Care, Tank Mates, Size, Diet & Setup


Severum cichlids are beautiful and unique-looking fish that many aquarists don’t know much about. It’s easy to assume that it’s “just another cichlid,” but this species stands out in a number of ways.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about severum cichlid care. You’ll learn about their size, diet, lifespan, tank size, tank mates, and more!

Species Summary

The severum cichlid (Heros severus) is a hardy fish with some pretty interesting nicknames. You might see it called the “poor man’s discus” or the “banded cichlid.” Whatever name it goes by, these freshwater fish can be a joy to raise in captivity.

Severum cichlid swimming in a freshwater aquarium

While they belong to the cichlid family, these fish aren’t monster aggressors. They can be somewhat territorial and aggressive in certain situations. But for the most part, severum cichlids are peaceful fish that do fine living in solitude.

Thanks to their relatively easy-going nature, you have more options when creating a community tank. The severum cichlid can cohabitate with others or live on its own. The choice is yours!

In the wild, this species is from South America. It primarily lives in the Upper Occhino and Rio Negro Basins. They typically reside in slow-moving rivers full of vegetation.


When you hear the name “severum cichlids,” it’s usually referring to the species known as Heros severus. But technically, there are a handful of different severum cichlid species. 

The primary severum cichlid (Heros severus) has several defining traits. It’s usually yellow-gold in color and sports subtle orange accents. In many cases, the orange spots become more intense with age.

Author Note: Depending on the exact species of fish you have, you might also see more high-contrast color morphs. Some fish have large, vertical stripes of black. Others have high-contrast dots that perfectly complement the stripes and yellow-gold base. You may even find fish with touches of green or blue.

There’s a lot of variation with this species, making them sought-after among collectors and hobbyists.

Despite the color variety, all fish of this species have some defining characteristics. The most noticeable is the body shape.

Severum cichlids have a compressed and slender body. They look like flattened cichlids, sporting a vertically rounded shape. It’s much different from other South American and African cichlids, making this species stand out.

When you see a severum cichlid, you can understand why they have the nickname “poor man’s discus.” The body is oval, mimicking the iconic profile of the pricey discus fish.

Severum cichlids also have pointed dorsal, anal, and pectoral fins. The dorsal and anal fins taper to an attractive point. In most cases, it extends past the caudal fin, creating a distinct circular shape.


The average lifespan of a severum cichlid is five years. However, some specimens living in pristine conditions have been known to live up to ten years.

It all depends on the quality of care you provide. There’s no way to guarantee that a fish will live a specific number of years. Genetic predispositions and exposure to illness come into play.

However, doing what you can to provide the best care possible can keep your fish healthy, giving you years of enjoyment.

Average Size

The severum cichlid isn’t the most prominent member of the cichlid family. However, many consider it to be the ideal size for at-home aquariums.

The average size of an adult severum cichlid is around 7 inches in length.

Author Note: That’s the average, but they can grow a little bigger in rare instances. Some severum cichlids reach a recorded size of up to eight inches.


Severum cichlid care is perfect for anyone that’s looking for a low-maintenance cichlid for their home aquarium. Cichlids have a reputation for presenting many fish-keeping challenges, but severums are a unique exception.

This is a hardy species that adapts to many environments. Pair that with their relatively peaceful nature, and you have a fish that both seasoned and moderately skilled hobbyists can care for without any issues.

Follow these care guidelines, and you can provide a happy and healthy life for your severum cichlid.

Severum Cichlid Tank Size

These freshwater fish are moderately sized, but still need ample room to live healthy lives. Severum cichlids can be quite active throughout the day, so a cramped aquarium could hamper their lifestyle (leading to unnecessary stress and poor health).

Not only that, but tank size shares a link with aggression. Too small of a tank, and your fish could start lashing out. This species is one of the more mild-mannered cichlid species, but you need a large enough tank for this behavior to show.

The recommended tank size for a severum cichlid is at least 45 gallons. If possible, go a bit bigger. A larger tank is always a plus.

Severum cichlids live well in solitude, so a 45-gallon tank should be enough to facilitate their solo lifestyle.

Water Parameters

Let’s dive into the water parameters. Ask any aquarist, and they’ll tell you that you must have a well-established tank with stable water conditions before you add your fish. So what kind of environment is best for severum cichlids?

Like any other fish, the best course of action is to replicate the natural habitat where they reside in nature. For the severum cichlid, that’s the warm and lush rivers of South America!

Bodies of water in South America tend to be on the acidic side. The rivers flow through rich jungles and are often surrounded by trees. As a result, fruits, leaves, and branches fall into the river.

As those natural items break down, they release tannins that acidify the water and create the environment that local fish grow accustomed to.

Being close to the equator, these rivers are also warm. Severum cichlids are surprisingly adaptable and can thrive in many environments. But for the best results, stick to the parameters below.

  • Water temperature: 75 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (79 to 81 is ideal)
  • pH levels: 6.0 to 7.5 (Lean on the acidic side)
  • Water hardness: 4 to 15 dGH

Interior Tank Setup

Decorating the aquarium can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of proper severum cichlid care. These fish can do well in tanks full of plastic decor and minimalist aesthetics. But if you want your fish companions to reach their full potential, the best thing you can do is recreate the rivers of South America!

To do that, start with a layer of a fine sand substrate. Severum cichlids are known to dig around. They’re notorious for creating hills, pits, and other features by moving sand. Don’t get too attached to your initial setup, because they’ll constantly be redecorating!

Many owners like to mix pea gravel and smooth stones with sand to add organic richness. As long as the sand is the primary ingredient, you can do the same.

Author Note: On top of the sand, consider adding Indian almond leaves. This step isn’t necessary, but it can benefit water conditions. The leaves mimic the vegetation that enriches South American rivers with tannins.

If you’re not keen on leaves, you can also use small clumps of peat moss. Whatever you use, keep an eye on the detritus as it deteriorates. Regular replacements are necessary to keep up the benefits.

Next, you can add larger decorative items like rock formations and driftwood. These items cement the rich environment you’re creating and give the fish plenty of things to explore.

The severum cichlid can be problematic as it digs below decorative items. As a result, it’s wise to anchor them onto the glass directly. Otherwise, you might experience accidental damage as things slip and fall.

After adding the rocks and wood, infuse your tank with rich vegetation! These fish love to swim in and out of plants. They can pose an issue if they try to uproot plants.

Many aquarists go for silk plants to avoid that problem. But you can deter uprooting by giving the fish plenty of other things to explore in the aquarium. Don’t skimp on the plants! The denser the vegetation, the better.

Heros severus in a dark tank

Add a mix of cultivars like Amazon sword, anubias, water wisteria, hornwort, and other species that enjoy the warm and acidic conditions these fish prefer. Use the plants to create a lush perimeter. However, keep the middle open for plenty of swimming room.

Finally, don’t forget about your equipment. Cichlids produce substantial bioload. Standard hang-on-back filters usually don’t cut it. Invest in an appropriately sized canister filter to cycle the water several times an hour.

Make sure to position your outlet tubes accordingly. Severum cichlids aren’t keen on fast-moving water, so you’ll need to place something in front of filter outlets to diffuse the current.

Top everything off with moderate lighting, and you’re good to go. Typically, the best approach is to use lighting that supports the life of live plants. If you add enough plants, the lighting will be naturally lower for the fish while keeping your vegetation thriving.

Common Possible Diseases

The good news is that severum cichlids are no more at-risk for diseases than any other freshwater fish. But obviously, that doesn’t mean they can’t fall ill.

One of the most common ailments to look out for is Ich. Ich is a highly contagious disease that takes hold when fish live in unacceptable conditions. When water parameters aren’t correct, or ammonia and nitrate levels rise, the fish becomes stressed.

That stress suppresses the immune system, allowing external protozoan parasites to wreak havoc on the fish’s body. Small white dots form, creating an appearance akin to chicken pox. 

Ich spreads quickly in enclosed ecosystems. Unfortunately, it’s also fatal if not treated. Luckily, over-the-counter medications and proper quarantine can address the issue. As you treat your fish, you can take care of the environmental problems causing stress and bring your fish back to good health.

Other diseases that plague severum cichlids include bacterial conditions like fin rot and hole-in-the-head disease. The former affects the fins. The larger, pointed, and flowing fins of the severum cichlid make it susceptible to fin rot issues.

When the bacteria takes hold, it eats away at the fins and causes a frayed appearance.

Hole-in-the-head disease is another bacterial condition. However, this one usually plagues cichlids. The bacteria causes physical pits on the body, opening the fish up to worsening bacterial problems.

Both of these ailments are treatable with antibiotics. But you must take action to improve your fish’s prognosis.

Food & Diet

Diet is one of the more straightforward parts of severum cichlid care. These are natural-born omnivores that are highly opportunistic and take advantage of any meal that comes their way.

In the wild, they usually feed on plant detritus under the water while looking for high-protein snacks like insects and larvae on the surface.

In captivity, severum cichlids do best on a balanced diet of commercial food. High-quality pellets and flakes are ideal. Many brands make foods that target the unique needs of cichlids, giving you all the nutritional balance your fish needs!

Of course, you can also provide occasional snacks. These colorful fish appreciate foods like:

If you’re providing protein-based foods, frozen and freeze-dried options are ideal. You can offer up live food, but doing so comes with the risk of introducing parasites.

Author Note: Generally, severum cichlids do best when given four to five meals a day. They have healthy appetites, but you must be careful about overfeeding. During each meal, provide only enough food that the fish can consume in a minute’s time.

Behavior & Temperament

Severum cichlids are easy-going members of the cichlid family. They can exhibit aggression in certain circumstances. They might be more violent in cramped living spaces or when conditions aren’t right.

But for the most part, these creatures aren’t interested in other fish. They like to keep to themselves and will thrive in single-fish aquariums.

During the day, they explore their surroundings. They’re highly active fish, spending time in all parts of the water column to search for food and find enrichment.

Severum Cichlid Tank Mates

You have many options for tank mates. Cichlids are usually difficult to add to a community tank due to their aggression, but severum cichlids are a unique exception.

Generally, it’s best to avoid any large or small fish. Larger fish can be aggressive to the severum cichlid. Meanwhile, your fish might mistake smaller critters for a meal.

Try to go for similarly sized fish with peaceful demeanors. You can pair them with other more aggressive cichlids. However, you must have a well-decorated tank to minimize issues.

Here are a few tank mates worth considering for the severum cichlid:


Breeding severum cichlids is doable, but it definitely comes with its own set of challenges.

To increase the likelihood of success, allow these freshwater fish to pair off naturally as juveniles. Introducing new fish together likely doesn’t breed results.

When you have a bonded pair, separate the fish for about two weeks. You can place them in a breeding tank with a divider. During that time, provide high-protein foods.

Make sure that the tank has plenty of hiding spaces and plants. After two weeks, remove the divider and continue feeding high-protein foods until the fish spawn.

The female will lay her eggs in a remote spot. The eggs usually hatch within a week. At that point, you can remove the adults. 

The fry will be free-swimming in a few days. After that, provide baby brine shrimp and infusoria as the fish grow.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, severum cichlid care is rather straightforward. While this species can still be aggressive in a suboptimal tank setup, they’re usually rather peaceful!

When you combine that with their unique appearance and high level of activity, it makes owning these fish a real treat.


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