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Choosing a Jack Dempsey

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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One of the most popular of the cichlid family, Jack Dempsey's (Chichlosoma octofasciatum) are natives of the Yucatan and Central America where they are found in slow moving waters. These fish grow quickly, are easy to raise and feed, but don't get along well with other species.

Appearance and Behavior

Jack Dempsey's are beautiful fish. They are marked with a green iridescent scale that is particularly noticeable when displayed in a dark room with soft aquarium lighting. The males are larger and more brightly colored. They can grow to 10" and live up to 10 years. These fish grow rapidly and often need a larger tank within a year. Breeding pairs lay their eggs on clean rock and both parents guard the eggs and fry. These fish are aggressive and territorial and will actively attack and bite intruders. This behavior is magnified during breeding and nesting. Jack Dempsey's are active diggers and will destroy plants and alter rock formations to suit their own needs. Larger rocks should be secured with aquarium sealant to prevent avalanches. A deep gravel bottom satisfies the need to dig. Hiding places are essential. A small clay pot turned on its side works well. Water temperature should be maintained between 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, pH 6.5 to 7.0.

Feeding

Jack Dempsey's are hearty eaters and will eat a combination of live, flake and pelleted foods. Beef heart, feeder goldfish and fish fillets are all accepted. They have been observed to eat algae.

Special Comments

Keep only larger species capable of defending themselves with these fish. Oscars and convicts may work. Expect territorial disputes and injuries although many fish may come to an "armed truce". Many hobbyists report that Jack Dempsey's are a very personable fish. They will quickly come to recognize people who belong in the household from strangers. They have been observed begging for food and will jump out of the water if tempted with a tidbit.

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