Michi Tobler, 2005
Cichlid Room Companion
Focus Central America

Color polymorphisms in Central American cichlids

By , 2005. image
Last updated on 12-Aug-2005

Central American cichlids from various phylogenetic groups show a stricking color polymorphism in natural populations that remind at the polymorphisms known from haplochromine cichlids in the great lakes of the African rift valley. Beside the normal color morph, these species show an alternative color morph which is usually named "golden" or "yellow" morph. These alternative morphs are characterized by a ground coloration that ranges from whitish to yellow to orange, and covers sometimes only parts but usually the full body.

The alternative color morphs coexist apparently stable in the same habitats with the normal morphs. The color pattern of fish have important biological functions including camouflage and communication. It can thus be assumed that aberrantly colored individuals have severe disadvantages in terms of survival (e.g. higher conspicuousness to predators) and maybe even in terms of reproductive succes (e.g. disadvantages in mate choice or in communication during courtship (mate-mate-interactions) and breeding (parents-offspring-interactions)). If this is the case, golden morphs should be counterselected by natural and sexual selection and become extinct. Apparently, the alternative morphs can at least partially cope with the potential disadvantages. Although the questions on the stability of such color polymorphisms has been adressed by George Barlow and his students, our knowlege about this phenomenon is still fragmentary.

Golden morphs have been reported from following Central American cichlids:

Species Location Reference
Amphilophus citinellus Lago Nicaragua, Nicaragua Meek, 1907; Barlow, 1976
Amphilophus labiatus Lago Nicaragua, Nicaragua Barlow & Munsey, 1976
Amphilophus sagittae Laguna de Xiloa, Nicaragua McKaye, et. al., 2002; Stauffer & McKaye, 2002
Amphilophus xiloaensis Laguna de Xiloa, Nicaragua McKaye, et. al., 2002; Stauffer & McKaye, 2002

Herichthys minckleyi

Cuatro Cienegas, México Konings, 1994

Parachromis dovii

Laguna Arenal, Costa Rica Barlow, 1972
Petenia splendida Rio Candelaria, Guatemala; White Water Creek, Belize Hubbs, 1935; Stawikowski & Werner, 1998
Vieja fenestrata Lago Catemaco, México Staeck, 1998
Petenia splendida Petenia splendida male of the red form in the aquarium of Don Danko; Cleveland, Ohio. This natural variety is known as the Red Bay Snook. Photo by Don Danko

Paratheraps fenestratus Paratheraps fenestratus male of the pink form from Catemaco lake, Papaloapan river system, in the aquarium of Don Danko; Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Don Danko Determiner Juan Miguel Artigas Azas

References (4):


Tobler, Michi. (Aug 12, 2005). "Color polymorphisms in Central American cichlids". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Feb 24, 2024, from: