The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Cichlasoma urophthalma
Cichlasoma urophthalma
(Mayan Cichlid)

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Cichlasoma urophthalma (Günther, 1862)

Common name: Mayan Cichlid

Synonyms and Other Names: Amphilophus urophthalmusHeros troscheli, Herichthys urophthalmus, Nandopsis urophthalmus, Parapetenia urophthalma, orange tiger, Mexican mojarra, false red terror, castarrica, mojarra del sureste, kai (Mayan).

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: In general, cichlids (Cichlidae) are superficially similar to sunfishes and black basses (Centrarchidae: Lepomis and Micropterus). Cichlids can be distinguished from centrarchids by a single nostril opening on each side of the head (vs. two openings in centrarchids) and the presence of a discontinuous or two-part lateral line (vs. a continuous lateral line in centrarchids). For distinguishing characteristics of Mayan cichlid, see Page and Burr (1991). The species is included in identification keys of Greenfield and Thomerson (1997) and Miller et al. (2005). Photographs appeared in Loftus (1987), Konings (1989), Conkel (1993), and Axelrod (1993). Many subspecies have been described (Hubbs 1936), although these may not be valid (Miller et al. 2005).

Adult and juvenile C. urophthalmus have a yellow to olive-brown body, with five to seven distinct vertical bars and a prominent dark ocellus ringed by blue at the base of the caudal fin. Dorsal fin XV-XVII (10-12); anal fin VI-VII (6-10), pectoral with 14 rays, pelvic fin I (5). Lateral line scales generally 26-31. The pelvic fins are under or posterior to pectoral-fin insertion. Characteristics of the mouth and gut were detailed by Martinez-Palacios and Ross (1988) and are summarized as follows: adult C. urophthalmus have a slightly protrusible mouth with three rows of unicuspid teeth in both the upper and lower jaw (illustrated in Martinez-Palacios and Ross 1988). The first row of teeth is more pronounced than the other two, and bear teeth differentiated as canines (two or three on each side). The pharyngeal bone is occupied by flattened, crushing-type teeth in the center, surrounded by smaller, fine teeth. The flat, short gill rakers generally range from nine to 11. The simple, sac-shaped stomach has no pyloric caecae. The length of the alimentary tract from the pharyngeal teeth to the anus is generally about 2.2 times the standard length.

Size: 22 cm SL (Miller et al. 2005)

Native Range: Tropical America. Atlantic Slope drainages from Río Coatzacoalcos basin in Mexico southward into Nicaragua, including Isla Mujeres and Yucatán Peninsula (Conkel 1993; Greenfield and Thomerson 1997).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Cichlasoma urophthalma are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
FL1983202421Big Cypress Swamp; Caloosahatchee; Cape Canaveral; Charlotte Harbor; Crystal-Pithlachascotee; Everglades; Florida Bay-Florida Keys; Florida Southeast Coast; Floridian; Hillsborough; Kissimmee; Lake Okeechobee; Little Manatee; Myakka; Northern Okeechobee Inflow; Peace; Sarasota Bay; Tampa Bay; Upper St. Johns; Vero Beach; Western Okeechobee Inflow

Table last updated 4/17/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Ecology: This species is widely distributed in rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes and estuaries in its native range. The spawning season occurs from late winter to autumn in the native range, at salinities from 0 to 38‰ and temperatures above 19°C (Miller et al. 2005). Spawning in south Florida occurs from March through the summer (Loftus 1987; Faunce and Lorenz 2000)

Mayan cichlids are generalist predators, with fish as the dominant prey during the dry season. Juvenile and adult Mayan cichlids utilize alternate secondary prey items, with juveniles including detritus and ostracods and adults incorporating algae, gastropods, decapod crustaceans, and insects into their diets (Loftus 1987; Bergmann and Motta 2005)

Salinity tolerance:
Mayan cichlids are euryhaline, and inhabit freshwater, estuarine and marine regions (0 to 40‰) in their native range, (Atlantic slope drainages from Mexico to Nicaragua; Miller 1966; Resendez 1981; Olivera et al. 1995; Martinez-Palacios and Ross 1992). Mayan cichlids are tolerant to a wide range of salinity (Martinez-Palacios et al. 1990), temperature (Stauffer and Boltz 1994) and can withstand virtual anoxia for > 2 h (Martinez-Palacios and Ross 1986). Thus, it is no surprise that Mayan cichlids have moved into estuarine regions in Florida. Mayan cichlids occur in the mangrove fringe of Biscayne Bay (Serafy et al. 2003) and in high densities inland of northeastern Florida Bay in the southern Everglades (Faunce and Lorenz 2000). One larva (6.1 mm SL) is documented from Florida Bay (13‰) downstream of Taylor Slough (Schofield and Powell 2005).

Mayan cichlids are biparental substrate spawners, and produce adhesive eggs. When the young hatch, they immediately swim toward the bottom, where they attach with adhesive head glands (illustrated in Martinez-Palacios 1987). The young begin free-swimming after about five to six days, but continue to be guarded by the parents for days thereafter (Martinez-Palacios 1987). Although Mayan cichlids often inhabit freshwater, they are known to spawn in estuarine and marine habitats. For example, Greenfield and Thomerson (1997) report C. urophthalmus spawning in sea water over sand/turtlegrass (Thalassia) in Belize. Spawning of C. urophthalmus was observed in Snook Creek, south Florida in salinities between 10-26 PSU (Loftus 1987). The reproductive biology of C. urophthalmus in the southern Everglades is detailed in Faunce and Lorenz (2000), from which the following is summarized: Nests consisted of shallow depressions in the spongy root mass of red mangroves, Rhizophora mangle. Nests were 10-45 cm in diameter and generally <10 cm deep. Spawning occurred primarily from April to June. Recently spawned broods, composed of fishes 5–19 mm, were guarded by the parents. Although the spawning season occurred during months of elevated salinities, Faunce and Lorenz (2000) concluded that salinity likely does not control the distribution of this species, and that rather reproduction of C. urophthalmus occurs at a time of increased temperatures and water levels that maximize juvenile survival.

Means of Introduction: The origins and dates of actual Florida introductions are unknown (Loftus 1987). Fish were probably aquarium releases or fish-farm escapes.

Status: Established in southern Florida (Loftus 1987; Lorenz et al. 1997; Shafland et al. 2008); recent survey work in south Florida indicate the species is continuing to expand its range (Nico, unpublished data).

Impact of Introduction:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...


Studies have shown native fish population reductions when Mayan cichlids increase in number, possibly through competition pressures for food and space (Trexler et al. 2000), or alternatively through predation effects (Ferriter et al. 2006; Porter-Whitaker et al. 2012). Trexler et al (2000) also report anecdotal evidence of nest predation and competitive interactions for space with other substrate-spawning natives (centrarchids).

Remarks: Florida populations have persisted in spite of severe cold spells, drought, floods, and salinity fluctuations. This voracious predator has the potential to be one of the most damaging introduced cichlids (Courtenay, personal communication) and has certainly become one of the most widespread and successful cichlids after only three decades in Florida. It is also one of the most abundant fish in angler catches in some Everglades canals (Shafland et al. 2008).

Harrison et al. (2014) proposed that introduced Florida populations were derived from independent introductions from the upper Yucatán Peninsula and Guatemala or Belize, based on analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers.

"Mayan" cichlids (true Cichlasoma urophthalmus, other similar species of Cichlasoma or closely related genera, or their hybrids) have been collected, and are thought to be established, in Singapore and Thailand (Nico et al. 2007).

Voucher specimens: Florida (UMMZ 212535, 212537; UF 42825, 42826, 92163, and many more; Everglades National Park Museum 6883, 6888).

References: (click for full references)

Adams, A.J., and R.K. Wolfe. 2007. Occurrence and persistence of non-native Cichlasoma urophthalmus (family Cichlidae) in estuarine habitats of south-west Florida (USA): environmental controls and movement patterns. Marine and Freshwater Research 58:921-930.

Associated Press. 2003. Impact of exotic fish found in Charlotte Harbor under study. Gainesville Sun, Gainesville, FL. December 20, 2003: 8B.

Axelrod, H.R. 1993. The most complete colored lexicon of cichlids. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Bergmann, G.T., and P.J. Motta. 2005. Diet and morphology throughontogeny of the nonindigenous Mayan cichlid 'Cichlasoma (Nandopsis)' urophthalmus (Günther 1862) in southern Florida. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72:205-211.

Charlotte Harbor NEP. 2004. Minutes of the Technical Advisory Committee, Habitat Conservation Subcommittee. February 19, 2004, Punta Gorda.

Conkel, D. 1993. Cichlids of North and Central America. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Courtenay, W. - Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.

Faunce, C.H. and J.J. Lorenz. 2000. Reproductive biology of the introduced Mayan cichlid, Cichlasoma urophthalmus, within an estuarine mangrove habitat of southern Florida. Environmental Biology of Fishes 58: 215-225

Ferriter, A., B. Doren, C. Goodyear, D. Thayer, J. Burch, L. Toth, M. Bodle, J. Lane, D. Schmitz, P. Pratt, S. Snow, and K. Langeland. 2006. The status of nonindigenous species in the South Florida environment. 9-1 to 9-102 in 2006 South Florida environmental report. Volume 1. South Florida Water Management District. West Palm Beach, FL.

Greenfield, D.M. and J.E. Thomerson. 1997. Fishes of the continental waters of Belize. University Press of Florida. Gainesville, FL.

Harrison, E., J.C. Trexler, T.M. Collins, E. Vazquez-Domínguez, U. Razo-Mendivil, W.A. Matamoros, and C. Barrientos. 2014. Genetic evidence for multiple sources of the non-native fish Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther; Mayan Cichlids) in southern Florida. PLoS ONE 9(9):e104173. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0104173

Hubbs, C.L. 1936. Fishes of the Yucatan Peninsula. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 457:157-287.

Kline, J.L., W.F. Loftus, K. Kotun, J.C. Trexler, J.S. Rehage, J.J. Lorenz, and M. Robinson. 2013. Recent fish introductions into Everglades National Park: an unforeseen consequence of water-management? Wetlands, in press.

Konings, A. 1989. Cichlids from Central America. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Loftus, W.F. 1987. Possible establishment of the Mayan cichlid, Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther) (Pisces: Cichlidae) in Everglades National Park, Florida. Florida Scientist 50:1-6.

Loftus, W.F., G. Ellis, M. Zokan, and J. Lorenz. 2004. Inventory of freshwater fish species within the Big Cypress National Preserve: the basis for a long-term sampling program. US Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2004-3131.

Lorenz, J.J., C.C. McIvor, G.V.N. Powell, and P.C. Frederick. 1997. A drop net and removable walkway used to quantitatively sample fishes over wetland surfaces in the dwarf mangroves of the southern Everglades. Wetlands 17:346-359.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A. 1987. Aspects of the biology of Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther) with particular reference to its culture. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Stirling, Scotland.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., and L.G. Ross. 1986. The effects of temperature, body weight and hypoxia on the oxygen consumption of the Mexican mojarra, Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther). Aquaculture and Fisheries Management 17: 243-248.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., and L.G. Ross. 1988. The feeding ecology of the Central American cichlid Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther). Journal of Fish Biology 33: 665-670.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., and L.G. Ross. 1992. The reproductive biology and growth of the Central American cichlid Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Günther). Journal of Applied Ichthyology 8: 99-109.

Martinez-Palacios, C.A., L.G. Ross and M. Rosado-Vallado. 1990. The effects of salinity on the survival and growth of juvenile Cichlasoma urophthalmus. Aquaculture 91: 65-75.

Miller, R.R. 1966. Geographical distribution of Central American freshwater fishes. Copeia 1966: 773-802.

Nico, L.G., W.H. Beamish, and P. Musikasinthorn. 2007. Discovery of the invasive Mayan cichlid fish "Cichlasoma" urophthalmus (Günther 1862) in Thailand, with comments on other introductions and potential impacts. Aquatic Invasions 2(3):197-214.

Olivera, M.A., I. Pina, I. Cu, and E.A. Chavez. 1995. The impact of natural invasion and an exotic introduction in the ichthyofauna of Laguna de Terminos, Campeche, Mexico. 279-282 in D.P. Philipp, J.M. Epifanio, J.E. Marsden, J.E. Claussen, and R.J. Wolotira Jr., eds. Protection of Aquatic Biodiversity. Proceedings of the World Fisheries Congress, Theme 3. Science Publishers, Inc.

Paperno, R., R. Ruiz-Carus, J.M. Krebs, and C.C. McIvor. 2008. Range expansion of the Mayan cichlid Cichlasoma urophthalmus (Pisces, Cichlidae), above 28°N latitude in Florida. Florida Scientist 71(4):293-304. 

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Porter-Whitaker, A.E., J.S. Rehage, S.E. Liston, and W.F. Loftus. 2012. Multiple predator effects and native prey responses to two non-native Everglades cichlids. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 21:375-385.

Resendez, M.A. 1981. Estudio de los peces de la Laguna de Terminos, Campeche, Mexico. Biotica (Mexico) 6: 345-430.

Schofield, P.J., and A.B. Powell. 2005. Cichlidae. 1819-1822 in Richards, W.J., ed. Early stages of Atlantic fishes: an identification guide for the western central North Atlantic. U.S. Department of Commerce.

Serafy, J.E., C.H. Faunce, and J.J. Lorenz. 2003. Mangrove shoreline fishes of Biscayne Bay, Florida. Bulletin of Marine Science 72: 161-180.

Shafland, P.L. 1996. Exotic fishes of Florida – 1994. Reviews in Fisheries Science 4(2):101-122.

Shafland, P.L., K.B. Gestring, and M.S. Stanford. 2008. Florida's exotic freshwater fishes - 2007. Florida Scientist 71(3):220-245.

Stauffer, J.R., Jr., and S.E. Boltz. 1994. Effect of salinity on temperature preference and tolerance of age-0 Mayan cichlids. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 123: 101-107.

Trexler, J.C., W.F. Loftus, F. Jordan, J.J. Lorenz, J.H. Chick, and R.M. Kobza. 2000. Empirical assessment of fish introductions in a subtropical wetland: an evaluation of constrasting views. Biological Invasions 2: 265-277.

Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Pamela J. Schofield, Leo G. Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus

Revision Date: 6/20/2019

Peer Review Date: 7/10/2015

Citation Information:
Pamela J. Schofield, Leo G. Nico, Pam Fuller, Matt Neilson, and Bill Loftus, 2024, Cichlasoma urophthalma (Günther, 1862): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=453, Revision Date: 6/20/2019, Peer Review Date: 7/10/2015, Access Date: 4/17/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [4/17/2024].

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