Cichla kelberi

Cichla kelberi, a colorful predatory fish from southeastern Brazil, is loved by experienced aquarists. Requires a large aquarium and careful care.

Cichla kelberi

Cichla kelberi was only officially described in 2006 by Kullander and Ferreira. The genus name Cichla comes from the Greek word “kikhle,” meaning a type of fish. It refers to the cichlid family to which these fish belong. The species name ‘kelberi’ is in honor of the fisherman Dieter Kelber who promoted the genus Cichla as a sport fish and who provided the authors with information and photographs of C. kelberi and C. piquiti.


Cichla kelberi has a robust and elongated body shape, typical of predatory fish. They have a large mouth with powerful jaws, suitable for catching prey. The fins of Cichla kelberi are well developed. Adult specimens have small light spots on the pelvic and anal fins, as well as on the lower lobe of the caudal fin.

This species has a golden color with black vertical bands along the sides. Adult males may develop an olive-gold color with a pronounced yellow color on the cheeks and gill covers, while females show a lighter golden color during the mating season.

Cichla kelberi can reach a maximum length of about 45 cm in the wild, but in aquariums they usually grow to between 30 and 40 cm in length.

Sexual Dimorphism

Dominant or breeding males exhibit an olive-gold color with a pronounced yellow color on the cheeks and gill covers. They may also develop a dark gray nuchal bump, which indicates their status. Females have a lighter golden color during the mating season and do not show a nuchal hump.

Differences between Juveniles and Adults

Young Cichla kelberi have a less pronounced color pattern and are generally smaller. They do not yet show the characteristic yellow and gold colors of the adults. Adults have a clearer color pattern with golden hues and black vertical bands. They also have the characteristic light spots on the fins.

Behavior and Temperament

Behavior: Cichla kelberi is a solitary fish that is territorial and does not like to tolerate intruders in its environment, especially fish with similar behavior. They can be aggressive towards conspecifics but are generally peaceful towards non-territorial fish that are not potential prey.

Aggression: They are aggressive and predatory, especially when feeding. Everything that fits in their mouth is devoured with passion.


In the wild they can live up to 12 years. In a well-maintained aquarium, they can also live up to 12 years, provided the right conditions are recreated.

Cichla kelberi
Cichla kelberi


Cichla kelberi is a predatory fish that naturally occurs in the Araguaia and Tocantins river basins in Brazil. These fish live mainly in rivers and reservoirs. They are often found in clear and dark waters of South American rivers and lakes, but not in murky waters. They have also been introduced to several reservoirs in southeastern Brazil, such as the Volta Grande Reservoir.

Natural Habitat

The natural habitat of Cichla kelberi consists of areas with few plants. They prefer open waters where they can hunt for prey. The bottom of their habitat is usually sand and mud, which is suitable for digging nests during breeding.

The climate in their natural habitat is tropical, with an average annual temperature of approximately 21°C and an average annual rainfall of 1,400 mm. There are two typical seasonal periods: a warm and rainy period from October to April, and a colder, dry period from May to September. In some areas where Cichla kelberi occurs, such as the upper reaches of the Paraná River, there may be seasonal flooding that affects their reproductive behavior.

Natural enemies

In their natural environment, Cichla kelberi have few natural enemies due to their position as a top predator. This makes it difficult to control or eradicate their population growth when introduced to new environments. They can compete with other predatory fish and have a high rate of cannibalism, especially during the summer and early fall.


In the wild, Cichla kelberi is an opportunistic predatory fish that consumes a wide range of prey. Their diet consists mainly of fish, which is the main food source. In addition, they also eat insects, amphibians and other small animals available in their environment.

In an aquarium environment, Cichla kelberi’s diet must be carefully formulated to promote their health and growth. Recommended foods include live foods such as small fish, shrimp and other live prey. This helps to stimulate their natural hunting instincts.

Frozen food such as frozen fish, shrimp, and other seafood. This is a convenient and nutritious option often used by aquarium keepers.

Pellets and food sticks specifically designed for predatory fish can also be given. This type of food is often enriched with essential nutrients to ensure a balanced diet.

Cichla kelberi during feeding
Cichla kelberi during feeding

The aquarium

An aquarium of at least 700 liters is recommended for adult Cichla kelberi. For optimal conditions, an aquarium of 1600 liters is recommended, especially if you want to keep several specimens or other large fish.

Water parameters

The water values ​​must be carefully monitored. Keep the water temperature between 25° C and 31° Celsius. The pH may be acidic to almost neutral with a pH of 5.0 to 6.5

The Aquarium

Sand or gravel is recommended as a substrate. Use driftwood, well-rooted plants, and rocks to create shelters. Provide sufficient swimming space.

Suitable Tank Mates

You can combine this species with large hardy South American cichlids, large catfish species, and freshwater rays. Smaller fish and invertebrates are seen as prey and are therefore not suitable co-inhabitants.

Breeding Cichla kelberi

Breeding Cichla kelberi is not easy. It starts with selecting a group of juvenile fish from which to form a pair. Once a breeding pair has been formed, they need a special breeding aquarium. The distraction of other fish species disrupts mating behavior. In addition, other large fish often eat the eggs before they can hatch.

Set up the aquarium without substrate or other decoration. Just place a large flat stone on which they can lay the eggs.

Provide crystal clear and clean water with regular major water changes. When the pair is ready to lay eggs, they thoroughly clean the stone. The couple lays about 2,000 to 3,000 eggs. Only a small portion of these will be fertilized.

Remove the eggs after spawning and place them in a rearing aquarium. Filter this aquarium using only a sponge filter. This filter ensures that there is a small amount of current and does not suck in the fry once they have hatched.

The eggs hatch after about 2.5 to 3 days. They still live on their egg yolk sac. After another 6 or 7 days they can swim freely. From then on, feed them with freshly hatched brine shrimp nauplii. Clean water is also important now. Remove waste and change 10 to 15% of the water every day.


Cichla kelberi is a challenging fish to keep, mainly suitable for experienced aquarium keepers. They require a large aquarium, specific water values ​​and a powerful filter system. Their aggressive and territorial nature makes them less suitable for community aquariums. Breeding this species requires a special breeding tank and careful conditioning diet. Overall, they are fascinating but demanding fish to keep.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Ersin Ulas – (original website no longer available)
Ben Lee –

Additional information





First described by

Efrem Jorge Gondim Ferreira, Sven O. Kullander


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