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How to Care for Jaguar Cichlids

How to Care for Jaguar Cichlids

The jaguar cichlid, an aggressive species, when provided with plenty of food and swimming room, and when kept with correct tank-mates, exhibits a peaceful temperament. This PetPonder article describes how to raise these cichlids in fish tanks.
Leena Palande
Did You Know?

Jaguar cichlids have the most powerful teeth of all the other cichlid fish. With the canine-like tooth situated at the front, they can kill other species at one go.

The jaguar cichlid, native to Central America, is found in freshwater habitats, especially in warm and turbid lakes. It is commonly found in the Ulua river in Honduras, in lakes, ponds, and springs in Nicaragua, and in the Matina river in Costa Rica. It is used for food in its native lands. Despite being a highly predatory, territorial, and aggressive species, it is one of the most popular aquarium species, because it adjusts to a relatively wide range of water conditions.
The fish has been introduced to various other countries including the U.S., Mexico, and Singapore. Other common names of the fish include Aztec cichlid, Guapote tigre (in Spanish-speaking regions), managuense cichlid, managua cichlid, spotted guapote, and jaguar guapote. The scientific name of the species is Parachromis managuensis.
Jaguar Cichlid Care
As the name suggests, the fish has dark spots like a jaguar cat. In an aquarium, jaguar cichlid can grow up to 35 cm (14 inches). In the wild, 62 cm (24.8 inches) has been recorded as the maximum total length. A large cichlid may weigh as much as 3.5 pounds in the wild. Although large in size, the fish is very agile. It has one nostril on each side. To smell (test) the water, it sucks the water and expels it right back. Younger jaguars have prominent vertical black bars on their skin, while the adults display the 'jaguar' pattern. The weaker, submissive fish are likely to display a very dark coloration, while the relatively aggressive fish usually display a light coloration. You can notice a light blue-green to light purple hue in their silvery skin.

This giant fish typically lives for around 10-15 years in the wild. With proper care and good maintenance, it may live longer.

Water Parameters
➺ pH: 7 - 8.7
➺ Temperature: 77°F - 97°F (25°C - 36°C)
➺ dH range (degree of general hardness of water based on the amount of dissolved calcium carbonate present): 10 - 15 (moderately hardy)

As it eats small fish, a jaguar cichlid should be kept with fish larger than its size. Arowana, oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) red devil, terror cichlids (Cichlasoma festae), carpintis cichlids (Herichthys carpintis or green Texas cichlid), a big catfish or pleco, tinfoil barbs, bala shark (not a true shark), etc., may prove to be good tank mates for jaguar cichlids, provided the tank is big enough, say a 100-gallon fish tank. However, a breeding pair can become very aggressive and can kill even the larger fish. You should choose the tank-mates, taking into consideration the growth rate of jaguar cichlids. Being fast growers, jaguar cichlids are likely to outgrow and kill the green terror cichlids.

What to Feed to a Jaguar Cichlid
This carnivorous fish has a huge appetite. It eats small fish, especially soft-rayed fish. It consumes various invertebrates too. Occasionally, you may feed flake food or tablet pellet to a jaguar cichlid. The young babies can be trained to eat flake food. However, you should mainly incorporate live food in their diet, for example, small fish, shrimp, krill, blackworms, bloodworms, minnows, mealworms, crickets, small frogs, tubifex, ocean plankton, chopped meat, and crayfish, etc. You should provide meaty food to the cichlids everyday.

Difference between Male and Female Jaguar Cichlids
➺ Young male and female jaguar cichlids have several dark bars on their bodies. They can have 2 dark bars just behind their eyes, one running horizontal and the other running diagonally down to the gill cover.
➺ Mature, full-grown males do not display these bars. Instead, they develop a 'jaguar' patterning, evenly distributed over their body and fins.
➺ In contrast, the adult female may or may not have these bars. Females display a line of large black dots across the body.
➺ In the aquarium, males usually grow up to about 16" (40 cm) and females to about 14" (36 cm). The male is larger than the female and generally has more color than a female.
➺ Usually, the females stay lower in the aquarium.
➺ Females are more rounded.
➺ Males have longer and pointed dorsal and anal fins.
➺ The growth rate of a male jaguar is generally higher than that of a female.
➺ During spawning and breeding, the males are more aggressive than the females.

Tank Size and Setting
Before buying a pair of jaguar cichlids, you should prepare the tank properly for breeding, easy care, growth, and even feeding. A huge tank with large filters is essential to maintain the health of these fish. Being large in size, these cichlids are high waste producers. So you should install a good filtration system that would turn over the total aquarium water volume at least once per hour. For a single jaguar, you should have a 125-gallon tank (optimum or the best size). For breeding purposes, you should have at least a 180-gallon tank. A bigger aquarium is in fact recommended (200 gallons or larger). There should be plenty of open swimming room and places to hide (some rocks, caves, and wood). Decor should be kept to a minimum. They can easily knock over decorations. They prefer low lighting. Place coarse gravel at the bottom of the tank. The bottom should not have plants. Being a burrower, the fish will tear up the plants. Any fish that will fit into its mouth should not be kept in the tank. Water should be changed bi-weekly. If this is not possible, replace at least 20-30% of the tank water bi-weekly. If the tank is densely stocked, you should replace the water more frequently. With the help of a gravel cleaner, remove the decomposing organic matter, accumulation of which can lead to health problems. As these fish are likely to damage internal heaters and filters, you should use external equipment. It has been noticed that warmer temperatures lead to more aggression in these fish. So let the maximum aquarium temperature be around 75° to 77° F.

Jaguars become more vicious and aggressive when breeding, so remove all other fish from the tank when the pair is ready to spawn. They might even attack your hand. The male may attack and kill a newly introduced female. A huge breeding aquarium can help the smaller female to escape the attacks of the larger male. The female can produce up to 500 yellow eggs during each spawning. She would deposit her eggs on a flat surface, like a big rock in the aquarium. A single spawn from full-grown (12″) parents can produce 3000 fry! The jaguar cichlids are excellent parents. The male not only fertilizes the eggs but also stays around to protect them. By fanning the breeding site, the female tries to provide fresh and oxygenated water to the eggs. The eggs hatch within 3-5 days. The larvae get nutrition from their yolk sacs and do not need any other food during the first week. Once the yolk sac is consumed (it takes about 7-8 days), the parents start feeding their offspring organic matter. The offspring won't be able to swim at this stage. The parents may shift them to pre-dug pits. They will look after the wrigglers for up to 6 weeks (fry size: 15 mm - 25 mm). After that, parents may start to spawn again. You should shift the fry to another tank at this point (when the babies become free swimming). Otherwise the parents might kill them as they guard the new batch. It is possible that the parents would look after both batches, but then, the older fry might eat the new batch. As the fry grow larger, you can feed them newly hatched brine shrimp, microworms, and/or powdered flake food.

Common Health Problems
Jaguar cichlids may develop common fish diseases like all other freshwater fish. They are subject to infection. Ich or white spot disease (due to protozoa called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) can be treated by raising the temperature of the water to about 80° F. for 3 days. If the fish can tolerate it, raise the temperature up to 85° F. If this does not solve the problem, the fish should be treated with copper (follow the instructions of the manufacturer). Metronidazole works great for intestinal diseases. Feeder fish from pet stores might introduce diseases. Jaguar cichlids are susceptible to skin flukes and other parasitic, fungal, and bacterial infestations. So, cleanliness plays an important role in their health.

Jaguar cichlids can be fun companions for the more experienced fish-keepers. As it is difficult to identify young males and females, one may have to purchase and raise several juveniles to get one or two breeding pairs. To avoid buying siblings, one should purchase the fish from different sources. Interbreeding may generate offspring with genetic diseases. To avoid breeding fish of different age and size, one should buy fish of a similar size.