Male in normal coloration
Rheoheros lentiginosus in normal coloration hunting at Rio Chacamax, Usumacinta river system; Nututum, Palenque, Chiapas [Mexico]. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas. determiner Juan Miguel Artigas Azas








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Rheoheros lentiginosus (Steindachner, 1864)

Barzin; Canchalla.


Original description as Heros lentiginosus:


  • Steindachner, Franz. 1864. "Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Chromiden Mejico's und Central-Amerika's". Denkschriften der Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftlichen Classe der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. 23(2):57-74 (crc00248)

Synonyms (1):

Taxonomic history:

Etymology: lentiginosus = covered with freckles (Latin).

Common names: Mexico: Barzin, Canchalla, Mojarra gachupina; United States: Freckled cichlid.

Types: lectotype: NMW 17381 (1), paralectotype: NMW 17382 (1).

Two syntypes has been collected by Carl Bartholomäus Heller in Tabasco, they are stored in the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum) [Vienna]. The first, NMW 17381, a specimen 22 cm in total length (likely a male) has been designated by Seegers & Staeck (1985:504) as lectotype. The second NMW 17382, a specimen 18.5 cm in total length was likewise designated paralectotype.

Diagnosis: Rheoheros lentiginosus can be distinguished from the rest of Central American cichlids by the combination of an elongated body with a 36-38% depth in the standard length, a snout which is as long as the posterior part of the head, six spines (and four rays) in the anal fin, tail which is slightly emarginated with rounded lobes (Regan, 1905:237). Moreover a body and vertical fins that are specked all over with black dots that give him its specific name. In this last character (plus having yellow cheeks and a larger maximum length of 22 versus 12 cm) differentiates from its closest relative T. coeruleus. Both species are however so close that may in fact be conspecific, since the argument of size difference is not supported in all populations of R. lentiginosus.

Size: The lectotype is 22 cm in total length. Kullander (2003:644) gives a maximum size of 25 cm. which is also reported by Stawikowski & Werner (1998:414). Females as usual remain smaller than males in about 5 cm.

Sex dimorphism: Males grow larger than females and develop a hump on the head when adult. Males are also slightly more elongated and with longer fins than females. Females are normally more intensely colorful than males. In some populations (eg. Chacamax River) females show a very intense blue on the middle part of the dorsal fin, with a black blotch, which makes them easy to distinguish.

Type locality: Mexico.

Distribution: Rheoheros lentiginosus is distributed in moderate to fast flows of the rivers in the lower Grijalva (e.g. Teapa, Puyacatengo, Oxolatlán, Blanco, Pichucalco) at the base of the mountains in Tabasco. It is also found in similar areas of the Usumacinta River system in Tabasco, Chiapas (e.g. Chacamax, Chancala, Corzo, Lacanja) and Alta Verapaz, Quiché and Petén in Guatemala (Miller, 2005:374). Two unexpected lacustrine populations of R. lentiginosus are found in Lake Miramar (Artigas Azas, 2014:26) and Lake Lachuá (Granados-Dieseldorff et al., 2012:100).

Several geographic varieties exist. Stawikowski & Werner (1998:413) report populations of Mexico paler than those in Guatemala which are more speckled with blue, particularly in breeding individuals. In Rio Subin and Puncté in Guatemala populations are reported brownish with a purple or blue tinge.

Habitat: The habitat of Rheoheros lentiginosus is characterized by wide (more than five meters) mountain rivers of clear cool water, in a temperature ranging approximately between 22 to 30°C. although Stawikowski & Werner (1998:414) report a population at Rio de la Pasión in Guatemala at 34°C!

River beds are normally composed of boulders, rocks, shale, gravel, sand, silt, logs, marl and a few times mud. Rheoheros lentiginosus is regularly found in areas without aquatic vegetation. R. lentiginosus chose the moderately fast flows as preferred foraging areas, normally away from the very strong currents. Hardly ever are they found in stagnant water.

Water transparency is often well over ten meters, but it can also be less than a meter in some areas. R. lentiginosus inhabit areas of rivers with less than five meters depth. Water is alkaline with pH measurements from 7.0-8.5, and from moderate to very high hardness.

Conservation: Rheoheros lentiginosus is evaluated by the international union for the conservation of nature in the iucn red list of threatened species as (LC) least concern (2018).

Feeding: Rheoheros lentiginosus feeds in the fast flowing areas or rivers with rocky and/or sandy beds, picking in the sand in rock pebble areas. Although I am not aware of stomach examinations, after having observed this fish underwater in multiple occasions it seems apparent that they feed on invertebrates encrusted in the rocks, hiding in the crevices or under them. They regularly turn around pebbles in search for hiding invertebrates, and the sound they produce while doing this is quite noticeable.

Individuals of all sizes group loosely together, swimming against the current while searching for edibles among the rocks. During feeding, they exhibit little or no aggression among themselves or to other fishes.

Breeding: Breeding behavior in Rheoheros lentiginosus is one of the most fascinating acts in Central American cichlids. The elaborate color changes involved in the breeding phases and the mating system are unique in this species — and T. coeruleus. The more brilliantly colored females show a grey base color and a mix of light blue and yellow in the lower part of the head, chest and belly, with sparkles of yellow on each scale in the lower half of the body. It is the females who establish the breeding territory. They look for zones of slower water flow and search for a cave that will become their nest. Holes in sunken tree trunks separated from the bottom are by far the most desirable places, as it is apparent by the bigger more aggressive females holding every available hole. In second place come caves formed naturally by rocks, which sometimes have to be enlarged (in the adjacent substrate). In other occasions caves are dug up in the substrate below rocks.

When females hold a territory they become territorial and express this mood with a row of six to eight big contrasting white blotches (the middle one being the more conspicuous) longitudinally on their flanks. The white blotches take the place of the normal black blotches that are seen in normal coloration. The normal coloration of the female then intensifies.

Males detect territorial females and parole by their territories. Females remain at the entrance of their caves and normally ignore passing males. Patrols can extend for hours. A chosen male, always bigger than the female, eventually is courted back and both potential mates circle each other in the territory. After the pair is established, males and females intensify coloration all over body and they start chasing all intruders away.

The spawning surface is cleaned by both fish for eggs to be placed and fertilized. About two hundred (depends on the size of the female) eggs must be deposited by the female who attach them to the ceiling or walls of the spawning cave, and then fan them with the pectoral fins by the female. The female remains at the entrance or inside the spawning cave while the male patrols the immediately surrounding area. Eggs take about two days to hatch under aquarium conditions and four days later the little wrigglers, having consumed their heavy yolk sacs become free swimming and venture outside the cave.

At this point another coloration change takes place on the parents when a black pattern appears on a white to sky blue base color, with six incomplete bars going down from the top to the now black blotches found longitudinally on the middle part of their flanks, very contrasting on the light blue background. A black “U” is also formed just below the anterior base of the dorsal fin.

Parents herd their babies in the moderately fast flowing water. The babies forage on the surface of the rocks, presumably from small encrusted larvae, detritus and aufwuchs. When a perceived danger approaches, fry are quick to disappear below the surrounding rocks, and just the parents remain apparently guarding nothing. After the danger is perceived to have disappeared, the fry start popping one by one from their hiding.

As there are not studies in this regard it is hard to assess how long parents will guard for their babies, but juvenile fish of about two centimeters length are seen wandering among the rocks, where they efficiently take refuge in little crevices when danger approaches. When they reach about four centimeters length they are seen grouping with adults searching for food.

Aquaristics: The precise date when Rheoheros lentiginosus was introduced to the aquarium hobby is unknown, but it must have been in the mid 1980s by either Jean Claude Nourissat et al from France or Rainer Stawikowski et al from Germany. Two pictures of recently collected R. lentiginosus appear in Werner & Stawikowski (1985:100,101). An article by Stan Sung "Introducing Theraps lentiginosus" appears in Cichlid News Magazine in the United States in October (1992).

Rheoheros lentiginosus is a beautiful cichlid with a moderate aggressive disposition but it is by far not the easiest cichlid to be successfully kept and bred. It is a lot less shy than its sister species T. coeruleus, but also more aggressive. Dither fish are ignored and just occasionally very small fish (livebearer fry) would be eaten. Caves and rocks are necessary in the aquarium. The minimum tank size I would personally recommend is 300 liters, although I have kept mine in a 1.5 m 400 liters aquarium, which seems to be perfect for this fish. Of course, I am sure some people would be successful in smaller tanks but you can’t expect to see natural a behavior there.

Derived from the natural conditions in which this fish inhabits it is easy to understand its requirement for very good water quality, as when water conditions go wrong, R. lentiginosus is very prone to bacterial infections and eventual death. Of special consideration is the amount of dissolved oxygen and temperature. The fish suffer in the lack of the former and high value of the later, as can be easily seen in rapid respiration rates.

Water chemistry is better to keep it close to natural conditions, with pH above 7.0 and hardness above 5 GD. Taking all this into consideration, coloration and behavior are optimal.

Feeding is not a problem, as they would greedily accept whatever offered to them. I tend not to offer too protein rich or fatty foods to my fish, to prevent digestion problems. Flake or frozen foods are accepted with no problem and the fish can be kept long terms on this regime without any apparent problem.

Proper water conditions, dither fish, good lightning, abundant food and companions that are not too aggressive are the key. If these conditions are met the fish would most likely breed. For a breeding cave, an inverted flower pot with an open base works very well in my experience.

Once pairs form and breeding procedures start, things will normally go well, although normally the first breeding attempts by the fish may result in failure. Fry accept brine shrimp as its first food and they normally prosper in the community aquarium, many of them even reaching adulthood there. Of course this happens if there are not efficient fry predators in the tank, and enough cover is provided.

Rheoheros lentiginosus do better in a group of six or more individuals, and although they are not apparently aggressive, they actually are intraspecifically, although they rarely are fatally aggressive, especially if the space conditions are right.

Comments: Although the type locality of Rheoheros lentiginosus is not given by Franz Steindachner, a detailed travelogue by Carl Bartholomäus Heller’s “Reisen in Mexiko in then Jahren 1845-1848” leaves no doubt that the types of R. lentiginosus have been collected in the same area (but not necessarily in the same river) as those of Paraneetroplus gibbiceps, Thorichthys helleri and Vieja bifasciata, that is, in the Grijalva affluents of the state of Tabasco around Teapa [Mexico] (Rico Morgenstern, personal communication).

First described in the genus Heros, Rheoheros lentiginosus was assigned to the genus Astronotus by Eigenmann (1893:58) and later to Cichlasoma by Regan (1905:237), before it was finally assigned to Theraps by Jordan et al (1930:418). This decision was unexplained, and considering the assortment of other species assigned with R. lentiginosus to Theraps, it appears as being motivated more by an elongated body than by any other morphological feature.

López-Fernández et al. (2010:7), who compared 3868 base pairs of DNA in three mitochondrial and two nuclear DNA markers for 154 neotropical cichlid species (in 57 different genera), and Caleb D. McMahan et al (2010:1296 Clade A), who also used both mitochondrial and two nuclear DNA in their study of the species in the genus Vieja, recover a common ancestor for a group that includes Heros lentiginosus, Theraps irregularis, Theraps nourissati (now Wajpamheros), H. godmanni, H. intermedius, H. microphthalmus (the latter three now in Chuco), Neetroplus bocourti (Now in Cincelichthys) and Vieja ufermanni (Now Kihnichthys).

Similar results were subsequently obtained by Říčan et al, (2016:21) using DNA new generation ddRAD. H. lentiginosus and T. coeruleus result more closely related to Vieja, Maskaheros and Paraneetroplus than to Theraps irregularis. Říčan et al. have erected the new genus Rheoheros for R. lentiginosus and R. coeruleus, abiding to a criterion they established for their general classification (Říčan et al., 2016:11).

References (18):

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  • Granados-Dieseldorff, Pablo & M. F. Christensen, P. Herman Kihn-Pineda. 2012. "Fishes from Lachuá Lake, Upper Usumacinta Basin, Guatemala". Check List. 8(1):95-101 (crc06670) (abstract)
  • Jordan, David Starr & B.W. Evermann, H.W. Clark. 1930. "Checklist of the fishes and fishlike vertebrates of North and Middle America. Appendix X". Report of the US Commissioner of Fisheries. 416-424 (crc02509)
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Artigas Azas, Juan Miguel. (Aug 25, 2016). "Rheoheros lentiginosus (Steindachner, 1864)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Oct 02, 2022, from: (crc10728)