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How To Keep Jack Dempsey Fish

Updated on October 11, 2009
My own juvenile male Jack Dempsey
My own juvenile male Jack Dempsey

This is the second part of this article on Jack Dempsey fish. If you want more general information, please go to the first article about Jack Dempsey fish.

Tank Mates For Jack Dempseys

The Jack Dempsey is also quite a territorial, and yes, aggressive fish. It cannot be kept with smaller fish because they will quite quickly become dinner. As the Dempsey ages, its aggression only increases, so be aware that the baby Dempsey currently living happily with smaller fish may one day eat them. A lot of people get young Jack Dempsey's and then scoff at the reports of their aggression only to find that one morning, a few months later, half their tank is missing or maimed.

Jack Dempsey's do well with similarly sized large fish, and bottom dwellers like plecos and catfish are generally left alone. Oscars and other large American chiclids can all make good tank mates, but be careful not to overcrowd your tank. Almost all these species are aggressive and being cramped will only make them more so.

The Jack Dempsey Tank

As mentioned, Jack Dempseys need plenty of room. That's not the be all and end all of their tank requirements however, Jack Dempsey fish love places to hide, and the more places to hide you give them, the more you will see them out and about. I suggest tunnels, hidey holes, and tall plants for them to sink behind. Covering three sides of the tank, not just the back will also make your Jack Dempsey feel much more at home.

Good filtration and lots of water movement are important for these fish. Jack Dempseys are notoriously messy eaters, so you'll need a system capable of cleaning up the water well. Though the Jack Dempsey originates in fairly slow moving waters in the Americas, it deals well with a decent current.


With its large tank requirements and it's propensity to kill other fish with glee, one might wonder why on earth people keep Jack Dempseys at all. Put simply, it is all about their personality. If they feel secure inside their tank and are happy, then they will get to know their owners and other members of the family quite well, and yes, they learn to beg for food quite quickly.

Don't be surprised to see your Jack Dempsey swimming the glass and giving you the eye when it comes time for feeding. They can be quite flirtatious and friendly when they want to be.


The Jack Dempsey comes in two forms, the common Jack Dempsey, with a tan / deep purple coloring and brightly colored metallic gold and blue sports. Females have more blue spots on the lower side of the gill plates and they tend to be very splotchy. Males have fewer markings in this region and those that are there are fairly well defined.

The Electric Blue Jack Dempsey is a pretty stunning fish which is more than likely a hybrid according to some sources, and simply a color mutation according to others. At any rate, two Electric Blue Jack Dempseys cannot breed successfully together. An electric blue must be bred with a standard Jack Dempsey in order to throw a few more electric blues. The Electric Blue Jack Dempsey is known to be more mild mannered than the standard (perhaps a some evidence for hybridization,) however it still should be treated with the respect any Jack Dempsey deserves and not be crowded into an overly small tank with many other fish.

Electric Blue Jack Dempsey
Electric Blue Jack Dempsey


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