Red Shoulder Severum (Rotkeil Severum) Care Guide & Species Profile

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I’m sure by now you’ve all seen several Severum varieties. They come in a few different colors, but the most common is base “Green Severum,” with an olive-green body and black markings on their sides. But did you know that there is another variant that is quite popular amongst fish keepers?

The Red Shoulder Severum or “Rotkeil” Severum is a vibrant and beautiful fish that makes a great addition to any large community aquarium. This large fish is peaceful and will get along well with other fish in the tank.

This fish is loved by aquarists not only because of its beauty but also because it is a hardy fish that is relatively easy to care for. Plus, it has a calm and curious personality. Like the intelligent Oscar, these fish can learn to recognize their owners and may even come to the front of the tank to greet them or beg for food.

If you are thinking about adding a Red Shoulder Severum to your aquarium, here are a few things you should know.

Species Summary

The Red Shoulder or “Rotkeil” Severum, also known as Heros sp. Rotkeil is an undescribed Heros species. Rotkeil means “red shoulder/head” in German, which is a reference to the brilliantly red coloration on the fish’s head and shoulder area.

When it comes to the Heros species, there is a lot of confusion and debate around the name among hobbyists. The Heros species are commonly found in the aquarium trade under the name “Severum Cichlids,” often referred to as Heros efasciatus or its line-bred color morphs. The other four recognized species are rarely found in the trade, including H. liberifer, H. notatus, H. severus, and H. spurius.

Heros sp. Rotkeil is not currently classified as a valid species or a subspecies of those five described species. However, many in the hobby believe that it is a naturally occurring color form of Heros efasciatus. Until more research is done on this fish, we may not know for sure if it is its own species.

Red Shoulder Severum is endemic to parts of the Amazon basin in Peru, where it inhabits slow-moving waters with heavy riverine vegetation and a lot of submerged roots and branches.

Scientific Name:Heros sp. Rotkeil
Common Name:Red Shoulder Severum, Rotkeil Severum
Origin:South American
Aggressiveness:Relatively peaceful
Max Size:8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm)
Lifespan:10 years
pH:5.5 – 7.2
Temperature:72° – 84° F (22° – 29° C)
KH: 1 to 8 dKH
Tank Size:Single: 75 Gallons | A pair: 125 Gallons


Red Shoulder Severum

The appearance of the Rotkeil severum is what makes it so popular among Cichlids keepers. When you see one for the first time, you can’t help but be drawn to its beauty. 

Like the Discus, this fish has a laterally compressed body shape with pointed anal and dorsal fins. Its common name is well represented in describing the most distinct feature of the brilliantly red coloration on its head and shoulder area as it matures. 

The juveniles present a uniformly greenish body color, but as they grow older, you start to see the blue-green body coloration with nine vertical stress bars, as well as the “Rotkeil” shows up. That’s not all. You will also see small spots over the body as they mature, and the coloration of these dots can vary with age and environment. They also have an ornate, inquisitive face with red finnage. 

When it comes to coloration and pattern, you’d be hard pressed to find another fish with solid red that rivals the beauty of the Red Shoulder Severum, even these line-bred aquarium varieties.

Males Vs. Females

Well-fed adult males can develop a nuchal hump. Males also tend to have more pointed anal and dorsal fins. Moreover, the red shoulder markings can extend up into the nuchal hump, which are absent in the smaller females.

Red Shoulder Severum Size & Growth Rate

The Average adult Red Shoulder Severum size is around 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm). When you combine this with their laterally compressed body shape, they can appear much larger than they really are – quite imposing in show tanks.

Nonetheless, these fish have a fairly fast growth rate. When sold in stores, this species is usually only 1-3 inches long, but they can triple in size within a year, so they won’t stay this size for long and will quickly outgrow smaller tanks.

Of course, their growth rate will depend on the quality of care they receive and the environment they are in. A well-maintained aquarium with proper nutrition and frequent water changes will result in a healthier, faster-growing fish.


In captivity, the average lifespan of a Red Shoulder Severum is 10 years, although some have been reported to live up to 13 years with optimal care.

To help them reach their full potential lifespan, you must be vigilant about the water conditions in their tank and provide a balanced diet (more on that later).

Care & Tank Setup

Like most other South American Cichlids, Rotkeil severums are adaptable and hardy. However, they do require ample space and a well-maintained environment to stay healthy and thrive.

Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up their tank:

Red Shoulder Severum Tank Size

Because of the large adult size of this fish, you will need a minimum tank size of 75 gallons (48″ x 18″ x 21″) for an adult fish. But if you want to keep a breeding pair of these fish in a community tank, I would recommend getting a much larger tank – at least 125 gallons (72″ x 18″ x 21″). 

The larger the aquarium, the less likely it is that they will display aggression towards each other and other tank mates. However, remember that even in a large tank, they may still exhibit some aggression, depending on individual personality.

Water Conditions

These fish come from slow-moving waters in the Amazon basin and are typically found in warm, soft, and acidic water. Some specimens have been caught in a lentic environment such as lakes and flooded grounds, but they prefer riverine conditions with thick vegetation.

That said, they are adaptable and can live in a wide range of water conditions, as long as the water is clean and well-filtered.

It’s best to mimic the water conditions of their natural habitat as closely as possible to ensure a long and healthy life. The ideal water parameters for Red Shoulder Severum are:

  • Water temperature: 72° – 84° F (22° – 29° C)
  • pH levels: 5.5 – 7.2
  • Water hardness: 1 to 8 dKH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate:<30 ppm

You must keep the water clean and consistent, so make sure your filter is working efficiently and follow a strict schedule of water changes of at least 20% – 50% weekly, depending on your bio load.

Author note: Since you must keep the water as clean as possible, I highly recommend getting a good surface skimmer and water test kit.

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Decor & Substrate

Rotkeil severums live in heavily planted areas in the wild and prefer a tank with plenty of vegetation – both living and plastic plants will work. However, they have a reputation for being soft plant eaters, so you may be careful with prized plants, and it’s smart to invest in some hardier plants such as Java Fern or Anubias sp.

As for substrate, a soft sandy bottom with plenty of hiding places such as driftwood, clay pots, and rocky caves is ideal. These visual barriers will help to minimize territorial problems.

Rotkeil Severum Food & Diet

In the wild, Rotkeil severums are omnivorous feeders but mainly frugivorous. To replicate their natural diet, you should provide a variety of vegetable food, such as green peas, cucumber, zucchini, etc.

These fish are unfussy and can accept a wide variety of foods. A good quality cichlid pellet or flakes will provide the nutrients they need, but supplementing their diet with live foods such as earthworms, brine shrimp, and bloodworms will help bring out their natural colors.

Since they have hearty appetites, it’s best to feed them small meals several times a day rather than one large meal. This will also help to keep the water clean and minimize waste.

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Red Shoulder Severum Tank Mates

Red Shoulder Severums are easy-going for a large cichlid. They can be kept with other peaceful tank mates of a similar size and who require the same water conditions.

Here are some of our favorite Red Shoulder Severum Tank Mates:

In a large community tank, a breeding pair will become more aggressive and will likely chase away any potential tank mates when spawning. If you want to keep more than one Red Shoulder Severum with other tank mates in a tank, it’s best to get a group of 6 or more juveniles and allow them to grow together rather than introducing adults to an established tank.

A single Red Shoulder Severum is definitely to be a “centerpiece” fish in a smaller tank. However, avoid most ornamental invertebrates as they will likely be seen as potential snacks.


Red Shoulder Severums are relatively easy to breed in the home aquarium and will often do so without any intervention on your part. If you want to increase the chances of success, it’s recommended to buy a group of juveniles and allow them to grow up together. This will help them to form bonds and pair off more easily when they’re ready to breed.

Once a pair has formed, they will become quite aggressive. It’s best to remove any potential tank mates before breeding begins to avoid any aggression or accidents, or place the bonded pair in a separate breeding tank with soft, acidic water.

You can then raise the temperature to the top of the preferred range, which will help to trigger spawning behavior. Of course, a high protein diet will also be necessary to help the fish condition themselves for breeding.

Spawning occurs on a smooth surface such as a flat rock or piece of slate, and the female will lay around 200-1000 eggs. After spawning, the parents will carefully tend to the eggs.

After around 3 – 5 days, the eggs will hatch, and the fry will be free-swimming a week later. At this point, they can be fed on newly hatched brine shrimp or commercially available fry foods.

Wrapping Up

The Red Shoulder Severum (Rotkeil severum) is a beautiful and peaceful cichlid that’s perfect for the beginner aquarist. With their bright red coloration and unique personality, they’re sure to add some flair to your tank.

These fish are readily available online and in pet stores at a moderate price. Some also are sold as the Red Neck Severum.

If you have any questions about Red Shoulder Severums, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

Happy fish keeping!

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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