Has multiple color phases (or morphs) ranging from dull gray and black to orange, red, and even white; all young start off gray, looking much like small bluegill or Mayan cichlid, but most change to brightly-colored morphs, starting when they are about three inches long; a mottled coloration indicates a fish in transition; in Florida, more than 95% of adults greater than 10 inches are brightly colored, but this ratio is nearly reversed in their native range; males and females equally likely to be brightly colored; pronounced forehead nuchal hump associated with breeding present in some fish; like most other cichlids this one has broken lateral lines.
First discovered in Florida in July 1980, now common in the Black Creek and Cutler Drain canal systems in Miami-Dade County. Native range includes Atlantic slope of Nicaragua and Costa Rica where more common in lakes than rivers.
Prefers clear-water, box-cut canals with lots of shoreline crevices that they use to hide from predators.
Spawning Habitats: Similar to other substrate spawning cichlids that provide biparental care; parents also produce a mucous body covering fed on by young; females mature by 7 inches and males by 8 inches; March through May appears to be the peak spawning season.
Feeding Habits: Feed primarily on snails and other benthic material including aquatic insects, small fishes, and some plant and animal matter attached to or associated with submerged logs, leaves, rocks, etc.
Age and Growth:
Reaches just over a foot in length, and can weigh over 2.5 pounds; males tend to be larger than females.
Rarely caught on hook and line, but can sometimes be aggravated into biting; no bag or size limits.
Little known, but probably good.
Image Credit: © Diane Peebles