Breeding pair from Lake Izabal
Breeding pair of Cincelichthys bocourti from Lake Izabal in the aquarium of Dan Woodland, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Don Danko. determiner Juan Miguel Artigas Azas







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Cincelichthys bocourti (Vaillant & Pellegrin, 1902)

Mojarra de oro.


Original description as Neetroplus bocourti:


  • Vaillant, Leon Louis & J. Pellegrin. 1902. "Cichlidés nouveaux de l'Amérique Centrale". Bulletin du Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle. 8:85-86 (crc00021)

Taxonomic history:

Etymology: The species was named in honor of Marie Firmin Bocourt (1819-1904), French zoologist who collected the type material in Guatemala.

Common names: Mojarra de oro, Belize: Chisel-tooth cichlid; United States: Golden mojarra.

Types: holotype: MNHN 94-241 (1).

Holotype, a 140 mm standard length (183 mm total length) specimen collected in Lake Izabal by M.F. Bocourt during his 1864 – 1867 expedition to Guatemala, and stored in the Muséum National d'Histoire naturelle [Paris] with registration MNHN 94-241.

Diagnosis: A differentiating diagnosis for Cincelichthys bocourti has not yet been offered. C. bocourti is an oval shaped high bodied cichlid with a height half the size of its standard length, a head one third and a caudal peduncle almost as long as deep. The tail is rounded. Eyes are small about one quarter the length of the head. The dorsal fin spine count is XVI-13 and anal V-10. The pectoral fins barely reach the insertion of the anal fin. The color of the body in live specimens is golden-orange and the head greenish. It shows six or seven straight vertical bars on the flanks, faint in normal coloration and very marked in dominant or breeding dress.

Cincelichthys bocourti readily differentiates from its closest relative Vieja pearsei in having 13 versus 14 dorsal soft rays, a larger eye (27% versus 18% of head length), a fold of the lower lip very narrowly rather than widely interrupted, the last dorsal spine a little longer instead of a little less than half the length of the head, the pectoral fin just slightly shorter versus 80% of the length of the head, caudal fin rounded versus truncated and the lower sides lacking a darkened area (Hubbs, 1936:279). This latter characteristic is quite distinctive.

Size: Greenfield & Thomerson (1997:195) give a minimum standard length of approximately 200 mm. Dan Woodland (2001:17) reports males growing to 35.5 cm (14 inches) and 15 cm high (6 inches), while females to up to 25 cm. The discrepancy is easy understood if we consider the few preserved individuals available.

Sex dimorphism: No obvious sex differences are visible other than males growing larger than females. Given the large size of C. bocourti it should be however possible to easily examine the genital papillae and sort sexes. Males normally have pointed papillae while females have it blunter.

Type locality: Lago Izabal, Guatemala.

Distribution: The distribution of Cincelichthys bocourti is given by Miller (1966:792) in Lake Izabal and the lower Rio Polochic in the Atlantic slope of Guatemala. Nevertheless, in 1984 Ross Socolof (Socolof, 1984) took a picture of an adult which James Thomerson speared in Rio Moho in Belize, which extends the range of the fish at least that far north. The presence in Belize is reinforced by Greenfield & Thomerson (1997:195), which report on an additional collected specimen at Temash River.

Habitat: The type locality at Lake Izabal is a rather shallow (up to 18 m) lake close to the mouth of the Polochic River in the Honduras Gulf. Although the lake remains mostly freshwater some entrance of salt water near the mouth of the lake because of wind action happens, as some marine associated fauna (e.g. bull shark Carcharinus leucas, Tarpon Megalops atlanticus and dolphin Tursiops truncatus) is present. The ichthyofauna is however dominated by primary freshwater (e.g. Characinids) and secondary freshwater fish (e.g. Cichlids and Poeciliids) (Davies, 1973).

Water temperature varies between 24-28 degrees Celsius, depending on the depth and season, conductivity ranges between 150-250 μS, and oxygen content approaches 100%. Substrate is soft mud. Water transparency is about 2-3 meters. pH of the water averages 7.8 thorough the year (Machorro Sagastume, 1996, Michot et al., 2002, Rusty Wessel, personal communication).


Conservation: Cincelichthys bocourti is evaluated by the international union for the conservation of nature in the iucn red list of threatened species as (NT) near threatened (2019). Although Cincelichthys bocourti its rare in its natural habitat, it inhabits generally a well preserved area.

Feeding: It is not known what Cincelichthys bocourti feeds upon in its natural habitat. Its close relative V. pearsei is a frugivorous and C. bocourti could probably be one as well. Cincelichthys bocourti has chisel like teeth so almost certainly it is a vegetarian of some sort. A common technique among fishermen in Lake Izabal to catch them (Woodland, 2001) is to throw a half coconut shell to the water surface prior to throwing the cast net, this is said to attract both C. bocourti and V. maculicauda. This behavior is consistent with my observations on Vieja melanurus, which expects a fruit to fall from a tree and when so it quickly goes after it.

Breeding: Nothing is known about breeding habits of C. bocourti in its natural habitat.

Aquaristics: After Ross Socolof and team speared an individual of C. bocourti at Rio Moho in 1984 (Socolof, 1984), Ross kept trying to get the fish introduced in the aquarium hobby. In April 1994 (Socolof & Wessel, 1994) in the company of Harry Specht and Rust Wessel, visited Lake Izabal with the hope of finding some more C. bocourti. Fishermen all around informed them about the rarity of the fish. After a fair deal of searching they were able to buy for 18 quetzals nine adult specimens from a fisherman yet in his canoe, five of them still alive. On that same trip they were also able to collect six small barred youngs with a pull net. They succeeded to take them back to Louisville [USA] (after a week long detour trip to Honduras) were they were successfully bred by Rusty Wessel and then distributed into the USA aquarium hobby.

Cincelichthys bocourti makes its appearance in aquarium in the European cichlid literature in 1998 (Stawikowski & Werner, 1998:382) with a picture, but scarce information about its maintenance.

Cincelichthys bocourti are very shy, particularly when young, and therefore require a well decorated aquarium with multitude of hiding places. Sand and wood are natural decorations for this fish, but rocks and pots can also be added to the tank. The length of the aquarium should be at least 1.8 m but larger is better, the size of the fish has to be taken into consideration. C. bocourti is not particularly aggressive and can be maintained with other large Central American cichlids, like Vieja maculicauda, to which can extend some aggressiveness during breeding time, but not lethal.

Feeding Cincelichthys bocourti in captivity is not a problem as they accept any food offered since an early age (Woodland, 2001), it should be noted that being likely a vegetarian this should be taken into consideration when selecting a diet for keeping them.

Breeding maturity is reached about two years of age (Woodland, 2001). The attractive breeding coloration includes the intensification of the golden-orange on the flanks as well as of the black bars on the sides, which now flanked in a light blue hue create a very contrasting appearance. A black area develops in the lower part of the head, from the lower part of the mouth to the insertion of the pectoral fins. Pairs spawn on rocks and wrigglers are placed in pre-dug pits until they become free swimming (Rusty Wessel, personal communication). Juveniles are cared for by the pair and are easy to feed with brine shrimp nauplii (even de-capsulated - Woodland, 2001) and show a very characteristic black barred pattern on their flanks.

Comments: Vaillant & Pellegrin (1902:85) placed Cincelichthys bocourti in the genus Neetroplus as they found it similar to Herichthys carpintis, then considered in the genus Neetroplus. They also considered in this genus Hypsophrys nicaraguensis and Neetroplus nematopus, giving a differential diagnosis for the three species. Although not mentioned, it is very likely that the reason for this placement were the chisel like teeth in the first row of both jaws of C. bocourti, mentioned in the description. Cichlid classifications based on the shape of the teeth were common at that time.

Because of the manifested similitude with Herichthys carpintis, Regan (1905:435) reclassified C. bocourti in Herichthys, as he considered Neetroplus carpintis a junior synonym of Herichthys cyanoguttatus.

Miller (Miller, 1966:792) reclassified C. bocourti in Cichlasoma with most of Central American cichlids but maintained them in section Herichthys. In that section he also placed H. geddesi and H. pearsei. This reclassification obeyed to the number of anal spines in Cichlasoma, five instead of four in Aequidens, and other reasons.

With the restriction of Cichlasoma in 1983 it was Miller (Miller, 2005:384) who suggested the placement of both bocourti and the closely related pearsei in Vieja, giving no reasons for his logic, but probably inspired in the overall body shape and general black markings pattern, although he announced a paper in press with details, the paper was never published.

Caleb D. McMahan et al (McMahan et al., 2010:1299), using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA in a phylogenetic comparison have proposed C. bocourti as part of the genus Theraps given their resulting relationship (This relationship had been previously obtained by López-Fernández et al., 2010:7).

The genus Cincelichthys was created by McMahan & Piller (2015) with type Neetroplus bocourti and diagnosed by having spatulate, chisel-like oral teeth which are truncated and labiolingually flattened. Two species where assigned to the genus, the second one C. pearsei.

References (19):

  • Davies, W.D. 1973. "Lake Izabal fisheries survey". International Center for Aquaculture. Department of fisheries and allied aquacultures, Auburn University. 1-21 (crc06786)
  • Greenfield, David W. & J.E. Thomerson. 1997. "Fishes of the continental waters of Belize". University Press of Florida, USA. i-xvii 1-311 (crc01631) (abstract)
  • Hubbs, Carl Leavitt. 1936. "XVII. Fishes of the Yucatan Peninsula". The Cenotes of Yucatán, a Zoological and Hydrographic Survey. (457)157-287 (crc00250)
  • Kullander, Sven. 2003. "Family Cichlidae (Cichlids)". Check list of the freshwater fishes of South and Central America. 605-654 (crc01092)
  • López-Fernández, Hernán & K.O. Winemiller, R.L. Honeycutt. 2010. "Multilocus phylogeny and rapid radiations in Neotropical cichlid fishes (Perciformes: Cichlidae: Cichlinae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 55(3):1070–1086. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2010.02.020 (crc02456) (abstract)
  • Machorro Sagastume, Rudy Antonio. 1996. "Water quality at Lago de Izabal, Guatemala: Geochemical characterization and assessment of trophic status". ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso (crc06783) (abstract)
  • McMahan, Caleb D & W.A. Matamoros, K.R. Piller, P. Chakrabarty. 2015. "Taxonomy and systematics of the herichthyins (Cichlidae: Tribe Heroini), with the description of eight new Middle American Genera". Zootaxa. 3999(2):211-234. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3999.2.3 (crc06794) (abstract)
  • McMahan, Caleb D & A.D. Geheber, K.R. Piller. 2010. "Molecular Systematics of the Enigmatic Middle American Genus Vieja (Teleostei: Cichlidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 57(3):1293-1300. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2010.09.005 (crc02683) (abstract)
  • Michot, Thomas C & R.G. Boustany, A. Arrivillaga, B. Perez. 2002. "Impacts of Hurricane Mitch on Water Quality and Sediments of Lake Izabal, Guatemala". USGS Open File Report. 3(180):1-20 (crc06784) (abstract)
  • Miller, Robert Rush. 2005. "Freshwater Fishes of Mexico". University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1-524 (crc01245)
  • Miller, Robert Rush. 1966. "Geographical distribution of Central American freshwater fishes". Copeia. 1966(4):773-802 (crc01105) (abstract)
  • Quintana, Y. & J.T. Lyons. 2020. "Cincelichthys bocourti". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020:e.T150123901A152306186. DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T150123901A152306186.en (crc09846)
  • Regan, Charles Tate. 1905. "A revision of the fishes of the American cichlid genus Cichlosoma and of the allied genera". Annals and Magazine of Natural History. [Series 7]16:60-77:225-243:316-340:433-445 (crc00042)
  • Socolof, Ross & Rusty Wessel. 1994. "In pursuit of "C." (Herichthys) bocourti (Vaillant and Pellegrin 1902), the Golden Mojarra". Buntbarsche Bulletin. (162):1-8 (crc04541)
  • Socolof, Ross. 1984. "Expedition To Quintana Roo And Rio Moho". The Cichlid Room Companion (crc02031)
  • Stawikowski, Rainer & Uwe Werner. 1998. "Die Buntbarsche Amerikas, Band 1". Ulmer Verlag, Stuttgart. 540 (crc01090)
  • Vaillant, Leon Louis & J. Pellegrin. 1902. "Cichlidés nouveaux de l'Amérique Centrale". Bulletin du Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle. 8:85-86 (crc00021)
  • Woodland, Dan. 2001. "Spawning the Golden Mojarra Herichthys bocourti". Cichlid News Magazine. 10(4): 16-18 (crc00619)
  • Říčan, Oldřich & R. Zardoya, I. Doadrio. 2008. "Phylogenetic relationships of Middle American cichlids (Cichlidae, Heroini) based on combined evidence from nuclear genes, mtDNA and morphology". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 49:941-957 (crc01818) (abstract)


Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (Jul 15, 2015). "Cincelichthys bocourti (Vaillant & Pellegrin, 1902)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Dec 01, 2023, from: (crc10145)