Jack Dempsey Cichlid Care Guide: Size, Diet, Feeding, Tank Mates

One of the more well-known freshwater cichlids is Jack Dempsey. These tropical fish are so diverse that they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities. Jack Dempseys are aggressive fish, but with the right guidance, they can thrive in a home aquarium. Here’s everything you need to know about caring for Jack Dempsey cichlids.

Jack Dempsey fish have large oval-like bodies and long fins. Males tend to be bigger and have longer fins. They come in a variety of colors, including gold, blue, or even pink.

Their colors darken when they are mating and lighten when the fish is sick or stressed. Their color also changes based on their age. Young Jack Dempseys are pale with greenish specks. As they age, they develop a purple-grayish color with bright blue or green specks.

Jack DempseyQuick Info
Care Level:Intermediate
Color:Gray with bright specks
Lifespan:8-10 Years
Size:8-12 Inches
Minimum Tank Size:80 Gallons
Tank Set-Up:Tropical freshwater
Compatibility:Aggressive fish of a similar size
Jack Dempsey Fish Care

Tank Size

Jack Dempsey fish need an 80-gallon tank or bigger to thrive. If you plan to keep one Jack Dempsey, a 55-gallon tank will do. Not only are they large, but they are also territorial. They need lots of space to prevent conflict with other fish.

Water Parameters

Jack Dempsey fish live tropical climates and favors water with a pH of 6-7. Water hardness of 9–20 dGH and a temperature range of 22–30 °C (72–86 °F) is best. Use a heater to keep the water temperature stable.


Jack Dempseys are tropical freshwater fish that live in slow-moving and murky freshwater. The water in their natural habitat is warm and a bit acidic, with low visibility. The bottom of the water is usually sandy or muddy with rocks and plants.

To replicate their natural environment in an aquarium, choose a sandy substrate, and add some caves so that the Jack Dempsey fish can create mini territories.

Some live plants can be useful, but they may sometimes uproot or damage them. Don’t place bright lights on the tank because Jack Dempsey fish prefer murky water. Be sure to use a filter that creates a light current.

Jack Dempsey Cichlid Size

Adult Jack Dempsey fish grow to between 8 and 12 inches. Females are a bit shorter in length than males.


Jack Dempsey fish eat anything small enough to fit in their mouths. In the wild, their diet includes frogs, fish, insects, worms, and crustaceans. They also nip at plants from time to time.

To ensure that your Jack Dempsey has a balanced diet, feed it Cichlid flakes, pellets, and frozen/live foods. For instance, besides flakes, Jack Dempsey will eat bloodworms or brine shrimps.

If you can, chopped earthworms and small pieces of fish are ideal. If you have access to crickets, grasshoppers, and fruit flies, Jack Dempsey fish will eat these as well.


The average lifespan of Jack Dempsey fish is 8 to 10 years in captivity. With proper care, Jack Dempsey can live well over 15 years.

Tank Mates

Aggressive fish don’t have many compatible tank mates. But, there are some safe choices. These are the best Jack Dempsey tank mates:

  • Oscar Fish
  • Mbuna cichlids
  • Angelfish
  • Clown Loaches
  • Silver Dollars
  • Firemouth Cichlids
  • Convict Cichlid
  • Rainbowfish
  • Cave Tetra
  • Green Terror

The above tank mates are either of a similar size or have the same aggressive behavior as Jack Dempsey fish. So, they can’t eat each other, and they can all fend for themselves.

If you want to keep only Jack Dempseys in an aquarium, do not keep more than one male in the same tank. Species-only tanks work best with one male and female Jack Dempseys.

Avoid keeping freshwater snails or freshwater shrimp in the same tank as Jack Dempseys as they will attack and eat the smaller crustaceans. Unless, of course, you’re using the crustaceans as feeders. For instance, you can raise ghost shrimp to feed to your fish.

Things To Consider


Jack Dempseys are easy to care for once you get used to their aggressive traits. To avoid aggression, make sure that the aquarium dimensions are large and that they are lots of hiding places. Keep the water conditions ideal and make that the fish are well-fed. Jack Dempseys have simple care requirements.


Jack Dempsey fish are aggressive. They are not suitable for beginner aquarists to keep. Male Jack Dempseys like to mark territories and will chase away other fish. A tank with lots of cave decorations or live plants for them to hide away and call home helps to reduce conflict.


Jack Dempseys get darker in color when they want to mate. Once water conditions are ideal, males will begin to court females. Females give preference to larger males.

Once they mate, a female can produce up to 500 eggs. They deposit eggs on flat surfaces, and the eggs hatch after three days.

Jack Dempsey fish care for their young and will protect them until they mature enough to defend themselves.
But, if the parents are not well-fed or stressed, they can start to eat the young. So, keep an eye on the tank if your Jack Dempsey successfully breeds.