Amphilophus zaliosus


Amphilophus zaliosus


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Arrow cichlid

Sustainable Development and Wild Nature Conservation in NICARAGUA


Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, is an extremely important site for students of cichlid evolution. In 1976, the US biologist George Barlow and his student, John Munsey, recognized a body-shape dimorphism among the Midas cichlids in the lake. The more typical, deeper-bodied Midas cichlid form found in Lake Apoyo corresponded approximately with the majority of the Midas cichlids found throughout the range. But in Laguna de Apoyo, an elongate form contrasting with the more common, deeper-bodied fishes, became the subject of study of the scientists, who described the elongate form as a distinct species, which they termed the arrow cichlid, in 1976. Although the idea that the Midas cichlids constituted many species had been proposed more than a century earlier, an alternative hypothesis for the great variety in this group was simply that it was a highly variable species. The dimorphism in body length between Amphilophus zaliosus and the other, deeper-bodied Midas cichlids in Lake Apoyo, demonstrated by Barlow and Munsey, was convincing. Furthermore, the idea that the Midas cichlids constitute a species complex fortified the idea that thick-lipped varieties may also constitute distinct species (today classified as Amphilophus labiatus).

The arrow cichlid may be found in older literature as Cichlasoma zaliosum, which is now classified as a junior synonym. Its common name in Nicaragua is mojarra flecha.

Amphilophus zaliosus

Breeding coloration in Amphilophus zaliosus is velvety black. Photo Ad Konings.

The arrow cichlid not only differs from other members of the Midas cichlid species complex in Laguna de Apoyo by its elongate body form. It is also distinctly silver when not in breeding coloration, lacking the yellowish background of some of the other Midas cichlid forms in the lake. The series of spots along its side, characteristic of the Midas cichlids, appear box-like and may practically form a lateral stripe over the grey background. When in courtship or reproduction, the fish may become velvety black, as the black vertical bars typical of the breeding Midas cichlids may completely merge laterally.

Amphilophus zaliosus

Two arrow cichlids on their way to a museum. Specimens such as these are vital for the identification of new species of fishes in the Midas cichlid species complex. Photo Matthias Geiger.

The internationally recognized classification of endangered species, the IUCN Red List, classifies the arrow cichlid as Critically Endangered. The range of Amphilophus zaliosus is limited to Laguna de Apoyo. Other, similarly elongate forms have been found, such as Amphilophus sagittae in Laguna de Xiloá, but recent genetic research has demonstrated conclusively that the arrow cichlid is closely related to, and presumably evolved from, other forms found in Laguna de Apoyo.

arrow cichlid

A breeding pair of arrow cichlids with fry in open water, over an algae mat in Laguna de Apoyo. Click on the photo to see the pair in action in video. Photo Garey Knop.

Amphilophus zaliosus

An arrow cichlid Amphilophus zaliosus among fry in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Ad Konings.

Midas cichlid

This subadult arrow cichlid is presenting the typical coloration of nonbreeding adults, with black spots laterally over a silvery base color. Photo Ad Konings.

Amphilophus zaliosus

Arrow cichlids defending fry. Photo Garey Knop.

Would you like to share your photographs of the arrow cichlid and other great underwater fun in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve? Please share them with us by contacting us.

The arrow cichlid is easily seen in Lake Apoyo when SCUBA diving in appropriate locations. Certified open-water divers can join us in studies of the arrow cichlid and other aquatic fauna of Laguna de Apoyo. Please contact us if you would like to dive with our scientists.

Animals of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

Arrow cichlid species description

Amphilophus zaliosus response to novel predators

Population genetics of Amphilophus in Laguna de Apoyo

Our blog entry on Darwin's Newest Dreampond

Genetic, behavioral, and morphological evidence of divergence in the Midas cichlid species complex

The Arrow Cichlid, Amphilophus zaliosus, of Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua (January 2015 Cichlid News)

The Arrow Cichlid, Amphilophus zaliosus, faces threats from introduced predators

SCUBA diving with Amphilophus zaliosus in Laguna de Apoyo

Under the water in Laguna de Apoyo

Amphilophus species discovery in Laguna de Apoyo

Our blog entry 1 on variegated squirrels

Our blog entry 2 on variegated squirrels

You can help us keep nature wild in Nicaragua, by volunteering your time with us or making a small donation to support our projects in wild nature conservation.

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arrow cichlid

Amphilophus chancho, one of the fish species endemic to Laguna de Apoyo, discovered by scientists working in a GAIA project. This species is easily seen while diving in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Ad Konings.


arrow cichlid

This baby squirrel was raised by the staff after she fell from a tree as an infant. Today she has her own family in the trees above Estación Biológica. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


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Field research is conducted on several animal and plant groups at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


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Spanish classes for volunteers, interns and other visitos are vital components of our educational program in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


Midas cichlid

Bird populations are monitored in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve by the staff and volunteers of Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Joe Taylor.


Amphilophus zaliosus

The forest inside the crater in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve contains dozens of terrestrial species, making the area an ideal site for wildlife studies. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.


Amphilophus zaliosus

Field identification of the reptiles of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Kolby Kirk.


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Scientists at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo study endangered fish species in the lake. Certified SCUBA divers can accompany us on research dives where endemic fish species can be readily seen. Photo Topi Lehtonen.



Scientists at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo conduct surveys of wildlife, including resident and migratory birds. Photo Wendy van Kooten.


arrow cichlid

Animal rescue at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo. Here, Gaia Director Jeffrey McCrary is accompanied by a rapidly healing variegated squirrel that was severely injured by illegal poachers. Photo Anne Sutton.