The attractive Black Belt CichlidParaneetroplus maculicauda (previously Vieja maculicauda and Cichlasoma maculicauda) is a popular choice for both beginner and experienced fishkeepers. As with most cichlids, the Black Belt Cichlid is an intelligent fish and can come to recognize and respond to a particular owner. In addition, the Black Belt presents a beautiful and unique red, black, and white color combination and a relatively docile temperament. These characteristics coupled with fairly easy maintenance and breeding requirments make this fish a wonderful choice for any devoted aquarist.
Though they are large at a maximum of 12" and can be aggressive and are not considered a community fish, the Black Belt Cichlid has a somewhat more docile manner than many of its relatives. It can be kept with others of its own species, a group of 6 if they are raised together in a very large tank. In a breeding pair the male is not aggressive towards its mate if there is plenty of room, though it can become very territorial and aggressive towards others when spawning. These cichlids can also be kept with other Central and South American cichlids of a similar temperament as long as there is plenty of room. Aquariums 120 gallons or more can work well with these groupings while a single fish will require a recommended minimum of 70+ gallons.
The Black Belt Cichlid is easy to moderate to care for as long as large and frequent water changes are diligently performed. They can be kept in both fresh and brackish water. They are not demanding and can take a wide range of pH, though it must be kept stable. They will feel at home with moderate or subdued lighting, and will appreciate a sandy substrate with a decor of bog wood, roots, and rocks having plenty of hiding places. Plants will not do well as they will be eaten. Provide flat smooth stones for spawning.
The Black Belt Cichlid is a deep bodied oval disk shape fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. These are very large fish, with the males reaching almost 12" (30 cm) in length. They are also very deep bodied so its easy to underestimate their actual size. They have a lifespan of 8 - 10 years.
The body of the male is silvery white with a black band, either solid or sketchy, encircling the midsection just behind the pelvic fin. The caudal fins is all red or partially red and there is red blotching on the chin and throat that runs from the lips to just before the pelvic fin. The female is dark gray in color with a red tail and black freckling. Older fish, especially the males, develop a nuchal hump on the head. Because of its extensive distribution area in the wild, there are several color morphs.
All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common feature of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.
The Black Belt Cichlids are fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size all need some maintenance. With home aquariums the nitrate and phosphates build up over time and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Because these fish are very sensitive to pollutants and pH instabilty, it is important that at least 25- 30% of the tank water should be replaced weekly, especially if the tank is densely stocked. When doing the weekly water changes always use a gravel cleaner to ensure all of the decomposing organic matter that has built up is removed.
As with most predatory species a highly efficiant filter is needed because of the amount of waste that thet produce. The filters or a powerhead should provide moderate water movement for the Black Belt Cichlids.
As with most large cichlids, the Black Belt Cichlid needs a great deal of space. If keeping just one or two of these fish, an aquarium of at least 70 gallons is recommended. If keeping a small group of Black Belt Cichlids an aquarium of at least 120 gallons is recommended. These fish can be kept in freshwater or brackish water with low to moderate salinity of less than 1.010 sg. The substrate should be a smooth sand/gravel mix and decorated with twisted roots, bog wood, rocks, and caves large enough for the fish to retreat into. Providing flat smooth surfaces to the substrate will help facilitate spawning. No need to add plants to the tank unless they are planned to be used for food!
The Black Belt Cichlid requires very clean water and is sensitive to pH changes. To aid in accomplishing this, use highly efficient filtration systems that can provide moderate water movement. Canister or sump style filtration works best. A secure top should be installed with moderate lighting.
These fish are moderately aggressive and are not considered a community fish. However, a Black Belt Cichlid can be more docile or aggressive depending on the size of the tank you provide them with. If you provide a very large tank, 120 gallons or more, they can be kept with larger fish that have a similar or the same temperament. In aquariums with hundreds of gallons they are a lot less aggressive. If, however, two or more are kept in an aquarium of 60 gallons or less it is likely they will become aggressive towards one another.
Some experts have suggested maintaining these fish in a specieis specific tank and isolating them from other species. They can be kept alone or as a mated pair, or kept in a group of 6 if they grow up together in a very large tank. Make many places for the female to hide when spawning. Suitable tank mates for the Black Belt Cichlids are Texas Chichlids, Green Terror, Convicts, Synspilums, Pimelodids, large Characins, Tilapia and Hemichromis.
The Black Belt Cichlid has been bred in captivity. For breeding larger cichlids, this fish is a great choice. The male does not thrash the female like other large cichlids do as long as there is a lot of room, a 150 gallon tank or more. Provide flat smooth stones as a spawning substrate. The pair will circle each other, and after moving the gravel out of the way, the female will lay up to 600 eggs. The fry are free swimming in 8 days are are very small. They will eat artemia and grow quickly.