A New Strain of a Classic Aquarium Fish Makes its US Debut
Article and images by Art Parola
It’s not often a new non-hybrid, line-bred strain of Central American cichlid appears. Especially in a species that has been in the hobby for over a century! So I had to do a double take on a recent trip to Aquarium Design Group when I saw what is likely one of the first offerings in the United States and the newest strain of cichlid available to aquarists: a pair of albino firemouth cichlids.
Aquarium Design Group (ADG) is the Houston-based aquascape Mecca of the Senske brothers. This store is as much a fine art gallery as a local fish store. Even someone completely disinterested in fish and aquariums could appreciate the beauty of the numerous immaculately scaped aquariums showcased throughout the store.
While not as often recognized, the shop is just as much a destination store for unique and seldomly available species. The variety of aquatic life rivals just about any retailer (and many wholesalers) in the country. Even experienced aquarists can often find a fish they have never before encountered.
Therefore, I was amazed, but not surprised, to glimpse a shimmering opal white fish with a wine-red splotch starting on the chin just in front of the gill plate, running posterior along the belly of the fish and phasing out about three-quarters of the way to the caudal peduncle, swimming in one of the shop’s aquariums. One of the fish had less red and a fuller abdomen suggesting it was likely a female. The pattern on the fins shows quite nicely as well, with more contrast than on most wild-type strains.
This offering is presumably a line-bred variation of one of the first cichlids available. The firemouth cichlid, Thorichthys meeki, first arrived into the hobby over 100 years ago. Through the years, various collecting points with slight variations have been imported. But nothing as drastic has appeared as this albino strain.
Photos of the fish reported to be from Thailand appeared on the Internet as early as 2019. But the strain doesn’t seem to have appeared in the US until this year. Conversations with buyers for some of the largest US wholesalers revealed they had never imported the strain, and couldn’t recall it ever being offered from suppliers.
At the time when I visited ADG, two fish were available with a listed price of $299.99 for the pair. A few online vendors also appear to be offering the strain at similar price points. As long as the strain is reasonably strong, it will likely be mass-produced at some time in the future, dropping the price considerably. However, in the short term, the striking appearance will command a premium as supply is going to take some time to catch up with demand.
While I consider myself to generally be a purist primarily interested in fish displaying characteristics as close as possible to their wild counterparts, even I couldn’t help but admire this fish. If this strain is strong and hardy, it has huge potential to be a popular aquarium fish.