Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum

Rio Grande cichlid



Type Locality

Rio Grande, Brownsville, Texas. (Baird and Girard 1854).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Cichlasoma, Greek for "body of a wrasse," a similar type of fish; cyanoguttatum Greek for "blue-spotted" (Tomelleri and Eberle 1990).



Herichthys cyanoguttatus (H. cyanoguttatum) (C. cyanoguttatus) (Miller et al. 2005; Regan 1905; 1906-1908).



Maximum size: 30 cm TL (Page and Burr 1991).


Coloration: Adults are easily distinguished by their mostly sky blue coloration. Females are less colorful than males (Stevenson 1976). Dusky to olive above; 4-6 dark blotches (1st blotch most prominent) along rear half of side, usually confluent with dusky saddles;black blotch on caudal fin base. Numerous small white to blue spots on blue-green or gray side. Adults have iridescent blue-green spots or wavy lines on head, body and fins. Breeding adults have white head, front half of body; black rear half of body (Page and Burr 1991).


Pharyngeal teeth count:


Counts: 5 or 6 anal fin spines (Hubbs et al 1991); 15-18 dorsal fin spines (Stevenson 1976); 10-12 dorsal rays; 9-10 anal rays (Page and Burr 1991).


Body shape: General oval shape (Fontaine 1938).


Mouth position:


External morphology: One nostril opening on each side of the head; interrupted lateral line (Itzkowitz and Nyby 1982) that is doubled for a short distance on the caudal peduncle (Tomerelli and Eberle 1990). Breeding males have a prominent nuchal hump (Fontaine 1938; Page and Burr 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Native to the United States and Texas only in the Rio Grande and Pecos drainages, this species is also native to northeastern Mexico (Hubbs et al. 1991).; introduced in Florida (Birkhead 1980). Seasonally cool water restricts spread of species to the north (Tomerelli and Eberle 1990).


Texas distribution: Native to the Rio Grande and Pecos drainages (Brown 1953); introduced northwards to Central Texas in the Edwards Plateau region. (Birkhead 1980). Populations exist as far north as the San Gabriel River in the Brazos River system (Hubbs et al. 1991). Hubbs (1957) reported that the species was essentially limited to the Tamaulipan Biotic Province, in Texas.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Not threatened (Tomerelli and Eberle 1990).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Larger springs and outflows where winter temperatures are favorable (Birkhead 1980). Ponds, springs, lagoons, creeks, rivers (in pools and backwaters) and springs (Miller et al. 2005). Along outskirts of its northern limit in the Edwards Plateau, this species can survive cool winters only in the “cooling lakes” of power plants or in rivers near the outlets of warm springs (Tomerelli and Eberle 1990).


Mesohabitat: Minimum temperature tolerance between 14°C-19°C, in Colorado River at Austin, Texas (Hubbs 1951). Thriving under lake-like conditions in slight to strong currents and clear to murky or turbid water; substrates of boulders, bedrock, stones, mud, sand, clay; vegetation of green algae, water lilies, and water hyacinth; depths to 2.75 m, usually 1.5 m or less (Miller et al. 2005).



Spawning season: In the San Marcos River, Texas, from March to August, with peak reproductive activity in April (Buchanan 1971). Populations from northeastern Mexico appear to spawn during late spring based on the condition of the gonads (Darnell 1962; Birkhead 1980).


Spawning habitat: Substrate brooders; rocks generally serve as spawning sites; breeding pairs appear to prefer shallow water (Itzkowitz and Nyby 1982).


Spawning Behavior: Pair-forming substrate brooders; monogamous. During the egg stage the male and female alternate in the performance of major parental responsibilities. Males spend more time patrolling and the female spend more time in close proximity to and attending to the offspring. Pair formation occurs before territory establishment. Established pairs will travel up to 3 m to harass newly formed pairs (Itzkowitz and Nyby 1982). Fontaine (1938) observed spawning in an aquarium, noting that the female would swim over the cleaned nest, touching it with her vent (with breeding tube protruding ¼ - 3/8 inch); female expelled 1 – 5 eggs at a time; male followed female, spraying seminal fluid through tube similar to the females, while hovering over the eggs; process continued until 2500 – 3000 eggs had been laid and fertilized.


Fecundity: Unmolested eggs hatched in 26 hours at temperature of 84 degrees F, in 30 hours at 80 degrees F, and in 60 hours at 75 degrees F (Fontaine 1938).


Age at maturation: About 100 mm SL, after one year of growth (Buchanan 1971).




Growth and Population structure: Males typically larger than females (Itzkowitz and Nyby 1982).




Food habits: Individuals from constant temperature headwaters of San Marcos River in central Texas were almost exclusively herbivorous; those from Rio Grande valley in south TX were omnivorous; speculation that dietary shifts may have occurred in response to competition from ecologically equivalent centrarchids (Buchanan 1971). The strong, cutting teeth make it chiefly carnivorous, feeding mostly on fish eggs, insects, and small fishes (Tomerelli and Eberle 1990). Darnell (1962) and Birkhead (1980) note that populations from northeastern Mexico were found to be detritivorous.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

United States populations are the northernmost representative of neotropical family Cichlidae (Birkhead 1980). Species varies greatly across range in morphology and color pattern (Miller et al. 2005). Superficially resembles the sunfishes but differs in several obvious respects as well as in skeletal structure (Tomerelli and Eberle 1990). This cichlid can easily be distinguished from all species of the genus Lepomis, which it resembles, by the presence of blue or blue-green iridescent to whitish spots all over the head and body, the presence of 1 nostril opening on each side of the head and an interrupted lateral line (Itzkowitz and Nyby 1982). Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum similar to the convict cichlid (C. nigrofasciatum), but C. nigrofasciatum has 9-11 anal spines, and 7 intense black bars along side (Page and Burr 1991).


Host Records

Crassicutis sichlasomae, Cesntrocestus formosanus, Clinosomum complanatum, Diplostomum sp., Posthodiplostomum minimum, Bothriochephalus acheilognathi, Neoechinorhynchus golvani, Rhabdochona kidderi, Contracecum sp. (Salgado-Maldonado et al. 2004).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

This species is a pollution-tolerant omnivorous species used by San Antonio River Authority biologists as an indicator of an unbalanced or stressed ecosystem. Has been observed to displace native Centrarchidae and dominate when aquatic conditions are less than optimal (Gonzales and Moran 2005).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: lower Rio Grande River (Robinson 1959)Branson (1961); Rio Grande River at Mission, TX (Kornfield and Koehn 1975); Hidalgo Co. (Atkinson and Judd 1978); Edwards (1978); Devil’s River (Harrell 1978); Upper San Marcos River (Underwood and Dronen 1984); lower Rio Grande River (Edwards and Contreras-Balderas 1991); Pecos River (Rhodes and Hubbs 1992); Pinto Creek (Edwards 2003; Garrett et al. 2004); Independence Creek (Rio Grande drainage, Terrell Co.; Bonner et al. 2005).]



Atkinson, E., and F.W. Judd. 1978. Comparative hematology of Lepomis microlophus and Cichlosoma cyanoguttatum. Copeia 1978(2):230-237.

Baird, S.F. and C.Girard. 1854. Descriptions of new species of fishes collected in Texas, New Mexico, and Sonora, by Mr. John H. Clark, on the U. S. and Mexican Boundary Survey, and in Texas by Capt. Stewart Van Vliet, U. S. A. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila. [1854-1855] 7:24-29.

Birkhead, W.S. 1980. Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum (Baird and Girard) Rio Grand Perch. pp 765 in D.S. Lee et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater fishes. N.C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854.

Bonner, T.H., C. Thomas, C.S. Williams, and J.P. Karges. 2005. Temporal assessment of a west Texas stream fish assemblage. The Southwestern Naturalist 50(1):74-106.

Branson, B.A. 1961. The lateral-line system in the Rio Grande Perch, Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum (Baird and Girard). American Midland Naturalist 65(2):446-458.

Brown. 1953. Introduced fish species of the Guadalupe River Basin. Texas Journal of Science. 5:245-51.

Buchanan, T.M. 1971. The reproductive ecology of the Rio Grande cichlid, Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum, (Baird and Girard). PhD. dissertation, Univ. Texas. 226 pp.

Darnell, R.M. 1962. Fishes of the Rio Tamesi and related coastal lagoons in east-central Mexico. Publ. Inst. Mar. Sci. 8:299-365.

Edwards, R.J. 1978. The effect of hypolimnion reservoir releases on fish distribution and species diversity. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 107(1):71-77.

Edwards, R.J. 2003. Ecological profiles for selected stream-dwelling fishes IV. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 19 pp.

Edwards, R.J., and S. Contreras-Balderas. 1991. Historical changes in the icthyofauna of the lower Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte), Texas and Mexico). The Southwestern Naturalist 36(2):201-212.

Fontaine, P.A. 1938. Breeding habits of Herichthys cyanoguttatus Baird and Girard. The Aquarium 7(8):128-130.

Garrett, G.P., R.J. Edwards, and C. Hubbs. 2004. Discovery of a new population of Devils River minnow (Dionda diaboli), with implication for conservation of the species. The Southwestern Naturalist 49(4):435-441.

Gonzales, M. and E. Moran. 2005. An inventory of fish species within the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. San Antonio River Authority, Final Report. 68 pp.

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Rhodes, K., and C. Hubbs. 1992. Recovery of Pecos River fishes from a Red Tide fish kill. The Southwestern Naturalist 37(2):178-187.

Robinson, D.T. 1959. The Ichthyofauna of the lower Rio Grande, Texas and Mexico. Copeia 1959(3):253-256.

Salgado-Maldonado, G., G. Cabañas-Carranza, E. Soto-Galera, R.F. Pineda-López, J.M. Caspeta-Mandujano, E. Aguilar-Castellanos and N., Mercado-Silva. Helminth 2004. Parasites of Freshwater Fishes of the Pánuco River Basin, East Central Mexico. Comp. Parasitol. 71(2):190-202.

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Underwood, H.T., and N.O. Dronen, Jr. 1984. Endohelminths of fishes from the Upper San Marcos River, Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 29(4):377-385.