The Salvin's cichlid is oblong in shape and has a rather pointed mouth compared to other Central American cichlids. The body is yellow with two lines of black "flowers" along the side and upper half of the back of the fish. These flowers have a blue pearl outline. It has black bars that cross the face, and both sexes have red bellies, which is more pronounced in females, especially when ready to spawn. Females also have a patch in the center of the dorsal fin and a spot on the lower part of the gill cover. Females are smaller than males. Males are duller in color and have longer, more pointed fins. Both male and female become more vibrant during breeding.