Jack Dempsey Cichlids

Jack Dempsey Cichlids

The Jack Dempsey cichlid is named after former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, since it is a strong and energetic fish. It is a sturdy fish that is easy to care for, but due to its aggressive temperament it is not recommended for novice aquarists. In Spanish speaking regions, this fish is called Mojarra castarrica or Riquiraqui. In Poland, it is known as Pielegnica niebieskoluska, Germans call it Achtbindenbuntbarsch, and finish speaking aquarists know it as Helmikirjoahven. The scientific name for the Jack Dempsey is Archocentrus octofasciatum. The species forms a part of the genus Cichlasoma in the Cichlidae family.

Wild Jack Dempsey cichlids can be found in North and Central America where they inhabit a region that stretches from the Papaloapán River in southern Mexico to the Hondurian Ulua River in Central America. The Jack Dempsey cichlid is often found in muddy canals, drainage ditches and swamps since it appreciates murky and slow flowing waters. In the coastal plains of Central America you will find warm and slow moving streams that are ideal for this cichlid. Since the wild Jack Dempsey cichlid lives in waters with a muddy or sandy bottom, it is naturally a good idea to use such substrates in the aquarium.

Today, the Jack Dempsey cichlid has been introduced to waters outside its natural region by man. You can therefore find breeding populations of Jack Dempsey cichlids in the United States, Australia and Thailand. In Thailand, Jack Dempsey cichlids are produced in aquacultures for the aquarium trade. From these aquacultures, Jack Dempsey cichlids have frequently escaped into the wild since the first Jack Dempsey aquacultures were established in Thailand during the 1950s. In the United States and Australia, the Jack Dempsey cichlid populations most likely originate from specimens released by aquarists. The warm waters of Florida are today home to a wide range of tropical aquarium species from all over the world, including the Jack Dempsey cichlid. In Australia, the most notable Jack Dempsey populations are found in out-flow creeks in the state of Victoria and in cooling ponds used by a power plant. The Australian Jack Dempsey cichlid populations are however showing signs of decline.

The Jack Dempsey cichlid is not included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and you can find thriving populations of Jack Dempsey cichlids in its native region. Since its minimum population doubling time is less than 15 months, it is resilient towards over fishing. In the aquarium trade, the commercially bred Jack Dempsey cichlids are common.

As mentioned above, the Jack Dempsey cichlid is easy to care for in the aquarium but considered unsuitable for inexperienced aquarists since they might find it difficult to handle its aggressive temperament and counteract violent behaviours. Jack Dempsey cichlids are often kept their own aquariums instead of community aquariums or habitat aquariums, but you can keep this cichlid with other species if you select tank mates carefully. Avoid standard community aquarium species, since they tend to be peaceful and will become bullied by the Jack Dempsey cichlid. Aggressive species of similar size that can fend for them selves is a much better choice. Avoid keeping more than one Jack Dempsey cichlid in the aquarium, and avoid species that look similar to the Jack Dempsey cichlid since they may be perceived as enemies by the Jack Dempsey cichlid. It is also very important that the aquarium is large enough for the Jack Dempsey cichlid, and decorated in a way that makes it possible for the cichlid to claim a limited region as territory.

Arranging a suitable home for a Jack Dempsey cichlid will require some dedication from the aquarists, but it is well worth it since the Jack Dempsey cichlid is an energetic and extremely beautiful fish that will add action as well as colour to the aquarium. It will also adapt to most water conditions, so it is really not difficult to keep once you have learned how to master its aggressive temperament. In a well kept tropical aquarium your Jack Dempsey can live for 8-10 years.

One way of calming down a quarrelsome Jack Dempsey cichlid is to keep the water temperature down. The recommended temperature range for a Jack Dempsey cichlid is 72-86° F (22-30° C), but many aquarists make sure that the temperature never goes above 78° F (25.5 degrees C) since warm water can increase the aggressiveness in some Jack Dempsey cichlids. Regardless of temperature, the Jack Dempsey cichlid will always claim its own territory and defend this part of the aquarium. As mentioned above, the Jack Dempsey cichlid can adapt to a wide range of different water conditions. The preferred pH range is however 7.0-8.0, and the dGH should be kept between 9 and 20.

An adult Jack Dempsey cichlid can grow up to 10 inches (25 centimetres) long and must be provided with plenty of space. Do not house it in an aquarium smaller than 45 gallons (170 litres). If you plan to keep it with other fish, the recommended aquarium size will naturally depend on these species as well.

In the wild, the Jack Dempsey cichlid inhabits densely grown waters. Plants are however often avoided in Jack Dempsey aquariums, since the Jack Dempsey likes to eat live plants and can destroy them. You can instead use flowerpots, caves, rocks and wood to form natural borders in the aquarium and make it possible for the Jack Dempsey cichlid to claim a limited territory. Since the Jack Dempsey cichlid is fond of digging, you should avoid substrate with sharp edges. A barren bottom, or a very thin substrate layer, is also unadvisable. Heavy objects that can injure fish if they fall should be placed directly on the glass, since they might fall when the Jack Dempsey cichlid digs around.

Picture of jack dempsey cichlid
Jack Dempsey Cichlid. Copyright www.jjphoto.dk

You can usually train a Jack Dempsey cichlid into accepting most types of food, but it might take some time before the fish realises that a new food type is actually edible. When a Jack Dempsey cichlid has understood that what you give it is actually food, it will usually be a happy eater. The wild Jack Dempsey cichlid feed mainly on insects, worms, crustaceans and fish and will appreciate such food types in the aquarium as well. Flake food and pellets can also be used; but pellets are usually a better idea since flakes are a bit too small large Jack Dempsey cichlids. A high-quality pellet can be a good base for the Jack Dempsey cichlid, but should ideally be combined with occasional treats of live food. Fish, earthworms, grasshoppers, shrimps, crayfish and small frogs are just a few examples of live food that your Jack Dempsey cichlid will like. When the Jack Dempsey cichlid is kept in an unplanted aquarium, it will need some vegetable matter in its diet, e.g. lettuce and plankton.

If your Jack Dempsey cichlid suddenly changes its coloration, the alteration can have been caused by a number of factors. Sudden changes can be caused by mood swings, and stress can also make the Jack Dempsey cichlid dampen its colours. A varied and nutritious diet is also necessary if you want your Jack Dempsey cichlid to display really great colours. Age and health will also affect the coloration of a Jack Dempsey cichlid. If your Jack Dempsey cichlid becomes ill or experience a lot of stress in the aquarium, it can turn much paler than normal and look dull. The dots and bands will be less visible. A healthy, adult Jack Dempsey cichlid will typically feature a strong purple coloration with shimmering spots of blue, green and golden. You can clearly see a dark dot on each side of the body and tail, and the dorsal side features dark bands. If you closely at one scale, you will notice green or yellowish spots against the darker background. In older specimens, these spots will gradually become less visible. Really young specimens on the other hand will not have the purple coloration of the adult Jack Dempsey cichlids. Young Jack Dempsey cichlids are camouflaged by a pale grey or tan coloration, and have bleak turquoise dots. The mature male Jack Dempsey cichlid differs from the female, since the ends of his anal and dorsal fins are elongated and pointy.

The Jack Dempsey cichlid is commercially bred in aquacultures and it is also possible to breed this cichlid in aquariums. It is considered a moderately hard species to breed in aquariums, and breeding Jack Dempsey cichlids will always be extremely aggressive. The Jack Dempsey cichlid will typically reach sexual maturity when it has grown to approximately 7-8 inches (18-20 centimeters). As mentioned above, many aquarists choose to keep the water temperature down in the aquarium to reduce hostile behaviours in the Jack Dempsey cichlid. If you want to spawn your Jack Dempsey cichlids, an increased temperature is however recommended. Breeding Jack Dempsey cichlids should always be kept in their own tank, or in an aquarium divided by glass or net, since the parents are highly aggressive during the breeding period.

picture of juvenile jack dempsey  cichlid
Juvenile Jack Dempsey Cichlid. Copyright www.jjphoto.dk

The Jack Dempsey cichlids will appreciate a breeding site in the aquarium in the form of a flat rock. The female Jack Dempsey cichlid can however deposit the eggs directly in the bottom substrate if there is not flat breeding site around. The adult couple should not be removed from the aquarium when the eggs have been deposited, because they are devoted parents that will care for the eggs. The parents will also dig a pit in the substrate in which they will place the larvae as soon as the eggs hatch. As the fry grows older, the parents will continue to protect them and care for them. The adult Jack Dempsey cichlids will even pre-chew food for their offspring as long as the young ones are too small to eat normal food.

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