HomeAquarium FishRed Shoulder Severum - Appearance, Size, Diet & More!

Red Shoulder Severum – Appearance, Size, Diet & More!

You must have observed various strains of Severum by now, which are available in several hues. However, the most familiar is the “Green Severum,” which has an olive-green body and black markings along its flanks.

Regardless, there is another popular variety you may not have encountered before.

The “Rotkeil” Severum or Red Shoulder Severum is a striking and stunning fish that makes an excellent addition to any substantial communal aquarium.

This large fish has a docile temperament and can coexist harmoniously with other species in the tank.

Aquarists admire this fish not only for its beauty but also because it is a robust species that is relatively low-maintenance. Furthermore, it possesses a peaceful and curious disposition.

Much like the intelligent Oscar, these fish can recognize their owners and may even swim to the front of the aquarium to greet them or solicit food.

If you are considering introducing a Red Shoulder Severum to your aquarium, here are a few critical points to keep in mind.


The Red Shoulder Severum, also known as Heros sp. Rotkeil is a stunning fish with vibrant red coloration on its head and shoulder area.

Despite its popularity among aquarists, there needs to be more debate around its classification and name.

The Heros genus includes several species, such as H. efasciatus and H. Severus, but Heros sp. Rotkeil is not recognized as a valid species or subspecies at this time.

Some experts believe it is a naturally occurring color variant of H. efasciatus, but further research is needed to confirm this.

The Red Shoulder Severum is native to parts of the Amazon basin in Peru, where it prefers slow-moving waters with abundant riverine vegetation and submerged roots and branches.

This fish is prized for its beauty, hardiness, and peaceful nature, making it a great addition to community aquariums. While its exact classification may be uncertain, there’s no doubt that the Red Shoulder Severum is a fascinating and delightful fish to keep.

The Red Shoulder Severum, also known as Rotkeil Severum or Heros sp. Rotkeil is a relatively peaceful fish species that originates from South America. They can grow up to 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) and live for about ten years.

The fish’s pH level ranges from 5.5 to 7.2, and they prefer a temperature of 72° – 84° F (22° – 29° C) and a dKH range of 1 to 8 dKH. A single fish requires a 75-gallon tank, while a pair requires a 125-gallon tank.

Red Shoulder Severums are omnivorous, and their diet should include plant- and animal-based food.



The beauty of the Rotkeil Severum is what draws Cichlid enthusiasts to this fish. The foremost thing you will witness about this fish is its striking appearance, with a laterally compressed body shape and pointed anal and dorsal fins, much like the Discus.

As the fish matures, the brilliantly red coloration on its head and shoulder area, represented by its common name, becomes more apparent.

While the juveniles have a uniformly greenish body color, older fish display a blue-green body with nine vertical stress bars and the distinct “Rotkeil” feature. As they mature, small spots of varying coloration appear on their bodies. Also, they have an ornate & curious face with red fins.

The Red Shoulder Severum’s coloration and pattern make it a standout fish, with solid red that rivals the beauty of line-bred aquarium varieties.


The typical dimensions of a mature Red Shoulder Severum in adulthood range from 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm).

Due to their laterally compressed body structure, they can create the illusion of a larger size, appearing quite formidable when showcased in tanks.

Despite this, the species exhibits a considerably rapid growth rate. Although they are typically sold at pet stores in sizes varying from 1 to 3 inches, they can expand up to three times their initial length within a year. As a result, they are bound to outgrow smaller tanks in a brief amount of time.

However, the growth rate of Red Shoulder Severums is contingent on the quality of care provided and the environment they reside in.

By maintaining a well-kept aquarium, nourished with appropriate sustenance, and subject to frequent water changes, the fish will thrive, leading to expedited growth and better overall health.


As an inhabitant of an aquarium, the Red Shoulder Severum typically has an average longevity of 10 years.

However, with proper attention and care, some have been known to survive for up to 13 years.

Ensuring that their tank is maintained with optimal water conditions and offering a well-rounded diet (which will be further elaborated on below) can help these fish achieve their maximum lifespan potential.

also read: Dragon Eel – Care, Appearance, Diet, & More!

Tank Requirements


Rotkeil severums, like most other South American Cichlids, possess great adaptability and hardiness. However, they necessitate a well-maintained environment and adequate space to remain healthy and flourish.

Here are some crucial factors to consider when setting up their tank:

Red Shoulder Severum Tank Size

Due to their significant adult size, a minimum tank size of 75 gallons (48″ x 18″ x 21″) is necessary for an adult fish.

If you intend to maintain a breeding pair of these fish in a community tank, a much larger tank is recommended, at least 125 gallons (72″ x 18″ x 21″).

A giant aquarium reduces the likelihood of aggression between fish and other tank mates. However, remember that even in a large tank, they may exhibit aggression, depending on their temperament.

Water Conditions

Red Shoulder Severums originate from the placid waters of the Amazon basin, where they typically inhabit warm, supple, and acidic environments.

Although some individuals have been found in lentic ecosystems such as lakes and flooded areas, they prefer riverine settings with thick vegetation.

Notwithstanding, these fish have a high degree of adaptability and can flourish in various water conditions as long as the water is sanitized and well-filtered.

For this species’ optimal health and longevity, it is recommended to mimic their natural habitat’s water conditions closely.

The ideal water parameters for Red Shoulder Severums include a temperature range of 72° – 84° F (22° – 29° C), pH levels between 5.5 – 7.2, water hardness between 1-8 dKH, ammonia levels at 0 ppm, nitrite levels at 0 ppm, and nitrate levels under 30 ppm.

Maintaining water quality is crucial, and it is vital to ensure that your filter runs efficiently and adheres to a strict schedule of weekly water changes of at least 20% – 50%, based on the tank’s bioload.


In their natural habitat, Rotkeil severums are commonly found in densely vegetated areas, so it’s best to provide a similar environment in the tank with both live and artificial plants.

However, they tend to feed on soft plants, so it’s essential to be cautious with delicate vegetation and consider adding sturdier species like Anubias sp or Java Fern.

A soft sandy base with several hiding spots like rocky caves, clay pots, and driftwood is optimal for the substrate. These hiding places serve as visual barriers and can help alleviate territorial issues.



Rotkeil severums exhibit omnivorous tendencies in their natural habitat but primarily feed on fruits. A proper diet in captivity is to include a diverse range of plant-based foods such as green peas, cucumber, and zucchini should be provided.

These fish are versatile eaters and can consume various food types. While a high-quality cichlid pellet or flake can fulfill their nutritional needs, incorporating live foods like brine shrimp, earthworms, and bloodworms will enhance their vibrant hues.

To evade overfeeding and accumulation of waste, it is recommended to provide small portions several times throughout the day rather than one large meal.

Tank Mates

Red Shoulder Severums are known for their easy-going nature, which makes them suitable for a community tank with peaceful tank mates of similar size and compatible water conditions. 

Some of the recommended Red Shoulder Severum Tank Mates are the following:

  1. Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare),
  2. Geophagus brasiliensis (Pearl Cichlid), 
  3. True Parrot Cichlid (Hoplarchus Psittacus)
  4. Chocolate Cichlid (Hypselecara temporalis), 
  5. Red Tiger Severum (Heros Severus), and 
  6. Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher),

However, in a large community tank, a breeding pair may become more territorial and aggressive, which could lead to chasing away other potential tank mates during spawning. Therefore, if you intend to keep more than one Red Shoulder Severum with other tank mates in a tank, it’s best to get a group of six or more juveniles and allow them to grow together.

In a smaller tank, a single Red Shoulder Severum can be the centerpiece fish, but avoid most ornamental invertebrates as they are likely to be seen as potential prey.


Red Shoulder Severums can be easily bred in a home aquarium, with successful breeding occurring naturally without any intervention.

For improved breeding success, purchasing a group of juveniles and raising them together is recommended, allowing them to form bonds and pair off more quickly when ready to breed.

Once a pair has formed, its territorial behavior will increase significantly. Removing any potential tank mates before breeding or placing the couple in a separate breeding tank with soft, acidic water is best to prevent aggression or accidents.

To trigger spawning behavior, the temperature must be raised to the top of their preferred range, and a high-protein diet can help the fish prepare for breeding.

Spawning typically occurs on smooth surfaces, such as flat rocks or slate. The female will lay around 200-1000 eggs, which the parents will carefully tend to until they hatch after approximately 3-5 days.

Once hatched, the fry becomes free-swimming after a week and can be fed with newly hatched brine shrimp or commercially available fry food.


The Rotkeil Severum, also known as the Red Shoulder Severum, is a visually stunning and amiable cichlid that’s an ideal choice for novice aquarists. Their striking red hues and charming demeanor make them an excellent addition to any aquarium.

Red Shoulder Severums are reasonably priced and commonly available both online and in pet stores. It’s worth noting that they may also be sold under the name Red Neck Severum.

Should you have any queries about keeping these fish, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Here’s to happy and prosperous fish-keeping!

Fishkeeping Expert
Fishkeeping Expert
With years of collective fishkeeping knowledge, we are pleased to share the tank maintenance tips and fish care advice we've picked up along the way. Fishkeeping Expert is home to all fishkeeping tutorials and guides that will help you keep your fish healthy.


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