Keyhole Cichlid


Common Name: Keyhole Cichlid
Scientific Name: Cleithracara maronii
Adult Size: 4-5 inches
Life Expectancy: 5-8 years
Tank Size: 30 gallons minimum

The Keyhole Cichlid is a peaceful and shy species from the tropical rivers of South America. They are named for the distinctive black ‘keyhole’ marking on their flanks and are known for their relatively calm demeanor compared to other cichlids, making them a good choice for community aquariums.

A 30-gallon tank is the minimum recommended size to provide a pair of Keyhole Cichlids with sufficient space. The aquarium should have plenty of hiding places with a soft substrate, plants, and driftwood to provide cover and comfort for these timid fish.

Keyhole Cichlids are omnivores and will accept a varied diet including high-quality cichlid pellets, flakes, and live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. They can be kept with other peaceful fish of similar size, but it’s important to avoid housing them with aggressive species that might bully or stress them.

Origins and Natural Habitat

The Keyhole Cichlid, scientifically known as Cleithracara maronii, is indigenous to the tropical freshwater environments of South America. You’ll find its origins rooted in the lower Orinoco Basin in Venezuela and various river basins within The Guianas. This region is characterized by its diverse ecosystem, providing an optimal habitat for these fish.

In the wild, you would observe Keyhole Cichlids in slow-moving streams, rivers, and lakes. The bottoms of these water bodies typically consist of sand or mud, environments in which this species thrives. They prefer areas abundant with vegetation and ample hiding spaces like rocks or plant roots, which offer them protection and a place to spawn.

Your Keyhole Cichlids’ natural camouflage skills are essential for their survival. In their habitat, they utilize these abilities to blend in with their surroundings, helping them avoid predators. The peaceful nature of Keyhole Cichlids reflects the serene waterways from which they hail, making them an ideal candidate for community aquariums.

Aquarium Setup

Creating the ideal aquarium for Keyhole Cichlids involves understanding their specific needs for space and water conditions. Paying attention to these details ensures a healthy and stress-free environment for your fish.

Tank Size and Environment

Your Keyhole Cichlids require an aquarium that mimics their natural habitat to thrive. For a single pair, you need a tank that’s at least 30 gallons and measures 3 feet in length. Should you opt for a group of around six cichlids, a 75-gallon tank is appropriate to provide enough space for swimming and territory establishment without overcrowding.

In forming their environment:

  • Use a fine-grained substrate which replicates the soft, sandy bottoms of their native waters.
  • Add driftwood, rocks, and cave-like structures for hiding spots, which are essential for these typically shy fish.
  • Incorporate live plants to give your aquarium a naturalistic feel and additional cover for the cichlids.

Water Conditions and Parameters

Keyhole Cichlids are adaptable to various water conditions, but maintaining the appropriate parameters is essential for their well-being. The water in your tank should have:

Parameter Ideal Range
Temperature 72°F to 82°F (22°C to 28°C)
pH 6.0 to 7.5
Hardness 5 to 12 dGH

Frequent water tests are crucial to keep these parameters stable. An efficient filtration system is also necessary to maintain clean water and reduce the buildup of harmful toxins. Avoid strong currents as Keyhole Cichlids prefer calmer waters. Regular water changes, about 20-25% every two weeks, are recommended to ensure optimal water quality.

Behavior and Social Dynamics

The Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara maronii) is well-regarded for its peaceful nature, making it an ideal candidate for community aquariums. Generally, you’ll find that these fish exhibit a calm demeanor, often showing a level of shyness. They tend to swim in the mid-level regions of their habitat, gravitating towards areas with ample plant decoration or tank ornaments that provide shelter and security.

In a social context, Keyhole Cichlids are not aggressive and can coexist comfortably with other non-aggressive species. Your Keyhole Cichlids may occasionally display territorial behaviors, particularly during breeding times; however, these instances are mild compared to other cichlid species. It’s important to provide them with ample space and hiding places to mitigate any stress caused by territorial disputes.

These fish are not known to disrupt the aquarium setting by digging or harming plants, which makes them a safer choice for tanks with live vegetation. To encourage their wellbeing, maintain a well-structured environment with hiding spots, and consider keeping them in small groups to support their social nature. Understanding and catering to their preferences for a tranquil setting will help ensure your Keyhole Cichlids thrive.

Compatibility and Community

When considering the Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara maronii) for your aquarium, understanding their compatibility with other fish is essential. These cichlids are known for their peaceful temperament, making them suitable for community tanks. Angelfish have been cited as excellent tank mates due to their similarly moderate care level and semi-aggressive nature.

In your community tank, you should aim for a balance, ensuring that no fish exhibit overly aggressive behavior that could stress or harm the Keyhole Cichlids. It’s important to provide them with enough space to thrive; a minimum tank size of 55 gallons is recommended for these sociable fish. An ideal setup would include ample hiding spots and a well-structured environment that mimics their natural habitat.

Here are some compatible tank mates for a Keyhole Cichlid:

Tank Mate Compatibility Notes
Angelfish High Share similar water and diet needs
Dwarf Cichlid Moderate Allow ample space for territories
Non-aggressive Fish High Ensure similar size and temperament

It’s vital to observe their diet, as Keyhole Cichlids are omnivores and prefer a mix of flakes, pellets, and live foods. By maintaining a balanced diet and compatible tank mates, you can ensure a harmonious and healthy aquarium.

Health and Maintenance

Proper health and maintenance are crucial to ensure your Keyhole Cichlid’s wellbeing. You should establish robust routines for cleaning and disease prevention to keep these fish thriving.

Cleaning and Maintenance Routines

To maintain a healthy environment for your Keyhole Cichlids, perform regular water changes, about 25% biweekly. Ensure you’re using a high-quality filter to keep the water clean and clear. Monitor water parameters consistently; Keyhole Cichlids require a pH of 6.0-8.0 and temperatures between 72-82°F (22-28°C).

Disease Prevention and Management

Keep an eye out for signs of stress or disease such as changes in behavior or appearance. Stress can be minimized by providing adequate hiding spaces and a calm tank environment. For disease management, quarantine new fish before introducing them to the main tank to prevent the spread of illness. Have a treatment plan ready for common cichlid diseases like ich or fin rot, often treatable with over-the-counter medications.

Diet and Feeding

When feeding your Keyhole Cichlid, it’s essential to offer a varied diet that supports their health and mimics their natural eating habits. These omnivorous fish benefit from a mixture of high-quality flake food, pellets, and live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Daily Diet:

  • Flake or pellet food: Provide as a staple of their diet.
  • Live or frozen foods: Offer 2-3 times a week to ensure diverse nutrition.

Feeding Frequency:

  • Adult Keyhole Cichlids: Feed twice a day.
  • Juveniles: Feed three times a day to support their growth.

Observe them carefully while they eat to gauge the right amount of food to prevent overfeeding and maintain water quality. You should aim to provide only as much food as your Keyhole Cichlid can consume in a few minutes. Clean any uneaten food to avoid polluting the tank. It’s also important to soak dry food to prevent digestive issues.

Breeding and Reproduction

Breeding Keyhole Cichlids can be a rewarding experience for aquarists. Successful breeding requires distinguishing male from female cichlids and establishing the right environment for spawning.

Gender Identification and Breeding Behavior

Males typically grow larger than females, reaching closer to their maximum size of around 4 to 5 inches. They often exhibit elongated anal and dorsal fins. During breeding, Keyhole Cichlids display a change in behavior. You might notice the fish pairing off, with males showing increased territorial tendencies as they prepare a suitable spawning site. The breeding process can be initiated by well-conditioned fish, where the female will lay 50 to 100 eggs on a flat, hard surface. Afterward, both parents usually exhibit protective behavior toward the eggs and the fry once they hatch.

Creating Optimal Breeding Conditions

To encourage breeding, you should provide a softly lit tank with clean, warm water, ideally between 68°F to 82°F. The water should be slightly soft to moderately hard (8 to 18 dGH) with a pH balance between 5.5 and 7.5. These conditions simulate their natural habitat, increasing the chances of spawning. Adding flat stones or leaves in the aquarium gives potential spaces for the female to deposit eggs. Ensure the tank is spacious enough to accommodate territory establishment and stable enough to not stress the fish, as they prefer calm and stable environments for breeding.

Growth, Development, and Lifespan

When you introduce Keyhole Cichlids into your aquarium, you’re adopting a species with a moderate growth rate.

  • Males typically reach up to 4.3 inches (11 cm) in length
  • Females, slightly smaller, can grow up to 3 inches (7.5 cm).

In the wild, Keyhole Cichlids may grow larger, with sizes up to 5.9 inches (15 cm) reported. This size discrepancy between wild and captive specimens is common among fish due to various factors including diet and environmental conditions.

Your Keyhole Cichlid will progress through its life stages within your care, potentially living up to 8 years with proper care. This lifespan is subject to variability based on the quality of care provided, including diet, tank conditions, and stress levels.

To ensure optimal growth and longevity, your aquarium should ideally mimic their native habitat, which includes warm, slightly acidic water and plenty of live plants. Regular water changes and balanced nutrition are also crucial for sustaining your Keyhole Cichlid’s development and health throughout its life.


Where Do Keyhole Cichlids From?


What Is the Natural Habitat of a Keyhole Cichlid?

Originally found in the warm, slow-moving waters of South America, the Keyhole Cichlid has adapted to thrive in a variety of habitats. This is a species that values seclusion and comfort, often seeking refuge in densely planted areas, around rocks and within crevices. They are bottom to middle-level dwellers, so providing them with ample hiding spaces at these levels will help recreate their natural environment.


The Keyhole Cichlid is an omnivore, and in the wild, its diet primarily consists of small invertebrates, algae and plant matter. In the confinements of a tank, it’s recommended to provide them with a varied diet to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients. This can include high-quality flake food, freeze-dried food, and occasional treats of live or frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms.


In terms of behavior, Keyhole Cichlids are generally peaceful, making them an ideal choice for community tanks. However, they can exhibit shy or timid behavior, especially when first introduced to a new environment. With time, their inquisitive and charming nature will shine through, providing endless fascination and delight for their owners.

Tank Setup

When setting up a tank for your Keyhole Cichlid, aim to recreate their natural habitat as closely as possible. This will involve using sandy substrate, adding plenty of plants and rocks for hiding places, and maintaining a warm water temperature between 72-77°F. A minimum tank size of 20 gallons is recommended for one Keyhole Cichlid, with an additional 10 gallons for each additional fish.


When it comes to compatibility, Keyhole Cichlids are fantastic tank mates. Their peaceful and non-aggressive nature makes them suitable for sharing a tank with a variety of other species. However, it’s generally recommended to avoid housing them with very aggressive or considerably larger fish which might bully or intimidate them.


Keyhole Cichlids are relatively easy to breed and are known to form monogamous pairs. It’s fascinating to observe their breeding process, as both parents participate in egg care and guarding the fry. Providing them with flat rocks or broad leaf plants can encourage spawning.


Keyhole Cichlids are generally hardy and resistant to most common fish diseases. However, maintaining proper tank conditions, such as clean water, appropriate temperature, and a balanced diet is crucial for their overall health and wellbeing.


What Do Keyhole Cichlid Eat?


Are Keyhole Cichlids Aggressive?

Tank Size

How Big of a Tank Does a Keyhole Cichlid Need?


What Are the Best Tank Mates For Keyhole Cichlids?


How Big Do Keyhole Cichlids Get?