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How Big Does A Red Oscar Get?

Updated on November 21, 2007
Oh, they get big, all right.
Oh, they get big, all right.

Most people have bad dreams about sharks. In our family, we had bad dreams about Big Dummy. Eventually, for me, the dreams about Big Dummy turned nice, but the name still causes my Mom to wince.

Oh, Red Oscars make cute babies. This is how they, as well as most pet fish, are sold -- as cute little babies. Dad brought home two baby Red Oscars -- one of which was Big Dummy. They got along well in the community tank.

Until..

These Are Darn Big Fish

Red Oscars are in the Oscar group of cichlids, which is a numerous fishy family. Now, most information on Red Oscars will tell you that they grow to 10 to 12 inches long. No one told Big Dummy that. He was at least fourteen inches long (including tail) when my Dad finally gave in to Mom's pleas and the fact that Big Dummy was outgrowing the biggest tank we had!

However grotesque he became, he also became the most unforgettable fish in our family history. Red Oscars are not only big in size -- they are absolutely HUGE in personality.

They grow slowly, but they grow. You will need AT LEAST a 50 gallon tank to house one adult.

Big Dummy

Big Dummy and his sibling eventually started eating the other members of the community tank. Red Oscars are not team players. They were plunked in a 50 gallon tank. They continued to grow. We fed them feeder goldfish, crickets and occasionally a slipped bit of dinner I couldn't bear to swallow. And still they grew.

Some Red Oscars are social critters and will get along with other fish that is nearly their size. Two Red Oscars of my late Aunt's adopted a feeder goldfish that for some reason they would never eat. But don't be surprised if one day all you find is the Red Oscar, floating fins and decapitated heads ... even if there weren't any other fish in with them (...that's just a little joke).

The only place Dad could fit the Oscars' tank was along one wall of the dining room. This is what horrified my Mom. The dining room was where we fed any company. Instead of a landscape painting or an aquarium full of relaxing, shining fish, our guests had Big Dummy and the other Red Oscar staring at them in unwavering disapproval. Most visitors were suitably nervous and thus cut short a visit, unless they turned their backs completely on the fish.

"My God," one visitor exclaimed, "why are those fish so UGLY?"

I'm not exactly a beauty queen, either, so that's when I started to appreciate the true beauty of a Red Oscar. They can quickly sort your true friends from the pretenders. Anyone willing to accept your preference for keeping a Red Oscar will most likely accept your true personality.

It became great fun freaking out any visitor we wanted to leave by sitting them across Big Dummy's stare. "You're an insurance salesman? Well, come on in! We have someone we'd like you to meet!"

But the tank was not big enough for two. They began to wrestle. Dad put a heavy divider up to keep them apart.

One day, we came home to find the tank lid sticking up out of the tank, the divider down and the other Red Oscar dead on the living room carpet. It was Big Dummy's tank from then on.

Big Dummy would tolerate no one else and nothing else in his tank, whether it was a plant, fish, gravel, thermometer or even the tank lid. Dad had to put a brick on the tank lid to keep Big Dummy from knocking it off.

Red Oscars are somewhat like Bettas in their pugnaciousness, only magnified about one hundred times. As a kid, I liked to watch Big Dummy gliding by, undisputed heavyweight "champeen" of his world.

But Big Dummy still seemed to be growing. Perhaps it was just our fears he would outgrow the tank. Mom said she was sure Big Dummy would sprout legs and chase us all away, and then we'd have to leave the house to him. I think that's when the nightmares really began to take hold.

Luckily, my Dad found a friend with a 100 gallon tank that needed an occupant. Of course, we didn't have a net big enough for Big Dummy. Dad took him out in his arms and placed him in a big clean partially filled water bucket. His thrashing coated the living room walls with his tank water. He had a very good rest of his life with Dad's friend.

I still miss Big Dummy.

This little story isn't meant to scare anyone off from keeping a Red Oscar, just be sure you know you are getting in for.

Oscar fed an earthworm. Yikes. Film by Bonesofsteel

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