When setting up your aquarium, deciding which fish you want to include is one of the most exciting steps. While it is visually attractive to have a range of fish of different colors and sizes, it’s easy to overlook their species’ compatibility with one another which can lead to a horror scene in your aquarium.
Some species of fish should not be kept in a habitat together, and a great example of this is Jack Dempsey and African Cichlids. Combining incompatible species can lead to fighting and even the death of your fish, so it is really important to consider a species temperament before adding it to your tank.
In this article, we’re going to explore the nature of Jack Dempsey and African Cichlids, and exactly why they don’t generally make suitable tank mates. We’re also going to discuss which species are compatible, and how to reduce potential conflict in your tank.
What is a Cichlid?
The term ‘Cichlid’ encompasses any of the over 2,000 species of freshwater fish that are part of the Cichlidae family, including both Jack Dempsey and African Cichlids.
These tropical fish can be found all over the world, but because they generally prefer warmer waters their populations are mostly concentrated in Central America, Africa, and Southern Asia in swamps, slow-flowing rivers, and lakes.
Cichlids are popular aquarium fish due to their incredible variety of colors, interactive nature, and distinct personalities.
Jack Dempsey Cichlids
Jack Dempsey fish are one of the most well-liked and sought-after Cichlids for aquarium enthusiasts due to their bright iridescent colors and large size. Originating in waters flowing through North and Central America, these carnivorous fish can also be found in the wild in tropical freshwaters of Australia and Thailand.
These Cichlids have a notoriously aggressive temperament, which has given them the reputation of being difficult to care for. They are appropriately named after a heavyweight boxing champion, known for packing a heavy punch and being an antagonistic fighter – giving you any idea of their nature.
While Jack Dempsey is generally not recommended for beginners, with the right conditions and expertise these fish can successfully live for up to 15 years. Males generally grow to around 10-15 inches in length, and females will be a little smaller.
The minimum tank size requirement for this species is 80 gallons, and as they can be territorial each fish requires about 55 gallons in terms of space.
African Cichlids – as the name suggests, are originally from Africa, and encompass a diverse range of subspecies, each with its own bright patterns and colors. Similar to Jack Dempsey, these Cichlids have a tendency for aggression and to be territorial.
African Cichlids enjoy a diet of both plants and meat, including algae, insects, smaller fish, and even some fruits and vegetables.
The size of African Cichlids depends on the subspecies, but they do tend to be smaller than Jack Demspeys with males reaching a maximum size of around 6 inches. This means they require less space, and while they do need their own places to hide they can thrive in a 30-50 gallon tank.
Should I keep them together in my tank?
So we’ve established that both of these Cichlid species can be aggressive fish, but can Jack Dempsey live with African Cichlids?
Generally, the answer is no – it is not a great idea to mix these species.
Particularly considering the size difference, a Jack Dempsey is likely to harass, bully and pick on the smaller African Cichlids, who may not be able to defend themselves leading to injury and in some cases, death.
If you happen to get a particularly docile Jack Dempsey Cichlid, the opposite can occur instead – while your African Cichlids are unlikely to kill the bigger Jack Dempsey, they may take to picking at its scales and fins, which becomes painful and can cause a lifetime of misery for the fish being harassed.
With a big enough tank it is theoretically possible to keep these species together, although it is a risk that you will need to consider. Look for Jack Dempsey and African Cichlids that are going to remain a similar size to one another, and give each fish plenty of rocks, caves, and little nooks to hide in.
If you’re combining these species, be prepared to relocate one to a separate tank if necessary.
Are they compatible with any other fish?
For Cichlids in general, compatible tank mates are going to be other species of fish who are of a similar size and nature. This arrangement ensures that the Cichlid is not going to try and eat the other species, and if any aggression does occur, each fish can defend itself from injury.
It is pretty popular to house each species with their own kind – Jack Dempsey living with Jack Dempsey, and African Cichlids living with African Cichlids. They’re generally matched in size and aggression so will often leave one another alone. But of course, it isn’t always this simple and you do have to be wary of adding males to the same tank when it comes to breeding competition.
In the case of African Cichlids, fast-moving and aggressive bottom-dwelling fish such as African Catfish can be a good match for tank mates and will generally be left alone. Fish that like to swim in open water should be avoided, as they will become a snack and have relatively little to defend themselves with.
For Jack Dempsey, matching size and nature is even more imperative, as these carnivorous fish are likely to instantly see smaller species such as Tetra fish as a food source. While it is popular to have invertebrates like shrimp in tropical tanks, their slow swimming means they are unlikely to last long before becoming a snack.
Angelfish, Silver Dollars, and some other Cichlids like Convict and Firemouth species can coexist in a tank with Jack Dempsey, as they can defend themselves against being harassed.
When deciding on the combination of fish species in your aquarium, you need to do your research. While of course, it’s important to ensure that the species have the same pH, salinity, and temperature needs, it’s equally vital to give them the best chance of getting along in the tank.
When dealing with aggressive Cichlids, it is best to find species and fish that are similar in size and are able to defend themselves against their temperamental tank mates. If you’re worried about compatibility, the safest option is to only have a single species in your tank.
Finding compatible species ensures the health and longevity of your cichlids as well as plants and features in your tank, which benefit from peaceful surroundings. Bright and active fish that can coexist go a long way to livening up your aquarium, and giving you an attractive, colorful display for your home.
Hi, my name is Sean, and I’m the primary writer on the site. I’m blogging mostly about freshwater and saltwater aquariums, fish, invertebrates, and plants. I’m experienced in the fishkeeping hobby for many years. Over the years I have kept many tanks, and have recently begun getting more serious in wanting to become a professional aquarist. All my knowledge comes from experience and reading forums and a lot of informative sites. In pursuit of becoming a professional, I also want to inspire as many people as I can to pick up this hobby and keep the public interest growing.
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