by some writers. Kullander & Nijssen (1989) erected the new genus Cleithracara for this species on the basis of morphological differences from all other species, and to date this is the only species in the genus. Dr. Kullander writes that the genus name was inspired by the "trivial" name of "Keyhole" given to the fish by aquarists, which refers to the flank markings. The name is derived from the Greek kleithron [=lock] and the Guarani word for cichlids, acara.


Kullander, Sven O., Guide to the South American Cichlidae, website.

Kullander, Sven O. and H. Nijssen (1989), The cichlids of Suriname. Teleostei: Labroidei, pp. i-xxxii & 1-256.

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