Tough Little Guy With Iridescent Scales – Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) – Complete Species Guide

Jack Dempsey Cichlids aren’t that hard to take care of. (They’re not, say, Goldfish or Kissing Fish.)

They have many things going for them.

Jack Dempsey CichlidJack Dempseys are hardy, tough fish, that are low-maintenance. Not only that, but they’re colorful and reasonably priced.

The characteristic iridescent scales are a pleasure to look at. Moreover, their dark black skin makes it stand out even more. They are covered all over with these scales, in all sorts of colors, from light blue to a rich gold.

If you’re thinking of having a Jack Dempsey Cichlid, (or a few) as a pet. Or have one and are looking for more information, or you’re curious, you’ve come to the right place! We have everything on the Jack Dempsey Cichlid right here, so read on.

Table Of Contents:

Jack Dempsey Cichlid Care, Tank Mates, Fully Grown

Basic Facts

Name: Jack Dempsey Cichlid

Scientific Name: Rocio octofasciata

Group: Freshwater

Size Of The Fish: Medium

Temperament: Aggressive – Territorial

Aquarium Size Required: Medium

Where It Swims: Middle To Bottom Area

Care Difficulty Rating: Easy

Good Paired With: Other Jack Dempseys, Catfish, Goldfish


The Jack Dempsey Cichlid. As soon as we heard the name for the first time, one of us mused, “That’s got to be named after a human.” When we were doing the research, it turned out we were right. The Jack Dempsey in question was a professional boxer.

He was an American, and he wasn’t just any boxer. From 1919 to 1926, (7 years), he reigned as the World Heavyweight Champion! The Cichlid named after him has robust facial features and is an aggressive fish. So, they are named after him.

Despite the fish’s reputation for aggressiveness, they aren’t the most out of all the cichlids.

When it comes to the story behind the scientific name, (Rocio octofasciata), it’s as interesting. The genus name, (Rocio) was named after the author who wrote about the genus’s wife. The meaning of Rocio in Spanish means ‘morning dew’. This is more than likely a subtle reference to the ‘spots’ that sparkle in sunlight on the body of the Jack Dempsey.

(These ‘spots’ are scales, with different colorations on the skin.)

The other part of the scientific name, (octofasciata, the name of the individual fish). Supposedly comes from the Latin words “octo” (meaning eight) and “fascia” (meaning stripe or belt). So, putting those two together, you get “eight striped.” (Actually, often, they have a lot more stripes than that!)

They hail from various countries throughout Central America, (as the Firemouth Cichlid does.) These countries include Mexico, (the southern area and the Yucatan Penisula). Also, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.


That isn’t their only habitat in the wild. Whether accidentally or on purpose, the Jack Dempsey has been introduced to the United States, Thailand, and Australia. (In Thailand, the fish are Mexican Blue Frontosas.)

They are a freshwater fish, but very adaptable, as they live in lots of conditions and habitats. Some of their usual habitats include slow-moving water bodies. Such as rivers, streams, and even drainage ditches!

They can also be found in canals with sandy or muddy bottoms, and swamp areas, that are warm and murky. Sometimes, they appear in water with a slow flow of water, usually with a muddy bottom.

Large Jack Dempsey Taken By @maidenheadaquaticssummerhill - Everything you needed to know about Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Jack Dempsey Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Large Jack Dempsey thanks to @maidenheadaquaticssummerhill on Instagram



Jack Dempsey Cichlids are not the most colorful fish. But they make up for it with their unique ‘spots,’ and scales that sparkle in a variety of different colors.

As with many species, all across the animal kingdom, it can be difficult to determine the sex of the individual. Here are a few pointers to help you.

Markings and Colors.

The males of the Jack Dempsey Cichlid are brighter in color and patterns than the females. The male sometimes has a black, round spot at the base of the tail, and in the center of the body. In contrast, the female can have a have a small one on the lower edge of each gill cover. She can also have one on the dorsal fin.

Remember, regardless of the quantity and location of the spots on the fish. Females always have fewer spots than the male. The males also have more sparkly scales; they are more brilliant in color. They also have red edging around their anal and dorsal fins.

There is a stark difference in the cheeks, too. A male has blue spots directly back from the eyes, and no spots down near their mouth. A female has blue markings across the whole length of the cheek.

Size and Shape: Like many Cichlids, the differences in sizes and shapes of the sexes are minimal. But if you know what you’re looking for, you can usually discover the sex. As usual, the males are bigger than the females. They also have a longer and pointier dorsal fin. Another difference is they also have a bigger head, and a more defined and square jawline.

Behavior: When they are juveniles, it’s nearly impossible to tell their sex. However, even before they are mature, some males are aggressive to others in the tank. During the breeding season, the behavior, colorations, and attitudes of the fish change. So this is an excellent time to discover the sex of your fish.

Males become much brighter and more vibrant. They also become much more aggressive and territorial than usual. Females sometimes change color too. When she is feeling frisky, sometimes she becomes very dark. The blue specks on her gills and jaw become brighter.

A beautiful Jack Dempsey Cichlid taken by @kevinmeeki
A beautiful Jack Dempsey Cichlid taken by @kevinmeeki

(Even if after you’ve followed all the pointers listed above, and you still can’t tell, ask your local vet or expert. That should clear up the problem.)

When the fish are born, and right through being a juvenile, their coloration is dull. They don’t have any of the spots or sparkly scales that Jack Dempseys are so easily recognized by. In fact, the colors develop quite slowly, taking a full year or more to appear. When the fish matures is the time it becomes vibrant.

They have purplely-gray skin, with iridescent scales that are present all over the body. These come in the colors of light green, blue and gold, which all vary in their shades. That is their natural coloration. But there are a few other variations that have been developed by breeders, which we talk about here.

One of the main features that distinguish them from other cichlids is two grey-black bars on their face. They extend from the top of the head to the eyes and are positioned between the eyes. They also have a series of dark bars going vertically across the body.

These fish are known to have changes in their color, due to many factors. Their colors change when they age. If they get stressed, they become paler, and their spots and markings are less vibrant. Of course, the male’s colors become brighter during the breeding season.

The Jack Dempsey is a medium-to-large sized fish, which grows to a maximum of 10″, but the range is 8-10″, (20-25 cm). They are usually smaller in the wild than they are in the home aquarium

They have a lifespan of 10-15 years, which is quite long for a fish!

Jack Dempsey Cichlid Taken By @jeans_zoo - Everything you needed to know about Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Jack Dempsey Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Thanks to @jeans_zoo on Instagram for this Photo of am Amazing Electric Blue Jack Dempsey



So, let’s move on to how Jack Dempseys go about the business that keeps their species alive and kicking. You know what we’re talking about, reproduction. Here we explain the processes which they go through, and how to breed them successfully.

It starts, (as with many fish), with the beginning of the breeding season. In the wild, it begins when the temperatures get warmer. If you are planning to breed them, it’s best to have several of the fish. Six is a good starter, as you’re likely to get more couples.

When the breeding season starts, it can be a bit of a risky time for the other fish that live in the tank. Make sure you watch the behavior of the Jack Dempsey Cichlids, especially the males. If they’re getting too aggressive, make sure you step in.

The males’ colors brighten, and their behavior becomes territorial. This is the time when they begin to pair off. If you don’t have that big a tank, make sure the pair isn’t bothering the fish in the aquarium. If they are, you need to separate the couple from the others.

There are two methods for doing this. If you have a separate tank set up for breeding, put the couple in there. If you don’t have that, placing a divider in the tank is a good idea too.

(Like other Cichlids, Jack Dempseys are monogamous, and they mate for life.)

Make sure you have a pre-cleaned, flat surface for the fish to spawn and lay their eggs on, as that’s what they do in the wild. Flat rocks, upturned flowerpots, or something similar is best. They also prefer an enclosed spot, so have something there that makes it protected.

The process of breeding goes like this. Jack Dempseys lay eggs, and the female lays her eggs on the chosen spot. The male follows after, fertilizing the eggs as he goes. Once the eggs are laid, the parents dig a pit around the area to hide the eggs from sight.

(Because of this, it’s essential you don’t have any plants near that they could accidentally dig up!)

As usual, the clutch size depends on the female. However, on average, the female lays 500-800 eggs. Both parents will guard the eggs protectively. Which is why, again, we stress the importance of keeping them away from other fish! The male gets even more aggressive at this point.

The eggs take around three-six (it depends on the depends on the temperature and conditions,) days to hatch. Then they are looked after regularly by the parents. Until they become fully mobile in another four. This is around the time they start being able to eat.

When this happens, here are a few foods to consider feeding them. Powdered fish food, newly-hatched brine shrimp and food designed for Cichlid fry are right foods to give them. When they develop into bigger juveniles, you can feed them the same food you give your adults.

Breeding Problems And Solutions

Jack Dempseys are easy to breed, but a few problems can arise. Here, we list them and give you solutions on how to prevent and fix them.

#1 When the fry hatch, the parents split the jobs. The male looks after the territory, keeping everyone safe. The female tends to the unhatched eggs, the larvae and juveniles. It seems a good idea, but sometimes, problems can arise.

If the male is neglecting his responsibility, or he’s too excited about it, this may infuriate the female. Usually, nothing happens. However, the worst thing that could happen is the parents may end up eating the eggs and larvae! That would ruin their (and your) hard work.

There’s no point waiting around to see if the problem will cool down or escalate. If it shows signs of rearing its ugly head, remove the male from the breeding site. Because, if you’ve put up the divider or they’re in another tank, there’s nothing to guard against.

#2 The female can lay up to 800 eggs. If you have a small tank, the aquarium may be too small to hold all the hatchlings. The female may not be able to look after them all. It could cause a strain on her. If she shows signs of being overwhelmed, now is the time to step in.

This method may seem cruel, but it’s the best thing you can do. Take 50% to 70% of the fry out of the tank. You can use them as live food for your other fish. This leaves the female with much less strain. She can concentrate on the remaining hatchlings.

Despite all this, Jack Dempsey Cichlids are attentive parents. They look after their offspring well.

Jack Dempseys Cichlids Taken By @rivers.2.reefs - Everything you needed to know about Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Jack Dempsey Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Thanks to @rivers.2.reefs on Instagram for this Photo of a Jack Dempsey With Gold Stripes


Looking After Your Jack Dempsey Cichlids

Jack Dempsey Cichlids aren’t that hard to take care of. (They’re not, say, Goldfish or Kissing Fish.) They’re an excellent choice for beginners, but not as easy as the Firemouth.

They have many things going for them. Jack Dempseys are hardy, tough fish, that are low-maintenance. Not only that, but they’re colorful and reasonable prices.

Planning your tank carefully is optimal for reducing problems. For both the Jack Dempseys and other tank mates. They are a medium-sized fish, so you don’t need a huge tank. 55 gallons is a good starting point, as it gives them plenty of space. The bigger the area, the less likely they are to be aggressive.

However, if you have lots of fish in with them, you’d want to go with a bigger tank. Having many fish there can make them feel cramped, and you don’t want. Many aquarists recommend the dimensions of 4 ft, or if you can manage it, 5 ft.

When deciding on the decor, we have mentioned a few good ideas in this post. But here is as much information as we could find. Remember, you want decor that is practical, makes the fish feel comfortable and looks nice. (If you’re into that sought of thing.)

Rocks, both flat and those that form caves and hidey-holes are integral to your tank. Make sure you place the stones first. Jack Dempsey Cichlids are known to dig into the substrate, so put them first to avoid the rocks falling. If you like it to look natural, decorating it with bogwood is ideal.

With plants, you need tough, hardy ones that either grows on the bottom or are floating. Try not to have too many, as it could clutter up the tank. Ideal ones that grow on the bottom are Anubias or the Java Fern.

Make sure you place the rocks and ground decor in a way that breaks up the aquarium into territories. So, the Jack Demspeys can establish themselves. Make sure you have vertical structures, so they have something to hide behind.

An important note. Despite everything, we’ve said about how aggressive Jack Demspey Cichlids can sometimes be. When you first buy them, they don’t live up to their name. No, seriously. They are quite shy, awkward, and afraid of their new surroundings.

Like any person who gets a new job or a job for the first time. Come on, admit it. You were scared, weren’t you?

They can be skittish when they’re like this, so you need to treat them with caution. It’s best to introduce them to their tank mates right from the start. (Don’t put them on their own first, if you delay this, it may come as a bigger shock.)

When you introduce them, make sure the lighting isn’t too bright, and there are places for them to hide.

Electric blue Jack Dempsey Cichlid - Taken By - @cichlid_obsession on Instagram - Everything you needed to know about Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Jack Dempsey Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Thanks to @cichlid_obbession on Instagram for this Photo of a Beautiful Electric Blue Jack Dempsey

Conditions Of The Tank

On the spectrum of non-adaptable to entirely flexible. Jack Dempsey Cichlids are veering towards altogether flexible. They don’t need super-specific conditions. But making sure the conditions are right is essential.

Make sure you keep the aquarium water clean. It should have no nitrite or ammonia in it. You can allow some nitrate to be in there, but the amount can’t be larger than 40mg in a liter. You can achieve this with the help of a strong, quality biofilter.

Also, be sure that the water is free of harmful nitrogen compounds. Though Jack Dempseys seem to be able to live with it, they tend not to live for very long.

Another critical thing to remember is to keep your lighting not too bright. They don’t like bright lights.

Like Peacock Cichlids, these fish are sensitive to pH instability and pollutants in the water. Exposed to these for too long, it could cause problems for the fish. The simplest way to solve this is to restock the water every two weeks. 15-20% is the desirable amount.

It becomes even more critical if the tank has much fish in it. When you do the water changes, make sure to use a gravel cleaner. This removes the decomposing organic matter, which is critical to do if you want to keep the fish healthy.


Jack Dempsey Cichlids are from Central America, and their habitats have a tropical climate. Because of this, the optimal temperature range is that of a warm one. The recommended range is 72–86 °F, (22–30 °C), with the best temperature being 73-76 °F, (23-26 °C).
PH And Hardness

Jack Dempsey Cichlids are quite flexible when it comes to water conditions. However, keeping the pH and hardness in a specific range is essential. The pH: 6-7; the hardness, 9-20 dGH.

Jack Dempsey cichlid Taken By @ourfishtank - Everything you needed to know about Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Jack Dempsey Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Thanks to @ourfishtank on Instagram for this pic of their Jack Dempsey


Suitable Tank Mates

The name of the fish comes from a heavyweight boxing world champion. You’re probably going to think that the Jack Dempsey Cichlid is like a local heavy! Rest assured, it is aggressive, yes, but it’s not going to be the terror of the fish tank.

Now, in saying this, you must be careful about which fish you place with your Jack Dempsey Cichlids. If you don’t, quite a few problems can, (and probably will), arise.

First, we’ve listed as many pointers, tips, and tricks to keeping your tank a smooth experience for all inhabitants. Then, we’ll list the suitable tank mates.

(FYI: Don’t panic, but sometimes they have been known to eat smaller tank mates.)

The first thing to take into account is the size of your tank. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the tank, the more fish, the more the Jack Dempsey will feel cramped. In turn, it’s likely to be more aggressive. So, if you’re planning on tank mates, make sure you have a big tank.

Second, is how many Jack Dempsey Cichlids you are planning to keep. When in groups, is the time they work best with other fish. If you have a pair for breeding, don’t have tank mates.

Third, is the qualities of the fish that you choose for tank mates. They should be larger than them, and also have a peaceful/non-aggressive temperament.

Now we’ve taken those things into account, here are the best tank mates for Jack Dempsey Cichlids.

When they are juveniles, they get along quite well with other South American Cichlids. However, they will more than likely become intolerant of these fish when they age. If any problems arise, it’s best to move them into a seperate tank.

Other Jack Dempseys Cichlids. This one’s a no-brainer. These fish are comfortable with their species.

Goldfish may come as some surprise, but yes, these are a tried and tested companion. The relationship works quite well. Make sure you choose a bigger goldfish, and also a ‘common’ one, not a ‘fancy’ one. Common goldfish, for example, a koi, get to 14″, so they’re big fish.

Other Types Of Cichlids are an excellent way to go. Sometimes, housing Cichlids with others can be problematic. But not if you choose the right species. If you have a big enough tank, it will be easy-going for all of them.

Recommended species would be Firemouth Cichlids, Acaras Cichlids, Green Terrors, and Oscars.

Kissing Fish. This would be one to avoid if you are a beginner, but if you feel you can, Kissing Fish would be an excellent choice. These are peaceful fish, and a bonus is they eat nearly the same food that Jack Dempseys do.

Banded Corydora, also known as bearded catfish, reach around 4″ inches in length. This, along with its temperament, and ease of feeding, make it a good choice if you’re a beginner.

Catfish are a good idea, as they are large, and tend to mind their own business.

Iridescent Jack Dempsey taken by @prathambenke
Iridescent Jack Dempsey taken by @prathambenke


Jack Dempseys are tough and hardy fish and are some of the less fussy eaters in the fish world. Their diet is omnivorous; they dine upon a multitude of different sources. In the wild, they eat crustaceans, other fish, insects, worms, and plant matter.

These fish will thrive if fed a carefully chosen and varied diet. If you do this, it has even been known to increase their lifespan. In general, Jack Dempsey Cichlids will eat all kinds of foods in the home aquarium.

When planning to keep them as pets, there are a few foods to consider.

Pellets And Flake Foods. These are great, as they have been designed uniquely for fish in mind. They don’t seem to mind this kind of food and will accept it happily. As always, make sure it’s designed for Cichlids and is high quality.

Meat, is good, but always in moderation, as too much of it could make them sick. They can eat it raw, make sure it’s cut into sizable chunks. Fish or meat from the animals humans eat is the best choice.

Live Foods, such as bloodworm, tubifex and brine shrimp should often be offered. They should be a staple in the diet of your fish.

Don’t Forget Plant Material! After all, they are omnivores, and the other part of their diet should be filled. Finely chopped, foods like blowball leaves, cabbage, and lettuce should be sufficient.

Other Options To Consider

Frozen Food. If you don’t have access to live foods, or they are out of your budget range, these are a good option. Frozen versions of the live feed mentioned above are good. Of course, these can be offered alongside the live alternative.

Milled Seafood. Another excellent choice. Prepare it by thawing; your fish are sure to appreciate it.

Things To Avoid

Warm-Blooded Meat isn’t good for them. By ‘warm-blooded,’ we mean meat such as beef and chicken. This is because the amounts and types of proteins in this meats aren’t good for them. They can’t digest it properly, so it can make them quite sick.

(FYI: Many people talk about offering beef heart to Jack Dempsey Cichlids often, but this isn’t a good idea. Beef heart is high in proteins, so should only be provided for a treat. Don’t make it regular!)

Overfeeding. Feed them once a day to avoid this problem.

Jack Dempsey Cichlid Taken By @monstertankfish - Everything you needed to know about Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Find out how to keep your Jack Dempsey Cichlids happy and healthy. | Contented Fish
Thanks to @monsterfishtank on Instagram For this Photo of a Colorful Jack Dempsey

Popular Types Of Jack Dempsey Cichlids

Though the Jack Dempsey Cichlid is one species, it has been in the Aquarium trade for a long time. Some breeders and other aquarists have developed different Jack Dempsey Cichlids. Ones that don’t have the usual coloration that the regular fish does.

They have been bred to have vibrant and wildly colorful, and they are quite popular to keep as pets.

Some of the colorations that are available in the market are Gold, Electric Blue, Pink. It’s unclear why the Pink fish is advertised as one. It carries traits and colorations from both of the former options.

The most commonly known one, (that you may have heard of), is called the Electric Blue Jack Dempsey Cichlid. It’s like the original fish. But it has a vibrant blue for its skin color, is smaller, and less aggressive.


The Jack Dempsey Cichlid. It has such a reputation, after all, it was named after a boxer. However, this seemingly rough and ready fish houses a secret.

Sure, it is aggressive.

However, there are the beautiful colors, ease of breeding and maintenance. It will keep this fish firmly within the choices of many fish-keepers to come.

If you found this helpful, then excellent! You can help other people find this resource by sharing it on social media, and telling your friends. If you have any tips, recommendations or suggestions that somehow weren’t mentioned in this list, please, by all means, share them in the comments. Thank you for reading.

2 thoughts on “Tough Little Guy With Iridescent Scales – Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) – Complete Species Guide”

    • Hi William. Each fish is different and may respond better to different types of food. Feeding your jack dempseys worms is a good option, experts recommend the best ones to feed them would be bloodworm or tubifex. They can be live or frozen depending on what you can get. Let me know if this helps.


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