Caring for the Jack Dempsey Cichlid, its origin, behaviour and forum
This page is dedicated to raising Jack dempsey cichlids in fish tanks; With answers, FAQ, pictures and forum. We would like you to share your experiences at the bottom of this page, because your experiences may help other fishkeepers. Also ask questions if you have any, and make sure you visit the following page too: Jack dempsey cichlid profile with forum which contains plenty of information from other fish keepers.
Size, conditions in the tank, lifespan
Originally from Yucatan peninsula, Guatemala and Honduras, the Jack Dempsey Cichlid belongs to very beautiful, but aggressive fish species. It’s named after the heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Dempsey. These fish can grow up to 25 cm (10 inches) in length, so it is recommended to keep a single specimen in a rather larger tank - ideally 100 US gallons (378 liters / 83 imperial gallons) per adult fish. As the Jack Dempsey originally come from Central America, the water should be alkaline and little bit harder (dGH 18.0 - 30.0 °N ~ 321 - 535 ppm ~ 6.43 - 10.72 mEq, and pH of 7.0 – 8.5). The temperature in a tank has to vary around 25°C (77°F). Additionally it is possible to find the exact values of water chemistry and temperature in this fish profile - The Jack Dempsey Cichlid.
Colours of these fish do enhance as long as proper water conditions are secured; Many aquarists report problems regarding colouration, however in the end it's always due to wrong water chemistry or poor quality of offered food. It's possible to raise these cichlids for over 15 years if kept properly, although average lifespan of Jack dempsey's is between 8 to 10 years. The Jack Dempsey Cichlid has several colourful speckles across its body and almost a stained glass effect on the dorsal fin that will be displayed especially in the proper lighting. Healthy specimens should have an attractive muted purple colour with a black spot on each side of its body. Colours of this species do look beautiful under purple aquarium lights (aquarium lights produce various colour tones, always ask the shop assistant!!!).
Setting up a tank for the Jack Dempsey Cichlid
Always keep young Jack Dempsey's with other cichlids of similar size and aggressive temperament so they won’t fight with each other to death. Many aquarists put these fish to tanks with peaceful cichlids, often African cichlids - which has to be avoided at all costs since peaceful species will be harassed! Another common mistake of newbies is raising two or more Jack Dempsey's in a 30-40 gallon (113 - 151 litre, 25 - 33 Imperial gallons) tank along with Oscar cichlids or large pleco's - no wonder the strongest specimens rule the tank while the weaker ones keep hiding themselves in caves and dark parts of the aqaurium. Once these fish reach sexual maturity (approximately after reaching 18 cm / 7 inches in length), it is important not to underestimate their demands in regards of required space - if your fish act aggressively, rather purchase (or create) a tank divider, eventually find one or more of your fish new home instead of keeping them together. As mentioned previously, 100 US gallons per fish is ideal, however 55 US gallons (200 litres, 45.80 Imperial gallons) per specimen is acceptable too.
Try to secure as many hiding places as you can, such as caves, rocks, some driftwood to create an interesting environment for the fish. Males can be aggressive towards females (and also towards other males), and they are usually larger.
Never use bright lighting with these fish, the best lighting for the Jack Dempsey Cichlid is subdued (floating plants can be used for this purpose too - Pistia stratiotes for example). This fish is not recommended for beginners as their aggression does need to be controlled, with experience this can be solved especially if they have plenty of swimming space in the tank and in case they are housed with the correct tank mates. I have kept Jack Dempsey with Oscars and other Central American cichlids of a similar size and as long as they are all introduced to the tank at roughly the same time they settle in well together. The Jack Dempsey is compatible with nearly all species of cichlids that can handle themselves without being over aggressive such as the Black belt or the Midas Cichlid. Smaller species of fish will be seen as food so always be aware of this.
They have a great passion for digging in the substrate, adding plants usually results in the plants being uprooted so if you want some foliage in the tank try using Anubias or Java Fern as these can be attached to the décor and taste repulsive to the fish.
Feeding the Jack Dempsey Cichlid
In the wild these fish feed on worms, insects, crustaceans and small fish. They will accept most foods greedily but on occasions you may try them with something new and it may take them a while to actually realise that it is food but with patience they will accept it. The main diet should consist of a quality cichlid pellet or pellets similar to Hikari Gold. They do need a varied diet so live or frozen foods should also be offered, chopped earthworms, blood worms, small pieces of fish and chopped mussels are ideal. For real treats you can also offer crickets, grasshoppers and fruit flies.
They will also require some vegetable matter at least once a week, blanched spinach or blanched peas will be eaten and keep the digestive system clear as well.
Feed young fish 3 times daily. Adults should be fed at least 1 times a day. You shouldn’t keep them in a tank with live plants, because they will eat them. As they like to dig, gravel must be at least 12cm (5 in) tall.
Breeding the Jack Dempsey Cichlid
The Jack Dempsey is bred on a commercial scale and there are many keepers that have also raised fry in their own aquariums but they are not the easiest of Cichlids to breed over all. Aggression will intensify at spawning times so it is best to use a separate breeding tank for this purpose.
Jack Dempsey become mature at about 7 inches in length, they are impossible to sex as juveniles but as they grow the males will develop extended anal and dorsal fins. The males will also display a brighter colouration and if you observe the fish, it is the males that show the higher degree of aggression. It is also easy to get the sexing wrong so the best way to get a breeding pair is to purchase a small group and let them pair naturally as they mature.
Flat rocks should be added to the breeding tank to act as potential spawning sites and once one of these have been chosen; it will be cleaned by the parent fish ready for the eggs. The eggs could also be deposited on the substrate without any rocks being in the tank but offering the fish more choice giver you better results. Once deposited and fertilised, the eggs should be a nice orangey brown colour, any white eggs are either unfertilised or they have contracted fungus.
The eggs should hatch after 3-4 days and the parent fish will take great care of the fry, they will normally dig pits so that the fry can be moved around the tank for safety. Feeding the fry is not hard, when they first hatch they will consume their yolk sacs, after this time they will accept newly hatched brine shrimp or crushed flake.
It has been known for the parent fish to part digest their own food and then give it to the fry; such is the strength of their parenting.
After a month the fry will be large enough to move into a growing on tank and your breeding pair will start to show signs of wanting to breed again.
Thanks to Kevin, Ben and Corey Bower who have allowed us to use the pictures.
Questions and answers
The following questions were moved here on March 23th 2011 due to merging aqua-fish.net/answers with related articles. You're welcome to post own questions too, but ensure that they're unique and not yet answered on this page, please. Use a form at the bottom of this page for this purpose.
What size tank for a Jack Dempsey?
Answer: The minimum tank size for one Jack Dempsey is 55 gallons (208.20 litres, 45.80 Imperial gallons), if keeping more then a larger tank will be needed.
What type of fish should I keep with a Jack Dempsey?
Answer: Most experienced fish keepers will suggest keeping a Jack Dempsey in a species only tank. This being said I have seen multiple Jack Dempsey's living with Mbuna peacefully. I have also heard of them being kept with an Oscar of the same size. It is usually up to the fish if they get along and after years of living together in a communal environment, they may still need to be separated so adding any other fish into an aquarium with a Jack Dempsey is touch and go and you should always pay close attention.