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In the Tank - How to Care for Oscars

Updated on January 17, 2012
Albino Oscar Cichlids
Albino Oscar Cichlids | Source

Oscar Species Description -

Of the commonly sold cichlids for aquariums, Oscars are one of the largest. In captivity, these fish will easily grow to over 13 inches in length and have an equally impressive girth. These large cichlids exhibit various coloration due to years of selective breeding. Base colors can range from black, charcoal and brown all the way to red and white. While base coloring varies from one variety to the next, one aspect called "eye spots" remains a commonality between all Oscar cichlids. The eye spot is actually a bright circle coloration near the caudal peduncle (tail fin). It is thought to act as a natural defense, confusing predators as to which end is the head.


Oscar 'Eyespot'
Oscar 'Eyespot' | Source

Oscar Cichlid

  • Scientific Name - Astronotus ocellatus
  • Geography - South America. Specifically the Amazon River Basin, connecting rivers and drainages.
  • Natural Ecosystem - Slow Moving rivers and pools with submerged logs or branches. White water.
  • Diet Type - Omnivore
  • Difficulty of Care - 6/10


Oscar Aquarium & Water Requirements -

  • Minimum Tank Size - 75 Gallons for one Oscar, 90 for two.
  • Water Temperature - 75-85F
  • Water pH - 6-8

There's been a great debate for years surrounding the proper-sized aquarium to house an Oscar cichlid. Many sources still agree that 55 gallon aquariums are the bare minimum for one Oscar, but I disagree. Boasting length and height, the width of a 55 gallon tank is only a mere 12 inches. Oscars can and will grow to over 12 inches in the aquarium. The swimming space is greatly hindered and your fish will have difficulty maneuvering and even turning around. A standard 75 gallon is the same height and length, but at a width of 18 inches, there is much more horizontal swimming space to maintain comfort for your Oscar.

Oscar Aquarium Décor -

Substrate - Oscar cichlids are landscapers. What I mean by this is that these fish will frequently scoop up large amounts of the substrate and move it to another spot in the aquarium. This practice is natural instinct and is carried out to sift for food and clear away places for breeding. Since the Oscars are moving the substrate with their mouth, a very fine gravel or sand should be used. I prefer sand as it is easier to clean, more hygenic and actually aids with digestion if some is ingested by your fish.

D├ęcor - Decorations are generally of less importance when it comes to properly caring for your Oscar. If you wish to make your Oscar feel as close to its natural surroundings as possible, add large pieces of driftwood. Oscars will love the submerged structure.


Feeding Oscar Cichlids -

In the wild, Oscar cichlids eat just about anything that falls into their slow moving pools of water or anything smaller than they are. This trait can also be exhibited with captive Oscars. The difference is that with captive Oscars, their diet is restricted to what their owners feed them. Just because your Oscar will eat feeder fish, rodents and even hot dogs, doesn't mean that you should be feeding these items. In fact, an improper diet can lead to serious health issues and potential parasitic infections. To maximize success, Oscars should be fed a high protein diet of frozen blood worms, brine shrimp and krill. Live food (small crayfish & minnows) should only be used sparingly and should be from a reliable source.

Keep in mind that Oscars are omnivores and need smaller amounts of plant materials to survive and grow properly. Shelled peas and dark leafy greens, such as spinach, should be worked into weekly feeding regimens. Oscars are also reliant on Vitamin-C, so feed fruits such as Oranges a few times monthly.

If you need more ideas for a complete Oscar food, be sure to checkout my recipe for Homemade cichlid food.


Oscar Cichlid - Behavior & Tank Mates -

When it comes to the topic of general Tropical Fish, Oscars are to be considered aggressive and only suitable with like cichlid species from Central and South America. However once in the proper tank with other aggressive cichlids, the Oscar becomes more of a gentle giant. It will defend itself and territory, but can also be seen resting on the substrate and slowly patrolling the aquarium. A short list of proper tank mates include: Jaguar Cichlid, Texas Cichlid, Convict Cichlid, Firemouth Cichlid, Jack Dempsey Cichlid, Red Belly Piranha, and many varieties of catfishes.



For an extensive look into how to care for Oscar Cichlids, visit

Final Word -

If you've got a large aquarium with ample filtration, Oscars can make great aqua pets. They're smart and very loving with their owners. My greatest piece of advice for potential Oscar owners is to only buy them if you have the proper size aquarium. Do not buy with intentions of later upgrading aquariums. Thank you for reading my article on how to care for Oscars. Please feel free to ask any questions that may have not been covered.


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    • profile image

      Pam Thompson 4 years ago

      I am a confirmed Oscar fan. I keep dogs and cats too plus lots of other animal species. My Oscars will come to one end of the tank if I call them and even feed from my fingers.

    • Joe Macho profile image

      Zach 6 years ago from Colorado

      Danette Watt - Thank you. For some reason I've always loved fish. They can be great pets, but unfortunately many people aren't properly educated for their best care. Just trying to spread helpful knowledge! I'm glad that you enjoyed.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      I'm not a fish person (dogs, cats and a parrot) but I thought this was a very informative hub. I liked how you had it laid out with the scientific name and other info at the top, especially the level of difficulty to let people know right away if this fish is one they're going to want to invest the time in caring for. Voted up, useful and interesting.