The handsome Redhump Eartheater Geophagus steindachneri is a fascinating type of fish known for "eating" the substrate of its aquarium. The word 'geophagus' literally means "earth eater" and is attributed to fish, like the Redhump Eartheater, who find food by grabbing mouthfuls of sand and gravel and sifting it to find food. The remaining substrate is then expelled either through the gills or the mouth. Note that while many 'geophagus' are avid diggers and use their digging skills to create holes or pits for hiding or spawning, a much smaller number of them literally eat what they find in the substrate. The Redhump Eartheater is one of the latter and displays a trait which is fairly uncommon even in the cichlid family.
The Redhump Eartheater is not the most dramatic fish in terms of coloring, but it does present and unique and subtle beauty. The most distinctive feature is the handsome red nuchal hump on mature males. A metallic bluish green speckling along the back half of its body contrasts nicely with the red on its forehead. Its common names are all derived from this feature, with a couple others being Red Humped Eartheater and Redhump Geophagus.
The Redhump Eartheater is considered a highly specialized species because it is the only South American mouthbrooder where the female will immediately retrieve the eggs into her mouth before they are even fertilized. Note the orange spot on the corner of the mouth in the picture of the male above. These spots are used as dummy eggs by this species. Just like with certain Haplochromis mouthbrooders, the female will be lured towards the male and will mouth the spots, attempting to take the "eggs" into her mouth. While the female is thus engaged, the male will release a cloud of sperm and ensure the eggs in the female's mouth are fertilized.
This is an undemanding fish that's considered a good beginner's cichlid, and it stays fairly small in the aquarium. Although it can grow up to almost 10" (25 cm) in the wild, in captivity the males will generally reach only about 6" with females being an inch or so smaller. Generally it will get along with other non-aggressive tank mates. Its a very peaceful cichlid that can be kept with tetras and other non-cichlids. However, like other cichlids it will become territorial, especially toward conspecifics, during spawning.l
They like to dig and will help keep the substrate clean, but they do not unnecessarily move the substrate. Some keepers have stated that even in a planted tank, this eartheater will not disturb the roots of plants. It is probably wise to monitor the status of the roots of any living plants, just to be sure they are not being uncovered by this fish. Also, take care that the substrate does not contain any sharp pieces or items as these fish like to pass it through their gills once it has been sifted for food.
The Redhump Eartheater is easy to breed and care for as long as water changes are performed on a regular basis. Because of their vigorous digging an under gravel filter is not recommended. It is better to use an external filter such as a hang-on-the-back type or a canister filter. They need places to hide and will enjoy rocks and sunken pieces of driftwood along with dense vegetation