For most of the twentieth century, our knowledge when it came to how Neotropical cichlids were related to one another remained painfully inadequate. Species tended to get lumped under a few large, catchall names like “Cichlasoma” and “Vieja” and “Paraneetroplus”, mixing together all sorts of heterogenous, distantly related forms. Slowly but surely, researchers built up enough of an understanding to attempt the herculean task of organizing all this chaos, and this finally happened in 2015 with the publication of a monumental paper establishing eight new genera.
Among these was Maskaheros, a name derived from the Spanish word máska, meaning “masked”. This references the dark cranial markings of the two known species, but an even more apparent feature are the many small, dark spots present across the lightly colored bodies of M. argenteus and M. regani. The effect is visually striking and perfect for those who prefer a sleek minimalism in their fish.
These are endemic to the Atlantic drainages of Southern Mexico and Northern Guatemala, the Río Coatzacoalcos for M. regani and the Río Usumacinta for M. argenteus. The two are both quite similar in appearance, with the same tall body and general patterning, but the aptly named Silver Vieja is noticeably whiter in color and has little red in its fins. Males grow larger than the females (typical for cichlids) and develop a strong nuchal hump.
The name Vieja, meaning “old woman” in Spanish, is another newly reorganized genus of Neotropical cichlids, and this was historically where these two species had been included. The two groups are still thought to be close relatives, but there are now known to be enough genetic, geographic, and morphological distinctions to warrant their recognition as distinct genera. It might be a bit confusing to continue calling this fish under that common name, which is why the alternate common name White Cichlid has gained much traction.
Fully grown specimens are large-bodied and reach close to a foot in length (in males, at least). They are generally on the aggressive side, though not so murderous as the Neotropic’s bass-like guapote cichlids. In larger systems, it is possible to keep Maskaheros alongside other similarly sized and tempermented cichlids. Alternatively, a mated pair could safely be kept alongside robust catfishes and agile characins to create an interesting biotope.
Maskaheros are actually largely vegetarian, and a diet rich in plant matter should be replicated.