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.

Geophagus sp.
Geophagus sp.
(earth eaters)

Copyright Info
Geophagus sp. Heckel, 1840

Common name: earth eaters

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Kullander and Nijssen (1989) revised the genus Geophagus, including a redescription of G. surinamensis. A few distinguishing characteristics and a figure were also given by Page and Burr (1991). López-Fernández and Taphorn (2004) provided a key to Venezualen species of Geophagus and presented distinguishing characters for the G. surinamensis species complex.

Size: 30 cm.

Native Range: Tropical America. Widely distributed throughout the Amazon, Orinoco, Suriname, Essiquibo, and other major river basins in Panama and northern South America (Kullander and Nijssen 1989; Kullander 2003).

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

Nonindigenous Occurrences: A single fish (originally identified as G. brasiliensis) was collected from a canal near a fish farm west of Lantana, Palm Beach County, Florida (Courtenay et al. 1974). Two fish (originally identified as G. surinamensis) were taken from Snapper Creek canal north of its junction with Tamiami Canal in the Miami area of Miami-Dade County, in April 1981. Loftus and Kushlan (1987) did not collect this species at those locations during electrofishing in 1980. A small reproducing population was observed and fry and adults were collected in the same 1-km reach of Snapper Creek during visits in May, and from June to July 1982 (Metzger and Shafland 1984). Additional specimens have been taken from Snapper Creek and one of its tributaries in the late 1980s and early 1990s and from Tamiami Canal in the 2000s (Shafland 1996; Shafland et al. 2008).

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 Geophagus sp. are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
FL197420151Florida Southeast Coast

Table last updated 7/23/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Means of Introduction: Probable escape or release from fish farm, or aquarium release (Metzger and Shafland 1984).

Status: Originally considered established in Miami-Dade County canals (Shafland 1996); Shafland et al. (2008) reported that no specimens have been collected or reported since 2004 (although a single Geophagus sp. was collected in 2009; museum specimen), indicating either severe population decline or extirpation.

Impact of Introduction: The impacts of this species are currently unknown, as no studies have been done to determine how it has affected ecosystems in the invaded range. The absence of data does not equate to lack of effects. It does, however, mean that research is required to evaluate effects before conclusions can be made.

Remarks: According to Kullander and Nijssen (1989), most past literature on "Geophagus surinamensis" actually pertains to other species. Given the past taxonomic confusion associated with the genus Geophagus, the Florida form may very well represent another member of the genus and not G. surinamensis (Smith-Vaniz, personal communication).

Voucher specimens: Florida (UF 91897, 96391; FSBC 19833, 24382, 24408).

References: (click for full references)

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., H.F. Sahlman, W.W. Miley II, and D.J. Herrema. 1974. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. Biological Conservation 6(4):292-302.

Kullander, S.O. 2003. Family Cichlidae (Cichlids). Pages 605-654 in Reis, R.E., S.O. Kullander, and C.J. Ferraris, Jr, eds. Check list of the freshwater fishes of South and Central America. EDIPUCRS. Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Kullander, S.O., and H. Nijssen. 1989. The cichlids of Surinam, Teleostei: Labroidei. E.J. Brill, New York, NY.

Loftus, W.F., and J.A. Kushlan. 1987. Freshwater fishes of southern Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum of Biological Science 31(4):147-344.

López-Fernández, H., and D.C. Taphorn. 2004. Geophagus abalios, G. dicrozoster, and G. winemilleri (Perciformes: Cichlidae), three new species from Venezuela. Zootaxa 439:1-27.

Metzger, R.J., and P.L. Shafland. 1984. Possible establishment of Geophagus surinamensis (Cichlidae) in Florida. Florida Scientist 47(3):201-203.

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.

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.

Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 5/9/2019

Peer Review Date: 7/22/2013

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, and Matt Neilson, 2024, Geophagus sp. Heckel, 1840: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=455, Revision Date: 5/9/2019, Peer Review Date: 7/22/2013, Access Date: 7/23/2024

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.


The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [7/23/2024].

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For general information and questions about the database, contact Wesley Daniel. For problems and technical issues, contact Matthew Neilson.