If you are looking for a docile and delicate fish for your tank, you will probably be disappointed with the Jack Dempsey fish.
However, that hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of the most popular aquarium cichlids.
In this guide, you will learn all about Jack Dempsey Cichlids and how to care for them. These freshwater fish can be incredibly rewarding to keep and by the time you finish reading this you will know if they are right for you.
One of the most popular tropical aquarium cichlids, the Jack Dempsey is named for its similarity, both in facial appearance and aggressive behavior, to the legendary Boxer.
A member of the Cichlidae family, which also includes angelfish and discus, the Jack Dempsey fish, or Rocio octofasciata, is native to Central America in places like Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
In addition to their native habitats, Jack Dempseys have been found in Australia, Thailand, and even the United States, including Florida, South Dakota, Connecticut, and Hawaii. Vagabonds most likely escaped from fish farms or were released by aquarists who were unable or unwilling to care for them.
His ability to survive warm, even hot, water temperatures of up to 86 degrees further demonstrates Jack’s resilience and the adequacy of his name.
appearance and size
As its name suggests, the Jack Dempsey cichlid exhibits the large facial features and aggressive behavior of the famous boxer.
Although both sexes feature long fins and large muscular oval bodies ranging in size from 10 to 15 inches, the more brightly colored males have longer bodies and even longer fins with pointed tips. The slender body shape of the fish is characteristic of cichlids and other carnivorous and predatory fish species.
>One of the reasons Jack Dempseys are so popular is that they come in a wide range of pretty colors. The most sought after and attractive coloration of the bunch tend to be shades of:
Young fish start life as pale gray or tan with green spots and 10-12 distinctive vertical stripes.
As the fish ages, the stripes fade, although traces of iridescent blue, green, and turquoise scales remain on a deep blue background. The fish’s operculum, or gill cover, features the same beautiful patterns.
Jack’s lighter blue lips provide a striking contrast, giving the appearance that the fish is wearing pale frosted lipstick! The red tips of the dorsal fins are another attractive contrast to the eye.
electric blue jack dempsey
If you prefer a less aggressive fish than the standard Jack, the smaller Electric Blue Jack Dempsey features an iridescent pale blue color and longer fins.
>However, as is often the case with hybrids, there are individuals that show various skull shapes between siblings, and some may have irregular scales. Electric Blue is also more expensive than regular Jacks. .
There is disagreement about the origin of Electric Blue. Some argue that it is a cross between a standard Jack and another species of cichlid, while others believe that it is the result of a mutation.
General Care Guidelines
Jack Dempsey Cichlids generally require a simple care regimen when it comes to their health, especially if you are not keeping a large group in a tank or mixing them with other species of fish. Because managing their aggression can be challenging, you should only consider keeping Jack Dempseys if you are a relatively experienced aquarist.
With proper care, Jack Dempseys can live eight to ten years. . Water quality can significantly influence this, so he should keep his tank clean to prevent disease-causing organisms from breeding. Always quarantine new animals, plants, and rocks before adding them to your aquarium.
Also be careful not to overfeed them, as not only will too much food cause obesity, but leftovers can contaminate your tank. This is a common mistake many new homeowners make, but it is easily corrected.
Even with the best of care, Jack Dempsey Fish can get sick just like any other animal. A common health problem, Ich, or white spot disease, appears as white nodules on the fins and general body surface. To treat fish affected by this ectoparasite, raise the temperature of the water in your tank to 86 degrees.
Poor nutrition can lead to head and lateral line erosion, or HLLE, a common disease that results in pits or cavities in the fish’s head. Switching to a proper diet should ease the symptoms of HLLE.
Recommended tank and water conditions
When setting up your tank for Jack Dempseys, you want to make sure the conditions are as close to their native habitat as possible. Remember that their wild cousins live in slow-moving tropical waters such as canals, lakes, murky rivers, and swamps.
The minimum tank size should be 55 gallons to satisfy each fish’s territorial instinct. Two or three adults would be happy with a tank that holds 55 to 150 gallons.
A heater is essential to maintain a water temperature between 72 and 86 degrees. Keep a thermometer in the tank to make sure the temperature stays within this range.
Jack Dempseys prefer a somewhat acidic environment, so keep the pH between 6 and 8.
In terms of water hardness, aim for a range of 9-20 dGH.
Two chemicals that should never be present in your tank are ammonia and nitrate, which even in small amounts can cause stress in your fish. If fish are exposed to these contaminants over a long period of time, their immune systems will be weakened, making them more susceptible to disease.
Because Jack’s natural habitat is slow-moving water, he doesn’t need an air or water pump in his tank. A filter is all you need to provide them with the light current of their native habitat.
Jack Dempseys are large fish and produce a lot of waste, so you’ll need a powerful filter to keep the water clean. Whether it’s a canister filter (like the FX4) or a good sized power filter to hang on the back, or HOB, it’s a smart choice. Don’t be afraid to select a filter that is one size larger than recommended because you need to handle a large tank containing large fish.
The ideal lighting setup
When lighting your tank, you want it to mimic the natural appearance of deep water. Although fluorescent lighting is more popular for aquariums, it tends to highlight only the substrate, plastic plants, and decorations while losing the natural colors of the fish themselves.
Also over time, fluorescent bulbs dim and need to be replaced within a few months to preserve lighting quality.
Gaining popularity, LED lighting consumes much less power and lasts for years. Additionally, LED lighting creates a more natural looking tank. If you think your fish would like some shade, try adding a floating plant, such as hornwort.
Additional Habitat Recommendations
Since they like to lounge in the lower or middle levels of the water, choose a sandy substrate, such as gravel, gravel, or a mix, about 2 inches deep for the tank floor. Jack Dempseys are typical cichlids that burrow into the substrate for food, so fine sand is the best option as it is the easiest for them to sift through and hunt.
Another advantage of sand is that it settles and levels out after the fish dig and sift it. Larger gravel, by contrast, forms uneven piles and craters when disturbed.
Place multiple caves throughout the tank so each fish can claim their own territory. Driftwood logs, branches, plastic plants, and rocks provide a safe hiding place for them. Vallisneria, or eelgrass, gives the fish a high, underwater meadow-like environment to swim in. You can also add hardy live plants, such as Anubias or java moss.
Jack Dempsey Fish Food & Diet
In the wild, the carnivorous Jack Dempsey will consume any animal that fits in its mouth, including small fish, worms, insects, and crustaceans. Since they are not picky eaters, you can feed them prepared, frozen, fresh, or live foods.
Processed dry foods, including pellets and flakes, are inexpensive and widely available. It doesn’t matter if the granules float or sink, Jack Dempseys will devour them with relish.
If you feed them prepared foods, you should offer frozen or live foods from time to time to make sure the fish get all the nutrients they need.
You can also feed them exclusively with fresh or live food. Some delicacies you will enjoy are:
- blood worms
- Fresh or frozen shrimp
- fruit flies
Feed adult Jack Dempseys once or twice a day, but feed young fish two or three times a day to ensure they get the nutrition they need to grow. . Only feed what your fish can eat in a couple of minutes, as leftovers will spoil and pollute the water.
behavior and temperament
Any animal named after a legendary boxer is to be expected to display aggressive behavior, and the Jack Dempsey cichlid is no exception. Due to his temperament, this typical cichlid does best when under the care of an experienced aquarist.
Just remember that males are territorial, so it’s important to provide enough caves and crevices for each fish to establish its own territory to hide in.
Jack Dempsey’s Tank Mates: Good and Bad
Due to the nature of Jack Dempsey, you’ll want to consider his tankmates very carefully. The safest option is to keep them as the only species in a tank, especially if he is inexperienced in handling their aggression. It’s also best to only have one male per tank to avoid aggressive territorial behavior.
Unless you want them to end up as food, don’t put peaceful fish, like tetras, or invertebrates, like freshwater snails and shrimp, in the same tank as Jack Dempseys.
Species that you might consider good Jack Dempsey tankmates are those of similar size with the ability and temperament to stand on their own. Some popular options are:
To avoid inbreeding, buy your fish from different breeders at different times. Jack Dempseys are relatively easy to breed and do best when you breed four or five together and wait for one pair to leave the group.
One thing to be aware of is the possibility that the pair will try to intimidate and chase away the other fish. This may require you to remove any remaining fish from the tank before they are killed.
Pay attention to the color of your fish when trying to breed. This will give you a good indication of the timeline and when they are ready to mate. When they are, Jack Dempseys will darken and turn almost black.
If the female is not yet ready to breed, the male may try to chase and harass her. He may need to remove her from the tank until she is ready to spawn; and when he thinks it is, try to introduce the man to him again. If all goes well, the pair should end up as a couple for the rest of their lives.
A flat stone is a good place for Jacks to spawn. You will see the pair first inspect and then clean the stone to prepare it for spawning. When ready, the female will lay her eggs on the stone, up to 500 at a time. Once this is done, the male will fertilize them.
This part of the process is very interesting to watch even if you have raised other species of fish. We are fans of the rock cleaning process (it’s so cute).
After about three days, the eggs will hatch. The parents will then collect the fry and place them in holes they have dug in the substrate to hide them from intruders. In about 10 days, the fry will be happily swimming!
Are they good for you?
Jack Dempsey fish are popular for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they’re for everyone.
If you are someone who does not want to deal with aggressive fish and prefers a mild tank environment, then these creatures are not for you.
However, if that doesn’t turn you down and you really like the look of the fish, we recommend getting one. Caring for and supporting Jack Dempseys can be a very rewarding experience!
We hope this care guide has been helpful and has provided you with the essential information you need. If you have any follow-up questions or suggestions on how we can improve our guide, please let us know!