Jack Dempsey fish (Rocio octofasciata)

Jack Dempsey cichlid (lat. Rocio octofasciata, earlier called Cichlasoma octofasciatum) is a widely spread tank fish within North and Central America. Because of the fish congenital aggressiveness towards its tank mates the USA aquarists have called it Jack Dempsey by the name of the popular professional boxer.

Inhabitance in the wild

The species has got Rocio name by the name of its describer’s wife; in Spanish “rocio” means “dew” and indicates the presence of sparklet-spots in the coloring.

Specific name of the fish “octofasciata” comes from Latin words “octo” (eight) and “fascia” (a belt or a stripe) and it is translated as “eight-striped”.

In fact the fish has definitely more than eight stripes on its body. Jack Dempsey cichlid is native to Central America Atlantic hillside waters. It inhabits all around from the Ulua river (Honduras) to the Papaloapan river (South of Mexico).

The fish may be also encountered in Guatemala, Belize region. Fish was artificially settled into the waters in the USA South (in the state of Florida and some other areas close to the Gulf of Mexico) and Thailand waters.

Shallow rivers with clean water and small spring-fed lakes are the biotopes more common for this fish. However, this species may be also encountered in low flow and even slough waters, which quite often have soft muddy bottom.

The fish that has become naturalized in the USA quite often inhabits in plant-filled channels and water furrows with muddy or sandy bottom.


Rocio octofasciata is a middle-sized Cichlasoma species. Male size is up to 21 cm long (8.27 inch), the female is up to 17 cm long (6.69 inch).

However, in the wild the male isn’t more than 12-15 cm long (4,72-5,91 inch).

Body coloring is olive-drab and when the fish is angry or during its spawning period it gets much darker and becomes almost black. Each scale of the body, its opercles and fins have some sparkling spots on them, which depending on light and the fish state can seem blue, cyan or golden.

Female is colored less brightly. Juveniles have stripes on their bodies, but they aren’t very clear and there are more than eight of them, usually it’s ten or even eleven.

The adult fish has some signs of these stripes on its forehead, back and abdomen, but rich colored adult males have these stripes only on their forehead.

There are some eyespots on the body sides and tail, which are rather clearly seen on juvenile’s body and barely seen on the adult body.

Iris is gray with some bronzy tint. The dorsal is red-edged.

There is also a blue colored species of this fish – it’s widely known «electric blue Jack Dempsey». In comparison with classical fish, blue morf has bright cyan coloring, it has smaller body and it is less aggressive.

From hearsay this unusual kind of Rocio octofasciata is considered to appear as a result of breeding with some other cichlid species, just like flowerhorn appeared.

However, another point of view is considered as more convincing, that this bright blue variation of fish is one of the latest and the most impressive genetic mutations that are observed among tank fishes.

Such variation of fish is much more seldom seen, since to obtain it you have to be good at genetics and some bright colored and high-quality breeders are required for this.


Difficulties in keeping

Electric blue jack dempsey
Electric blue jack dempsey

It’s quite simple to take care of cichlid, since it’s not demanding, so it can be kept by the beginners.

However, you have to keep in mind that this is an aggressive fish that get’s on well with other cichlid species while it’s young, but as the fish grows it becomes more and more aggressive, so then it’s desirable to keep it without any other tank mates or only with large fishes.


This Cichlazoma is a predator, so you should feed is with live feed: brine shrimp, blood worm, tubifex, though thawed and milled seafood will do as well.

However, you shouldn’t forget about plant additives – these may be finely chopped lettuce, cabbage or blowball leaves.

You should treat all of these with boiling water first before giving them to the fish. Feed the fish once a day to avoid overfeeding.

I myself give some of this food to my pets and as for the rest I’ve heard and read lots of good reviews.

Yet, all of the food is of high quality and it is the best one for this fish kind as well as it keeps the tank water clean.

Keeping in a tank

As a majority of Central America cichlids this fish doesn’t have any special requirements as for the tank conditions. Nevertheless, the tank water should be clean, i.e. with zero level of ammonia and nitrite, and nitrate concentration shouldn’t exceed 40 mg/l.

Nowadays, all these can be reached by means of strong biofiltration and regular water renew. Tank size capacity should start from 100 liters (26,42 gallons) for a couple of adult fish.

In fact, this species aggressiveness to a large extent depends on the tank size. In small tanks (up to 250 liters or 66,04 gallons) an adult couple, as a rule, can’t stand any tank mates around, unless it be some catfish or very small fish and juveniles.

In small tanks also there may be fights between the male and female. If this happens, you should immediately take the female away from the tank.

Keeping the couple for 3-6 month together and then for 1.5-3 month or more apart, is considered to be ok if you keep couple in a small tank (in a big tank the female just swims to its other side and usually the male doesn’t chase her).

Also the fish isolation from each other is a way to decrease the number of their spawning, since doing it too often isn’t healthy for the fish, especially for female.

Quite often this species inhabits in rather poor conditions due to their careless owners and seem to show rather high vitality. However, this plainness is rather nominal.

Young Jack Dempsey fish can actually inhabit in tank water polluted with nitrogen compounds, however, very few of the fish live to the age of 4 years old.

Negative influence of toxic substances accumulates and then when the fish becomes an adult it shows in the form of hexamitiasis and other diseases.

Meanwhile, provided with proper care lifespan in a tank is about 7-10 years and more.

When the water temperature becomes lower than 24 °C (75,2 F) the fish tends to stay close to the heater. Therefore, we can consider water temperature 26–27 °C (78,8-80,6 F) as optimal one for fish.

When preparing tank you should foresee the presence of some nookeries in it. Also keep in mind that this fish doesn’t like bright light and it’s more active during half-light period.

However, the main warning when keeping in a decorated tank is the fish “vandalism” towards any tank plants.

In general, it’s possible to put some plants in a tank with cichlids, the fish doesn’t eat them, but it can harm them once it decides that the plants don’t belong here.

Scientific NameRocio octofasciata, Cichlasoma octofasciatum
Common NameJack Dempsey fish, jack dempsey cichlid, dempsey fish, Electric Blue Jack Dempsey
Tank size100 liters (26,42 gallons) and more
Temperature75–81 °F (24–27 °C)
Size17 cm (6.69 inch)


Male is larger, more deep bodied and brightly colored. The body is almost all covered with sparklets. Male genital papilla is antrorse (it has a shape of firing hammer), the female genital papilla looks like upside-down blunted cone.

Another difference, but it’s not a 100% hall-mark, is the presence of cyan spots on bottom side of the female opercles, which the male doesn’t have.

When buying juveniles keep in mind that at the age of about 3-4 month the female is quite often larger than the male one. So, in this case you shouldn’t use the fish size to define its gender.

However, if you take some time to observe the fishes you’ll be able to define it even when the fish is that young.

Males from their early days start showing their territory dependence and protect their nookery by trying not to let other juveniles in it.

When they become aggressive their coloring gets darker, then the female juveniles have. When observing fish “teens” you can define their gender by the pointed dorsal the male has and the rounded one the female has.

However, later both the male and female have a pointed dorsal.

Compatibility and tank mates

In spacious tanks cichlid doesn’t show such an aggression, like they may do in small capacity tanks, therefore you can keep the fish together with other equal-sized cichlid species (convict cichlid, firemouth cichlid, blue acara, green terror).

You shouldn’t keep with any small fishes, since they’ll be eventually eaten, though fish isn’t a complete predator.


In the wild the fish becomes reproductive at about the age of 12 month. As for Jack Dempsey cichlid kept in a tank, they become reproductive at the age of 6 month already. When the fish “teens” are kept together in one tank they create couples themselves.

Forced formation of the couple may be rather troublesome, since males are rather demanding in this respect.

So, if you aim to create the couple not for just one spawning, it’s better to let the male choose his mate on his own from several female “teens”.

This approach is obviously the optimal one in the context of minimization of conflicts inside the couple, since predeterminedly smaller and younger female has more mild nature and behaves correspondingly.

If the dominating female shows aggression and tries to hustle away other female, it’s better to take her away from the tank, because there are high chances that the male will have to choose her.

Jack Dempsey cichlid perform pare spawning on a substrate. The fish may use different subjects as a substrate: large flat stone, flower pot or some section of a tank bottom cleaned from the substrate.

There were also cases when fish just like dwarf cichlids laid their eggs inside their nookery. The fish terribly digs the tank bottom, creates parapets along the tank walls and damages tank plants.

It’s better to get separate tank for fish spawning. If you have a catfish in the tank together with couple, it’s advisable to take the catfish away from the tank for a while, since it may eat the spawn or become the reason of fish fights.

It’s quite peculiar for cichlid to take care of their juveniles, so you won’t need to perform any special actions like taking away ill eggs from the spawn or installing aeration near the nest. The fish do everything on their own. On the contrary, it’s better not to disturb the fish if it’s not necessary.

The eggs grow for 3-6 days (depending on the temperature and other parameters). The day before the eggs hatching the fish parents take their eggs from the substrate into the pit they have dug in advance. Don’t let this confuse you and decide that the fish has eaten their eggs.

There also may be several such pits. In this case the fish hides their eggs several times a day from one pit to another. And if there’s no substrate in a tank, but there are some plants in pots – these will also do for the fish.

The larvae start feeding on their own about 4 days later. Start feed for them may be the following: brine shrimp nauplii or some artificial feed. The fish parents split their responsibilities as for their spawn: the female takes care of the eggs, juveniles and larvae, the male guards their territory.

In the real life this is the reason for conflicts. The female may get angry with the male one because he is taking care of the hatch too eagerly or he is guarding the territory not thoroughly enough. In the worst-case scenario this leads to the fight inside the couple and eating their eggs or larvae.

That’s why it’s better to isolate the male right after the spawning is over or a bit later – when the juveniles start to swim, since he will just make the female nervous with his clumsy actions. Therefore, if there’s no other fish in the spawning tank – there’s no need to protect it.