Cichlid Room Companion


Care and breeding of the Red Bay Snook, Petenia splendida

By , 1997. image
Don Danko, 2000

Classification: Captive maintenance, Central and North America.

Red Bay Snook, Petenia splendida A beautiful specimen of the red form of Petenia splendida, the Red Bay Snook. Photo and fish by Don Danko.

Although much diversity and beauty exists in the world of cichlids, few species exhibit the rare combination of unusual morphology and beautiful coloration, as does the oligomelanic form of Petenia splendida. This species, commonly called the Red Bay Snook, is a large predatory cichlid, of moderate aggressiveness, that lends itself well to community habitation with other large, moderately aggressive cichlids. This article will provide insight into the care, maintenance and breeding of this beautiful animal.

Petenia splendida , from Central America, is thought to be closely related to a group of South American cichlids of the genus Caquetaia: C. kraussi, myersi and spectabile. At one time, all four of these species were grouped under the genus Petenia; however, kraussi, myersi and spectabile were later reclassified to the Parapetenia group of the genus Cichlasoma. Subsequently, Kullander revised the genus Cichlasoma and restricted its usage to the previously named Aequidens, of South America. Since this time, the generic name, Caquetaia, named after the Caqueta province of Colombia, applies to the three species, with Petenia reserved for the single species, splendida. (Editor note: This situation is possibly bound to reverse, as studies carried out by Dr. Robert Rush Miller on the osteology of Caquetaia and Petenia show they are very closely related, in his opinion, Caquetaia may be subgenus of Petenia, which will include the species umbrifera, personal comunication 1997)

Petenia splendida and the Caquetaia species both exhibit a large, protrusible jaw structure which allows them to open and extend the mouth quite dramatically, to the point where they can engulf fish of quite a substantial size. This capability must be understood and managed in the cichlid community tank and, therefore, these fishes can only be maintained with other larger fishes than cannot be swallowed.

Petenia splendida occurs in two color forms, a normal form and an oligomelanic form. The normal color pattern of P. splendida is a silver background with several black spots and flecks. Additionally, the belly can exhibit a deep, reddish hue. This normal color form can be seen throughout the waters of the Rio Papaloapan, Rio Coatzacoalcos and other waters of Central America. The oligomelanic form of Petenia splendida is a solid, rosy red color and is reportedly found in the rivers of Belize (Wessel, personal comments).

While the adults of the oligomelanic form show the spectacular solid red coloration, red bay snook fry show the typical black and silver pattern of the normal color morph. This pattern is displayed to a size of 3-4 inches, when the pattern changes. Initially, the color is pinkish or mottled; however, it intensifies with size and age to the rich, rosy red color of the adults. Feedings of foods rich in carotene, such a krill, will accentuate the beautiful red coloration and should therefore be frequently provided. The scales exhibit a pleasing pearly outline which is more pronounced in males than in females. This attractive coloration is extremely showy and makes the red bay snook an attractive addition to a community tank of large cichlids of similar temperament.

Regarding size, the Red Bay Snook can become quite large. In my experience, males can easily attain 18" TL, with females reaching at least a foot. While no obvious sexual dimorphism exists, some differences can be found between the sexes. Males tend to grow larger than females of the same age. Additionally, males tend to have a high number of highlighted, or outlined, scales. In addition, the intensity of color is greater in males than in females. Typically, females are fuller bodied.

A few requisites are in order when maintaining Petenia splendida. First, large tanks are necessary due to the large adult size. Tanks of four to six foot lengths are suggested with a capacity of 70 to 125 gallons to adequately maintain adults of the species. Second, a high level of aeration is required, as the fish have a need for a high level of oxygen. On one occasion, I neglected to restart the power filter after a water change and lost an 18" male within 12 hours due to anoxia! Third, while the Petenia do not appear to be overly sensitive to ammonia, a power filter is recommended due to the amount o waste that can be generated by fish of this size. In addition, frequent partial water changes are recommended for proper health and growth.

Petenia are not particularly aggressive and can be maintained in a community with other large cichlids. Suitable tank mates can be members of the Vieja and Parateraphs genera, such as the species maculicauda, synspilus and zonatus. Heros Severus, Uaru ssp. and other cichlids of moderate temperament also make good tank mates. The size of the other community inhabitants should be over six inches because, although not particularly aggressive, Petenia will devour anything they can swallow. Large Plecostomus can be employed to patrol the tank bottom for uneaten food.

Feeding large Snook represents no problems. While they will eagerly eat live foods, they are not required. Snooks will eat floating pellets, such as Doromin, and many frozen and freeze dried foods. Feedings of foods rich in carotene are recommended to maintain a pleasing red coloration. Suggested foods to intensify coloration are frozen krill and cocktail shrimp.

Breeding the Red Bay Snook presents some challenges and certain conditions must be satisfied. First, you must be certain to have members of both sexes present. While this may seem obvious, young Petenia can be very difficult to distinguish between sexes. As a result, it is best to raise 6 or 8 to adulthood and let them naturally form pairs. After pair formation, it is best to remove the "extras" to other holdings. Another consideration, as discussed previously, is the need for large quarters. An added consideration is the selection of tank mates. As discussed above, tank mates should be larger, moderately aggressive fish. Tank mates should be provided to manage potential aggression between the newly formed pair. These tank mates are typically referred to as "dithers". The number of tank mates must be few enough to prevent overcrowding the tank, but numerous enough to keep the pair from quarreling amongst each other. Additionally, an overcrowded tank will not allow sufficient territory for the pair to engage in a successful spawning. In a six foot tank, the total number of fish depends on size, but may range from 6 to 10.

Courtship is typically long, with the prospective pair shaking, flaring gills, and defending a territory. Ultimately, breeding tubes will extend in preparation for spawning. The tube of the male is pointy in comparison to the blunt tube of the female. The tubes of both sexes extend close to 3/16". Spawning is in typical fashion for Central American substrate spawners, with adhesive eggs being deposited on a flat rock or other suitable location. The female and male alternate deposition and fertilization of several rows of eggs, with the resulting clutch forming a circular or oval array of singly stacked eggs. Eggs hatch in about three days, with fry free swimming in about four more days, depending on temperature. I have only removed the eggs for artificial hatching, using 3-4 drops of methylene blue per gallon of tank water. As a result, I have not observed parental care of the fry. After the fry become free swimming, they can be fed newly hatched live brine shrimp. Fry grow rapidly and begin to eat adult frozen brine shrimp and divided flake food at the size of just over one half of an inch. Frequent daily feedings are recommended, as growth is rapid and cannibalism prevalent when a size disparity develops within the young community. As mentioned earlier, young Red Bay Snook begin to develop their characteristic color pattern at a size of 3 - 4 inches in length.

In summary, the red form of Petenia splendida is a beautiful, moderately aggressive Neotropical cichlid which can be maintained in a community environment. It is highly recommended for the experienced aquarist interested in large, colorful cichlids.


Danko, Don. (Sep 21, 1997). "Care and breeding of the Red Bay Snook, Petenia splendida". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Nov 27, 2022, from: