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May 24, 2012

When it comes to cichlids, there is no other name that gets hobbyists of any kind more excited to hear than ExCichlasoma festae or better known as the “Red Terror”. It is often confused with being a Central American cichlid, but the fish actually occurs from the Rio Esmeraldes in Ecuador and the Rio Tumbes in Peru, making it a South American fish. I’m not sure where this confusion came from, but this is clearly not a Central American cichlid. Even more confusing to me is the name festae, which translates from Latin into festive, joyous, or merry. Yet it bears the common name “Red Terror”, and for good reason…

In fact, ExCichlasoma festae is more closely related to ExCichlasoma ornatum, another large cichlid which comes from Colombia. The main difference between these two fish, outside of coloration, is the caudal peduncle fin is longer in adult E. festae. The jaw structure is also a little different in E. ornatum versus E. festae, so they may not end up in the same genus once assigned to an actual class. It seems that E. festae are also taller bodied than E. ornatum.

exCichlasoma festae Pair

Often E. festae are sold to pet stores and owners under the wrong conditions, because many do not know enough about the fish to know that males of E. festae can reach a maximum size of 20” in just a couple of years; while females usually grow to be about 12”. This incredibly large size can be hard to house for most hobbyists for obvious reasons. This mixed with its extreme temperament, make for one difficult fish to keep in an aquarium, and I do not recommend it for the beginning hobbyist.

The habitat of E. festae ranges greatly from fast flowing streams to nearly stagnant river systems. There also appears to be different populations existing that range in color from various reds to yellow bodies. There even appears to be a difference in the color of the stripe on the body. Some populations exhibit a black stripe while others appear to have a bluish colored one. Unfortunately, many distributors do not give out the locations of where the population was collected, and because of this, it is extremely difficult to know what they will look like when they grow up.

exCichlasoma festae Female

E. festae are very adaptable fish that can survive in many conditions and pH ranges. I would recommend a tank no less than 75 gallons while raising them, but even a larger aquarium would be ideal so you do not have to relocate them when they outgrow their home; a tank of 125 gallons would be perfect. For the substrate, I would recommend small pebbles or sand as it is more likely that E. festae will dig a cave to spawn in. I would recommend securing any pieces of rock or wood placed in the aquarium with silicone to ensure no harm comes to the fish or to the aquarium. I would keep the temperature around 77-84° and would keep the pH in the neutral range.

If you wish to breed these exceptionally colored Ecuadoran and Peruvian cichlids then I would advise growing up a small group of around six fish to ensure a solid pair will form. Once this happens, it is strongly advised to remove the other fish, as aggression is sure to start. Even a mated pair that has been together for a long time can suddenly become detached from one another. This usually ends up in the smaller female’s demise.

exCichalsoma festae Juvenile

You can find both wild caught and tank-raised ExCichlasoma festae “Red Terror” on our list this week. So be sure to click the products link below, or visit our website,, if you think you got what it takes to house a “monster fish”. If you have any further questions about keeping the “Red Terror” or any of the other fish from our list please be sure to send me an email or call me. Like always, I’ll see you back here next week. Thanks again for reading!

Anthony Perry
Sales Manager