Salvini Cichlid Care Guide | Diet, Habitat, Breeding, Accessories

Nov 20, 2021

salvini cichlid

Salvini cichlids, also known as yellow belly and tricolor cichlids, are beautiful fish from Central America that can dramatically change their color throughout their lives. 

This ability sure makes them one of the most sought-after New World cichlids. However, they’re as feisty as they come. Salvini cichlids can be a nuisance in the wrong hands, owing to their assertive behavior. 

In today’s blog, I will tell you all there’s to know about these cichlids so you can make the right decisions and give your fish the best life it deserves! 

But first, let’s start with a quick glance! 

NameSalvini Cichlid 
GenusTrichromis 
SpeciesTrichromis Salvini
Scientific NameCichlasoma salvini
NicknameTricolor cichlid, Yellow Belly cichlid
Maximum Size8-12 inches
CareModerate
BreedingEasy
TemperamentAggressive 
DietOmnivore 
Minimum Tank Size50 gallons 
Temperature72-79°F (22.2-26.1°C)
pH6.5-8.0

Salvini Cichlid Natural Distribution 

Salvini cichlids were first described in 1862. They are ubiquitous across Central America, along the Atlantic slope from southern Mexico to Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.

They have also been introduced in US states like Texas and Florida. 

They inhabit moderate to fast-flowing lagoons and rivers in the wild, where they feed on small fish and invertebrates. 

What’s interesting is that unlike most fish from its genus that love to hide among roots and caves to prey, Salvini cichlids hunt in central, open areas. 

Salvini cichlids aren’t evaluated or listed by IUCN at the time of writing this article. Thus, we hope their population in the wild isn’t swiftly dwindling like other fish’s. 

How Long Do Salvini Cichlids Live? 

In captivity, Salvini cichlids can live anywhere between 10 to 13 years. However, some hobbyists have successfully raised them for over 15 years with a proper diet and environment. 

So, we can say Salvini cichlids enjoy a pretty long lifespan for a fish. 

How Much Do Salvini Cichlids Cost? 

Salvini cichlids cost anywhere between $15-45 depending on the size, lineage, and sex. However, the most common price I found on the internet was around $20. 

Salvini Cichlid Appearance 

salvini cichlids
Credits: Prakash Chakraborty (CC License)

The most fascinating aspect about a Salvini cichlid’s appearance is its versatile colors. As juveniles, these fish are rather dull and a drab shade of yellowish gray. But as they age, they develop stunning colors. 

The body is bright yellow with some hints of orange. And there’s a series of dark horizontal blotches running from the middle all the way to the eyes and tail fin. 

Bluish-green dots speckle the body, and the fins sport a pretty sheen. In addition, the anal fins and the edges of the tail fin have a rich red color.

And this lovely color palette is what gives these fish the name tricolor cichlid. 

Salvini cichlid’s body has an elongated oval shape and a pointy snout. 

And like most cichlids, they have a fully developed set of pharyngeal teeth in their throats in addition to regular teeth. 

Salvini Cichlid Size 

Salvini cichlids reach the maximum length of 8.7 inches (22 cm) on average. However, they are sexually mature and are ready to mate by the time they are six inches (15 cm) long. 

In captivity, factors like the tank’s size, diet, and stress play a pivotal role in determining how big the cichlid will grow. 

Salvini Cichlid Sexual Dimorphism 

With Salvini cichlids, sexual dimorphism is neither too apparent nor too subtle. Males have longer and pointed fins, while females have rounded short fins. 

Males also develop blue dots along the back and blue streaks on the head. 

Both males and females have an orangish tint around the stomach, but it’s more intensely colored in females. 

Females have a beautiful black patch edged in iridescent blue in the middle of the dorsal fin. They also have a dark blotch on the base of the gill covers and the middle of the dorsal fin. 

While the males are a tad bit bigger and longer comparatively, females have a more intense contrast between the black patches and yellow bodies. 

Salvini Cichlid Temperament 

Salvini cichlids are not community fish. And they’re most definitely not suited for beginners. These fish pack a lot of personalities. They’re aggressive, territorial, and wouldn’t mind bullying weaker fish to death. 

Their aggression is at the highest level when they are spawning. 

And since these fish have a strong predatory instinct, they won’t think twice before attacking and gobbling smaller fish. 

The aggression can be managed to some extent if you provide ample space and plenty of hideouts and keep them well fed. 

Salvini cichlids are not known to uproot or destroy plants. So, your aquatic plants are relatively safe in their company. However, they have a thing for burrowing into the substrate. 

So, you might want to anchor plants and decors securely. 

Salvini Cichlid Tankmates 

Given Salvini cichlid’s aggressive nature, you should only house them together with other similarly-sized and moderately aggressive fish. Of course, it’s best to keep them only with their own kind, but choose fish that can hold their own against Salvini if you like variation. 

Some suitable tankmates for Salvini cichlids are: 

Avoid adding small fish like tetras and guppies unless you’re OK with them being eaten. The same applies to slow swimmers, crustaceans, and snails. 

Salvini Cichlid Male To Female Ratio 

The ideal male to female ratio in Salvini cichlids is 4 females for 1 male. This ratio helps to spread out the aggression towards females during spawning season. 

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Salvini Cichlid Diet 

In the wild, Salvini cichlids are primarily piscivorous. They are skillful hunters, too. Salvinis use slight jaw protrusion to exploit prey near the riverbeds. 

However, their 8.2% jaw protrusion only enables them to devour 48% of the elusive prey. They are even known to use protrusion to gouge out the eyes of the victim before swallowing them. 

In the tank, Salvinis are omnivores and accept a wide variety of food. 

Here’s a list of food you can give them:

  • Pellets 
  • Flakes 
  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp 
  • Blanched veggies 
  • Small crustaceans 
  • Live fish 
  • Mosquito larvae 
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Krill 
  • Prawns 
  • Ocean plankton 
  • Spirulina 

And the foods you should avoid are animal protein and tubifex. 

Your cold-blooded Salvini cichlids cannot utilize the fat they get from consuming warm-blooded animals. As a result, this leads to a fat buildup in the liver. 

Giving cichlids tubifex is a common practice, I know, but I would still recommend against it. That’s because tubifex is often sourced from muddy rivers and polluted streams. As a result, the chances of them carrying harmful pathogens is pretty high. 

As for feeding frequency, give 3-4 small meals each day. Each time, offer an amount they can finish within 30-40 seconds. Cichlids are greedy eaters. They will surely consume a sizeable portion within that window. 

If you want to know more on this subject and check out recommendations for the best commercial food, give this article a try

Water Parameters And Aquarium Care For Salvini Cichlids 

Temperature72-79°F (22.2-26.1°C)
Breeding Temperature76°F (24.4°C)
pH6.5-8.0
General Hardness70-140 ppm
Carbonate Hardness80-100 ppm
Ammonia0 ppm
Nitrate 0 ppm
NitriteBelow 20 ppm
PhosphateBelow 0.5 ppm
Water RegionAll
Water MovementModerate 

To maintain the water parameters, conduct 20-25% water change weekly. If weekly water changes aren’t possible, you can change 40-50% water once every fortnight. 

Before starting the water change, you can clean the side panes first to get rid of the algae. For this, you can use an algae magnet or a sponge. 

Next, thoroughly vacuum the substrate to get rid of all the debris, including uneaten food. If left unattended, the decaying biological material will quickly prove poisonous. 

Since Salvinis are messy and produce a sizable bioload, following a strict maintenance routine is essential. 

Salvini cichlids are prone to stress and diseases if the water parameters aren’t maintained at all times. 

Some signs of ammonia and nitrate poisoning in fish are lack of appetite, listlessness, laying on the bottom, panting, and rapid gill movement. 

Fish are also known to release certain hormones into the water that inhibit growth. Thus, weekly water changes are a must to dilute or remove these hormones that stunt growth.

At Urban Fishkeeping, we use liquid-based tests by API that offer more accurate results and value for money than strip-based tests.

It measures 5 important water parameters: pH, high pH, nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia. 

Here’s a link to the API Freshwater Master Kit:

Maintaining the proper water temperature is just as important, too. Cichlids are ectotherms that cannot produce their own body heat. Thus, always make sure to double check the thermometers and have a backup ready. 

Lighting For Salvini Cichlids 

Salvinis come from waterways that receive about 6-8 hours of unfiltered sunlight every day. So, try to emulate that in your tank. But remember, anything greater than 8 hours could lead to unwanted algae growth. 

Minimum Tank Size For Salvini Cichlids 

Salvinis grow pretty big and are on the aggressive side. Thus, we recommend getting at least a 50-gallon tank for a single fish. If you’re keeping a pair or adding other fish, a tank above 100 gallons would be ideal.

Recommended Substrate And Decors For Salvini Cichlids

The dark, sandy substrate would be ideal for Salvinis, bringing out their colors the best. And since these fish like to dig and burrow into the sand, anything coarse like gravel can inflict injuries. 

For decors, you can use plants, rocks, and woods. Place the decors strategically to create pathways, hideouts, and distinct territories for your cichlids. 

Since Salvinis don’t attack plants, you can add plenty of them. 

And place the cords around the tank’s inside perimeter so that there is an open area to swim in the center. 

Recommended Equipment For Salvini Cichlids 

Salvini cichlids prefer strong water flow. Thus, we recommend adding a canister filter for filtration. You can also use powerheads to increase the water movement. Go with something robust and reliable from a well-known brand for the heater to avoid issues like electrocuting and sudden bursts. 

Here are our handpicked, tried-and-tested recommendations for equipment for Salvini cichlids. 

Penn-Plax Cascade Filter For Tanks Up To 100 Gallons 

Why Do We Love It? 

  • 3 large media baskets for plenty of customization 
  • Valves that rotate 360° for easy maneuvering
  • Easy push-button primer for a quick and straightforward prime
  • Comes with a spray bar, directional spout, and tubing

Hygger 500W Submersible Aquarium Heater 

Why Do We Love It?

  • Shuts off immediately if the heater is the water evaporates, and heater is exposed to the surface 
  • 3-digit digital display accurate to 0.1°F
  • Double temperature probe 
  • The outer casing is made with durable ABS material 

Aqualexs Aquarium Dragon Stone 

Why Do We Love It?

  • Handy to anchor moss and plants 
  • Doesn’t mess up water’s chemistry
  • Different sizes to choose from (2-6 inches)

Breeding Salvini Cichlids 

The easiest way to breed Salvini cichlids is to raise juveniles and wait for them to sexually mature and pair up. However, Salvinis take a bit longer than other New World cichlids to pair up. 

Although they can breed at 10-12 months of age, they will only form pairs when males reach about 6 inches and females about 4 inches. 

The coloring of Salvinis is amplified quite intensely during the breeding season. And unlike in most cichlids, females look more vibrant than males during mating season. 

Females will develop a deep reddish patch on the back and belly. They’ll also develop a blue-edged black dot in the middle of the dorsal fin. 

On the other hand, males grow blue streaks on the head and along the back. 

During mating season, these cichlids get incredibly aggressive and intolerant of their tankmates. Therefore, once the pair has formed, it’s best to transfer them to a breeding tank. 

These fish are substrate spawners. Once they select a spawning site, usually a plant leaf or flat piece of rock, the female will meticulously clean it and dig pits near it. Meanwhile, the male will patrol the area for possible intruders. 

Once the female is ready to lay the eggs, she will swim over the selected site in a series of ‘dry runs,’ after which she will periodically deposit her eggs over the next few hours. A female can lay up to 500-600 eggs during one mating season. 

The male will then immediately follow and fertilize the eggs. 

In Salvini cichlids, both parents are equally involved in caring for the eggs and fry. The female will fan the eggs to aerate them, while the male will defend against any perceived intruder. 

They will also occasionally eat the unfertilized eggs and remove the ones that have developed fungus. 

The eggs will hatch in the next 3-4 days. The parents will then move the eggs to one of the already prepared pits, where the wrigglers will feed on their yolk sacs. 

They become free-swimming in the next 4-5 days, as their yolk bag supply depletes and they need an additional food source. 

You can give the fry following food:

  • Baby brine shrimp 
  • Microworms 
  • Crushed flake food
  • Mosquito larvae 
  • Infusoria
  • Daphnia

The parents will care for their young ones for an extended period and have them acquainted with possible food sources. They will move the fry from pit to pit until they’re ready to grow up and leave the nest. 

And since the brood size will be pretty big, think ahead of how you plan to re-home these younglings. 

Salvini Cichlid Diseases 

Salvini cichlids are prone to diseases like ich, parasitic infestation, and swim bladder disease like all freshwater fish. However, most diseases occur when the water is foul. And since prevention is better than cure, it’s crucial to maintain the water quality at all times. 

If your Salvini cichlid is suffering from ich, it will show signs like white dots across the body, lethargy, panting, loss of scales, and bruising. 

And what’s dangerous about ich is that it can transfer to other fish without needing a host. 

If you are interested to know what we use to treat ich effectively, head over to this article

The swim bladder disease is a lesser-known but common disease among freshwater fish. It directly affects the fish’s buoyancy and makes it difficult to stay afloat. 

If it’s caused by a gastrointestinal problem, you can fast the fish for 3 days and feed him a cooked and skinned pea from the 4th day onwards for a couple of days. 

However, if it’s caused by an internal injury or abnormality, you will have to book an appointment with a vet. They’ll remove a part of the bladder or place a small stone in it to restore balance. 

Final Words: Salvini Cichlid Care Guide 

Salvini cichlids aren’t as popular as other Central American cichlids. Still, they have a lot to offer if raised the right way. Their beautiful yellow coloration can instantly elevate your tank’s aesthetics. 

However, they’re as feisty as they come. So, you have to be careful about the tankmates you choose for them. 

Salvanis are readily available both online and offline and retail for $15-45. So, have you brought home a Salvani cichlid recently, or are you planning to do so? 

Don’t forget to share your experience with us for a chance to get featured! 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.