Keyhole Cichlid – Species Profile & Facts

Keyhole cichlids (Cleithracara maronii) are an interesting fish species. They have a distinct look about them, with a black pattern on their body that looks like a keyhole.

That’s where they got their name from. But in addition to that, this fish is an interesting species that many cichlid lovers and home fish tank owners like to have in their tank.

They are known for being relatively peaceful fish, but they can get aggressive when they are breeding.

It’s not a flashy fish or a fish with bright colors, but it’s still an interesting fish species to keep in your tank. However, it’s not as popular as some other, brighter cichlids, and they don’t show up in fish shops that often.

Nevertheless, you should always try to get a keyhole cichlid from a reliable source. One of the primary considerations, when you’re selecting a keyhole cichlid for your tank, is whether they have been kept in a clean and safe environment.

Make sure the cichlid you pick is without diseases and doesn’t have a history of being kept in dirty or poorly-tended to aquariums. These are one of the smaller breeds of cichlids, as they will only grow to about 4 inches in size.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at keyhole cichlids and how you can keep them in your own tank. Here’s everything you need to know about keyhole cichlids.

Keyhole Cichlid Natural Habitat

Keyhole cichlids are endemic to tropical areas of Africa, Central and South America. Most commonly, they are found in Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, Trinidad, although they haven’t been recorded on that island ever since the 1960s.

A large majority of these fish, though, are widespread in fish farms, where they are bred and them sold commercially.

If you want to keep a wild keyhole cichlid, it might be slightly more complex to do that, as they are certainly not used to such environments. It might take longer for them to adapt.

It’s most likely that you’ll encounter this fish in the lower areas of slow-moving waters and streams. They like brown waters with decaying plants, as they prefer areas with high amounts of humic acids. The PH might be as low as 4 in their natural habitat.

You can see why these fish are somewhat special among cichlids, who normally prefer clean waters with neutral PH levels.

It’s also typical to find keyhole cichlids in areas where there are plenty of fallen leaves which create a blacker and darker environment for the fish.

In natural habitat, these fish will normally feed on smaller creatures they might hunt down, such as crustaceans, worms, insects, larvae, and other similar creatures.

So, you can try to recreate their natural diet in their tank, too.

Keyhole Cichlid Tank Requirements

Keyhole cichlids are among the smallest types of cichlids out there. This is great news for those who prefer to have smaller tanks.

This fish will prefer to have a 20-gallon tank or larger, depending on how many fish you intend to keep, and how large are the other fish you are keeping it with.

Around 20 gallons of water is a good estimate for a single keyhole cichlid. The fish are also monogamic, and they like to form a family with their partner.

An important thing to keep in mind is to provide a relatively low lighting for the tank, as this is how these fish are used to living.

It’s recommended to have a canopy over the tank, as these fish might start to jump out of the tank. This canopy will also provide a slightly darker environment.

However, leaving the tank too dark can be harmful for the fish. Try to aim for low to moderate lighting in the tank, which seems to work best for these fish.

Make sure the water flow in the tank is slow. You will need a good filter for the tank, but also make sure you buy one with an adjustable flow rate.

That will allow you to lower the flow rate in the tank, which is desirable for these fish.

A heater will also come handy. As for plants and rocks, you will need to add many rocks to the tank, and provide these fish with hiding places. Also, try to create caves for the fish, which can make breeding easier.

Keyhole Cichlid Water Conditions

In terms of water temperature, try to keep it between 72- and 77-degrees Fahrenheit (22-26 degrees Celsius).

For some tank owners, keeping that temperature might be hard, especially if they live in an area where natural temperatures are much lower than that. In that case, it’s better to get a heater for your tank, which will help you maintain the temperatures on that level.

Most bred fish will like to have a neutral PH – 6.5-7.2, compared to keyhole cichlids which are found in the wild. These fish normally live in waters where the PH is much lower (as low as 4).

But the good news is that most, or all of the keyhole cichlids sold commercially have gotten used to neutral PH levels, which is why you can make sure that you try to keep it in those ranges.

However, these fish will tolerate much lower PH levels to about 4, which is what you can also maintain in your tank.

The water hardness should be between 36-268ppm. Make sure you keep the water conditions in those ranges at all times, since these fish are vulnerable to incorrect water conditions.

Also, high ammonia levels should be avoided at all costs. You can do that by buying a high-quality filter for your tank.

Keyhole Cichlid Diet and Feeding

With the right diet, keyhole cichlids can survive of up to 10 years. These fish are primarily carnivores, although they can also eat vegetables when there are no other food sources available around them. They have adapted to eating vegetables in the wild, and you can provide vegetables sometimes.

It’s not a fussy eater, this fish. It doesn’t require much maintenance and care in terms of diet, and will accept most foods, including live foods, prepared or frozen foods, and vegetables on occasion.

Frozen and live bloodworms should be provided for young cichlids, especially for cichlids that are smaller and still growing. These foods have high amounts of protein, which can help them grow faster.

You can also consider pellets and flakes, which should be high-quality. These can be meat-based, or in some cases, veggie-based, too. However, always make sure to keep the diet as varied as possible for these fish.

Add live and frozen foods often, as well as vegetables, or even fruits. Make sure the bites of food fit in the fish’s mouth. Feed them 2-5 times per day with smaller portions of food, or once or twice a day with larger portions.

Keyhole Cichlid Tank Mates

Keyhole cichlids are, compared to other cichlids, fairly timid and peaceful. They will spend most of their time hiding, especially if they feel there is danger around them.

It is best to keep these fish in a school of 6-8 other fish from the same species, without adding any other aggressive species.

But you can also consider some other fish species for tank mates. Ideally, these fish should be similar in size and should be peaceful. Avoid larger fish that can be aggressive.

You can consider smaller fish, but do make sure to add a separate breeding tank when these fish breed if you do. That’s because they can get aggressive when they breed.

Generally, they don’t show aggression towards other fish, though. Always make sure these fish feel safe in your tank and that you don’t add aggressive fish to the tank.

Keyhole Cichlid Breeding

This species is a monogamous spawner, and you can easily breed it as long as the conditions fit their breeding patterns. As long as the water conditions are within their preferred ranges, you should be able to breed them successfully.

There doesn’t seem to be a particular trigger for breeding these fish. The fish will breed automatically, as long as there are male and females mixed together.

Or, if you want the best chance of breeding, pair males and females together.

Eggs will be laid on solid surfaces – rocks, and sometimes even on driftwood, or in rare cases, plants. Up to 300 eggs will be released by the female.

The fry is easily fed, and the parents will keep a close eye on them for several weeks after spawning. They will also become aggressive in some cases, especially if they notice a threat from other fish.


Keyhole cichlids are an interesting fish species with a keyhole pattern on their bodies. They are not the most common type of cichlid, especially because they are not as colorful as some other cichlids.

However, the great thing about this fish is that they are more peaceful than most cichlids, and are also smaller.

These can be timid and shy, which is why you should pair it with the right tank mates that won’t show any aggression.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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