Amphilophus trimaculatus – Three Spot Cichlid

Amphilophus trimaculatus or Three Spot Cichlid is not often kept in the aquarium because of its extremely aggressive behaviour. However, they are beautiful fish to see!

Amphilophus trimaculatus

Amphilophus trimaculatus was described in 1867 by Günther. Amphilophus is a compound of Amphi = on both sides and Lophus = thickening, referring to the thick lips of the type species of this genus, Amphilophus labiatus. Trimaculatum is composed of Tri = three and maculatum = spots. So “the fish with the three spots”.


Amphilophus trimaculatum, Heros trimaculatus, Cichlasoma trimaculatus, Cichlasoma mojarra, Cichlasoma centrale, Cichlasoma gordonsmithi, Cichlasoma cajali, Cichlasoma trimaculatum.


Although this fish is the basis of a world-famous, cq. Infamous hybrid, “the Flowerhorn”, there is less literature on Amphilophus trimaculatus than you might expect from this commercial success. The Flowerhorn is a creation from Asia, where it is more or less the cultural custom to produce all kinds of exorbitant morphologies. The Flowerhorn is a hybrid with a disproportionately large forehead hump combined with a color pattern that is as showy as possible. The level of hybridization and the number of species involved in the development of Flowerhorns is unclear, but Amphilophus trimaculatus is certain and it is believed that Amphilophus citrinellusAmphilophus labiatus and Vieja melanurus are also involved in this genotype.

The three spots, which should be the hallmark of Amphilophus trimaculatus, are not always visible and usually, there are even more. Perhaps a more striking feature is the position of the first spot. This one sits on the shoulder and is therefore not in line with the rest. Normally, these types of spots are at the intersections of transverse bands with the mid-lateral stripe. So it seems as if the fish has started a second lateral stripe as we also see in Trichromis salvini. And the similarities with Trichromis salvini don’t stop there. What to think, for example, of the sloping forehead profile, the compressed body, the lower beak, the tricolor, cross bands on the nose and last but not least the great temperament. It is not without reason that Günther begins his first description of Heros trimaculatus with the remark “Allied to Heros salvini”. But although it would not be the first time that the phylogenetic tree is revised, that will not happen in this case for the time being, because Amphiliphus trimaculatus is classified under Amphilophines and Trichromis salvini under the Herichtyines.

Its distribution area is large and so is its morphological variation. In recent years, breeders have made a lot of selections based on shades of red. For example, the Pyro-Trimac was created, an aquarium strain (not to be confused with a hybrid) with an increased proportion of red. The red is also present in the wild Amphilophus trimaculatus, but is less pronounced. Besides red eyes and a red zone under and behind the gills, many varieties have red in the fins, especially in the dorsal fin. But there are also varieties that are almost green (Rio Coatan), or completely yellow (Rio Tehuantepec).

The three spots are lightly bordered and you could therefore call them “ocellis” or peacock eyes. The animals grow large, the males grow up to 40 centimeters, and the females stay smaller at 25 centimeters. The latter color is intensively dark especially in the lower half of the body during the breeding season. The males develop a slight forehead bump.


Very aggressive.


Omnivorous. Vegetable food in the form of plants, algae, and detritus as well as meaty food in the form of insects and their larvae, snails, and crustaceans.


Mexico, Guatemala, El salvador, Honduras.

Distribution area

The total distribution area of ​​Amphilophus trimaculatus extends over the coastal areas of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras on the Pacific side. From Laguna Coyuca in the state of Guerro (Mexico) in the North-West, all the way to the basin of the Rio Goascorán, the border river between El Salvador and Honduras.

When it comes to habitat preferences, you could call this fish the Pacific equivalent of C. urophthalmum. Amphilophus trimaculatus is also a typical inhabitant of the coastal areas but on the Pacific Ocean.

Incidentally, reports reach us that A. trimaculatus may also be found in the upper reaches of the Atlantic rivers. Willem Heijns has already filmed A. trimaculatus in a supply river of the Coatzacoalcos. This makes for an interesting discussion. Did the Pacific fish naturally end up in the rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean, or is this due to human activity? The distance between the Atlantic and Pacific is only small in “the Istmus”. Especially when we talk about each other’s upper reaches. These can approach each other within a few kilometers, although there can still be a complete mountaintop between them. However, tectonic movements can cause a so-called “river decapitation” which causes a river to flow in the other direction. Such a process would in itself not be strange in a seismologically active region such as Central America. For now, however, most experts hold the occurrence of A. trimaculatus in the Atlantic rivers for anthropogenic causes. This fish has a preference for still (lagoon lakes) or slow-flowing water and will therefore not quickly seek the upper reaches of its own accord.

As a side effect of Flowerhorn breeding, millions of hybrids end up in the backwaters of Southeast Asia every year. They pose a serious threat to native flora and fauna. For example, in Lake Matano in Sulawesi, wild Flowerhorns cause an ecological disaster. The animals have multiplied explosively in 10 years. The striking thing about these animals is that they have lost all their hybrid features within a few years. These hybrids are therefore hardly distinguishable from wild H. trimaculatus and that last bit of red in the fins can be removed by a predator within a few generations. This indicates not only how great the environmental problems surrounding Flowerhorn production are, but also how difficult it is to distinguish A. trimaculatus from so-called “low grade Flowerhorns” on the basis of morphology.


When young, between 10 and 20 centimetres, these fish can still be kept in spacious aquariums (at least 2 metres). However, when they get older, especially the males, eventually become so intolerable that they can often only be housed individually or only with very large other fish such as catfish.

When it comes to aquarium decoration, they have their own preferences, to say the least. Especially during breeding, they behave like true bulldozers. They can completely turn an aquarium upside down in a short time. Aquarium plants are therefore not an option. Care should also be taken that heavy stones rest on the bottom plate and cannot be undercut. Habitat parameters, PH 6.4–7.0, GH 4–5, KH 4–6, Temperature 26–30 Celsius. (Conkel1997).

Breeding Amphilophus trimaculatus

Open substrate breeder. The biggest problem with breeding A. trimaculatus is often the untamed aggression of the male towards his partner. It is, therefore, best if they grow up together in a small group and are given the opportunity to form couples themselves. If you want to couple them as adults, the use of a water-permeable partition wall is actually indispensable. The dividing wall is left in place until the pair have become accustomed to each other and have come into a breeding mood. Only then can the dividing wall be removed and the couple can start expanding their family.

However, there are also breeders who simply leave the wall in place. The female then deposits her eggs close to the partition and the male tries to fertilize them through the wall. A large part of the clutch remains unfertilized in this way, but if one considers that these clutches can consist of more than 1000 eggs, the question is whether this can be regarded as a disadvantage or as an advantage.

The female guards the eggs and the male guards the territory. Depending on the temperature, the eggs develop into larvae in 3 to 4 days, after another 5 to 6 days the yolk sac is used up and the young swim freely. Then you can start feeding fresh brine shrimp. At 1 to 1.5 centimetres, gradually switch to Cyclops and only at three centimeters gradually switch to finely crushed dry food. Gradual transitions are important here. During these transitions, both types of feed are fed. This gives the intestinal tract of the fish the opportunity to adapt to the new nutritional composition.



Rene Beerlink – NVC

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Additional information






Amphilophus trimaculatum, Cichlasoma cajali, Cichlasoma centrale, Cichlasoma gordonsmithi, Cichlasoma mojarra, Cichlasoma trimaculatum, Cichlasoma trimaculatus, Heros trimaculatus

First described by

Albert Günther


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