Vieja Synspilum (Redhead Cichlid)

Vieja Synspilum

Last updated on August 22nd, 2022 at 11:08 pm

The Vieja Synspilum, otherwise known as the Redhead cichlid, synspilum cichlid, or vieja synspila, is one of many fish species belonging to the cichlid family that originally comes from Guatemala.

Commenting on some species of fish, the Vieja synspilum (Redhead Cichlid) is native to the Amazon river basin in South America and can be found in Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela as well as the coastal Atlantic waters of Pará state in northern Brazil. This fish is also commonly called a red-headed cichlid or redhead fish, but should not be confused with other types of cichlids such as the red devil cichlid or the copper-red cichlid.

Reaching around 40-42 cm in length, the Vieja Synspilum or Redhead Cichlid (also commonly known as the Golden Cichlid) is one of the most stunning cichlids available in the aquarium trade today. Its bright golden coloration and its ease of care make it a favorite among aquarium enthusiasts and hobbyists alike. However, despite its popularity, the Redhead Cichlid remains shrouded in confusion when it comes to its natural habitat and proper care requirements in captivity.

Origin and descriptions

Vieja Synspilum

The redhead cichlid is a tropical freshwater fish that gets its name from its coloring. It is referred to by many names, including redheaded hermit, redstripe hermit, or simply redstriped cichlid. The scientific name of the Vieja synspilum means putting two together, referring to how it behaves while feeding.

Vieja synspilum (also known as redhead cichlid, Mexican Viejo, ojo de liebre, or yellow-eyed pleco) is a beautiful South American freshwater fish. It is not an aggressive fish and can be kept in community aquariums with other non-aggressive fishes of similar size. An average adult can reach about 42 cm in length and live for about 7 years.

This fish should be kept in at least 120 gallon tanks but larger tanks are preferred to give space for swimming. They originate from the Rio Orinoco river basin area in Venezuela and Colombia. They inhabit slow-moving waters of rivers and flooded forests up to 6 meters deep. The temperature should range between 22–28°C (72–82°F). These fish prefer soft acidic water conditions and need plenty of hiding places when young.

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Species profile

Vieja Synspilum

Vieja synspilum is a fish belonging to the cichlidae family. It has a bright red color on its forehead that earned it its common name, redhead cichlid. It is native to Central America and Mexico. The wild population of Vieja synsipilum is vulnerable as they are exclusively found in one lake in northern Guatemala.

However, captive populations have been thriving due to extensive breeding efforts by hobbyists for more than two decades. This led to its addition in Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The IUCN categorizes Vieja synsipilum as vulnerable due to environmental degradation and overharvesting for the aquarium trade.

Vieja synspilum habitat

Viejas synspilum are found in Lake Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. They live in a warm clear water habitat that is highly oxygenated. Water temperature is normally 78–82 °F/26–28°C but has been known to thrive at temperatures as low as 64–67°F (18–19°C) or as high as 87°F (30°C).

Vieja synspilum size

This species can grow to a maximum length of 16.5 inches (42 cm)

Vieja synspilum tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for a pair is 125 gallons (473 Liters), while an 85 gallons tank will house a single fish.

Tank set up

It’s best to keep a male with only 2 females. Although they’re not territorial, they tend to pick on each other if they have no other fish in their tank. It’s also important that you have at least 85 gallons of water per cichlid. The ideal temperature range is 72-78°F, and pH should be between 6.5-7.5 as well as a hardness level of 10-15 dH or 150 ppm total alkalinity.

The minimum suggested aquarium size for one redhead cichlid is 85 gallons; however, it’s advisable to get something much larger for optimal results. Be aware that with smaller tanks, these fish are prone to bloat because there isn’t enough room for them to swim properly. Because of their tendency towards bloat when kept in small spaces, Viejas are better suited for large aquaria instead of tanks meant for betta fish or goldfish.

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Vieja synspilum tank mates

Beginner fish tanks are typically filled with tropical fish that have been bred in captivity. Vieja synspilum tend to be less aggressive than wild-caught fishes, but even among captive-bred specimens, certain varieties can still pose a danger to others. Most often, redheads will be kept with other African cichlids. These fish are known for their aggression toward one another, so tank mates should be carefully selected.

Some best tank mates are Silver dollars, Angelfish, Jack Dempsey, Convict cichlids, and Texas cichlids. These fish will be able to hold their own when a redhead attacks them. You may also find some success with angelfish, catfish, or flatfish species.

Vieja synspilum breeding

Vieja Synspilum

Although Viejas are fairly tolerant of water conditions, they do much better in slightly acidic water with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Many cichlids require more strict water conditions, but being that Viejas live in an environment that varies from clear stream pools to blackwater swamps, they are more tolerant of a wider range of parameters than many other cichlids.

The most important aspect of their environment is stable temperature; these fish prefer temperatures between 72–79 degrees Fahrenheit (22–26 degrees Celsius). Maintaining these temperatures will help keep pH levels consistent as well. A consistent diet is also essential for ensuring healthy fish; feed a variety of high-quality foods such as earthworms, pellets, and flakes, and try not to overfeed!

Be careful with food dyes and preservatives, which can negatively affect natural coloration. Try changing one thing at a time when attempting to breed viejas, one cause of breeding failure can be attributed to excess stress caused by changes in things like water chemistry or temperature. Finally, it’s recommended that you purchase at least two pairs of viejas before beginning any breeding program. These fish tend to be less aggressive toward each other when there are multiple individuals sharing an aquarium.

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Are Vieja synspilum aggressive or peaceful?

Vieja synspilum is a very peaceful cichlid. It can survive in tanks with larger fish like peacocks, but it will need plenty of space to avoid being eaten. The best way to ensure a redhead lives a long and healthy life is to keep it by itself in a tank that’s large enough for it to swim around.

Vieja synspilum care

Vieja Synspilum

The Redhead Cichlid is a member of an omnivorous family that prefers eating fish, shrimp, snails, worms, algae, crustaceans, aquatic plants, and detritus. They are one of many members within the Family of Cichlasoma which includes over 180 different types of cichlids.

Viejas in particular will hunt actively for their prey instead of waiting to be fed. When searching for food they often occupy new territories or venture into areas they haven’t been before. Water should be kept clean so that disease doesn’t spread quickly through your aquarium’s inhabitants. And because of their dietary preferences, make sure there are no sharp objects floating around where your redheads could get injured while hunting or feeding.

Vieja synspilum diet

Vieja synspilum is an omnivore that will eat both meat and vegetable matter. The most effective diet consists of high-quality pellets, frozen foods that replicate natural prey, as well as live foods such as brine shrimp or daphnia. Feeding your fish only live food is one of the easiest ways to prevent illness. A varied diet is important for all species, particularly if you have more than one in your tank.

Water parameters

Vieja Synspilum

The ideal water should have a pH of 7.8-8.3, Hardness 2-12dH, 72-78°F (22–26°C). A pH of 8 is recommended for optimum health. These fish prefer soft to moderately hard water with a minimum of hardness. The more alkaline your local tap water is, the more it will help you achieve these conditions by adding baking soda to raise pH, or limewater to raise KH; alternatively, you can buy bottled water at pet stores or hardware stores. Although they are not terribly fussy about their environment as long as they are kept in stable waters that don’t change too often.

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Vieja synspilum lifespan

This species can live up to 10 years or more with good care and perfect water conditions.

Parasites and diseases

While it is not unheard of for Viejas to have parasites such as flukes, protozoans, or other internal maladies, these are extremely rare in healthy specimens. So rare that I have never personally encountered a Vieja with any of these issues. One thing to be aware of, however, is that various external parasites and diseases are all too common among captive cichlids.

These include fungal infections such as Black Spot Disease and Oodinium; bacterial infections including fin rot, hole-in-the-head disease, columnaris disease, mouth fungus, gill fungus; along with numerous external parasites such as ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis), anchor worms (Lernaea), body slime/velvet disease (Bodo saltans), and others.


This fish has no natural predators when they are younger. However, as they grow older they become easy targets for herons, egrets, raccoons, or larger species of cichlids. These larger fish will take them from your tank if you do not have protective netting over your cichlid tank. In general, avoid introducing any large fish into an environment with red head cichlids because their poor jumping skills cannot compete with other more agile types of fish.

Do Vieja synspilum make good pets?

Yes. Vieja synspilum can make good pet fish if proper care is given to their needs. However, if not cared for properly, they are prone to disease and health problems. They need strong filtration systems in their aquariums and frequent water changes.