Jack Dempseys can be housed in a variety of ways, depending on the desired outcome: as a member of a community of tankbusters, as a single individual or in a family setting.
One of the most popular ways to keep a Jack Dempsey is to house an individual in an aquarium of “tankbusters” — a collection of cichlid species generally lacking in the social graces. The best way to obtain a workable group of thugs is to buy them as sexed individuals, making sure to only purchase males. Males are typically larger, have more of a blue-green body color, and have longer, soft dorsal and anal fins. The idea behind an all-male community is to eliminate the aggression typically associated with breeding. In this case, the worst thing you can do is add a female. Adding an individual to an already established group of tankbusters can be difficult — sometimes with tragic results. Despite its “tough-guy” image, the Jack Dempsey may take a beating; it won’t have its own territory and will therefore be considered an intruder. If possible, try to add the most aggressive cichlid to your collection last or keep the tankbusters in an aquarium with minimal aquascaping to avoid territory formation.
If you prefer to keep it simple, you could house a single Jack Dempsey on its own and raise it as a pet fish or a show entry for your aquarium club. A 50-gallon aquarium would be the minimum size for a single adult. It is important to provide it some sense of security in the form of appropriate shelter and features of the aquascaping that your cichlid can modify to its liking. Appropriate hiding places to make your Jack Dempsey feel more comfortable can be large flowerpots and rock caves. Large pieces of driftwood can also be used, particularly if placed in a way to allow your Dempsey to excavate a pit underneath. Digging large pits in the substrate is the Jack Dempsey’s specialty, so providing enough substrate in the form of small-diameter gravel or sand will keep your fish busy.
It is possible to house your Jack Dempsey with several other types of noncichlid fish to keep it company. Large fish, such as tinfoil barbs, bala sharks and large catfish (Synodontis or plecos) make fine tankmates. When adding these fish, make sure that they are added to the tank before the Jack Dempsey; otherwise, they’ll be viewed as intruders to its territory. Ensure the aquarium is large enough and has appropriately sized filtration to handle the additional waste load of a community of large fish.
Jack Dempseys are confident fish, so they make good show entries. They are not bothered too much by the rigors of the show (e.g., a bare-bottomed glass tank and frequent camera flashes). With many other cichlids now available in a vast array of colors to dazzle fish show participants, an aquarium housing a full-grown and well-conditioned Jack Dempsey is still a contender.
Want to read the full story? Pick up the July 2009 issue of Aquarium Fish International today.