The Umbee Cichlid is usually seen in stores as a small, drab little fish that no one would ever buy. But few aquarists are aware that they are looking at one of the largest cichlids in the world! They have the potential to outgrow every other fish in the store in just a few years. Umbees also have loads of personality, even if they are known for killing most tank mates.
Getting to Know the Umbee Cichlid
When it comes to big cichlids the majority of aquarists might think of Oscars or even Frontosas. And to be fair, a 14-inch fish is pretty sizeable. But South America is home to the largest cichlids in the world. The Umbee or Turquoise Cichlid is one of the largest of them all; only the Wolf CIchlid (Parachromis dovii) and a few Peacock Bass species get larger.
Umbee Cichlids are found in riverine environments within Panama and Colombia where they are top predators in their ecosystem. They are piscivorous, meaning they feed mostly on other fish. But they will also eat smaller prey like shrimp, frogs, and even small mammals that try crossing those dark waters.
Umbees are in many ways the very epitome of cichlid-dom. Every stereotype applies to these fish. They are full of personality but are viciously intolerant, both of each other and of other fish in general.
As large predators they grow huge; up to 2 feet long in the case of males. And when breeding they will tear up the aquascape and defend their fry from anything, even you! If you’re interested in raising a true show fish then let’s talk more about Umbee Cichlid care!
- Common Names: Umbee Cichlid, Umbriferum, Turquoise Cichlid
- Scientific Name: Kronoheros (Caquetaia) umbriferus
- Origin: Panama & Colombia
- Length: 18-24 inches
- Aquarium Size: 150+ Gallons
- Temperament: Aggressive
- Ease of Care: Intermediate to Difficult
Umbee Cichlid Care
While Umbees are very hardy, they are rated as intermediate to difficult due to the tank sizes required and their vicious temperament. It takes a lot of dedication and a little luck to get a breeding pair out of a batch of young specimens!
Aquariums for Umbee Cichlids don’t need to start out as large but you’ll still need more space than you might expect for a batch of juveniles. Even when young Umbees really don’t care much for each other. They will form small territories and aggressively display and snap at intruders. A 50 gallon tank is a minimum for a group of six juveniles.
Although they don’t like each other, getting several juveniles is your best bet because like many large cichlids Umbees mate for life. Therefore they are very picky about their mates and simply adding a sexually mature male and female may not work. Once they are around 3.5-4 inches long their sexual characteristics become more noticeable and the males will start growing more quickly.
As adults you’ll want to keep either a lone Umbee or a mated pair together with nothing else. Don’t bother with dither fish unless you have a tank 300 gallons or larger in size; your Umbees will simply pick them apart.
In nature, Umbee Cichlids are found in just three rivers in Central and South America. In fact, many of the fish species in this region are endemic (found nowhere else in the world). The dark, coffee colored waters are full of other predators like caimans and crocodiles as well.
Fortunately we need not add these to keep our Umbees happy! A moderate pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is ideal for the Umbee Cichlid, as is a temperature of 78-80℉. If you’re trying to encourage your Umbees to breed raising the temperature to 82-84℉ can be helpful. Being so close to the equator seasonal shifts in temperature are never dramatic but small changes can help signal the start of spring and summer.
Umbee Cichlids are fairly hardy; you still don’t want ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates to accumulate, however. This can be tough because as large predators, they eat a lot and poop just as much. For a tank of juveniles a power filter will be plenty for their tank. But a lone adult or adult pair should have a heavy duty canister filter attached to their home.
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Canister filters are extremely customizable. And the largest models contain far more space for bio media and chemical filtration additives than any power filter can hold.
Plants and Substrate
Plants are going to be next to impossible to care for if you have adult Umbee Cichlids. These fish love to dig even when they aren’t breeding. Any plants are going to get in their way and will be plucked out and left to drift.
You might have some luck with epiphytes, however. Epiphytes are plants that attach themselves to hard surfaces rather than root in sand or gravel. These include some of the most popular plants in the hobby, including Anubias, Java Fern, and Java Moss. A few less common epiphytes that may work with Umbee Cichlids are Bucephalandra, African Water Fern, and Christmas Moss.
A determined Umbee pair still might decide they hate your aquascaping and try tearing them out anyway. But so long as the leaves don’t intrude into their chosen breeding space there is a chance you can keep greenery with them.
When it comes to the substrate you should choose whichever style best suits your tastes. Just be aware that it’s going to get shifted into pits and piles all over the tank. Sand might be more attractive to some aquarists and it’s not as easy to pile up as gravel. But gravel does have the benefit of being easier to clean as food and waste doesn’t get trapped inside it as easily.
I do recommend choosing a darker shade, like brown or black, simply because your fish will darken their colors to match the substrate. Lighter substrates tend to wash out the colors of fish.
Feeding Umbee Cichlids
Feeding Umbee Cichlids is perhaps the easiest aspect of caring for them because these fish love to eat! But they don’t have the metabolism of smaller fish so we need to be careful not to overfeed Umbees. As juveniles they should be fed twice a day. And once they reach 7-8 inches you can move to a single feeding per day.
Think carefully on what you feed them and how often as well. Umbees should be given a mixture of prepared and fresh foods. The problem with prepared foods is that they aren’t nutritionally complete. And the problem with fresh foods is that they are messy and may contain parasites, especially live foods like feeder fish.
Therefore, when shopping for fresh foods, your best bet is to visit the seafood aisle of your local grocery store. Fresh or frozen shelled shrimp, mussels, squid, and strips of lean fish are all perfect for Umbee Cichlids. Some aquarists like offering chopped beef heart or chicken. But these meats are much higher in fat, which isn’t good for fish.
Other fresh foods include crickets, hissing roaches, and earthworms, all of which are less likely to transmit parasites. Also keep in mind that Umbees like to chew their food, which spews particles of meat all over the tank. This is another reason why a canister filter is so important; these fish just create loads of ammonia that needs processing.
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You can pair fresh foods with high quality pellet formulas. Make sure that fish, shrimp, insects, or some other source of animal protein is the main ingredient. Many formulas use potato, wheat or corn starch as fillers and these are bad for Umbee health.
Tank Mates for Umbee Cichlids
Unfortunately, unless your tank is 300 gallons or more you should avoid keeping tank mates with your Umbees. As juveniles you can certainly keep them with large barbs, giant danios, silver dollars, and other large dither fish.
But an adult male Umbee will make a meal out of, or simply kill, any of these fish. And in an aquarium under 180 gallons there won’t be enough room for them to flee a 2 foot long angry Umbee.
Other large cichlids can work as tank mates but it’s not easy and definitely not for beginners. Large cichlid fights can end with missing eyes and permanent scars. Cichlids also tend to vary quite a bit in temperament; you can have one of the same kind that ignores most fish while another will kill anything that swims.
But if you’re determined to make it work, you can keep Umbees with fully grown adults of other especially large and aggressive Central and South American Cichlids. These include the Wolf Cichlid, Peacock Bass, Red Terror (Amphilophus festae), and Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis managuensis).
Sometimes a dominant male Umbee may ignore aggressive but smaller cichlids since he doesn’t see them as a threat. Compatible fish include the Cuban Cichlid (Nandopsis tetracanthus), Jack Dempsey, and Salvini Cichlid (Trichromis salvini). But again, he may decide he hates them and since an Umbee is so much larger, they will be killed.
Many aquarists report having good luck keeping bottom dwellers with Umbee Cichlids. Large Plecostomus may have their fins nipped on occasion but seem to do well thanks to their spines and armored scales. Larger Synodontis catfish species, such as the Featherfin Synodontis (Synodontis eupterus) can also work.
Good Tank Mates for Umbee Cichlids:
- Other Large Cichlids
- Medium sized Aggressive Cichlids (with caution)
- Tinfoil Barbs, Silver Dollars, Giant Danios, and other large dither fish (when young/in 300+ gallon tanks)
- Plecostomus, Bichirs, and other large Bottom Dwellers
Poor Tank Mates for Umbee Cichlids:
- Most Community Fish (once fully grown)
Breeding Umbee Cichlids
If you’ve read this far and are not yet intimidated then perhaps you’ll be interested in breeding Umbee Cichlids! Assuming you can provide for a group of juveniles to pair off naturally, you’ll then need to remove the other Umbees and any dither fish as well. Because once Umbees spawn, no tank mates are going to survive their wrath.
Another thing to consider is that these fish are so temperamental that they will fight with each other on occasion, both before, and after spawning. The male is so much larger than his mate that he can do serious damage to her. You’ll see them lip lock and wrestle on occasion and either fish may come away with damaged lips because Umbees do have sizable teeth.
The female needs the opportunity to be able to escape her mate’s attention once in a while. Not every aquarist does this. But if you want to be entirely sure that you won’t come home to a dead female after all of the work invested in raising a pair, then a partial aquarium divider is your best bet.
You can cut a hole in a reinforced aquarium divider that’s small enough for the female to pass through but not the male. Even when they are around the same age, males will be substantially bigger, making it easy for the female to enter his space and leave if she desires.
This is also the best way to introduce two Umbee Cichlids that haven’t been raised together. This way the male can’t attack her outright and the female has a chance to “introduce” herself.
Assuming you provide them with plenty of food, clean water, and they end up forming a pair bond, you’re all but guaranteed to see some fry! The two fish will begin moving gravel around even more vigorously than usual and will eventually choose a hard surface to lay their eggs on.
A clay pot, PVC pipe, rock, or even the tank bottom are typically what they choose. Their colors also shift, with the male becoming even more intensely turquoise and the female taking on a bright yellow hue with black markings on her sides and eyes.
At this stage they will viciously attack anything around, both inside the tank and without, trying to protect their fry! Even when cleaning the tank they will nip at aquarium siphons and fingers. Umbees do have good sized teeth so be mindful when cleaning the tank of a breeding pair.
Once the eggs are laid (anywhere from 500 to 2000) the fry hatch in 3 to 4 days. Since the young are fairly large for fish fry they can be started on baby brine shrimp, powdered flakes, and other standard foods right away.
As they grow, you’ll see the fry also feeding on the “leftovers” from their parents’ meals! As the adults chew their food and make a mess the fry will cluster around their parents to feed on the food particles!