Jack Dempsey Cichlid

Jack Dempsey

Family: Cichlidae Jack Dempsey Cichlid, Rocio octofasciata (Cichlasoma octofasciatum)Cichlasoma octofasciatumPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
Latest Reader Comment - See More
Sick Jack Dempsey - Help please Recently I bought a large Jack Dempsey. He had outgrown the tank he had been in. I have several tanks. One has a large Oscar about... (more)  Mark Wheaton

The Jack Dempsey Cichlid is one of the most interesting and beautiful of the American cichlids!

The Jack Dempsey Rocio octofasciata (previously Cichlasoma octofasciatum) is a large and magnificently colored South American Cichlid. It is stocky and compact in shape but can grow to almost 10 inches (25 cm) in length.

A mature Jack Dempsey is a beautiful fish, but It it takes over a year for the full coloration and patterning to develop. The adult will have a dark purple-gray background contrasted with iridescent light blue, green, and gold spangle spots all over its body. Male Jack Dempsey's tend to have more of these brilliant spots than females, and also present bright red edges on their dorsal and anal fins. In addition to the baseline coloring, many captive bred color varieties have also been developed and are available today. One of the most notable and exotic is the Electric Blue Jack Dempsey.

The names of this cichlid, both scientific and common, all have a story. When first introduced to the aquarium hobby this fish was considered quite ferocious, though today it is known there are quite a few other cichlids which are far more aggressive than the Jack Dempsey. However, because of this perceived hyperaggression its common name became "Jack Dempsey" after the 1919 Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. Its genus name Rocio was named after the wife of the describing author, Regan, and its Spanish interpretation means "morning dew," an allusion to the sparkling scales on the cheeks and sides.

This cichlid is a very attractive show type fish. It will do well if provided with adequate space and compatible tank mates. It likes to burrow and have plenty of places to hide, so provide a tank bottom of fine deep sand and use rock and sunken driftwood decoration to form caves and hiding places.In addition, it likes to have a floating cover of live plants to help diffuse direct lighting and to swim among, though it will also tend to pick at and eat any live plants in its tank. Providing it with some lettuce and blanched cucumber can help ameliorate this tendency, however it is still recommended to always keep an eye on the status of any live plants in the tank.

Although the Jack Dempsey is certainly an aggressive fish, it is not nearly as combative or aggressive as some of the more recently identified cichilds, such as the Red Devil. Theycan be kept singly or in large groups, though if you plan on keeping more than one it is easier and safer to keep them in large groups rather than in pairs. If keeping a pair for breeding purposes, it is recommended they be kept in their own tank. They will not tend to do well with other fish and should either be monitored closely in a community tank of similarly sized and aggressive cichlids or kept in a species specific tank.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Geographic Distribution
Cichlasoma octofasciatum
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Cichlasoma
  • Species: octofasciatum
Jack Dempsey

Report Broken Video
Jack Dempsey Cichlids in Lip Lock

Jack Dempsey Cichlids in Lip Lock

Jack Dempsey Fish - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Size of fish - inches: 10.0 inches (25.40 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 86.0° F (22.2 to 30.0° C)
Enter a Freshwater Aquarium
  • My Aquarium - Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Popular Searches

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Jack Dempsey Rocio octofasciata (previously Cichlasoma octofasciatum) was described by Regan in 1903. They are found in North and Central America; Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Yucatan, and Honduras.They inhabit bogs and other slow moving, swampy warm waters, living among weedy areas with sandy or muddy bottoms. They feed on worms, crustaceans, insects and fish.

Rocio octofasciata is the current accepted scientific designation, however the placement of this species is uncertain. It belongs to the Heroini tribe which is awaiting a revision of heroin cichlids traditionally assigned to the cichlasomatin genus. Until the mid 1980's there were some 100+ species that were described under the genus Cichlasoma. But around this time it was determined that they no longer fit in that genus so were moved into their own various genera. Many were left orphaned and are now designated as "Cichlasoma" (with quotation marks) until the scientific community decides what genus to place them in. This allows only true Cichlasoma to remain in this 'corrected' genus, currently comprised of 12 species.

This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

  • Scientific Name: Cichlasoma octofasciatum
  • Social Grouping: Solitary - Keep them either individually, in a large group of the same species in a very large tank, or as a pair in their own tank.
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


The Jack Dempsey is a stocky, compact oval disk shaped fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. These are good sized cichlids that can reach between 8 - 10 inches (20 - 25 cm) in length and tend to live between 10 - 15 years.

Jack Dempsey adults have striking coloring with a dark purple-gray background contrasted with brilliant iridescent blue, green, and gold flecks. Males develop long pointed dorsal and anal fins edged by a red band and may also have a round black spot in the center of the body and at the base of the tail. Females have fewer of the color flecks in the overall body coloration and can have a dark spot on the dorsal fin and another small spot on the lower edge of the gill cover. Juveniles are less brilliant, having a ight gray or tan background with faint turquoise flecks.

If stressed or moody these fish can exhibit great color change in the aquarium, and can also change with age. Stressed fish will be lighter and their spots will be less striking.

  • Size of fish - inches: 10.0 inches (25.40 cm)
  • Lifespan: 15 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Jack Dempsey is an easy fish to care for and a great cichlid starter fish for beginners. They are not demanding when it comes to water conditions and will readily eat a variety of commercially prepared foods. They will do well with other South American cichlids when they are young, but will tend to become aggressive and intolerant of other fish as they age and will likely need to be moved to their own tank.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

Since they are omnivorous, the Jack Dempsey will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake or pelleted foods. They get quite large so they should be fed a high quality pelleted food and large chunk foods such as meat or fish. Be careful to not overfeed warm blooded meat (such as beef and poultry) as the types of amounts of proteins and fats in these foods can be harmful to fish if they are overfeed. Feed such foods, such as the commonly fed beef heart, sparingly and only as an occasional treat.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Jack Demseys can be fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size all need some maintenance. With home aquariums the nitrate and phosphates build up over time and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Because these fish are very sensitive to pollutants and pH instabilty, it is important that at least 15- 20% of the tank water should be replaced bi-weekly, especially if the tank is densely stocked. When doing the water changes always use a gravel cleaner to make sure all of the decomposing organic matter that has built up is removed. The majority of of problems that occur with tropical fish tanks usually come down to one cause, decomposing organic matter.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 50 gallon aquarium is suggested for a a single fish, though a larger tank would be needed if keeping more. They need good water movement along with strong and efficient filtration. Provide a bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. Plants, especially a few floating ones, are appreciated but should be hardy, such as Sagittaria. Place the plants around the inside perimeter leaving an open area in the center for swimming. The plants should be potted or floating to keep the roots from being dug up.

Although the Jack Dempsey can tolerate a fairly wide range of conditions, it has been suggested that warmer temperatures lead to more aggression in this fish. Many aquarists will keep the maximum aquarium temperature below 78° F (26° C) to help quell these tendencies.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 86.0° F (22.2 to 30.0° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 86.0° F
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.0
  • Hardness Range: 8 - 12 dGH
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Jack Dempsey is not considered a good community fish as they get territorial, especially against its own kind and similar species. They also might become more territorial as they age and so may need to be kept individually in a species tank. If keeping more than one, it is easier and safer for them to keep them in large groups rather than in pairs. Jack Dempsey pairs tend to become even more fiercly territorial and aggressive and should not be kept with other fish.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat - is aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor

Sex: Sexual differences

The male has a longer and more pointed dorsal fin than the female. The male may also have a round black spot in the center of the body and at the base of the tail. The female has fewer spots than the male. Females can have a dark spot in the dorsal fin and small dark spot on the lower edge of the gill cover. Jack Dempsey

Breeding / Reproduction

The Jack Dempsey Cichlid has been bred in captivity. They are one of the easiest cichlids to get to spawn but as pairs they can become territorial, intolerant, and biters.

These fish are egg layers. The female will lay 500-800 eggs on carefully cleaned rocks. They form a nuclear family. The fry are kept in pits and are guarded by both the male and female in the manner of "monogamous cichlid" breeders. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate - The additional aggression of paired Jack Dempseys means they will need their own tank for breeding purposes.

Fish Diseases

They are subject to infections as well as other diseases that ail all freshwater fish. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for a few days since they can tolerate higher temperatures. They are prone to the same diseases as discus. Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which use to be called "hole-in-the-head" disease is common with poor water conditions. This looks like cavities or pits on the head and face. It is believed this may be a nutritional deficiency of one or more of: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus. It is thought to be caused by a poor diet or lack of variety, lack of partial water changes, or over filtration with chemical media such as activated carbon.

As with most fish, Jack Dempseys are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria and harmful chemicals. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so as not to upset the balance.


Jack Dempsey are readily available available both online and in fish stores and are inexpensive.


Author: David Brough CFS
Lastest Animal Stories on Jack Dempsey Fish

Mark Wheaton - 2015-04-28
Sick Jack Dempsey - Help please Recently I bought a large Jack Dempsey. He had outgrown the tank he had been in. I have several tanks. One has a large Oscar about the same size or bigger so I thought he would be okay there. Jack was a trouble maker and upset the cichlids and Oscar so I moved him to a smaller tank I had available until I could move my community which inhabited a 45 gal tank and finally made that available to Jack. So, he hopped from 55 gal tank to a 30 to finally his private palace of 45 gallons. We noticed he did not seem happy there so we tried to introduce a couple of barbs to keep him company. He had one for lunch, the other moved. Day after day he seemed to lay in the corner and only come out if there was direct action at his tank. Today my wife said, 'He is sick! Look at him!' My eyes are not the best and I had not noticed but she was right! He has something serious going on. I have had small fish with ich or fungus but not large fish. I am not sure what is wrong with him. Is it ich from the stress of hopping tank to tank? It is not as white as I remember ich to be but it is more spotty than I recall fungus being. It is gray in colour. He scratches his body on the gravel. His back fin is clamped. He tends to lie sideways on the bottom, most of the time. I have good pictures that I could send someone who might know about this. I cannot see that I can post them here. I removed the charcoal and treated the tank with a fungus treatment but I am very concerned that it may not be fungus. Any help would be much appreciated. I picked up ich treatment and am treating for ich as well as replacing 1/5 of the water.

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-04-29
    First on the pictures, you can upload pictures when you add your comments using the Pet Talk Facebook App, but can't if you just post a comment. Your fish probably did get stressed being moved from tank to tank. It happens, and Ich is a very common result of stress. However Ich looks like the fish is sprinkled with salt. Larger spotting or gray coloration may indicate a fungus. There is a product you might try called Fungus Cure, by Jungle Labs. It works great for fungus and a variety of things, including general bacterial and fungal infections.
Dylan Fish Man - 2015-02-22
I am new to the fish world and have a 29 gal. tank and have a jewel a JD and a auratus and the petsmart person did not warn me that JD's are SA any ideas on what to do?

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-02-24
    Your tank is simply to small for aggressive cichlids, and all three of these are highly territorial and aggressive species. The Jack Dempsey can get 8-10 inches, the Jewel can get almost 6 inches, and the Auratus can get over 4 inches.  Just for their sizes you'll need to get them all in larger tanks, even the smaller Auratus needs a minimum sized tank of 50 gallons. They will also be best kept in species specific tanks, or with compatible fish that aren't cichlids. If you'r looking for a community, try some less aggressive ones like Dwarf Cichlids, Goby Cichlids, and some of those from West Africa. Use the 'fish finder' feature to help select compatible fish, but also be sure to read about each type and its needs.
  • Dylan Fish Man - 2015-02-24
    Thanks, but that did not answer my question.
  • Clarice Brough - 2015-02-24
    Okay, sorry about that! Let me try again:) If you're concern is about their habitat requirements other than tank size (with 2 being from Africa and one from South America), the concern is actually the pH level. The Auratus is at one end of the spectrum and the Jack Dempsey at the other, with no common pH, but the Jewel would be fine with either but it's requirements are closer to the Jack Dempsey's. The other water parameters of the tank can be maintain satisfactorily for all 3.


    Jack Dempsey = 72.0 to 86.0° F (22.2 to 30.0° C)

    Jewel cichlid = 74.0 to 80.0° F (23 to 27° C)

    Auratus = 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8° C)


    Jack Dempsey = 6.5-7.0

    Jewel cichlid = 6-8

    Auratus = 7.7-8.6


    Jack Dempsey = 8-12º dGH

    Jewel cichlid = 0-10º dGH

    Auratus = 6-10º dGH

    If you can't keep them and want to return them, most fish stores will take fish back as long as they are not sick or beat up.
  • Dylan Fish Man - 2015-02-26
Stephanie - 2015-02-25
HELP! Just rescued a Jack Dempsey !!!! I just rescued a Jack Dempsey from someone who doesn't know how to take care of animals and he can't keep anything down... I got a brand new tank, water filter new food everything... His last owner only fed him freeze dried krill and kept him in dirty water. I've noticed that he has ick on his face and some missing scales. I've fed him cichlid crisps, pellets, and blood worms. He keeps them down for a few minutes to an hour but them regurgitates everything. He's very egar to eat. I have no idea what to do! So I fed him some of his old food, the krill and he regurgitated that too! I'm going to treat him for ick tomorrow. I've researched 'fish and regurgitation' and I keept getting 'oh you just t feed your fish too much' but I mean obviously I'm not... Please someone help me ),:

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-02-25
    Way to go! you've got a great fish and it sounds like you're doing the right stuff. A clean, well filtered tank, varied diet, and now you're going to treat the infection you're seeing... Ich. I'd say just give you efforts some time to work, and let us know how he does. The best to you both!
janet - 2015-02-20
I bought five young blue Jack Dempseys, very pale blue, about 1 1/2'' long. They are about 6 months old now and although they have about 3% blue, they are mostly black. What type of fish do I real have or what do they need to be more blue. My water temperature was about 74 degrees but in the last month I increased the temp. to 80 degrees. I have been feeding them blood worms and dried shrimp. Every morning when I come in they are happy and let me know they are waiting for their breakfast. All day long, for the most part, they sit on the bottom of the tank. HELP!!!! any ideas

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-02-21
    Well, Jack Dempsey's are known to enjoy just sitting on the bottom of the tank. But just to be sure, you can check your pH levels and possibly add a little salt. Also make sure you offer them a varied diet.
Kent Robinson - 2014-10-17
If, the elec.Blue Jack Dempseys are too delecate to live w/my Oscars--I'd like to know where to buy regular JD?

  • David Brough - 2014-10-19
    Jacl Dempseys are very commonly found at pet stores.
Diane Lapson - 2014-05-24
We have a Jack Dempsey Electric Blue fish who is about 5 years old. He stopped eating over a month ago! And no matter what we do, he won't eat. He must be surviving on algae or some type of protozoa alone. We treated him for Ich and he appears to have 'hole in the head' but he is holding on and we really want to save his life. He has been 'ill' for a long time. We can't get any of our local petshops to take him and heal him. Apparently we don't know how to handle this one.

Does anyone in the New York City area want to take him and see what you can do? You can keep him. We want to make him well and save his life. He obviously has a strong life force because he is still alive after much stress from no eating, medication, etc.

Please respond if you can help. Thanks so much.

Jayson Ratigan - 2012-05-20
So amazing as it seems they say you shouldn't put jack dempseys in anything smaller than a 55 gallon am I correct? Well I started my pair in a 10 GALLON....... I currently have them in a 20 gallon and I am now being forced to upgrade due to my surprise of walking in to feed them and seeing at least 200 fry swimming all over the place in the tank..... I am just hoping they don't decide to go near my filter and get sucked in :D anyone want some fish?

  • Shd - 2012-06-11
    Yeah you use tap water, then the stuff that neutralizes the cornile in the water, just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle. You need to have a filter too. The basic rule for fish is 1 inch of fish per gallon of water, so try not to overfill it. I have a bit over that, I have 10 fish in a 10 gallon tank but one is a algae eater, so he stays out of the way of the others, just stays along the wall. You will need a light and possibly a heater depending on the type of fish you have, they will let you know at the pet store.