Archocentrus spinosissimus- The Spiny Cichlid/Pepper Cichlid

Archocentrus spinosissimus is one of my favorite fish. Until recently, I had only one old pair about 8 years old that would spawn for me from time to time. This pair spawned for me a few weeks ago, but I only got 6 fry out of the heavily planted tank and the rest of the fry were unfortunately picked off by other aquarium residents.

That’s why I was thrilled to find eggs in a tank I had with a group of eight 2″ spiny cichlids I was raising. It was really hoping for a successful spawn and was excited about this new pair that formed as I’m not sure how much longer the older pair of Archocentrus spinosissimus has left. Sadly, this spawn doesn’t appear to be fertile. At least these younger fish have bred and that’s a start. Here are some photos.

A young pair of Archocentrus spinosissimus. Sadly, this pair was unsuccessful in their first spawning attempt.

A young female Spiny Cichlid dilligently gaurding her eggs.

This 4-6″ cichlid is easily one of my favorite species. Although not extremely colorful, Archocentrus spinosissimus is gorgeous as it has a wonderful bright white body with highly contrasting dark black spots, leading to one of its common names, the Pepper Cichlid. This species also has magnificent trailers to their fins that just flow. Their fins are also the reason for their other common name, the Spiny Cichlid as the hard rays of their fins are quite spiny.

This fish is very mild and shy and I tend to keep them in species only tanks. even amongst themselves, they are not aggressive. I’ve found the best set up is a mid sized tank that is heavily planted with some floating plants. The reason for lots of plants is two fold. First, this is a shy fish that enjoys the refuge offered by the plants. The second reason plants are good for this species is their interesting breeding behavior.

The Pepper Cichlid has some very neat spawning behaviors. Although I’ve not found this species spawns as frequently as other Archocentrus species, it is not overly hard to spawn. I’ve found this species likes to spawn on hard vertical surfaces. A decent sized piece of slate or a flower pot should fit the bill. The Pepper Cichlid lays extremely tiny eggs, in fact, Dr. Ron Coleman’s Cichlid Egg Project data shows them to have the smallest egg of Central American Cichlids! Spawns usually are around 100-250 eggs depending on size of the female. After these eggs hatch, it will become apparent why adding plants is extremely beneficial. The parents hang the wrigglers from floating plants or plant roots at the surface of the water!

A female Spiny Cichlid tending to her wrigglers in a floating pice of water sprite. The parents hang the larvae in aquatic vegetation, a very cool behavior.

A closeup on Spiny Cichlid wrigglers that are adhered to floating plant roots.

This is an amazing sight to see. Most likely, this fish does this as they spawn in the shallows of Lake Izabel where there may not be high quantities of oxygen. By hanging them in the plants, the larvae have more access to oxygen to develop. Although the development of the larvae does not require plants when spawned in aquaria, I’ve found a much higher spawn success rate when plants are available for them to hang the wrigglers.

This behavior is not unique in cichlids. Some other species that are reported to do this as well are Archocentrus centrarchus and Herotilapia multispinosa. I’ve spawned both of these fish, but never witnessed the behavior in this species. Another species I did see the behavior in was Australoheros oblongum an interesting South American Chanchito type that behaved very similarly when spawning to the Pepper Cichlid.

If you can find them, the Pepper Cichlid is a great fish and I highly recommend it. I personally believe this is the least aggressive Central American Cichlid species. Sadly, the availability of this fish is poor. I’m not quite sure why it isn’t more popular as it is an extremely interesting and attractive little fish.

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13 Responses to Archocentrus spinosissimus- The Spiny Cichlid/Pepper Cichlid

  1. Dan says:

    Very interesting, Excellent info……

  2. Jasmine Hamilton says:

    Wow that is really interesting. Wouldn’t it be hard to guard the babies if they are so close to the surface? Are these in Dr. Coleman’s Lab? I would like to take a look at them.

  3. Sharon says:

    Hanging the wrigglers from the plants is a cool behavior! Is there more oxygen available there because it is closer to the surface?

  4. Sam Borstein says:

    Yes Jasmine, these are in the lab. I’ll show them to you sometime. They are really shy and not usually out in the front of the tank.

    Sharon, the reason they hang the fry is that as a byproduct of photosynthesis the plants release oxygen, so there is more oxygen when the larvae are in direct contact with the plants.

  5. Lisa Schwarze says:

    Great site with informations, but it is so havy to get this beautiful fishes. In Germany we surch for them …… but no one have them. We are interested to hold them, spawn and give them to people who are interested to protect this species, too.
    Do you know someone who have Archocentrus spinosissimus in the Nederland, Germany or France? I am a member of the DCG in Germany and many of our members and I want to help protecting this rare fishes.

  6. Sam Borstein says:

    Hi Lisa. Thanks for the kind words. It is an amazing species and one that does need the help of aquarists from a conservation stand point. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with many of the German, Dutch, or French aquarists and therefore can’t help in your search for finding this fish in Europe. In the United States this fish is also hard to find, I don’t know anyone here keeping this fish besides me at the moment. Hopefully I can get another spawn soon and distribute some.

  7. Lisa Schwarze says:

    Hi Sam. Thak you for your answer.
    One member of the DCG, Christian Hofer, became from Michi Tobler the Mailadress from 2 owner of the spinos. They life in Kanada and we hope that they answer us, too.
    Please call us when your old pair start to spawn again :-). We will do all our best to help this species.

    Greetings from

  8. camille says:

    I am a French fishkeeper and I am searching for owners of this beautiful species. I haven’t found it in France yet, but if you, Lisa Schwartze or Sam Borstein, read my message, could you please answer me ? Have you found some spinosissimus ?
    Please excuse my language, I hope it is understandable !

  9. Sam Borstein says:

    I have spinosissimus but they are not for sale. They are offspring from the old pair mentioned from the post. They are still a little small to be breeding yet.

  10. khamthao says:

    Hi Sam, I am a Central American enthusiast and a conservative as well, and I absolutely adore the spinosissimus. It has been a year since the last activity on this post, please update us on the spinosissimus. I have been searching for availability for the spinosissimus but had no luck. If the spinosissimus that you had since last year have spawned, I am very interested to get some. Please contact me at for any information.

  11. Sam Borstein says:

    Hi Khamthao,

    I still have the fish but don’t currently have them in a set up to breed as we had to move a large portion of our lab not to long ago and just haven’t been able to relocate them to a proper breeding set up. They spawned once in their temporary tank but the eggs were not fertile. Hopefully I’ll have them spawning relatively soon.

    • khamthao says:


      Once you do have them available, please keep me in mind and e-mail me. I am willing to make any payments/donations to the team to get some spinos.


      SendDate: Thu, 20 Dec 2012 02:03:55 +0000 To:

    • khamthao says:

      Hey Sam,

      After 2 years now, Im still interested in the Archocentrus Spinosissimus. Do you still have them available? I would do whatever to get a pair or even fries! I’ve been doing much research, and it seems that you are the only one of the very few people that still has them. Please spread the fish so that there are copies in the aquarium hobby. Please reply back!


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