Cichla fanatics on monsterfishkeepers. com have an acronym I can relate to: CREAM or Cichla Rules Everything Around Me.

It combines beauty and power; unlike other monster fish with dull colors that stay stationary the whole day just waiting for their prey, the Cichla swims a lot. It boasts different colorful patterns and are very attentive to tankmates and their environment.

Many aquarists who keep monster fish dream of having assorted species of monster fish in one tank. But this is not always possible. With the Cichla, commonly called the ‘Peacock bass’, you can achieve this because they are only mildly aggressive towards other fish. As long as the tankmate does not fit in a Cichla’s mouth, it’s safe.

From an anglers’ point of view, it’s raw power. Larry Larsen’s famous description of their movement has become a book title: “Peacock Bass Explosions,” referring to how aggressively they strike lures on the surface, violently and with abandon.

The Cichla is called ‘Tucunare’ in Brazil, while other Spanish speaking countries use the term ‘Pavon’. Despite its name, it is not actually a bass; taxonomically, it’s a cichlid within the family Cichlidae. The term ‘Peacock Bass’ comes from the dark spot (caudal blotch) that most species have on the caudal area. This grows with the fish and has a silvery or golden ring. In appearance, it is reminiscent of the ‘eyes’ on the tail feathers of male peacocks.

The genus Cichla is comprised of fifteen different Neotropical species found all over the Amazon basin: (2003 checklist) Cichla monoculus, Cichla temensis, Cichla orinocensis, Cichla occelaris, and Cichla intermedia; (2006 re-description) Cichla jarina, Cichla kelberi, Cichla melaniae, Cichla mirianae, Cichla nigromaculata, Cichla pinima, Cichla piquiti, Cichla pleiozona, Cichla thyrorus, and Cichla vazzoleri; and (Unidentified taxa) Rio Travessao Peacock and Rio Paru Peacock.

The most common species in the Philippines is the Cichla monoculus, which is commonly bred in neighboring Southeast Asian countries and even locally. Some experts believe that the ones in circulation are already hybrids of Monoculus and Occelaris.

Although all of them can be fun to catch, only one species in particular has earned the reputation for the world’s most powerful and challenging freshwater gamefish: Cichla temensis. Known as the three-barred, speckled, or giant peacock bass, it is the largest and can reach up to 1 meter in length. It is the most powerful and aggressive of the species; anglers dream of traveling to pursue it.

From an aquarist’s point of view, the holy grail would be the Cichla intermedia or Royal Peacock bass. At a maximum size of 19 inches, it’s not too big for a home aquarium. It also has a spectacular shading of emerald to gold color plus six or seven vertical bars along the side— and is rare on the market.

Most Cichlas that arrives in our country are captive bred, so they can adapt to a large range of water parameters. But if you want to mimic their natural environment, you have to know which particular river you want to imitate. Generally, since the Amazon river traverses South America’s rain forest which is densely vegetated, its PH level is acidic due to tannins secreted by dried leaves and twigs. The temperature averages 26 degrees Celsius. White sand and a lot of driftwood will also help create an Amazon biotope setup.

Having these magnificently colorful beasts alongside other South American monster fish like the Arapaima, catfishes, and stingrays, all housed in one slightly acidic tank with white sand and driftwood, is truly a sight that will take any monster fish keeper’s breath away. I should know: I see them everyday in my own personal Amazon River complex. (With editing by CFB)

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2016 issue.