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Jack Dempsey Cichlid – Rocio octofasciata

Jack Dempsey Cichlid - Rocio octofasciata

Is the Jack Dempsey Cichlid suitable for a community aquarium?

The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) should be considered to be an excellent community fish assuming that the community is one of non-aggressive, non-predatory species that are too big for the Jack Dempsey Cichlid to eat. The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is also very territorial when spawning so, at these times, vigilance is required.

What is the history of Cichlids?

Cichlids are a very ancient and extensive classification of fishes dating back millions of years before, for example, dinosaurs. Cichlids probably originated around 550 million years ago (give or take a month or two 😀) and there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 to 3,000 different species, of which around 1,700 have been classified (at the time of writing).

Cichlids can make excellent community fish but you should take care because not all Cichlids are good community fish and may devastate an established aquarium, treating their tankmates as food, so before choosing a Cichlid, please ensure that you know whether or not your choice will be appropriate to your needs.

What are the key facts about Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Jack Dempsey Cichlid – also known as:
Mexican Blue Frontosa
Scientific nameRocio octofasciata
Originate fromMexico and Honduras in Central America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid if kept as an adult pair but they will be territorial at spawning times
Colour & FormTorpedo-shaped body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 10 years
Adult sizeUp to 10 inches – Male larger than female
DietOmnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms, flakes and pellet food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size48 inches in length or greater for an adult pair
Compatible withMost other species that are too big to eat and are not likely to challenge for territory.
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species in too small an aquarium and fish that may be small enough to eat.
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp72 – 86 Fahrenheit
Water pH6.0 to 7.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)9 to 20 dGH

From where does the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) originate?

Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) originates in Mexico and Honduras in Central America. It has been introduced elsewhere including the United States, Australia and Thailand (where it is commonly known as the Mexican Blue Frontosa) but, as always I advise against introducing non-native species into local waters, as to do so can destabilize that established, natural habitat.

It is usually found in nature in slow-to-moderate-flowing streams and swampy areas that might be quite turbid (muddy), on the margins of larger rivers, in marshland, in spring-fed ponds and also in lakes but seldom, if ever, in stagnant water. It has also been found in drainage ditches and canals.

What are the basic characteristics of the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

  • Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) will grow up to around 10 inches in length in the aquarium (but will generally reach six to eight inches) – the males will generally grow to be larger than the female. In young fish, it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes so if you are purchasing young fish then buy half-a-dozen and you should have a mix of the sexes. 
  • The adult male of the species tends to have a more vibrant color than the female and will grow to be larger than the female. The extended dorsal fin of the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) has an elongated upper tip at the rear. The extended, pointed dorsal and anal fins are usually found in males whereas those fins in the female are shorter and more rounded at the tips. The adult female will also have a visible ovipositor (egg duct) just in front of the anal fin if spawning.
  • Under the eyes, the iridescent blue marking do not extend to the bottom of the gill plates whereas, in the female, the cover the gill plates.
  • “Octofasciata” is concatenated Latin, where “octo” means eight and “fasciata” means band.  Thus, the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) has eight, vertical bands along its body behind the gill plates to the end of the caudal peduncle.
  • At spawning times and at times when (particularly) the male is in an aggressive mood, the eight, vertical, grey bands along the body become more-or-less black.
  • The lifespan of Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is around eight to ten years but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.
  • Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) prefers fairly soft, acidic water, often described as “blackwater” with plenty of dissolved tannins, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 and a temperature range between 72 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and from 9 to 20 dGH. All of that said, captive-bred specimens have, over many generations, become accustomed to your local water conditions so these technical details are a guide and not a rule. That said, Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) will thrive well in mature water and will suffer if water conditions are not maintained.
  • Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) enjoys slightly acidic water conditions so it will be comfortable with other species of similar size that prefer this type of water chemistry.
  • As the male Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) has elongated finnage it is advised to avoid keeping them in company with any fin-nippers. Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata), being Cichlids, will defend themselves and, especially in respect of smaller fin-nippers, they are likely to retaliate with prejudice.
  • It is generally felt to be inadvisable to include guppies in the same aquarium or any small species that the Jack Dempsey Cichlid can fit in its mouth.
  • It has been suggested that the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is less aggressive in a well-populated aquarium, where it cannot establish a significant territory merely because of the presence of many other fishes.
  • Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) will generally dwell near the bottom of the water column and will enjoy a fine substrate, as it is something of a “sifter” when feeding in that it will take in a mouthful of the substrate and sift out any food, expelling the remaining substrate. The term for this is, “geophagus,” which translates (from its Greek origin) to “earth-eater”.

What is the physical appearance of Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) has a relatively squat, body in profile and is quite broad when viewed from above or from the front. The body of the adult male has a blue/black color with silver/blue highlights on the scales and on the fins, which tend to give it a pearlescent quality. Often the female will hace a more tan-colored body color, paler than that of the male. From its mouth, below the eyes, the male Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is a dark blue color running to the back of the gill plates, whereas the female has the iridescent blue coloring over the entirety of the gill plates. At breeding times, the coloring of the male will become much more vivid.

A few more characteristics may be described as follows:

  • There are eight vertical, grey stripes starting behind the gill plates and ending at the rear of the caudal peduncle. Whilst normally quite indistinct, at spawning times, particularly in the male, they become virtually black and are wider than the underlying body color between them.
  • The scales have an iridescent silver-blue coloring along the body
  • The fins (with the exception of the pectoral fins, which are clear (hyaline)) have the same dark blue coloring and regular, iridescent silver-blue marking along the rays.
  • The lips of the fish are well defined and are noticeably thick.
  • The dorsal and anal fins are elongated in the male, in particular.
  • The ventral fins are elongated and extend as far back as the front of the anal fin..
  • The anal fins are similar in color to the dorsal fin and, like the dorsal and anal fins, is somewhat elongated.

The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is a medium-large-sized Cichlid. It has an extended dorsal fin. The fins of the male can tend to be longer than those of the female. It is advised not to include this species with known fin-nippers.

What is the living environment for Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

  • Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is another “star-of-the-show” species so a well-planted tank is beneficial to its tankmates so that the sightlines are broken up. 
  • As a dominant species, it is advised not to keep small species with the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata). The general rule is only to keep other species that are too big to become meals.
  • The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) loves shade will appreciate floating leaves and pretty well any broadleaf will assist the condition of the tank, as not only do such leaves provide shade but also, as they decompose, they provide infusoria for any fry in the tank. This also helps adults to determine that breeding conditions are good because they will appreciate the fact that there is a ready source of food for newly-hatched fry.
  • The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) loves to hide away in caves. These may be formed using rocks and/or half of a large terracotta plant pot. The male Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) may claim a particular cave and guard it against potential trespassers, thus establishing a base for his territory.
  • Note that the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) will generally mate for life and they will make good parents for the brood that they are rearing – the female will tend to care for the brood whilst the male will protect the territory..
  • It is recommended that Jack Dempsey Cichlids (Thorichthys meeki) are kept as a small shoal until two form a breeding pair, after which, the remainder should be moved to a different tank. The male, in particular, can be very territorial but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general. 
  • When purchasing Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) it is generally recommended to buy around six fish. It may be impossible to sex the fish when purchasing them as immature specimens but, in due course, they will find their own mate and are, from that point, both monogamous and biparental.
  • Having a clear, broad area of a fine substrate will protect the elegant finnage of your Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata).
  • Your tank should include rocks (and/or slate) with a smooth surface on which the female will lay her eggs. Since the eggs are adhesive, a half-terracotta pot may suffice or, perhaps, some slate. The female Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) may even lay her eggs on the glass on the bottom or on the side of the aquarium.
  • Overall, the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is the most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

What is the diet of Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) is primarily omnivorous and has a preference for live food, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia is recommended and Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)  will readily eat pelleted food and flake food. That said, they prefer to stay close to the bottom of the water column and sift through the substrate for their food. For this reason, a fine substrate is recommended. You could also make a “cake” of crushed vegetables and fruit in natural gelatin, as this is a reputed favorite of the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata).

What are the sexual differences in Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

It is reasonably easy to distinguish the sex of the adult Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) because the adult male is often larger and has a deeper color, especially at breeding times. The rear of the male’s dorsal fin is more extended than that of the female. The female has a visible ovipositor (egg duct) just in front of the anal fin at breeding times. The female also has the iridescent silver-blue highlights covering the entire gill plates. In the male, this coloring stops just below the eyes.

What is a good aquarium size for Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for an adult pair of the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) should be one of at least 48 inches in length or more due to the territorial nature and size of the adults, particularly the male.

In a community tank, including some floating Java Moss and other plants will give smaller fish and any fry a safe haven from larger or more vigorous species and it certainly helps to break up the sightlines in the aquarium.

There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes to live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a piscine prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have a certain amount of movement, as Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) enjoy a flow of water.

Useful videos about the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)

General care guide video for Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)

Guide to breeding video for Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)

Are you keeping tropical fish as a hobbyist or as a breeder?

This is a question too often ignored in my humble opinion. If you are a breeder (either commercially or as a hobbyist who gives away young fish to other hobbyists) then you will need the resources to move fish into breeding tanks in order to maximize the yield of fry that will grow up either for sale or to give them away.

If you are keeping fish for the joy of observing them in something resembling a natural habitat then you may feel that it is appropriate to allow nature to take its course and, as and when different species breed, then many of the eggs (and surviving fry) will be eaten either by their parents or by other fish in your aquarium. This is the natural order of things because this is what will happen in nature. The fittest may well survive to reach adulthood.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How do you breed the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

In total, the female Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) could lay up to several hundred eggs during a single spawning but can lay as many as 500 eggs. 

The eggs will hatch in around two to three days and the fry will become free-swimming after around a week.

It is generally true that the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) make really good parents and will not prey on their own young. In general, the male will protect the territory whilst the female will tend to care for the eggs and fry but these roles are interchangeable.

The female Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) will generally lay her eggs in a line along a slate, rock, sometimes on a broad leaf or on the glass at the bottom or on the side of the aquarium. The male will then swim over that line of eggs and fertilize them. This process will then be repeated until the female has laid all of her eggs and the male has fertilized then and the result will be several rows of fertilized eggs.

Once the spawning is completed and until the fry become free-swimming, provided that the parents remain with the brood, they will protect the eggs with some zeal.

The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become extremely aggressive if it feels that the brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended. In a community tank, other species will be driven out of the breeding pair’s territory by the male.

In a well-planted aquarium with floating Java Moss, the Cichlid will often spawn in the community tank and at least some of the fittest fry will survive to adulthood by hiding in the Java Moss.

In a breeding tank, it is always a good idea to include a few aquatic shrimp, as they will consume any unfertilized or dead eggs but won’t tend to predate on viable eggs.

How to set up a breeding tank for Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)

You should prepare a tank of around thirty gallons in size with mature, soft, flowing water. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with some well-cleaned slate (or other smooth rock) on the floor of the tank upon which the female will lay her adhesive eggs. It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges. The Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) may also lay eggs on broad leaves or in rows in the substrate or even on the glass.

Cichlids prefer to spawn where the water is flowing so a decent pump is required to synthesize that flow.

Feed up your Cichlids on bloodworm, which will sink to the bottom and burrow into the substrate. Your Cichlid will love rooting out the bloodworm and it can help to trigger spawning.

You may also wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or tubifex worms as an inducement to reproduction and live food will be very much appreciated. This will also tend to divert the attention of the Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is certainly not characteristic of Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata).

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump once the eggs are laid – only regular aeration is now required. Keep the lights off (or very low) and the tank dark (of fairly dark)  because eggs and fry can be particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in two to three days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around one week after hatching. 

Keep the tank more-or-less unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Cichlid will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone or a macro lens to see anything at all. A collection of eggs is generally easy to spot, as they look like a collection of tiny pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac and remain static but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. 

Once the fry are free-swimming and their yolk sacs are depleted, then add baby brine shrimp and/or white worms. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Unless you are breeding commercially, you may wish to consider moving the fry into the community tank sooner rather than later. It may seem harsh but the adult fish in the tank will deal with any fry that are unlikely to survive to adulthood in the wild and you are synthesizing, to the best of your ability, a wild environment. The fittest fry will probably survive whilst the rest will be dealt with by the community.

Is there a special diet for breeding Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata)?

Adult Cichlids don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding tubifex, bloodworm or mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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