Laetacara curviceps – The Dwarf Flag Cichlid

Laetacara curviceps large adult

Laetacara is a genus of small, peaceful South American cichlids that are somewhat popular aquarium fish. Laetacara curviceps was once highly prized as an aquarium fish but today, more colorful and “exciting” species garner hobbyist attention and Laetacara curviceps is not commonly seen. While they aren’t dramatically colored, they have a subdued beauty and are great in a planted community tank. They are easy to keep and breed and are excellent for novices. However, be careful when selecting their tank mates. They are easily bullied by more aggressive fish, even those that are much smaller.

Laetacara General Information

Laetacara curviceps is one of six species in the genus which were described under several different names in the genus Aequidens and were commonly called “Acaras”. The name acara was and still is, applied to many different cichlids including these dwarfs. Today, a number of larger cichlids use acara in their common name including; electric blue acara, port acara, black acara, and many others.

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The dwarf species within Aequidens were long recognized as a distinct group and in 1986, Dr. Sven Kullander erected the genus Laetacara for these species. The members of Laetacara are sometimes referred to as the “smiling acaras. The reason for this is often obvious in some species as they have facial markings that make them look like they are smiling.

Laetacara Varieties

Please don’t use this page as your only source for identifying your Laetacara. There is a lot of confusion about identification and the fish on this page are typical of what might be called curviceps. However, it’s entirely possible that they are a similar appearing species.

There are no recognized identifiable varieties of L. curviceps. Different populations exhibit slight differences in markings and colors but nothing that denotes a distinct variety. However, L. curviceps is found across a large range on both sides of the Amazon and future genetic testing could show distinct populations exist in the wild.

Although there are no known varieties of L. curviceps, there are several species that are similar in appearance. Some of these are occasionally offered for sale but most are very rare in the hobby. The described species in the genus in 2022 are:

I’m not going to discuss the differences in these species but if you are interested, the article Update of diagnoses, information on distribution, species, and key for identification of Laetacara species has the most recent and detailed information. This is a scientific paper and isn’t written for hobbyists but it has a wealth of information about the genus.

Laetacara curviceps in the wild

For a species that has been known to hobbyists for over 100 years, remarkably little is known about the native range and habitat of this species. It is described as coming from the lower Amazon basin in Brazil where it’s found in the lower reaches of tributaries on both sides of the Amazon River. Obviously, this covers a huge range but I don’t have any better info.

There is also little known about the natural habitats but, in the description of L curviceps the authors provide this about the natural habitats of L. curviceps. “(STAWIKOWSKI & WERNER, 1998) indicate that the habitats where L. curviceps occurs are the clearwaters of the Amazon basin. Clearwaters contain only a small amount of suspended matter, have a relative high transparency and are characterised by a pH value of 4.5 to 7.8 (LOWE-M CCONNELL , 1987). The biotopes near Santarem are described by STAWIKOWSKI & W ERN – ER (1998) as small clearwater creeks with low current, ponds, and small lakes. The beds were covered densely with leaf litter. There were also plenty of water plants like Cabomba, Myriophylum, and Eichhornia. The water data are given as: pH 5.2, 10 μS/cm and 26 °C.”

Laetacara curviceps in the aquarium

laetacara curviceps

This species was first introduced to the German aquarium trade in 1909 under the name Acara thayeri. Later it was recognized as a new species and in 1924 Ernst Ahl, the former curator of ichthyology and herpetology in the Berlin Museum, used aquarium specimens to describe it as Acara curviceps. The name curviceps comes from the Latin curvus (meaning round) and cephalus (meaning head) in recognition of their curved head shape.

They are typically an easy-to-care-for species that will adapt to most water conditions and will eagerly take all types of food. They tolerate a wide range of temperatures and have a mild disposition. A sand substrate is perfect but they do well with gravel. They prefer fine-grained substrates that allow them to dig shallow pits for rearing their fry. They thrive in planted tanks but they need more open space than Apistogrammas. They aren’t cave spawners so caves are not necessary for this species. They are excellent community inhabitants but they should have a tank of their own if you are trying to breed them.

Breeding Laetacara curviceps

Sex differences are not obvious in Laetacara curviceps as males and females usually look very similar. Males grow slightly larger than females, they may have longer ventral fins, and females usually have a noticeably larger spot on the base of their dorsal fin. These are all subtle differences and it can be very hard to tell the sex of an individual fish. I’ve found the surest way to get a pair is to start with 6-8 young fish and raise them until they pair naturally.

In my experience, they are not aggressive breeders. By this I mean they don’t aggressively stake out territories and throw their full energy into reproducing. Rather, they are more refined in their spawning and brood care.  They are not difficult to breed but I suggest you give a pair their own tank of 10 or so gallons. Add a number of broad-leaved plants as well as a thicket of java moss and some floating water sprite and they will soon be ready to spawn.  Moderately soft neutral to slightly acid water is preferred.

Their eggs are usually laid on a leaf, a rock, or some other hard structure. Both parents care for the eggs and after two or three days the eggs hatch. The larval fry are moved to a pre-selected site prepared by the parents. This is usually a depression they dig in the substrate. The exact place chosen will depend on the setup of the tank and some fish may move the larval fry several times before they become free swimming after another 5 to 7 days.  The young can usually take newly hatched brine shrimp immediately and are easy to feed. With good care and frequent water changes, you can often raise hundreds from a single spawn. Be careful as it’s easy to raise far more of this species than the market can absorb.

Buying Laetacara curviceps

The species was rarely available until after WWII after which it was regularly collected and exported. As an undemanding species that was easy to breed, L. curviceps became a common cichlid in pet stores and home aquaria in the post-war years. However, when more colorful and exotic cichlids became common, interest in curviceps waned and they became much less common in the hobby. Today they appear occasionally on availability lists from specialty sellers. Check our Guide to Purchasing Dwarf Cichlids for more suggestions.

Although not common, you might find Laetacara curviceps in a local pet store. I even saw them one time in one of the major chain stores so you might find them if you keep looking. However, if you really want them you’ll probably need to look online.


Most of the information I provide on this website comes from books and websites. While I don’t provide specific citations, these are the sources for most of my information.
South American Books:
Mergus Cichlid Atlas Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Dr. Uwe Römer
South American Dwarf Cichlids by Rainer Stawikowski, I. Koslowski and V. Bohnet
Die Buntbarsche Amerikas Band 2 Apistogramma & Co. by Ingo Koslowski, Translation by Mike Wise
South American Dwarf Cichlids by Hans J. Mayland & Dieter Bork
American Cichlids I – Dwarf Cichlids by Horst Linke & Dr. Wolfgang Staeck
West African Books:
The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa by Anton Lamboj
African Cichlids I – Cichlids From West Africa by Horst Linke & Dr. Wolfgang Staeck
Apisto sites – the home page of Tom C – Global authority for identification and classification of apistogrammas – An excellent international forum with expert members who gladly share their knowledge.
Much more information is available in our complete exploration of dwarf cichlid information resources.