Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) – Complete Species Guide

Jack Dempsey Cichlids aren’t that hard to take care of. They have many things going for them. Jack Dempseys are hardy, low-maintenance, tough fish. They’re also very colorful.

Jack Dempsey Cichlid

The characteristic iridescent scales are a pleasure to look at. Their dark black skin makes it stand out more. All sorts of colors, from light blue to a rich gold.

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 was named after a professional boxer.

He was from the US, and he wasn’t just any boxer. From 1919 to 1926, (7 years), he reigned as the World Heavyweight Champion!

This cichlid has robust facial features and is an aggressive fish. Despite the reputation for aggressiveness, they aren’t the most out of all the cichlids.

The story behind the scientific name, (Rocio octofasciata), is as interesting. The genus name, (Rocio) was named after the discoverer’s wife.

Rocio in Spanish means ‘morning dew’. This is likely a reference to the ‘spots’ on the body of the Jack Dempsey.

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).

Putting those two together, you get “eight striped.”

They hail from various countries throughout Central America. Including Southern Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.


Whether accidentally or on purpose, the Jack Dempsey has been introduced to the United States, Thailand, and Australia.

They’re a freshwater fish, but very adaptable. Their usual habitats include slow-moving water bodies. Rivers, streams, and drainage ditches!

Also in canals with sandy or muddy bottoms, and warm and murky swamp areas.

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


These aren’t the most colorful fish. But they make up for it with their unique ‘spots,’ and sparkling scales in a variety of colors.

Here is how to sex a jack dempsey cichlid.

Markings and Colors: The males are brighter in color and patterns than the females. The male sometimes has a black, round spot at the base of the tail, and the center of the body.

In contrast, the female can have a small one on the lower edge of each gill cover. Also one on the dorsal fin. Females always have fewer spots than the male.

The males also have more sparkly scales and red edging around their anal and dorsal fins.

A male has blue spots directly back from the eyes, and no spots near their mouth. A female has blue markings across the whole cheek.

Size and Shape: The males are bigger than the females with a longer and pointier dorsal fin. They also have a bigger head, and a more defined and square jawline.

Behavior: During the breeding season, the behavior, colorations, and attitudes of the fish change. 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.)

When the fish are born, and a juvenile, their coloration is dull. They don’t have any of the spots or sparkly scales Jack Dempseys are known for.

The colors develop slowly, taking a year or more to appear. When the fish matures it becomes vibrant.

They have purple-gray skin, with iridescent scales all over. These come in the colors of light green, blue and gold, varying in their shades.

There are two grey-black bars on their face. These extend from the top of the head to the eyes and are positioned between the eyes. They also have dark bars going vertically across the body.

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

They have a lifespan of 10-15 years.

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


It starts with 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 fish. Six is a good starter, you’re likely to get more couples.

When the breeding starts, it can be a risky time for other fish in the tank. Watch the behavior of the Jack Dempsey Cichlids, especially the males. If they’re too aggressive, step in.

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

If you have a separate tank set up for breeding, put the couple in there. If you don’t, place a divider in the tank.

Jack Dempseys are monogamous, and they mate for life.

Have a clean, flat surface for the fish to spawn and lay their eggs on. Flat rocks, upturned flowerpots, or something similar.

They prefer an enclosed spot.

The process of breeding goes like this. The female lays her eggs on the chosen spot. The male fertilizes the eggs after. The parents dig a pit around the area to hide the eggs from sight.

(It’s essential you don’t have plants near they could accidentally dig up!)

The clutch size depends on the female. On average, the female lays 500-800 eggs. Both parents guard the eggs protectively. The male gets even more aggressive at this point.

The eggs take three-six days to hatch. They’re looked after by the parents, until they can move by themselves. This usually takes another four days. By this time they can eat.

Here are a few foods to consider. Powdered fish food, newly-hatched brine shrimp and food designed for Cichlid fry. When they develop into 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.

#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.

If the male neglects his responsibility, or he’s too excited about it, this may infuriate the female. Usually, nothing happens. However, the parents may eat the eggs and larvae!

If this shows signs of happening, remove the male from.

#2 The female can lay up to 800 eggs. The aquarium may be too small to hold them all. If she shows signs of being overwhelmed, step in.

It 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 other fish. This leaves the female to 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

Plan your tank carefully to avoid problems. They are a medium-sized fish. 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, go with a bigger tank. Many aquarists recommend the dimensions of 4 ft, or if you can manage it, 5 ft.

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 adig into the substrate.

If you like it to look natural, decorate it with bogwood .

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

Place the rocks and ground decor in a way that breaks up the aquarium into territories. Also have vertical structures so they have something to hide behind.

An important note. When you first buy them, they’re quite shy, awkward, and afraid of their new surroundings.

It’s best to introduce them to their tank mates right from the start.

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

Keep the aquarium water clean. It should have no nitrite or ammonia. You can allow some nitrate, but no larger than 40mg in a liter. You can achieve this with the help of a strong, quality biofilter.

Be sure the water is free of harmful nitrogen compounds.

Keep your lighting subduded. They don’t like bright lights.

They’re sensitive to pH instability and pollutants in the water. Restock 15-20% of the water every two weeks.

When you do the water changes, make sure to use a gravel cleaner. This removes the decomposing organic matter.


The recommended range is 72–86 °F, (22–30 °C), with the best temperature being 73-76 °F, (23-26 °C).

PH And Hardness

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 smaller the tank, the more fish, the more the Jack Dempsey will feel cramped. In turn, it’s likely to be more aggressive. 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? They work best with other fish in groups. If you have a pair for breeding, don’t have tank mates.

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

When they are juveniles, they get along well with other South American Cichlids. However, they become intolerant of these fish when they age. If any problems arise, move them into a seperate tank.

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

Goldfish. The relationship works quite well.

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

Kissing Fish. Avoid if you are a beginner, they are an excellent choice. These are peaceful fish, and they eat nearly the same food 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, they are large, and mind their own business.

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


Their diet is omnivorous. 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.

Pellets And Flake Foods. These are great. They don’t seem to mind this kind of food and will accept it happily. Make sure it’s designed for Cichlids and is high quality.

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! 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.

Milled Seafood. Another excellent choice. Prepare it by thawing.

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.)

Overfeeding. Only feed them once a day.

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, 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.

Some of the colorations that are available in the market are Gold, & Electric Blue.

The most common one is called the Electric Blue Jack Dempsey Cichlid. It’s like the original fish. But with vibrant blue for its skin color, smaller, and less aggressive.

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

Sure, it is aggressive. However, it beautiful colors, ease of breeding and maintenance.

Is there something missing from this article, or do you have a question? Let me know in a comment below.

2 thoughts on “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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