Cichla belongs to the subfamily Cichlinae, tribe Cichlini, sister group of teh Crenicichlini.





Sven O Kullander


Cichla Schneider


Cichla Schneider, 1801. Bloch. Syst. Ichthyol., p. 336 (type by subsequent designation by Eigenmann & Bray (1894, p. 611), Cichla ocellaris Schneider). - Feminine.
Acharnes Müller & Troschel, in Schomburgk, 1849. Reisen Brit. Guiana 3, p. 622 (type by monotypy Acharnes speciosus Müller & Troschel). - Masculine.

Cichla ocellaris Schneider, fresh from the Maroni River at Maripasoela. Photo © S.O. Kullander
Cichla ocellaris Schneider, fresh from the Maroni River at Maripasoela. Photo: S.O. Kullander.


Cichla is easily distinguished from all other South American cichlids by the shape of the dorsal fin: the spines increase in length to about the 5th, after which there is a gradual decrease to a very short penultimate spine. The soft fin is again about as high as the anterior spinous part. The mouth is large, with prominent jaws, the lower jaw prognathous and the maxilla well exposed. The triacanth anal fin is small and densely scaled in adults. From about 100 mm SL a prominent ocellus is formed on the caudal fin base. The colour pattern is otherwise variable ontogenetically and between individuals. At larger sizes colour pattern can be used to identify species, and in particular breeding colouration is species specific.

The bilateral elements of the lower pharyngeal jaw are separate posteriorly and extensively covered by fine teeth. A series of small tooth plates on the 4th ceratobranchial. On the first gill arch there are 7 or 8 epibranchial gill rakers, one in the angle, and 17 to 19 cerato- and hypobranchial rakers, all strongly denticulate, those caudally on the ceratobranchial long, gradually shorter towards arch articulations, anterior 3-5 becoming plate like in large specimens. Microbranchiospines, with a few spines on the exposed face, are present on both sides of all gill arches in adults, only externally in young. Two supraneurals, 35-36 vertebrae (usually 1-2 more abdominal than caudal).

The lateralis canal system of the head includes 7 preopercular and 5 dentary foramina; the suborbital series includes 7 bones, the lacrimal and the plate like first infraorbital forming a unit with together 5 lateralis foramina, remaining infraorbitals tubular. The flank lateral line is commonly continuous; tubed lateral line sequences on caudal fin are long, positioned between rays D3 and D4, and V4 and V5. The lip folds are discontinuous symphysially, the upper and lower lips narrowly connected ventrally on the maxilla ('African type' lips). The preoperculum is entire.

Cichla species are the largest cichlids in South America. Most information on maximum size is imprecise, however. The largest specimen reliably recorded is Machado's (1971) 62 cm SL C. orinocensis, but C. temensis probably reaches about one meter in length.

See Stiassny (1982, 1987) and Kullander (1986, 1988) for discussions on generic characters and phylogenetic relationships. The taxonomy of the synonym Acharnes is discussed in Kullander (1981).

Included species

Cichla intermedia Machado-Allison, 1971
Cichla intermedia Machado-Allison, 1971. Acta Biol. Venez. 7, p. 473, fig. 7 (río Casiquiare, Territorio Federal Amazonas).
Cichla monoculus Agassiz, 1831
Cychla Monoculus Agassiz, 1831, in Spix & Agassiz. Sel. Gen. Sp. Pisc. Bras., p. 100, Pl. LXIII (as Cichla Monoculus) (mari Brasiliae).
?Cychla nigro-maculata Jardine, 1843. Nat. Libr. Ichthyol. 5, p. 147, Pl. 7 ([Rio Negro and Padauiri]).
Cycla toucounarai Castelnau, 1855. Anim. nouv. rares. Poissons, p. 17, Pl. 10, fig. 1 (le lac des Perles de la province de Goyaz; le Tocantins; l'Amazone).
Cichla bilineatus Nakashima, 1941. Boln Mus. Hist. nat. Javier Prado 5, p. 73, Fig. [3] (los lagos y ríos de Sudamérica tropical [cercanías del Puerto de Iquitos]).
Cichla ocellaris Schneider, 1801
Cichla ocellaris Schneider, 1801. Bloch. Syst. Ichthyol., p. 340, Pl. 66 (India Orientali).
Acharnes speciosus Müller & Troschel, 1849, in Schomburgk. Reisen Brit. Guiana 3, p. 622 (Küste; Mündung des Essequibo).
Cichla orinocensis Humboldt, 1821
Cichla orinocensis Humboldt, 1821, in Humboldt & Valenciennes. Voy. Humb. Bonpl. 2, p. 167, Pl. XLV, fig. 3 (les rives de l'Orénoque et du Guainia ou Rio Negro).
?Cichla argus Valenciennes, 1821, in Humboldt & Valenciennes. Voy. Humb. Bonpl. 2, p. 169 (-).
Cichla temensis Humboldt, 1821
Cichla temensis Humboldt, 1821, in Humboldt & Valenciennes. Voy. Humb. Bonpl. 2, p. 169 (Temi).
Cichla atabapensis Humboldt, 1821, in Humboldt & Valenciennes. Voy. Humb. Bonpl. 2, p. 168 (l'Orénoque; Rio Atabapo).
Cychla flavo-maculata Jardine, 1843. Nat. Libr. Ichthyol. 5, p. 145, Pl. 6 (Rio Negro and Padauiri).
Cychla trifasciata Jardine, 1843. Nat. Libr. Ichthyol. 5, p. 151, Pl. 9 (Rio Negro; Padauiri).
Cichla Tucunare Heckel, 1840. Annln wien. Mus. Natges. 2, p. 409 (Rio-branco).
?Cichla unitaeniatus Magalhães, 1931. Monogr. Braz. Peixes, p. 225 (Rio Negro e do Purus).

Of the 15 nominal species referrable to the genus, five are recognized as valid following the review by Kullander (1986) and Kullander & Nijssen (1989): C. ocellaris, C. orinocensis Humboldt, C. temensis Humboldt, C. intermedia Machado-Allison, and C. monoculus Agassiz. Studies in progress suggest, however, that Cichla has at least 12 species.

Cichla ocellaris is generally regarded as a very variable species with wide distribution, but non-Guianan records are mostly for C. monoculus (Kullander 1986) or C. orinocensis (as in Machado 1971). Cichla temensis, C. orinocensis (as C. ocellaris) and C. intermedia were recently described in some detail by Machado (1971), C. monoculus by Kullander (1986), and C. ocellaris by Kullander & Nijssen (1989).

Key to species

No key is presented here, in anticipation of a taxonomic revision providing characters for the many undescribed species.


kichle, a labrid fish known to the Ancient Greek; feminine by substitution of final eta with a.
acharne (also acarne), feminine, Latin fish name, from Greek akarnax, or akarne, the name of a fish known to the Ancient Greek and Romans, apparently Dicentrarchus labrax. Masculine by the Latin masculine ending, -es. Etymology provided by the authors: ‘Fischname bei Xenocrates’.

Geographical distribution

Species of the genus have been recorded from a wide area including most of the Amazon basin, the Orinoco basin and Guianan rivers. Cichla species are among the most important food and game fishes in South America. Two species of Cichla, imported from Brazil, were tried in fish culture in Guyana (Lowe-McConnell, 1969) and if released into open waters there may now be more than one Cichla species in Guyanan Atlantic rivers.


KULLANDER, S.O. 1981. Cichlid fishes from the La Plata basin. Part I. Collections from Paraguay in the Muséum d'Histoire naturelle de Genève. Revue suisse Zool. 88: 675-692.
KULLANDER, S.O. 1986. Cichlid fishes of the Amazon River drainage of Peru. Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, 431 pp.
KULLANDER, S.O. 1988. Teleocichla, a new genus of South American rheophilic cichlid fishes with six new species. Copeia 1988: 196-230.
KULLANDER, S.O. & H. NIJSSEN. 1989. The cichlids of Surinam. E.J. Brill, Leiden and other cities, XXXIII+256 pp.
LOWE-McCONNELL, R.H. 1969. The cichlid fishes of Guyana, South America, with notes on their ecology and breeding behaviour. Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 48: 255-302.
MACHADO-ALLISON, A. 1971. Contribución al conocimiento de la taxonomia del género Cichla en Venezuela. Parte I. Acta biol. Venez. 7: 459-497.
MACHADO-ALLISON, A. 1973. Contribución al conocimiento de la taxonomia del género Cichla en Venezuela. Parte II. Osteologia comparada. Acta biol. venez. 8: 155-205.
STIASSNY, M.L.J. 1982. The relationships of the neotropical genus Cichla: a phyletic analysis including some functional considerations. J. Zool. Lond. 197: 427-453.
STIASSNY, M.L.J. 1987. Cichlid familial intrarelationships and the placement of the neotropical genus Cichla. J. nat. Hist. 21: 1311-1331.