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Severum Cichlid

Severum Cichlid

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The Golden Severum or Gold Severum is a captive bred color-morph of the Severum Cichlid and as such are not found living in the wild. The Severum Heros severus was described by Heckel in 1840. The wild Severum is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Common names or different spellings these fish are known by include Convict Fish, Deacon, Sedate Cichlid, Hero, and Striped Cichlid.

They are from South American rivers such as the Orinoco River basin and drainage in Colombia and Venezuela, as well as the Amazon River basin and the upper Negro River basin. They eat plants, algae, zooplankton, insects and detritus.

  • Scientific Name: Heros severus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs
  • IUCN Red List: - This fish does not appear in the wild.



The Severum, like the Discus, is a high-bodied and laterally compressed fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. They are a moderately sized cichlid which reach around 7 3/4 inches (20 cm) in length and have a life span of about 10 years.

The original Severum Cichlid presents a greenish body color with a yellowish gold belly. Juveniles display eight dark and pronounced black vertical bands along their sides, though these bands generally fade as the the fish ages into maturity. It is these bands which gave rise to their common name 'Banded Cichlid'. They have an interesting 'stance' giving them the seeming appearance of always looking up. Several colors have been produced by tank breeding such as brown, green, gold, and turquoise.

The Golden Severum is one such captive bred color morph of the Severum Cichlid. They have the same deep oval shaped body but are pale yellow/gold in color. Their anal, pelvic and pectoral fins are all yellow, while the tail and dorsal fin tend to be a white with yellow specks. Their eyes are yellow as well.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common feature of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish - inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years


Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Severums are one of the most popular cichlids in home aquariums. Though they can be appropriate for fishkeepers of all experience levels, it is important to understand that they are a large fish and will have rapidly changing needs as they grow.  They are fairly easy to take care of for a fishkeeper with some cichlid experience and can be kept by a begginer who is well informed and diligent in their maintenance. 

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate


Foods and Feeding

The Golden Severum is an omnivore that likes pellets or stick foods for large cichlids. They can be fed green peas (which is a favorite), or zucchini that you have blanched. Earthworms, bloodworms, mealworms, and marine crustaceans are also enjoyed.

Do not feed beef heart or liver as these items are very hard for the Severum to digest and can lead to illness. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. A one day a week fast is also beneficial. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day


Aquarium Care

The Golden Severum are fairly easy to care for provided the water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size all will need some maintenance. Over time decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever changing conditions water should be replaced on a regular basis. Perform water changes of 10 - 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers.

In addition, use an algae magnet or scraper to keep viewing panes clear of built up algae. Also note that for this fish to maintain the best coloring you will need to maintain oxygen levels. 

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly


Aquarium Setup

These are large fish and require a relatively large aquarium, at least 45 gallons for a single fish and at least 100 gallons for a breeding pair. The larger the aquarium, the lesss aggressive they will be. They do fine in either freshwater or brackish freshwater and prefer slow to moderate moving water along with good efficient filtration. Maintain low to moderate lighting and softer water as well as a lid to keep them from jumping out of the tank when scared.

Provide a decor that will allow a 'natural' division in territories, including using rocks and sunken driftwood to create caves and alleyways for them to guard and retreat into. The driftwood will help lower the pH and also give off the 'teastained' look common to the South American rivers where they originate. They do enjoy a densely planted aquarium and will do well with both living and plastic plants. Be sure to include some floating live plants as they enjoy "hanging out" amongst their leaves. Plants in the substrate will need to be anchored down since they do tend to dig. If using live plants try Anubias or Cryptocoryne

To give these fish a natural feel add a few handfuls of dried leaves and add a bag of aquarium safe peat to the filter to simulate black water conditions.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 45 gal (170 L) - 45 gallons for a single fish and 100 gallons for a pair.
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 74.0 to 84.0° F (23.3 to 28.9° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: - 78.8 - 80.6° F (26 - 27° C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-6.5
  • Hardness Range: 4 - 6 dGH
  • Brackish: Yes - Slightly brackish water is acceptable.
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Middle


Social Behaviors

The Golden Severum should be kept with other fish of the same size and temperament, and who enjoy the same water conditions. Do not keep it with aggressive fish.

While South American cichlids (including the Golden Severum) tend to be less aggressive than their African cousins, providing adequate space is still very important. They can be kept singly in a 45 gallon tank or as a mated pair in a tank of at least 100 gallons. They will tolerate other Severum varities only in a very large tank, well over 100 gallons, but are more tolerant of other species of fish. Having a lot of room will alleviate general aggression and having some very fast and alert dither fish will help the mated pair's aggression towards each other during spawning.

Suitable tankimates include other cichlids such as the Flag Cichlid,  Aequidens species such as the Blue Acara , eartheaters such as the Pearl Cichlid, and large Angelfish. In addition, they can do well with catfish species such as those from the Loricariid and Callichyid genera. Other suitable large tankmates include some of the cyprinid species such as barbs and sharks, loaches, large characins like the Silver Dollars, and similar sized gouramis.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - They can be kept in pairs and with others of the same species if kept in a large aquarium.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor - They will eat anything small enough to fit in their mouth.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat - is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe


Sex: Sexual differences

The female has a dark spot on the dorsal and lacks patterning on her head. The male has more pointed anal and dorsal fins. Mature males that are well fed can develop a nuchal hump.