Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid (Parachromis motaguensis) 101: Care, Tank Size, and More

Thinking about adding a new strikingly colorful fish to your aquarium? The Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid may be just what you are looking for! This fish will become more and more beautiful as it ages, especially the females. 

If you want these fish in your home aquarium, there are a few things you need to know. Their potential aggression can break an already thriving aquarium.

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids, including their care, diet, and tank mates.

Let’s get started.

Species Summary

The Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid (Parachromis motaguensis), also known as the Red tiger cichlid and False yellowjacket cichlid, is a stunning fish with an aggressive personality.

These fish were first found in the Motagua basin in eastern Guatemala and Honduras in Central America. They have spread throughout a variety of biotopes, including lakes and larger streams.

Unlike their cousin, the jaguar cichlid (Parachromis managuensis), one of the most popular Central American cichlids, the Red Tiger Cichlid isn’t as commonly encountered in the local fish store.

But this fish is quite popular among aquarists. With its vivid colors, it’s not hard to see why!

Scientific Name:Parachromis motaguensis
Common Name:Red tiger cichlid, False yellowjacket cichlid
Origin:Central America
Temperament:Very Aggressive
Care Level:Advanced
Lifespan:10 – 13 years
Size:12” (30 cm)
Temperature:68 to 86°f (20 to 30°c)
PH:6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness:6 to 16 dH
Minimum Tank Size:75 gallons

Appearance & Popular Colors


Red Tiger Cichlids have beautiful and fascinating colors. They display an array of bright red dots which run along the flanks to the base of the caudal fin. The red pigment seems more prominent in the gill plates.

The female red tiger Motaguense Cichlid usually has a more brilliant coloration that a male, with a deep shade of red and orange. When she is ready to spawn, her colors will be enhanced further, and she will develop an amazing array of hues.

When the fish is young, it’s tough to distinguish males from females. As they mature, the females will start to color up. 


How long do red tiger cichlids live? The average lifespan of a Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid is between 10 and 13 years. Determining the life expectancy for individual fish can be a bit tricky. A red tiger cichlid’s life span is affected by a number of factors such as tank size, water quality, diet, and tank mates.

Maintaining clean tank conditions and providing a high-quality diet can prevent Red Tiger Cichlid from potential diseases and reach their max life expectancy.

Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid Size

How big do red tiger cichlids get? Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids can grow up to 12” (30 cm) when fully grown. The males are larger than females. Red Tigers reach their full size when they are about two years old.

Care and Tank Setup

Now that we know a little bit more about Red Tiger Cichlids, it’s time to learn how to take care of them. These fish are not for beginner aquarists. They require an experienced owner who can provide them with the right tank conditions and diet.

Water Conditions

Like most Central American species, the Red Tiger Cichlid is tough and can tolerate some fluctuations here and there. It’s best to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible to keep your Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids happy. These fish are native to the streams and rivers in Central America. The water is typically warm and relatively neutral.

Let’s have a look at the important water parameters for this fish:

  • Temperature: 68 to 86°f (20 to 30°c)
  • pH level: 6.0 – 8.0
  • Water hardness: 6 to 16 dH

Tank size

What is the minimum tank size for Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids? It depends on the size and gender of your fish. These fish get large when they mature. An adult female Red Tiger Cichlid requires a minimum tank size of 75 gallons, while you will need a tank size of 100 gallons at the very minimum for a single adult male.

If you are keeping a pair, then the aquarium should be large. A tank size of 150 gallons would be recommended. RTMs are very active and need plenty of space to swim around.

Plants, Substrate, and Decor

Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids need a stable and clean aquarium with no particular requirement of gravel, but you can add a thick layer of a sand substrate. 

Decor should be kept to a minimum in the fish tank. This fish will usually dig plants up, so most Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids aquariums do not have live plants. It is recommended to keep your filter on a low setting.

As one of the riverine species, RTMs prefer areas with fallen trees and rocks. You can create this environment by using bogwood or driftwood as well.

Another important thing to remember is to avoid overcrowding your tank. Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids are known to be aggressive and big swimmers. They need plenty of space to swim and territory to claim as their own.

Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid Tank Mates

Who can live with the Red tiger Motaguense cichlid? The best tank mate you can keep with a Red tiger Motaguense cichlid is another Red tiger Motaguense cichlid. However, be sure to purchase a bonded pair or let a group of juveniles (between 6 -10) grow up to form their own pairs. These fish are known to be very aggressive towards those of the same species.

Introducing a female into an established tank with a large male can be risky, especially if they are not raised as a pair.

For a single adult red tiger motaguense cichlid, if it has already established the entire tank as its territory, I recommend not to add any tank mates, especially any other cichlid. Like the Nandopsis haitiensis (Black Nasty cichlid), adult RTMs can be very aggressive, territorial, and nasty.

If you want to add other cichlids to your grow-out tank community tank, then look for fish that look entirely different. Any species with a similar appearance would probably be seen as competition. Here are just a few species that I have seen success with:

Food & Diet

Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids are exclusively carnivorous in nature. Choosing the right foods for your Red Tiger Cichlid can help it thrive and live a healthy and active life. They naturally need a higher percentage of protein and fat. Their short digestive tract is meant to break down high fat and protein-rich food sources.

Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids mostly eat animal sources of food, including fish, insects, crustaceans, or a combination of all these. The wild Red Tiger Cichlids typically enjoy preying on smaller fish, worms, and aquatic invertebrates. In the aquarium, they usually enjoy dried and frozen flakes and pellets.

Here are some good foods for this fish:

It is also important to ensure that this feed is appropriate for the species so that they stay active, healthy, and full of energy. Overfeeding is not recommended for Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids as it may lead to health issues.


The breeding process is relatively simple. Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids are egg-layers and will usually spawn on flat surfaces such as rocks or leaves. The breeding process can take up to two weeks and the female can lay up to 2000 eggs that the male will fertilize. 

Both parents will protect and care for the eggs until they hatch about 5-7 days later. The fry becomes free-swimming after another seven days. During this period, the parents will still care for them and protect them from predators. 

You can start feeding the fry with newly hatched brine shrimp or microworms. Once they are big enough, you can start feeding them with flakes or pellets.

It is best to remove the parents from the tank once the fry is free-swimming as they may be eaten by the parents.

One of the most challenging aspects of breeding Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlid is dealing with aggression. A bonded pair will fight other fish violently, and they can also fight each other. Plenty of hiding places with rocks, caves, pieces of driftwood, and a divider are a must.

Now It’s Time To Think

After having a look at the guide, Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids sounds like a great choice for aquariums. You’ll need to decide if you’re willing to own this terrific but feisty fish. 

If you’re a beginner, it’s probably best to pass on this species. These fish are big, lurk and strike predators require a lot more care and attention from an experienced fish keeper to thrive. 

But if you’re an intermediate or advanced aquarist who wants to take on the challenge, then Red Tiger Motaguense Cichlids are an excellent option for your aquarium.

If there’s anything you think we should add to this RTMs’ care guide, or you need help deciding if this species is right for your aquarium, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Good luck!

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