The Peacock Cichlid Cichla ocellaris is an eye catching show fish for a very large aquarium. Its shape and large size cause many observers to mistake it for a type of bass fish, but it is in fact just a very large and colorful cichlid fish. It presents an olive-green body color which transitions into a yellow-white belly and is marked on the body and back by black blotches and stripes. But it’s the distinctive ocellus or ‘eye spot’ seen on the tail fin that commands the most attention and that gives this fish its name. Reminding the observer of the distinctive tail feather of the male peacock, this tail fin has garnered the fish such common names as Peacock Cichlid, Butterfly Peacock Bass, Peacock Bass, and Eye Spot Cichlid.

To be clear, this fish is not for everyone! It grows to a significant size of around 30″ (2.5 feet or 74 cm) and will require a massive aquarium for optimal health. That being said, this fish is likely a perfect choice for those who want one of the most dramatic cichlids in the hobby. Just like cichlids of smaller sizes, Peacock Cichlids are known for their striking intelligence and ability to attach to their owners, and when they see you come into a room they recognize you. They will beg for food, splash at you for attention, and sprint around their tank to catch your eye. This cichlid is sort of like owning a small dolphin!

They are moderately difficult to care for as they need to be housed in a very large aquarium, a minimum of 70 gallons. They appreciate a bottom of sand or gravel with some rocks and wood for cover along with some flat stones for spawning. They don’t bother live plants, so these can be provided around the inside parameter of the tank while leaving plenty of open space for swimming. Peacock Cichlids are quite adaptable and don’t require any special water chemistry, though they are sensitive to ammonia and nitrites and will need regular water changes.

Because of their size, only juvenile specimens of the Peacock Cichlid are really suitable for the aquarium. They are also territorial and voracious predators, eating anything that fits in their mouth. In the wild they are rapid swimmers but in the aquarium they are more sedate, often lying motionless waiting for prey. Because of their size and temperament they do best in a species tank or with other large South American cichlids.

Interestingly, the Peacock Cichlid is primarily known as a gaming fish. For this purpose they were legally introduced into modified canals and lakes in southern Florida, United States. One positive effect of their introduction has been an increase of both the Largemouth Bass and Redear Sunfish, which are also desirable gaming fish.

Because of their inability to tolerate cold temperatures they are confined to the southern part of those canals. They are unable to expand their range, so the fauna of the Florida Everglades has not been altered to the point of being at risk. However they were also introduced into Lake Gutan in Panama which produced significantly undesirable results, drastically changing the composition of fish populations in that canal. Do not release this or any other fish into a non-native environment as the consequences can be devastating.

Scientific Classification


Peacock Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Expert
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately Difficult
Minimum Tank Size:200 gal (757 L)
Size of fish – inches30.0 inches (76.20 cm)
Temperament:Large Aggressive – Predatory
Temperature:75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8&deg C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Peacock Cichlid Cichla ocellaris was described by Block and Scneider in 1801. They are found in South America in almost all the large waterways of Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia; from the Marowijne drainage, Suriname and French Guiana all the way to the Essequibo drainage in Guyana. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names attributed to them are Butterfly Peacock Bass, Peacock Bass, and Eye Spot Cichlid.

These fish are also raised in ponds as a food fish. They have been introduced (non-native) into waters of Florida and Hawaii in the United States, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Malaysia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Singapore. Their legal introduction as a gaming fish into modified canals and lakes in southern Florida has been quite beneficial, increasing the numbers of the Largemouth Bass and Redear Sunfish for gaming. However their introduction into Lake Gutan in Panama produced undesirable results, drastically changing the composition of fish populations in that canal.

They live in large bodies of water, in the rapids as well as in quiet waters at a medium depth. They form schools and inhabit areas with rocky substrates where they feed on small fish, especially threadfin shad, mosquito fish, tilapia and bluegill.

  • Scientific Name: Cichla ocellaris
  • Social Grouping: Solitary
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Peacock Cichlid is deep-bodied with an elongated oval shape. They are a very large fish, reaching up to 29 inches (74 cm) long and weighing up to 10 pounds. Their large mouths and projecting lower jaws coupled with their large overall size cause them to commonly be mistaken as a bass instead of a cichlid. Older mature males will develop a nuchal hump on their forehead. Their lifespan is variable, but it is believed they can live about 8 – 10 years in the aquarium, possibly longer with good care.

The body is olive-green on the back, fading into a yellowish white color as it comes to the belly. There are three dark bars on their sides with dark spots in-between. The second part of the dorsal has white spots, and those spots are also found on the top part of the tail fin. Their anal, pelvic, and the lower part of their tail fin are red and the rest of their fins are gray or black.

Their most notable characteristics are a large black spot ‘eye spot’, or ocellus, on the caudal fin that is outlined by a silver ‘halo’ and a centrally notched dorsal fin. Mature adults can have a yellow-orange stripe that runs from their mouth to their tail fin. All that, along with a blood red iris in the eye, contrast makes for a attractive fish.

All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common trait of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish – inches: 30.0 inches (76.20 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Peacock Cichlid is not a very good choice for most aquarists because they will require a very large aquarium and quite frequent water changes. These fish get up to 30 inches long and need a great deal of space and are generally quite expensive and time intensive to maintain. Even with a large enough tank there is a lot of work in keeping this fish. They are very sensitive to amonia and nitrate levels which means a lot of water changes! The frequency of water changes coupled with the large size of the aquarium means the owner will need to spend significant amounts of time maintaining this fish. 

If, however, you find that you are willing to put in the time and money into keeping this fish, other aspects of their care tend to be very straightforward and uncomplicated. They are ready eaters and will accept a wide variety of foods, but they must be feed significant amounts of high quality and mostly live foods. Their decorations are not hard to come by and are easy to setup and maintain, though it is recommended that you attempt to hide heaters and filter elements as much as possible behind the decor. This fish is simple when it comes to tankmates: do not have any, or if you do have any, the list of safe potential tankmates is very short and uncomplicated. 

In short, the Peacock Cichlid is only moderately difficult to keep, but does require a very special set of circumstances and a very devout keeper. 

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Expert

Foods and Feeding

The Peacock Cichlid is carnivorous piscivore in the wild that feeds on other smaller fish. They are a pronounced predator and unless captive bred, will heavily prefer live fish as food. Once tamed they may slowly be trained to eat cut fish, other meaty foods, and many prepared and frozen foods.

They get quite large so ideally they should be fed a high quality pelleted food and large chunk foods such as cut up fish, crayfish, and earthworms. They may also accept such foods as bloodworms, tubifex, and ocean plankton. Feeding in smaller amounts several times a day instead of a large quantity once a day will help keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

It was at one time common place to feed cichlids meat from mammals such as beaf heart, red meat and chicken. These foods contain fats that the fish cannot metabolise which accumulate inside the digestive tract and cause blockages organ degeneration. Thus it is recommended to only feed these types of foods as an occasional treat, rather than as a staple. .

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes – When small they can be trained to take flakes.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Most of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Peacock Cichlids are particularly sensitive to ammonia and nitrate levels. 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 sensitive to pollutants and pH instabilty, it is important that at least 25- 30% of the tank water should be replaced 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.

These fish are quite messy eaters and need adequate filtration and a great deal of time to keep their large tanks clean.

  • Water Changes: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

These fish need a lot of room, a minimum of 70 gallons for a juvenile, though over 100 gallons is preferable. Adults will require at least 240 gallons with larger being better. They do fine with moderate water movement and strong efficient filtration. They appreciate a bottom of sand or gravel with some rocks and wood for cover along with some flat stones for spawning. They don’t bother plants, so these can be provided around the inside parameter of the tank leaving plenty of open space for swimming.

These fish require large open areas to swim freely, so the decor should be fairly sparse. A sump style filter and protected inlet/ oulets are a good choice. Make sure to keep other tank equipment like heaters protected as well. These large fish can easily do damage to fragile equipment, so be sure to protect your equipment as much as possible by hiding it behind rocks or other decorations. 

  • Minimum Tank Size: 200 gal (757 L) – 70 gallons is required for a juvenile, but a fully mature adult will require a tank of at least 200 gallons.
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 82.0° F (23.9 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 82.0° F
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 5 – 12 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Peacock Cichlid is voracious predator and will eat anything that fits in its mouth, so keeping it in a species specific tank is recommended. They can be kept singly or as a pair. Like a typical cichlid, they probably would not tolerate another male unless kept in a very large tank. In very large tanks or public aquariums they can be kept with other large South American cichlids, large plecostomus, and other large scavenger fish.

  • Temperament: Large Aggressive – Predatory
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Can get aggressive if tank is too small.
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Threat
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sexual differences

An older mature male will have a nuchal hump on the forehead, but otherwise the sexes are only discernable during spawning.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Peacock Cichlid has been bred in captivity and is raised in ponds as a food fish. They are what is known as a biparental substrate spawner. Being so very large, there are no reports yet on successful tank breeding, but they will spawn in an outdoor pond.

They will generally lay 2000-3000 eggs, with larger spawners laying between 9,000 to 15,000. They lay the eggs on a large flat stone in shallow water and the parents will adamantly guard them in the typical cichlid fashion. They are highly territorial and aggressive when guarding their eggs and fry . The fry will hatch in 78 hours at 82° F (28° C). When they are ready to move on, they enter into open waters. The fry love mosquito larvae (blood worms) and will mature in less than 12 months. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult – Breeding has not yet been accomplished in a tank but is common in ponds.

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 3 days. If that does not cure the Ich, then the fish needs to be treated with copper (remove any water conditioners). Several copper based fish medications are available for Ich. Copper use must be kept within the proper levels, so be sure to follow the manufacturers suggestions. A copper test can be used to keep the proper levels. You can also combine increasing the temperature with an Ich medication treatment. Intestinal disease can be treated with metronidazol.

Large American cichlids are also prone to Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which use to be called “hole-in-the-head” disease. It is common with poor water conditions. It presents with cavities or pits on the head and face. It is believed this disease may be a nutritional deficiency of one or more of: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, and/or 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 the Peacock Cichlids require diligent monitoring. Though very durable, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for 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.

 Cichla ocellaris Dvur zoo (Image Credit: Karelj, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)