Rusty Wessel,
Cichlid Room Companion

The Socolofi Story

By , 2002. image

Classification: Species overview, Central and North America.

Thorichthys socolofi

For those of you who don't know Ross Socolof, let me briefly introduce you. Ross Socolof has been active with the tropical fish industry for the past 50-plus years as an author, breeder, collector, explorer, farmer, importer/exporter, hobbyist, lecturer and photographer. He has accomplished much in this hobby, including becoming the first person to use Styrofoam shipping coolers to transport fish from the tropics and the first to use tranquilizers in tropical fish shipments from South America. He is a founding member of the American Cichlid Association and was named a Fellow of the ACA, the highest honor to be achieved within the organization, in 1973. He developed four collecting and shipping compounds and introduced and reintroduced many varieties of tropical fish from Central America. His collecting trips have been well documented in various hobby magazines over the years, including many new species made available to hobbyists for the first time. Some of his fish introductions included Poecilia salvatoris, Poecilia mexicana, Alfaro huberi, 'Cichlasoma' salvini, Amphilophus robertsoni, Herichthys bocourti,Thorichthys aureus, and the list goes on and on. He is 75 years young now and is still participating in collection trips to Central America. Although he is most well known for his Pseudotropheus socolofi, the beautiful African mbuna species named in his honor, it is the other cichlid that is described with his name that I want to inform you about; Thorichthys socolofi.

Thorichthys socolofi was first discovered by Socolof on an expedition to southern México in the early 1980s and was described by Robert R. Miller in Copeia in 1984. The fish were first made available to hobbyists in the mid?1980s by Ross, but somehow managed to vanish from the hobby by the mid?1990s. Since it is such a cool fish, another expedition was completed in February of 2000 by myself, Norm Edelen, Eric Hanneman, Joe Middleton, and Charlie Pyles. Fortunately, we were successful in collecting, breeding, and reintroducing Thorichthys socolofi back into the hobby.

T. socolofi reaches a maximum length of only 5 inches (about 12 cm.), which makes it an excellent choice for the home aquarium. Its coloration is quite flashy and eye-catching, but not as brightly colored as its closest cousin, Thorichthys meeki. Beautiful blue spangling dots the fish from head to tail. The lower body sports a nice yellow coloration and it is easy to recognize by the large black blotch that exists on its flanks just below the dorsal fin. The gill cover contains a black spot that resembles an eye. Overall, it is quite attractive and quite interesting.

Thorichthys socolofi has a limited distribution confined to southern México. My stock was collected from the Mizol-Ha River, near Palenque, in the Chiapas region of Southern México. It is found both above the Mizol-Ha waterfall in slightly murky water, as well as below the falls in very clear water. The Mizol-Ha is a fast-flowing, beautiful shallow stream. The bottom is covered with scattered rocks, sand, and boulders and is almost completely devoid of any plant life. The slower-moving water along the banks is mostly covered in leaf litter and scattered with driftwood. T. socolofi is quite abundant and most comfortable in these slack zones. They seem to avoid the fastest-flowing water, usually situated in the middle of the stream. The temperature of the water is about 76°F but varies slightly from season to season. Other inhabitants of the stream include Xiphophorus helleri (green swordtail), Priapella compressa, Poecilia mexicana, and Theraps coeruleus. All of these animals would make good tankmates with T. socolofi. Surprisingly, another Thorichthys; Thorichthys meeki, the common firemouth cichlid also inhabits the stream. It is not uncommon in México for one stream to house two Thorichthys species, but one has to worry about accidental hybridizing occurring if two Thorichthys species are housed together in an aquarium. Astyanax fasciatus (the Mexican tetra) and Brycon guatemalensis are very common but would be poor tankmate choices for T. socolofi, primarily because of their aggression and fin-nipping.

Mizol-ha waterfalls Mizol-Ha waterfalls. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.

Breeding occurs during the dry season (February to May). The pairs generally dig small depressions in the sand and, in the process, expose small rocks. Adhesive eggs are deposited on these rocks and both male and female defend the nest. Generally. the males are slightly larger, while the females have slightly more pronounced black elongated blotches located in the lower dorsal fin. The males are the first to abandon the nest when danger approaches (a person with mask and snorkel or a hand in the aquarium). The female, being much braver, will remain with the nest longer but eventually will defect. The territories of breeding pairs are quite close, and often several pairs will be based within just a few feet of each other. This behavior has been witnessed both in the aquarium and in the wild. The fry are kept in the nest area for several weeks until they feel secure enough to escape and live on their own in the cracks of rocks and among leaf litter. This occurs about four weeks after hatching. Aggression is rare, except on occasion a territorial male will lash out at a passing female during the height of sexual activity. Even this generally results in no harm to either fish.

Maintaining T. socolofi in the aquarium is quite easy, providing adequate water changes are maintained for the animals. Since the species are riverine in nature, they prefer large partial water changes of 50 percent or more. Water temperature should be maintained between 75° and 80°F. One should note that if the temperature becomes too high (85°F plus) for a prolonged period, fin and body deformity may occur to this species. Water hardness and pH are not very important, but overall the species does better at a neutral to slightly alkaline environment. They easily breed in the home aquarium at an early age of only 10 months, and they do not require monster tanks for housing. Providing they are housed without any fin-nipping occupants, the animals grow wonderful filaments on the unpaired fins. There is little sexual dimorphism (as a general rule) in males or females, with the exception of the darker blotching coloration in the dorsal fin of the females. As with most cichlids, the males are generally more brilliantly colored, slightly larger, more aggressive, and less rotund in the abdomen region.

Thorichthys socolofi Thorichthys socolofi in the aquarium. Photo by Fish and Photo by Rusty Wessel.

One of the most interesting attributes of the Thorichthys species is the black spot (ocellus) located on the edge of both gill covers. This black spot mirrors the image of the eye and, when flared, gives the impression to other fish that a much larger and possibly more aggressive animal is being seen. This practice of flaring the gill covers can be witnessed most commonly when the animals are practicing courtship and/or defending a territory. From my experience, I have found it is best to purchase a group of young Thorichthys socolofi (8 to 12) and place them in a 30 to 40 gallon aquarium to grow them up. Amazingly, the group will begin pairing off at about 10 months of age and generally several pairs will begin the breeding process at the same time. The aquarium should have scattered rockwork and gravel. Thorichthys enjoy sifting through the gravel, so a planted aquarium may not be advisable, but sturdy plants such as Anubias seem to survive the abuse of the fish. The adults are much more tolerant of each other when compared to their more aggressive cichlid cousins of Central America. As a general rule, Thorichthys just don't tear into each other, and fights are usually quite minimal.

Courtship begins with the male selecting a territory in the tank. For a period of several days to weeks, the male flares his fins and gills to attract the female to his nest. Coloration is intensified and nice black vertical barring appears on both sexes. Eventually, the pair will lay 75 to 125 eggs on the bottom of the tank or on a rock occupying the bottom of the tank. Both parents participate in the process of watching over the nest. The nest consists of slight depressions dug out of the substrate. Under the watchful eyes of the parents, the eggs hatch in about five days and become free-swimming after three more days. The days can vary depending on the temperature of the water. Once free-swimming, the fry are fed newly hatched brine shrimp and are eventually nurtured onto dry flake food. I generally leave the fry with the adults, for they are just fantastic parents. The other Thorichthys occupants of the tank eventually are allowed access to the nest area as the fry grow and begin to disperse. As a general rule, Thorichthys do not prey on the young, but many times overcrowding leads to the expulsion of some of the fry in the group. If several pairs breed at the same time (which is common in this type of setup), the adult pairs will keep the broods separate and distinct until the fry become unmanageable and begin to leave the nest area. The dispersing and intermixing of the fry around day 30 post-hatch seem to be acceptable with all the adult Thorichthys inhabiting the tank. If all the fry are left with the adults for the duration, some of the fry will grow to adulthood and begin the process all over again.

Thorichthys socolofi A female Thorichthys socolofi in Rio Tulija, Chiapas, guarding her wrigglers under the leaf. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.

So now you have the knowledge of keeping this beautiful and interesting fish and a brief history of the man the fish was named after. Hopefully I have inspired you to give this fish a try. Trust me, you won't be sorry. A special thank-you to my collecting companions and to Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.


Wessel, Rusty. (Apr 07, 2002). "The Socolofi Story". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Dec 01, 2023, from: