Genetics of the Gold & Red-Spot Severum Varieties

Here I’ll examine the genetics behind the false severum cichlid (Heros efasciatus). This fish is available in a number of colour morphs, with the most common being the wild-type green, red-shoulder green, gold and red-spot gold.  The true severum (Heros severus) is of less importance to this topic, as it is nearly identical in appearance, but is a mouth-brooder instead of an egg-layer, and to my knowledge has not been involved in creating the fancy colour morphs we see in shops today.

Some photos of the various colour morphs available…

Severum Genetics

Though I have not personally produced the results below, my understanding is that the green gene is dominant and the gold gene is recessive, requiring two copies of the gold gene, one from each parent, to be present in order for a fish to be gold in colour. This gene produces what is known as a xanthistic (or xanthochromatic) fish, where excess amounts of yellow pigment are present or where the darker pigments are reduced, thereby allowing the yellow to shine through more prominently. A bird showing this trait is often known as a ‘lutino’. Fish that also displays this recessive trait include the gold Jack Dempsey and gold angelfish.

This can be depicted as follows:

G = the dominant wild-type green gene
g = the recessive xanthistic gold gene

(G/G) = a wild-type green severum
(G/g) = a gold-gene green severum (only carries the gold gene)
(g/g) = a gold severum 

Which gives rise to the following potential crosses:
(I'll spare you the Punnett squares this time)

G/G x G/G = 100% wild-type green
G/G x G/g =  50% wild-type green, 50% gold-gene green
G/g x G/g =  25% wild-type green, 50% gold-gene green, 25% gold
G/g x g/g =  50% gold-gene green, 50% gold
g/g x g/g = 100% gold

My understanding is that the red-spot severum is a just a variant of the gold severum that has been severely line-bred for added red colour, but observations of some offspring will hopefully allow for a more conclusive statement to be made.

Questions to Answer:

  1. What gene(s) is/are responsible for the red-shoulder green severum (aka rotkeil)? How do they relate to the genes on the gold/green locus? Can these genes be passed to a gold severum, producing a red-collar gold severum or is this a trait exclusive to the green variant only?
  2. What gene(s) is/are responsible for the red-spot gold severum? Does a red-spot x gold cross produce a different amount of spotting between offspring, an intermediate amount of spotting on all offspring, a 50-50 split or all either gold or red-spot offspring? This translates to figuring out if there is a separate red spot gene and whether the interaction with the gold gene produces variable expressivity, co-dominance, or full dominance/recessivity or not.


These cichlids follow the same rules as most and can be sexed by either comparing the length and pointedness of fins or by venting. However, males of this species generally have slightly more intense colours, particularly in the form of red spangles around the head. One method of sexing I’ve found pretty reliable so far is the “squiggle” method. If you draw a thick imaginary band on top of the head that connects one eyeball to the other, looking down on it you will notice that females have a pronounced absence of any spangles, pattern or added colour in this region, where males have squiggles or stripes that continue throughout this region. Check the above photos for some good examples.

It’s somewhat harder to notice the colours on green specimens, however, if you get them when they’re calm and put them in a tank with a light-coloured substrate, it makes things easier as the blacks and reds become a lot more pronounced and the greens take on a more olive hue.


These fish are notoriously choosy about their mates. Convicts, for example, will swap mates faster than a college student at a singles bar on a Friday night, should the pecking order in the tank be disrupted, if a particular pair is isolated, or if a different pairing happens to be feeling ready first. However, out of the seven severa that I’ve raised, I was able to obtain only one pair. The remaining male would not take to any of the four females from which he had to choose, beating them up quite severely as he chased them from his territory.

The pair I did find is the red-spot gold male and gold female, shown at the top of this post. To find a pair, it’s best to obtain a number of specimens of roughly the same size and age and raise them together. Of course, if you can get them from different sources, this will improve the genetic base some. Once you notice two swimming together, preparing a spawning site, guarding a territory or even protecting eggs, you know you have a pair! I’ve found my pair to be quite monogamous thus far.

Red-Spot x Gold Spawn

My pair has spawned a number of times, but I have been unable to have any fry survive to reach any sort of observable size as yet. After a few attempts at getting their eggs to hatch and survive, I think I’ve found a recipe that works! I found with the first few attempts that the eggs would be eaten or that conditions were not quite right for them to hatch.

The issue of the eggs being eaten was solved by letting the parents guard the eggs for no more than one night. Even in isolated quarters, I found one parent or the other would get nervous/hungry and gobble up the eggs (though this may be a function of the pair being young and inexperienced). So, before the second day, the hunk o’ clay flowerpot upon which the eggs were laid was removed and placed in a floating bucket within the same tank as the parents. This bucket was made from a 15-litre clear recyclable water cooler jug with the top cut off. The water was part tank water, part conditioned fresh water that was allowed to match temperature before the eggs were transferred. A small (primed) sponge filter was added with a moderate-to-heavy airflow.

The next hurdle was fungus. Without a parent constantly fanning eggs, allowing fresh water to reach them, and picking off the dead eggs, fungus tends to spread and wipe out the good eggs at a much faster rate. Usually, it’s the third day after the eggs are laid when this happens. Added aeration can help, but there’s a delicate balance between having enough water movement and whisking the eggs away in too much current. As an added measure, 2.303% solution methylene blue was added to the water  at a concentration of about 1 drop per litre, perhaps a little less. The suggested dosage is about 3 times this, which I found to be too strong, killing the eggs as well as the fungus! You’re aiming for a dose of about 1 ppm. Note: Methylene blue is one of those magic chemicals that can be really hard to find on store shelves. Perhaps it’s one of those things that has been banned in places as it’s “known to cause cancer in the state of California”. Now, whether this means that only people in California get cancer from the worldwide use of methylene blue, whether methylene blue can give you cancer when you arrive in California, or whether people living in California exposed to methylene blue have had cancer, I don’t quite know, but as a precaution, treat it as something you do not want to get on your skin, regardless. It leaves a really nasty blue stain (surprise!) on most anything it touches, so consider yourself warned!

It is critical that, between the eggs being laid and the fry becoming free-swimming, all dead eggs/wrigglers be removed on a daily basis to avoid poisoning of the survivors. These are easy to differentiate, as they have a distinctly-white colour as compared to the live ones. Fertilised eggs and wriggles will also show eye spots after a couple of days, which unfertilised eggs will not have. Dead eggs are pretty easy to flick off with something small, and pointy (toothpick, chopstick, fork, etc.). Wrigglers are pretty easy to pour/siphon off and separate with a large eyedropper. In this way, dead eggs and debris are removed with some of the water and the healthy wrigglers are replaced along with some fresh water. It is not necessary to re-dose with methylene blue at this time.

Within a week, the fry should have finished off their egg sacs, become free-swimming and will zip around the isolation tank looking for their first meal. Turn down the aeration to moderate-to-light and raise the fry as you would any other, perhaps transferring them to a small grow-out tank after they appear strong enough.


With New Year’s celebrations, I kinda lost track of the exact date the eggs were laid, so let’s just say December 29th will be our starting point and count from there…
Day 5/Jan 3rd, 2011 – Wrigglers finishing off their egg sacs atop a sponge filter inside a floating isolation bucket. They appear to be doing all right so far. *crosses fingers*

Day 6/Jan 4th, 2011 – Wrigglers turning into free-swimming fry and starting to explore the tank a bit. Mom and dad still watch them, protectively.

Day 20/Jan 18th, 2011 – Only a small handful of fry left, but they’re growing slowly and steadily.

Day 28/Jan 26th, 2011 – Down to only one. Man, are these fry fragile!

Day 39/ Feb 6th, 2011

February 1st, 2011 – A new batch of eggs was laid last night!

Revised: 2012-02-21


This entry was posted in Genetics. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Genetics of the Gold & Red-Spot Severum Varieties

  1. Matt B says:

    I stumbled on your blog looking for information that could help me vent my new EBJD. Two hours later, I’m intrigued with the rest of your cichlid experimentation. As a science teacher, I had to make you aware that your attention to detail, format, technical writing, and isolation of variables in experiments does not go un-noticed. Hopefully, this EBJD experiment I’m starting pays off, and I’ll be sure to share my results. Best wishes!

    • greg says:

      Thank you so much for your praise, Matt! While I’m taking a break from the EBJDs for a while, I would definitely love to hear your results when you have them! Good luck!

  2. peter says:

    hi all got 100+ eggs on slate of red spotted severum please help

    • Greg says:

      Hi Peter,

      Congratulations on getting severum eggs! Did you see a male fertilize these eggs? Are they turning white (dead eggs) or do they have dark spots in the centre (fertilized eggs)? It’s been a few days since you posted this comment, so let me know how things turned out. First-time parents usually need a few tries to get things right, so you’ll probably have to be patient and persistent to get fry from your pair.

  3. Paulo says:

    Hello, I was just looking for some information and I ended up here.
    I have a turtle that lives with two severuns, a male gold and a rotkeil female. Well, a few days ago they decided to glue some eggs on a flat stone and 2 days ago I had the tank with a fry cloud. First attempt, first success. Great.
    Today I decided to separate them. Now I have betwwen 150 and 200 tinny tinny baby severuns in a small tank. I was wondering what is going to come out there…Gold severuns? Rokteil? Both? A mix of colours (that would be awesome..) Well just sharing.


    • Greg says:

      Thanks for the share, Paulo! To my knowledge, the gold gene is recessive, so only if fry inherit a copy of the gold gene from each parent will they come out gold. The gold male will give all his children a copy, but chances are your red-shouldered (aka rotkeil) female will not carry this gold gene and will not pass it on. My guess is that you’ll get 100% gold-gene red-shouldered green fry. If you mate two of these fry once they’re bigger, you should get 25% golds. Let me know what happens. Curious!

    • Leo says:

      Hello,i would like to buy some of your babies. Thanks

      • Greg says:

        Hi Leo,

        Thanks for your interest, but I don’t have any babies to sell you at the moment. I may try again with the severum varieties one day, but I’m not currently stocking any. I also cannot ship. It’s prohibitively expensive to do so (and complicated exporting), so if you’re driving through Toronto one day, we can arrange something, but it’s a long way from Texas. 🙂


  4. Stan says:

    Hi Greg,

    I’m not sure if you can answer this or if this is the proper place to ask this question, but here goes…

    I purchased two gold severum in April at about 1 inch(2.5cm) in size. About a month ago I moved them from a smaller tank to a 180g/681L community tank. They grew considerably in the larger tank and are now approximately 3.5 inches and 4.5 inches respectively. I thought I had two females, because the space between the eyes didn’t appear to have the squiggly lines, but last week the sevs were spotted lip locking and eggs appeared on a bulkhead a few hours later. The eggs stayed on the bulkhead for about 3 days and only a few turned white. I assume they were fertilzed. The male and female took turns fanning the eggs and any time a member of the tank got near, they protected their area with much aggression. Sometime on the 3rd or 4th day, the eggs started to disappear and I assumed the parents ate them as I read this is a common occurance for the first few attempts.

    Here’s my question, the parents are now taking turns hiding out in a corner of my tank that is behind a bunch of artificial plants. This is an area of the tank where they were never spotted before. I’m wondering if some of the fry may have survived and the parents are taking turns guarding them. I can’t get a good look at the area because of the tank’s proximity to a wall. I’m also thinking this is something that they are compelled to do whether there are fry or not.

    Is this a behavior you have experienced before? It just seems strange that two fish who previously chased every other fish (7 Silver Dollars) in the tank are now taking turns going into hiding. I’m also finding near impossible that any of the fry could have survived this long. I am filtered by both a sump and large cannister. I would think it’s an almost certainty they would get caught in one of the intakes.

    Your thoughts are appreciated.


    • Greg says:


      I agree the eating of eggs is common, but so is moving the fry to a safe location. I often find my fish will have either a pit dug or spit the wrigglers into the end of a flower pot after they hatch. If some of the eggs were fertilized, then it’s indeed possible the resulting wrigglers are in this hard-to-reach corner of your tank. For the first few days, the wrigglers are totally helpless and won’t be able to go far at all. It’s only when they become a free-swimming cloud of fry that they’re really apt to end up getting sucked into filters and such. If you stick a finger near this location and the parents rip into it, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re guarding fry. However, it is possible that they have just teamed up and are getting territorial. It’s also very possible that you DO have two females, but give it some more tries and see what happens. Would love to hear your further results.

      Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s