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Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara maronii): Complete Care Guides, Tank Mates, FAQs

keyhole cichlid
<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amphilophus_citrinellus_01.jpg">Doronenko</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0">CC BY 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Keyhole Cichlid, scientifically known as Cleithracara maronii, belongs to the Cichlidae family and is a freshwater gem that’s perfect for beginner and experienced aquarists alike. They’re part of the Perciformes order and share a familial bond with other popular aquarium cichlids like the Angelfish and the Discus. The Keyhole Cichlid isn’t a rare fish, but it’s less commonly found in the aquarium trade compared to its more flamboyant relatives.

When it comes to colors, the Keyhole Cichlid is modest but fascinating. They generally display a brownish hue with a unique keyhole-shaped mark on their side, which is how they got their name. At times, their scales can show a light blue to green iridescence, often reflecting their mood or environmental conditions. And speaking of mood, these fish are known for their peaceful temperament. They’re mid-dwellers that occasionally roam the entire tank, making them versatile and easy to place with other non-aggressive tank mates.

Diet-wise, these cichlids are not fussy eaters. They’re omnivorous and will happily munch on flake food, pellets, and even live or frozen treats like bloodworms and brine shrimp. For those interested in the numbers, Keyhole Cichlids typically grow to around 4-5 inches and can live for about 8-10 years if well cared for. Ideal water conditions include a pH range of 6.0-7.5 and temperatures between 73-77°F.

Let’s delve into their natural habitat. Originating from slow-moving rivers and streams in the Orinoco and Essequibo river basins in South America, they appreciate aquarium settings that mimic these conditions. A well-planted tank with plenty of hiding spots will make your Keyhole Cichlid feel right at home. For more in-depth information on their habitat, you can refer to journals like the Journal of Fish Biology.

Here are some fun facts to spice up your Keyhole Cichlid knowledge. Despite their more subdued appearance, they are one of the few cichlids well-suited for peaceful community tanks. Their color-changing ability is another point that makes them stand out in the aquatic world. Now, how about a bit of history? The species was first described in 1831 by the French ichthyologist Georges Cuvier and has been a part of the aquarium hobby for many years, albeit as a somewhat niche choice.

All in all, the Keyhole Cichlid is a versatile, easy-to-care-for fish that brings a unique charm to any aquarium. With their peaceful demeanor, varied diet, and fascinating history, they are indeed a worthwhile addition to your fishkeeping journey.

keyhole cichlid
Doronenko, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Key Information

When it comes to the Keyhole Cichlid, you won’t find a wide range of variants like you would with some other cichlids. The species is generally consistent in appearance, exhibiting its signature brownish hue with a keyhole-shaped mark on the side. While there might not be a myriad of variants, this cichlid makes up for it with its unique features and easy-going temperament, making it a captivating addition to any aquarium.

Common NamesKeyhole Cichlid
VariantsGenerally no significant variants
Ideal Tank Size30-50 gallons
Water ParameterspH: 6.0-7.5, Temperature: 73-77°F
Lifespan8-10 years
Full Size4-5 inches
Natural EnvironmentSlow-moving rivers and streams in the Orinoco and Essequibo river basins in South America
BehaviorPeaceful, social, non-aggressive
Habitat PreferencePrefers well-planted tanks with plenty of hiding spots
Aquarium DecorationPlants, rocks, driftwood
Ideal Tank MatesOther peaceful community fish like tetras, rasboras, and certain catfish species
Fish to AvoidAggressive or overly territorial species like Oscars or Jack Dempseys
Best Foods/DietOmnivorous; flake food, pellets, and live/frozen foods like bloodworms and brine shrimp
DiseaseSusceptible to common fish diseases like Ich; maintaining good water quality is crucial for prevention
Sex-SwitchNo known sex-switching behavior
Gender DifferencesMales are generally slightly larger and may have longer fin extensions
Care LevelEasy; suitable for beginners
Breeding LevelModerate; will breed in well-maintained tanks with proper water conditions

Ideal Tank Mates

The Keyhole Cichlid is known for its peaceful and easy-going temperament, making it an ideal candidate for community tanks. Its non-aggressive nature allows it to coexist well with a variety of other fish species that have similar care requirements and behaviors. However, it’s crucial to carefully select tank mates that are neither too aggressive nor too large, as they could bully or even eat the Keyhole Cichlid. Here are 15 ideal tank mates that can live harmoniously with the Keyhole Cichlid:

Neon Tetra

Neon Tetras are small, colorful fish that prefer calm environments, much like the Keyhole Cichlid. They are schooling fish and add a burst of color to your tank, making it more visually appealing.

Cardinal Tetra

Similar to the Neon Tetra, the Cardinal Tetra is another peaceful schooling fish. They are slightly larger and display vibrant colors that complement the more subdued hues of the Keyhole Cichlid.

Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras are bottom-dwelling fish that will not compete with the Keyhole Cichlid for space. They help keep the tank clean by consuming leftover food and are very peaceful by nature.

Harlequin Rasbora

Harlequin Rasboras are easy to care for and get along well with Keyhole Cichlids. They are schooling fish and their contrasting color patterns make for an engaging display.

Zebra Danio

Zebra Danios are active swimmers but are generally peaceful and coexist well with Keyhole Cichlids. They add activity to the upper parts of the tank, balancing the more mid-level dwelling Keyhole Cichlid.

Cherry Barb

Cherry Barbs are peaceful and colorful, making them a good match. They are schooling fish and prefer to be kept in groups, which can make for a lively yet peaceful tank environment.


Guppies are livebearers that are well-known for their vibrant colors and peaceful demeanor. They occupy the upper levels of the tank, allowing the Keyhole Cichlid to comfortably inhabit the mid-levels.


Platies are another type of livebearer that are easy to care for and peaceful. Their bright colors and active swimming patterns add excitement to the aquarium.


Mollies are adaptable and can thrive in various water conditions. They are peaceful and can coexist with Keyhole Cichlids without any issues.

Kuhli Loach

Kuhli Loaches are bottom-dwellers that enjoy burrowing. They are nocturnal and will not disturb the Keyhole Cichlid during the day.

Bolivian Ram

Another member of the Cichlidae family, the Bolivian Ram is a peaceful cichlid that can live in harmony with the Keyhole Cichlid.

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Plecos are excellent for algae control and occupy the bottom of the tank. They are peaceful and do not compete with Keyhole Cichlids for food or space.


Otocinclus are small, algae-eating catfish that are peaceful and beneficial for the tank’s cleanliness. They are compatible with Keyhole Cichlids due to their similar care requirements and calm nature.

Dwarf Gourami

Dwarf Gouramis are labyrinth fish that are known for their vibrant colors and peaceful nature. They are easy to care for and get along well with Keyhole Cichlids.

Black Neon Tetra

Black Neon Tetras are similar to Neon Tetras but have a darker coloration. They are peaceful, schooling fish that can add variety to a community tank with Keyhole Cichlids.

Choosing the right tank mates for your Keyhole Cichlid can make a significant difference in the overall health and happiness of your aquarium community. The above-listed fish are all well-suited to cohabitating with the Keyhole Cichlid, offering a peaceful, vibrant, and balanced tank environment.


Can Keyhole Cichlids Live in a Planted Tank?

Yes, Keyhole Cichlids thrive in well-planted tanks. The plants offer them hiding spots and contribute to a more natural environment, which can reduce stress and promote overall well-being.

Do They Require a Specific Substrate?

Keyhole Cichlids are adaptable and can live with various substrates, including sand and gravel. However, a softer substrate like sand is preferable if you’re planning to encourage breeding, as they may dig to create nesting sites.

Are They Sensitive to Light?

Keyhole Cichlids don’t have specific light requirements, but like most fish, they appreciate a regular light-dark cycle. Too much bright light can stress them, so it’s good to offer shaded areas in the tank.

How Active Are They During the Day?

They are moderately active during the day, especially during feeding time. However, they also appreciate downtime and will often seek out hiding spots to rest.

Can They Be Kept in a Tank With a Strong Current?

It’s not advisable to keep Keyhole Cichlids in a tank with a strong current, as they come from slow-moving waters in their natural habitat. A moderate or gentle water flow is best for them.

Do They Produce a Lot of Waste?

Compared to other fish of similar size, Keyhole Cichlids produce a moderate amount of waste. Good filtration and regular water changes are essential for maintaining water quality.

Is it Necessary to Use a Heater in the Tank?

Since they are tropical fish, maintaining a stable water temperature is important. A heater is generally recommended to keep the water temperature within their preferred range.

Can They Recognize Their Owners?

While it’s hard to say definitively, some aquarists believe that Keyhole Cichlids can recognize their owners, especially during feeding times. However, this is more anecdotal and has not been scientifically proven.

Do They Make Sounds?

Fish in the cichlid family are known to produce low-frequency sounds, primarily during aggressive or courtship behaviors. However, these sounds are usually not audible to humans without specialized equipment.

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Total posts created: 116
A long-time freshwater fish enthusiast with a passion for sharing knowledge about this fascinating hobby. Over the years, Michelle has dedicated countless hours to studying, learning, and experiencing firsthand the joys and challenges of fish-keeping.

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