Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cichlasoma urophthalmum
(Mayan cichlid)



Cichlasoma urophthalmum (Mayan cichlid)


  • Last modified
  • 04 August 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cichlasoma urophthalmum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Mayan cichlid
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Actinopterygii
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The Mayan cichlid fish, C. urophthalmum, is a medium-sized cichlid native to Central America that is kept worldwide as an ornamental fish. Introduced populations are established in the Florida peninsular, USA a...

  • Principal Source
  • 17/06/16 Updated by: 

    Mark Maddern, University of Western Australia, Australia

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Cichlasoma urophthalmum (mayan cichlid); adult.
CaptionCichlasoma urophthalmum (mayan cichlid); adult.
CopyrightPublic Domain/released by the US Geological Survey/original photo Pam Fuller
Cichlasoma urophthalmum (mayan cichlid); adult.
AdultCichlasoma urophthalmum (mayan cichlid); adult.Public Domain/released by the US Geological Survey/original photo Pam Fuller


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cichlasoma urophthalmum Günther, 1862

Preferred Common Name

  • Mayan cichlid

Other Scientific Names

  • Astronotus urophthalmus Günther, 1862
  • Cichlasoma urophthalmus Günther, 1862
  • Cichlasoma urophthalmus trispilum Hubbs, 1935
  • Herichthys urophthalmus Günther, 1862
  • Heros urophthalmus Günther, 1862
  • Parapetenia urophthalmus Günther, 1862

Local Common Names

  • Denmark: halepletcichlide
  • Finland: rengaskirjoahven
  • Germany: Schwanzfleckbuntbarsch
  • Mexico: castarrica
  • Thailand: catarrica; mojarra del sureste
  • UK: Mexican mojarra
  • USA: orange tiger

Summary of Invasiveness

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The Mayan cichlid fish, C. urophthalmum, is a medium-sized cichlid native to Central America that is kept worldwide as an ornamental fish. Introduced populations are established in the Florida peninsular, USA and also in Thailand and Singapore. C. urophthalmum has become established in aquatic habitats because of its wide environmental tolerances, ability to colonize disturbed habitats, trophic opportunism, fast growth rates and advanced parental care of offspring. C. urophthalmus inhabits freshwater marshes and mangrove swamps, but prefers coastal lagoons and rivers and the species is highly tolerant of a wide range of salinities and will reproduce in freshwater and saltwater. It is a generalist predator and potential ecological impacts upon endemic fish fauna may include resource competition and predation, and predation of aquatic invertebrate communities that impacts upon ecosystem function. When breeding, C. urophthalmum becomes aggressive as territories are established on the substrate and defended against intruders.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Actinopterygii
  •                     Order: Perciformes
  •                         Family: Cichlidae
  •                             Genus: Cichlasoma
  •                                 Species: Cichlasoma urophthalmum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Cichlasoma urophthalmum was originally described as Heros urophthalmus in 1862 by Dr Albert Günther of the British Museum of Natural History. In 1867, Franz Steindachner of Austria described Heros troschelii based on specimens from Mexico, creating a junior synonym. The taxonomy of the species is liable to change as the evolutionary relationships of many cichlids remain poorly understood (Robins, 2016). According to Froese and Pauly (2016), although C. urophthalmum belongs to the tribe Heroini, it is maintained as an incertae sedis species of Cichlasoma pending a revision of heroin cichlids traditionally assigned to the cichlasomatin genus Cichlasoma. Thus, the generic allocation of this species is still uncertain and may change. 


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The following description is adapted from Page and Burr (1991); Martínez-Palacios and Ross (1992); Miller et al. (2005); Nico et al. (2007); Froese and Pauly (2016); Global Invasive Species Database (2016); Robins (2016) and Schofield et al. (2016).

C. urophthalmum is a medium-sized cichlid that may grow up to approximately 400 mm Total Length (TL) and 1.1 kg, though a large adult is typically in the range of 200 to 275 mm TL, and fish may be reproductively mature at 80 mm standard length (SL) (Global Invasive Species Database, 2016). The body is ovate, and the first dorsal and anal fins are spinous, and the caudal fin is slightly rounded. Dorsal fin XV-XVII (10-12); anal fin VI-VII (6-10), pectoral with 14 rays, pelvic fin I (5). Lateral line scales generally 26-31. The pelvic fins are under or posterior to pectoral-fin insertion.

According to Robins (2016), the most distinctive feature of C. urophthalmum is its colouration. The background colour is olive-brown dorsally, grading to a light brown or beige towards the abdomen and pink is often suffused throughout but is most conspicuous in the throat region. The species main morphological features are a conspicuous ocellated blotch at caudal base and seven (rarely 8) dark bands (of variable width) across the body (the first an oblique along nape that crosses near the lateral line origin, and the seventh or posterior-most bar positioned on the caudal peduncle).The ocellated blotch has a blue halo and is usually approximately half the depth of the caudal peduncle. Although sexual dimorphism is not evident, males may be slenderer and larger than females. During the reproductive season both sexes develop intense red on the ventral side of their body. While the ocellated blotch and seven dark bands across the body are diagnostic, C. urophthalmum is highly variable in colour and anatomical features such as body proportion.  


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Cichalsoma urophthalmum is native to the Central American Atlantic slope waters from southeastern Mexico (including the Yucatán Peninsula), Belize, Guatemala, Honduras to the Rio Prinzapolka, Nicaragua (Page and Burr, 1991). Dr Günther's type specimen is from Lake Petén, Guatemala.

Introduced populations of C. urophthalmum were first reported in the Everglades National Park, Florida, USA in 1983 (Schofield et al., 2016). Since then it range has increased and C. urophthalmum is currently found in many counties in Florida including Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas and St. Lucie (Schofield et al., 2016).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


SingaporeWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Ng and Tan, 2010; Froese and Pauly, 2016Collected from the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Common in slow flowing brackish habitats, reservoirs and ponds. Also found in the sea along the coasts
ThailandPresentIntroduced>2000Nico et al., 2007Established in the brackish lower Chao Phraya River delta region

North America

MexicoPresentNative Not invasive Conkel, , 1993
USAPresentIntroduced Not invasive Welcomme, 1988
-FloridaWidespreadIntroduced1983 Invasive Schofield et al., 2016First collected in Everglades NP; range continues to expand in south and central Florida peninsula

Central America and Caribbean

BelizePresentNative Not invasive Conkel, , 1993
GuatemalaPresentNative Not invasive Conkel, , 1993
HondurasPresentNative Not invasive Conkel, , 1993
NicaraguaPresentNative Not invasive Conkel, , 1993

History of Introduction and Spread

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Introduced populations of C. urophthalmum were first reported from Florida, USA in 1983, when the species was collected in the Everglades National Park (Schofield et al., 2016). C. urophthalmum is established in and around the Everglades National Park (Loftus, 1987; Kline et al., 2014) and the Big Cypress National Preserve (Loftus et al. 2004). It was collected in Lake Okeechobee and Lake Osborne, Palm Beach County in 2003 (Shafland et al., 2008). During the 2000s, the range of C. urophthalmum increased east and north with reports from the east-central Florida coast at St. Lucie County (Schofield et al., 2016) and from canals on Merritt Island, Brevard County in 2007 (Paperno et al., 2008). C. urophthalmum was collected in Charlotte Harbor in 2003 (Adams and Wolfe, 2007; Schofield et al., 2016). In 2005, C. urophthalmum was found to be established in Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and in 2006 this species was collected in Mobbly Bayou in Tampa Bay (Paperno et al., 2008). According to Schofield et al. (2016), C. urophthalmum is currently found in many counties in Florida including Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas and St. Lucie.

C. urophthalmum is established in Singapore and was collected by Ng and Tan (2010) between 2007 and 2008 in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. According to these researchers the species is found in brackish waters throughout the island. 

Nico et al. (2007) reported the discovery of introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in the brackish waters of the lower Chao Phraya River delta region, Thailand. The species was abundant in this aquatic system and it was considered likely that it would further disperse in the interconnected water bodies throughout the Chao Phraya delta.  

Risk of Introduction

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There are three main factors likely to influence the risk of introduction of C. urophthalmum to natural environments; (i) the popularity of the species as an ornamental fish, (ii) the number of naturalized introduced populations, and (iii) size and/or nature of the species as an ornamental fish.

Schofield et al. (2016) speculated that introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in Florida are the result of release of specimens from private aquaria and/or commercial fish farms. The potential for the release of fish is correlated with the popularity of that species and its abundance among fish hobbyists. Although C. urophthalmum is translocated and kept as an ornamental fish species worldwide, it is not a particularly popular ornamental species. In the UK, Seriously Fish (2016) state that the species “…is occasionally offered for sale in the UK, or can be obtained through specialist cichlid dealers.”, while in the USA, Robins (2016) claim that the species “…is at times available in the aquarium trade…”. Thus, while C. urophthalmum is available and kept within the ornamental fish community worldwide, they are not as popular as other ornamental species (such as the guppy Poecilia reticulata) and therefore the potential for the release is likely to be lower than that of more popular ornamental species.

There is the potential for the natural dispersal and anthropogenic translocation of introduced populations of C. urophthalmum and this is more likely to occur in areas that contain multiple populations and/or larger and widely distributed populations. In areas with larger and/or widely dispersed populations there is a greater risk of the general public collecting, translocating and potentially re-releasing fishes. Anthropogenic translocation and release may occur in peninsular Florida and Thailand, where the species is successfully established and widely dispersed. The fact that the species is considered a good table fish (Robins, 2016), and is cultured for human consumption in Mexico (Global Invasive Species Database, 2016), may provide motivation to translocate and release C. urophthalmum. Simberloff and Gibbons (2004) consider that the rapid spread of the species in southern Florida was likely aided by amateur anglers.  

C. urophthalmum is not an ideal aquarium fish due to its large size (up to 40 cm Total Length) and aggressive tendencies (Robins, 2016). Thus, the species antisocial nature may provide an incentive for disposal in local aquatic environments.

Overall, when the popularity of Hemichromis letourneuxi is considered, along with the number of countries the species has been successfully introduced to, the likelihood of further introductions is low/moderate. 


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Within its native range, C. urophthalmum is widely distributed in rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes and estuaries in its native range (Chávez-López et al., 2005; Miller et al., 2005; Schofield et al., 2016). As an introduced species, C. urophthalmum inhabits a wide range of coastal and inland shallow, lentic habitats such as freshwater streams and marshes, and mangrove swamps. The species is highly adaptable and will occupy anthropogenically-modified aquatic environments including canals, ditches and lakes. While the species is euryhaline and will reproduce in salinities from freshwater to seawater (i.e. salinity approximately 35ppt) (Page and Burr, 1991; Schofield et al., 2016), it exhibits a preference for freshwater and brackish environments. In Veracruz, Mexico, Chávez-López et al. (2005) noted that the species exhibited an affinity for oligohaline to mesohaline sites with submerged vegetation, well-oxygenated, deep, and transparent water. 

Habitat List

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Mangroves Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Mangroves Principal habitat Natural
Salt marshes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Salt marshes Principal habitat Natural
Irrigation channels Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Irrigation channels Principal habitat Natural
Lakes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lakes Principal habitat Natural
Lakes Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Reservoirs Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Reservoirs Principal habitat Natural
Reservoirs Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rivers / streams Principal habitat Natural
Ponds Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Ponds Principal habitat Natural
Estuaries Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Estuaries Principal habitat Natural
Estuaries Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Lagoons Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lagoons Principal habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Reproductive Biology

C. urophthalmum is a monogamous, biparental substrate spawner with advanced parental care of offspring. During reproduction, both sexes develop intense red on the ventral side of their body. Males are aggressive to each other and to immature females (Martínez-Palacios, 1987). Both parents protect the spawning site, which has a territory of approximately 1 m2 (Chavaz et al., 1983), after spawning and during larval development. When the young hatch, they immediately swim toward the bottom, where they attach with adhesive head glands. The young begin free-swimming after about five to six days, but continue to be guarded by the parents for days thereafter (Martinez-Palacios and Ross, 1992). Although C. urophthalmum commonly inhabits freshwaters, it may reproduce in estuarine and marine habitats; e.g. Greenfield and Thomerson (1997) (referenced in Schofield et al., 2016) recorded C. urophthalmum spawning in sea water over sand/turtlegrass (Thalassia) in Belize, and C. urophthalmum was observed to spawn in Snook Creek, south Florida in salinities between 10-26 PSU (Loftus, 1987).

The reproductive cycle observed in introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in Florida is very similar to that of the species in its native range. Reproductive activity in Florida occurs between April to June (Faunce and Lorenz, 2000), which concurs with studies from Mexico, although the reproductive season is longer in duration in the latter location (Loftus, 1987; Faunce and Lorenz, 2000). Faunce and Lorenz (2000) detailed the reproductive biology of C. urophthalmum in the southern Everglades. These researchers observed that nests were formed in shallow depressions in the spongy root mass of red mangroves and were 10-45 cm in diameter and generally <10 cm deep. Nests are often found in close association with each other. Typically, the brood surrounds the female, while the male patrols nearby and defends against potential predators. After four to six weeks the level of parental care begins to decline. During this time water levels have risen, enabling young to disperse to warmer habitat that is mainly free of predators. Spawning occurred primarily from April to June and although the spawning season occurred during months of elevated salinities, Faunce and Lorenz (2000) concluded that salinity likely does not control the distribution of this species. Reproduction of C. urophthalmum occurred at a time of increased temperatures and water levels that maximize juvenile survival. Where sufficient food is available some adults may be able to quickly return to breeding condition and reproduce a second time in the same season (Faunce and Lorenz, 2000). Declining water levels and temperatures during winter gradually force young fish into deeper habitats.

The reproduction cycle of C. urophthalmum coincides almost perfectly with the wet-dry cycle of southern Florida, and it is likely that the hydrologic conditions in the Florida Everglades are very similar to what this species encounters in its native range. Faunce and Lorenz (2000) and Trexler et al. (2000) consider that this may be a major factor in the success of the species in the mangroves of southern Florida.

Physiology and Phenology

C. urophthalmum possesses physiological adaptations and behavioural traits that may facilitate its dispersal as an introduced species.

C. urophthalmum is an aggressive species and it is likely that this behavioural trait has assisted it to spread across the Florida peninsula. In an aquarium environment, C. urophthalmum is noted for its aggressive behaviour, particularly while reproducing. Seriously Fish (2016) described C. urophthalmum as “territorial and fairly aggressive” and it was recommended that the species be only be placed in an aquarium alone or in a community of other medium to large aggressive fishes.

The species is tolerant of environmental variability and introduced populations in Florida have been found to be euryhaline, resistant to low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) and low temperatures (Faunce and Lorenz, 2000; Nico et al., 2007; Schofield et al., 2009; Froese and Pauly, 2016). Physiological tolerance to such a broad range of environmental conditions is likely to have contributed to the spread of this species throughout Florida (Schofield et al. 2009).  


Research on introduced populations in the Everglades National Park (ENP) in Florida concluded that C. urophthalmum reached a maximum age of 7 years. In Captivity, C. urophthalmum may live at least 11 years (Robins, 2016).

Population Size and Density

Research has been conducted on the growth and population demography of native and introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in Mexico and Florida, respectively. In Mexico, it was found that individuals of approximately one year of age were reproductively mature and measured 70-130 mm Standard Length (SL). Two-year-old fish measured 131-200 mm SL and comprised the oldest individuals in the study sample, suggesting a maximum of two reproductive seasons for the species. In contrast, introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in the Everglades National Park (ENP) exhibited markedly different population characteristics. It was found that in the ENP, C. urophthalmum reached a maximum age of 7 years and fish of approximately one year of age were 33-66mm SL and two-year-old fish were 44-130mm SL. It was concluded that the contrasts in population characteristics between the introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in Florida and native populations in Mexico were attributable to in part to the absence of fishing pressure on the Florida population and differences in temperature between Mexico and south Florida (Robins, 2016). Shafland et al. (2008) noted that C. urophthalmum is one of the most abundant fish in angler catches in some Everglades canals.


C. urophthalmum is primarily a carnivore based on anatomical features that include a slightly protusible mouth and small caniform teeth for grasping prey, large pharyngeal tooth pads for the mastication of prey (particularly hard-shelled invertebrates), short flat gill rakers and a short intestine which reduces the efficiency of digesting large amounts of plant material (Martinez-Palacios and Ross, 1988; Ross and Martínez-Palacios, 1991; Robins, 2016).

The diet of C. urophthalmum from natural environments based on gut contents analyses suggests that the species is omnivorous with a strong preference to carnivory (Chavez et al., 1983; Caso et al., 1986; Vaslet et al., 2012). Martinez-Palacios and Ross (1988) investigated the diet of C. urophthalmum from its native range in Mexico and found that it was a generalist predator and mainly consumed invertebrates throughout all seasons. C. urophthalmum also consumed some soft algae, although the authors suggested that this dietary taxon may be consumed as a consequence of predation on small invertebrates, rather than as a deliberate food item. There was little difference between the diets of small and large fish, although larger fish tended to feed on a more limited range of prey items and less plant material. The main identifiable animals consumed were palaemonid and penaeid shrimps. Conversely, in Veracruz, Mexico, Chávez-López et al. (2005) noted that the diet of C. urophthalmum consisted principally of plant detrital material and algae.

Considerable research has been conducted on the diet of introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in southern Florida and it was found that C. urophthalmum consumed similar prey items to that in the species native range. Fish were the dominant prey during the dry season, with juvenile C. urophthalmum consuming alternate secondary prey items including detritus and ostracods, and adults consuming algae, gastropods, decapod crustaceans and insects (Loftus, 1987; Bergmann and Motta, 2005; Schofield et al., 2016). Robins (2016) reported one research study where a greater amount of vegetable matter was found in the gut of C. urophthalmum living in saline environments than those residing in freshwater habitats.

Environmental Requirements

Considerable research has been conducted investigating the physiological tolerances of introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in Florida to a variety of environmental variables, most notably, low water temperatures, salinity and low oxygen (hypoxia). The fact that the species exhibits wide physiological tolerances to a broad range of environmental conditions has likely contributed to its spread throughout Florida (Schofield et al., 2009).

C. urophthalmum is euryhaline and tolerant of a wide range of salinities. While it is usually found in freshwater and brackish environments, the species can tolerate marine conditions and is capable of surviving abrupt changes in salinity (Schofield et al., 2009). It is tolerant to a wide temperature range (14-39°C) and low oxygen (hypoxic) conditions (Faunce and Lorenz, 2000; Nico et al., 2007; Schofield et al., 2009; Froese and Pauly, 2016). The lower temperature tolerance limit of the species is approximately 14°C; however, introduced populations of C. urophthalmum may be evolving to be more tolerant of colder temperatures. An in situ mesocosm experiment conducted by Adams and Wolfe (2007) found that fish tolerated multiple days of water below 15°C (to 10°C). Currently in Florida, extreme cold events can cause massive declines in introduced populations of C. urophthalmum, leading to significant fluctuations in abundance of the species between years (Trexler et al., 2000). 

Natural Food Sources

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Food SourceFood Source DatasheetLife StageContribution to Total Food Intake (%)Details
algae Adult
Chironomidae Adult
Palaemonidae Adult


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A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) <3.5 Harmful Adult
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l) >5 Optimum Adult
Salinity (part per thousand) 10 20 Optimum Fry
Salinity (part per thousand) 0 35 Harmful Adult marine
Spawning temperature (ºC temperature) <24 Harmful Broodstock
Spawning temperature (ºC temperature) 28 30 Optimum Broodstock
Water pH (pH) >13 Harmful Adult
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 14 39 Harmful Adult
Water temperature (ºC temperature) <25 >30 Harmful Egg
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 28 30 Optimum Adult
Water temperature (ºC temperature) 28 30 Optimum Egg

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Noctilio leporinus Predator Adult FishBase, 2004

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Robins (2016) reports that C. urophthalmum is preyed upon by a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial organisms including other fishes and wading birds.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

The further spread of C. urophthalmum by natural dispersal may occur in Florida where the species is already well established. C. urophthalmum has expanded throughout southern and central Florida primarily due to three main environmental factors; (i) the interconnected nature of much of the natural and agricultural wetlands in southern/central Florida, (ii) seasonal hydrological regimes and inundation of these wetlands, and (iii) natural events such as hurricanes. 

Agriculturally-modified wetlands cover significant areas of south and central Florida and provide important habitat for many freshwater species. These wetlands are often highly interconnected via artificial canals and ditches (O’Connor and Rothermel, 2013). Dispersal is likely to be mediated by the seasonal inundation of these ditches with other studies showing that ditches are important for fish dispersal within seasonal wetlands (Hohausavá et al., 2010). Aquatic community assemblages in these agricultural wetlands are driven by large-scale colonization processes, such as proximity to source populations and wetland connectivity (Baber et al., 2002). C. urophthalmum thrives in many interconnected canal systems in southern Florida and has become one of the most widespread and successful cichlids after only three decades in Florida (Schofield et al., 2016). However, in the subtropical climate of south Florida, periodic extreme flooding events may eventually expose most of these wetlands to the exotic species that occur in the region, diluting the effect of ditch-mediated connectivity (O’Connor and Rothermel, 2013). Similarly, extensive flooding subsequent to hurricane events is likely to rapidly expand the range of euryhaline fishes. For example, hurricane Katrina is likely to have greatly assisted the expansion of the introduced cichlid Hemichromis letourneuxi westward through the Rocky Glades in the Everglades National Park in 2005 (Loftus et al., 2006).

Accidental and Intentional Introduction

C. urophthalmum was first documented in Florida in the Everglades National Park in 1983. Schofield et al. (2016) state that although the origins and dates of the initial introductions are unknown, they probably originated from aquarium releases or fish-farm escapes. 

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Positive
Environment (generally) Negative

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

As C. urophthalmum may reach high densities in anthropogenically-modified habitats in Florida (Shafland et al., 2008), it is likely that the species will impact on aquatic invertebrate and fish communities, and therefore affect broad scale environmental processes such as food webs and nutrient cycles (Global Invasive Species Database, 2016).

Impact on Biodiversity

Research has been conducted on the potential impacts of introduced populations of C. urophthalmum on aquatic habitats and ecosystems in Florida. Impacts on native fish populations include competition for food and space, predation, behavioural modification and potentially disease transmission. Schofield et al. (2016) noted that C. urophthalmum has the potential to be one of the most damaging introduced cichlids in Florida and the species is one of the most widespread and successful introduced cichlids after only three decades in Florida.

Trexler et al. (2000) observed C. urophthalmum competing with native substrate-spawning species, e.g. largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides, warmouth Chaenobryttus gulosus and spotted sunfish Lepomis punctatus in the Everglades National Park. An inverse correlation was observed between the abundance of native species and C. urophthalmum. Trexler et al. (2000) also reported anecdotal evidence of nest predation and competitive interactions for space with other substrate-spawning natives (centrarchids).

Porter-Whitaker et al. (2012) investigated the potential synergistic impacts of multiple introduced predators, C. urophthalmum and the African jewelfish Hemichromis letourneuxi, on a native Florida Everglades prey assemblage. In situ field enclosures and laboratory aquaria were utilized to compare predatory effects and antipredator responses across five prey taxa. C. urophthalmum was found to be a superior predator compared to H. letourneuxi, and the former species also consumed a broader range of prey taxa. C. urophthalmum consumed the native flagfish Jordanella floridae, riverine grass shrimp Palaemonetes paludosus and bluefin killifish Lucania goodei. In mixed predator treatments no evidence was observed of additive effects of the two introduced cichlid species, as interactions between the two cichlid predators were low.

Rehage et al. (2009) researched the antipredator responses of Eastern mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki to two non-native predators introduced into the Everglades; C. urophthalmum and Hemichromis letourneuxi. It was found that the behaviour of Gambusia holbrooki changed in that it reduced its use of tank microhabitats in the presence of C. urophthalmum.

Harrison et al. (2013) examined the effects of C. urophthalmum on native fishes in estuarine mangrove habitats in Florida between 1991 and 2006. Results indicated that differences in assemblage structure among the four sites correlated with the presence of C. urophthalmum. At two sites with high densities of C. urophthalmum, relative densities of sheepshead minnows (Cyprinodon variegatus), killifish species, clown Gobies (Microgobius gulosus), eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), sailfin molly (Poecilia latipinna), tidewater silverside (Menidia peninsulae), and species of Lepomis were correlated with the density of C. urophthalmum. Time series analysis of data from the two sites with high Mayan Cichlid density indicated negative relationships between their density and density of sheepshead minnow, marsh killifish (Fundulus confluentus), and eastern mosquitofish after controlling for salinity. When present, the per capita impacts on sheepshead minnows were 40% to 60% greater than on the other taxa.

Introduced populations of C. urophthalmum are potential vectors of diseases and parasites. The species was found to be an intermediate host to an unidentified species from a genus of anisakid nematodes (Contracaecum) known to infect birds, mammals and humans (Bergmann and Motta, 2004). In Mexico, C. urophthalmum is host to a diverse range of parasites including 71 helminth species and the larvae of the nematode Serpinema trispinosum, which affects turtles (Nico et al., 2007).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Gregarious
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of natural benthic communities
  • Soil accretion
Impact mechanisms
  • Antagonistic (micro-organisms)
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing
  • Predation
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Economic Value

C. urophthalmum is a moderately popular ornamental fish species maintained by hobbyists worldwide.

Social Benefit

C. urophthalmum is very palatable and within the species’ native range, it is captured by artisanal fishers and is cultured in aquaculture facilities (Robins, 2016).

The introduced populations of C. urophthalmum in Florida are popular with many recreational anglers and for its size, the species is considered a good sport fish (Robins, 2016). 

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Cichlids (Cichlidae), including C. urophthalmum, are superficially similar to the north American sunfishes and black basses (Centrarchidae: Lepomis and Micropterus). Cichlids can be distinguished from centrarchids by a single nostril opening on each side of the head (vs. two openings in centrarchids) and the presence of a discontinuous or two-part lateral line (vs. a continuous lateral line in centrarchids) (Robins, 2016; Schofield et al., 2016).

As an introduced species in Florida, USA, C. urophthalmum may be discriminated from the dozen or so other introduced cichlids by the ocellated blotch at the caudal base and the seven (or 8) dark bands across the body (Page and Burr, 1991).

C. urophthalmum is included in identification keys of Miller et al. (2005). Many subspecies have been described although these may not be valid (Miller et al., 2005; Schofield et al., 2016).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


Management options for controlling exotic fishes once established in unconfined aquatic systems are nearly non-existent. Schofield et al. (2010) researched the cold tolerance of C. urophthalmus in the laboratory and during field trials in southern Florida. Based on this research, the authors surmised that the most promising possibility for reducing populations is to expose the fishes to cold water temperatures that accompany the periodic winter fronts in these areas. This population control may only be possible if fishes are denied access to thermal refuges, which in south Florida consist primarily of man-made habitats such as canals, ditches, culvert pools, borrow ponds and pools at water-control structures. It was suggested that infilling canals and pools to less than 50 cm water depth and decreasing connectivity of refugia may reduce populations. 


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Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Mayan cichlid Cichlasoma urophthalmus
NAS - Species Factsheet

Principal Source

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17/06/16 Updated by: 

Mark Maddern, University of Western Australia, Australia


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Main Author
Sunil Siriwardena
Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK

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