Rebeiro, 1918




Gymnogeophagus are Neotropical cichlids; some of them, we have known under the name Geophagus.

In 1975 Dr J.P. Gosse from Belgium made a revision of the genus Geophagus and placed those that did not fit into the genus Gymnogeophagus.

Then nothing happened on this front until 1988 when there was a new revision of the Neotropical cichlid genus "Gymnogeophagus, Ribeiro, 1918, with descriptions of two new species (Pisces, Perciformes)". This revision was by Roberto E. Reis & Luiz R. Malabarba.

In addition, a new Gymnogeophagus was described in 1992 by Roberto E. Reis, Luiz R. Malabarba and Carla S. Pavanelli. "Gymnogeophagus setequedas, a new cichlid species (Teleostei: Labroidei) from middle Rio Paraná system, Brazil and Paraguay".

These cichlids are distributed in Southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and the north-eastern part of Argentina.





Gymnogeophagus balzanii, (Perugia, 1891)

A male Gymnogeophagus balzanii.
Type locality: Vila Maria, Mato Grosso, Brazil.

Photo by Jørgen Jørgensen.

Let me start with the one, I first came in contact with, then as Geophagus balzanii. The fish might not be the one you jump high in the air at first sight, but you will surely fall in love with it when you have kept the fish for a while. A big male looks like it has been driving too fast and met the wall.

These fish (Gymnogeophagus) are quite easy to maintain, but I have found out that most of them do not like it hot. If you keep them at a high temperature over a long period they seem to "fade" away, and you will lose them. When I keep them through the winter at 19-20°C (or even lower) and then in the spring, raise the temperature to 23-24 they will probably start spawning if they are kept under good conditions, and also fed properly.

Balzanii is one of the biggest in the genus Gymnogeophagus, but they still behave very nice, even when they start laying eggs. They are rather shy; if you keep them together with other fish that are more active, then they will hide and you will not see them much.

When you find this fish in the shop, which is not very often, buy at least five. When they are small, there are no big differences between the sexes. When they are about 7-8 cm the males get a steeper forehead. Like I said earlier, they look like they have run into a brick wall. The male also has some blue spots in the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. He has an elongated soft spine in the dorsal and also the top and bottom of the caudal fin.

The fish search for food in the same manner as the Geophagus; they take a mouthful of sand and sift it out through their gills.



Gymnogeophagus cf. "meridionalis"

Gymnogeophagus cf. "meridionalis" from Uruguay.

When I first got this fish, I was not sure whether it should be Gymnogeophagus rhabdotus or Gymnogeophagus australis, because when I got the fish in the beginning of 1980s, no-one could tell. Later we found out that contrary to aquarium literature, this fish should be Gymnogeophagus rhabdotus. So we settled for that. Then nothing happened until a new paper came in 1988. It was "Revision of the Neotropical Cichlid Genus Gymnogeohagus Ribeiro, 1918, with description of Two New Species (Pisces, Perciformes)" by R.E. Reis and L.R. Malabarba.

These two new species were Gymnogeophagus meridionalis sp.n. and Gymnogeophagus lacustris sp.n. This did not change much, because I did not have the fish any longer, but I ordered the paper just to be up-to-date. So if you are interested in the paper, order it.

The Gymnogeophagus rhabdotus and Gymnogeophagus cf. "meridionalis" are substrate breeders. They spawn on a flat stone or a vertical rockface, both clean the chosen rock and a couple of days before they spawn you can see the egg-laying tube on the female. After the spawning both fish clean the eggs and guard the territory. After about four days, the eggs hatch — there might be some variation depending on the temperature. They pick up the newly hatched fry and spit them in to a hollow they have prepared in the sand.

Sometimes, the pair may start to quarrel. The female chases the male away, or the opposite. If the fish are kept alone, the male seems to disturb the female, because he has nothing to do, like defending the territory against intruders. So they might start a fight and they eat the fry or the eggs. I usually keep a small lamp lit on the aquarium when the female is guarding fry, so when the main light is turned off by a clock, there will still be some light so the female can keep all the fry together in the hollow for the night. She can also defend the fry against other fish that are out in the night searching for food. Like some catfishes or the like.

After about four or five weeks she starts to lose interest in guarding the fry and is usually ready to spawn again.



Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys, (Hensel, 1870)

Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys, a young male.

The next one of the Gymnogeophagus that I want to tell you about is Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys. I was so lucky to get this fish and the G. labiatus from a German friend of mine, namely Thomas Shultz, who is a Captain in the German Air Company, Lufthansa. This gives him the opportunity to travel a "little" and lucky for me. He got G. pellegrini from me and I got Gymnogeophagus from him. This was long before I had seen any of these fishes here in Scandinavia. The Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys had been collected in a muddy pond with a lot of leeches, not so far away from a town called Santo Antonio de Patrulha.

The town is about 100 km east of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil (See the map, red dot is Porto Alegre). I have not been able to find this place on my map, but it's probably not the best map of Brazil. There were also a lot of other fishes there too, Crenicichla punctulata, "Geophagus" brasiliensis and Gymnogeophagus rhabdotus(?). The pond had a little outlet that ran into a nearby river about 500 metres away. The name was (if I remember right) something like Rio dos Suinos? There they collected Crenicichla punctulata, Gymnogeophaus labiatus, but no Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys or G. rhabdotus.

The river was different ecologically, it was not very deep, but very rocky, which made it very difficult to collect the Gymnogeophagus labiatus. They could easily hide under the rocks. They found a place where the rocks were moved so cars could cross the river, and there it was easy to use the seine net. So about 30 Gymnogeophagus labiatus were collected in one sweep.

They also tried to collect close to Porto Alegre in Guaiba. Roberto Reis had collected both species there before, but they only managed to collect Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys. This is a delta area for many rivers and the biggest one is Rio Jacui. In Guaiba the Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys were rather large but had a drab color. In the pond at Santo Antonio de Patrulha the fish were smaller but very colorful. They also collected along Highway No. 116, where they collect Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys and also G. rhabdotus. Highway 116 goes south between Porto Alegre and Pelotas.

When the Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys I got from Thomas grew up, the male was very colorful. The photo I have used is a young male, but still he is beautiful. When they spawned, I only noticed because of the behavior of the fish. I could not see where the female had the eggs, they had spawned on the bottom sand, but where? I could not see anything, because the female does not stand above the eggs like many cichlids do, she stands a little distance away, so I could not tell where the eggs were.

The female took the fry up in her mouth when they hatched and carried them until they were ready for their first swimming trip. Everything went well, but there were not many fry; I think it was six. But I was still glad they had spawned and I got some fry. I did not want to sell the fish, so six fry was ok; it was enough for me. Later the amount of fry was higher.



Gymnogeophagus labiatus

A male Gymnogeophagus labiatus.

Now to the last one so far, namely Gymnogeophagus labiatus, I have some small Gymnogophagus setequedas, but no photos yet. And I have maybe another new Gymnogeophagus collected in Uruguay. But, I will add this to the page later.

As you have read, the fish was collected in many places together with Gymnogeophagus gymnogenys. The fish has a slender body, and it does not belong to the most colorful Gymnogeophagus, but color is not everything. Their behavior is more interesting than colors, but colors are not a drawback.

The fish grew up and if you click on the photo you will see they have got fleshy lips. I've heard they can be much bigger. When the fish spawned for the first time they did it on a small piece of wood, the amount of eggs was not too many, and I think the first spawning was 25 fry. It was enough so I had some I could swap with others.

I hope that what I have written here about the Gymnogeophagus shall pique your interest for these fishes. I know they are hard to come by, but never give up hope.




After this was written there have been changes. The Gymnogeophagus have become very popular and there are now "many" people keeping these fishes. They have also been imported in larger quantities and there have been many new ones. I don't think that all of the "new" fish are new, but local variants. But they are beautiful fish and I hope I can present pictures of them later.

You are welcome to make contact if you have any questions, then I will try to help you. Hope you liked the page.




Cichlid Power,



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under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.