It is fair to say that you will either love Tiger Oscar Cichlids or hate them.
When compared to other tropical fish, they are giant, graceful creatures with bold personalities and markings to match.
They are well suited for people ready to try a larger fish tank and fish.
Quick Intro To Tiger Oscar Cichlids
|Scientific Name||Astronotus ocellatus|
|Common Names||Velvet Cichlid, Tiger Oscar, Oscar Fish|
|Care Level||Moderate to difficult|
|Region of Origin||South America, Amazon River basin|
|Distant Relatives||Red and Lemon Oscars, Albino Oscars, Other South American cichlids.|
|Habitat Type||River settings with sandy substrate and plenty of hiding places for potential prey.|
This is a somewhat pointed oval shaped fish with olive green and black mottling as its main body color. From the gill covers back, it has cryptic bright orange markings. It also has sleek, low profile black fins and a rounded tail.
Males vs. Females
Males and females look mostly the same. Males may get slightly larger, and will be more colorful prior to mating.
How They Move in the Tank
Overall, they are powerful swimmers and also have both the size and agility to fight just about any other fish that bothers them.
Optimal Water Conditions For Tiger Oscar Cichlids
Since Tiger Oscar Cichlids will need a large tank, or even a pond, it can take several months before the water completes its first nitrogen cycle. Never buy these fish until you are certain the tank or pond is fully cycled and can handle the sudden increase in bioload.
|Water Temperature||74 – 81 degrees fahrenheit|
|Water Flow Rate||Slow|
|pH||6.5 – 7.5 (neutral or close to neutral works best)|
|Aquarium Salt (Y/N)||Use with caution. I don’t personally recommend using Aquarium Salt as a replacement for good water chemistry and environment management.|
|Tannins (Y/N)||You can give it a try if the fish seems shy of bright lights and seems comfortable on the acidic side of the neutral pH level.|
Because these fish do produce a lot of waste, I recommend taking the additional step of using small fish for about 8 months to a year to further break in the water. After that, you can take the smaller fish out and put them in another home aquarium.
|Minimum Tank Size||55 gallon per fish for juveniles and younger fish. As the fish matures, you will need a larger tank as they become very stressed and aggressive in cramped spaces.|
|Optimal Tank Size||150+ gallons|
|Best Filter Type||Use an external canister filter with the capacity to filter twice the amount of water held by the tank. Also use bubble up filters with floss and activated carbon to increase the surface area for nitrifying bacteria.|
|Extra Air and How to Provide It||Air curtains set to low or moderate capacity.|
Optimal Tank Shape
Long, wide, and tall. Even though these fish tend to stay in the mid and lower regions of the tank, they can also be powerful jumpers.
Together with a tight fitting lid, leave a few inches of room at the top of the tank. These are large fish, so if they do bang into the aquarium lid, it is likely they will either get hurt or disrupt it. The more space cushion you can give between the lid and the water surface, the better.
Testing Schedule First Year
Test weekly for pH, ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and hardness.
Testing Schedule After 1 Year
Since this fish will continue to grow after the first year, it will also continue to increase the bioload in the tank. Continue testing weekly for ammonia, nitrates, nitrates, pH, and hardness for the first 2 – 3 years. After that, you can cut back to monthly testing.
Creating the Landscape
|Rocky substrate or gravel||No, because these fish like to dig and sharp surfaces can scratch their slime coat and increase the risk of infection.|
|Overhangs and caves||Yes, but make sure they are big enough for the fish to swim around in as it grows. I have seen these fish grow in size, and wind up getting stuck in places they used to swim through just fine.|
|Best Plants||Put rooted live plants in pots, or use mesh coverings over terraces where the roots are to keep this fish from digging them up. Floating plants will work fine.|
|Best Lighting||Low to medium|
|Best Decorations||Driftwood (be sure to remove the tannins), plants, rounded or smooth rocks, caves|
|Decorations to Avoid||Avoid plastic plants that this fish can rub or scratch against. Also try to avoid toys holes in them that the fish can get part of the way through. Tiger Oscar Cichlids are very curious creatures and can get stuck in tight spaces and holes that accept part of their body, but not all of it.|
|Maximum Size||12 – 18 inches or more|
|Rate of Growth||Will reach full size in about 2 years.|
|Life Span||20 years or more.|
|Preferred Tank Region||Middle to bottom|
|Scale Thickness||These fish have fairly sturdy scales. It is safe to use most freshwater antibiotics on them.|
|Gill Considerations||These fish have fairly large, strong gills. Since they are adapted for slow moving waters, they are not usually susceptible to gill flukes or other diseases.|
|Swimbladder Considerations||Since these are not deep bodied fish, they usually have little or no problem regulating their position in the tank.|
|Fin Shape Considerations||These fish have compact, powerful fins that make it easy for them to sprint as well as move around with great agility.|
Aggressive fish. Tiger Oscar Cichlids do have teeth in their jaws as well as in their throats. Exercise caution when placing your hands in the tank, as these fish can and will attack. They will be more likely to attack when eggs are present in the tank, or mating is about to occur.
I highly recommend using temporary partitions between you and the fish if you have to put your hands in the tank for any reason. While it may seem cool and fun to have younger, smaller fish nibble on your fingers, it isn’t so much fun if they decide to bite later on.
A great deal will depend on your relationship with the fish and its temperament. I’ve had some that I could pet easily throughout their lives. Others, I would not trust unless I had sturdy gloves on or a partition between my hand and their mouth.
Male and female Oscar Cichlids can be quite aggressive. This includes among themselves as well as towards other fish. They are born hunters and you cannot expect them to behave any other way despite their curiosity and capacity to be creative thinkers.
Male to Female Ratio
Tiger Oscar Cichlids are very territorial among themselves as well as with other fish. It is almost impossible to determine their gender when they are younger, as well as to figure out whether older fish are fighting or courting.
Once you know you have a breeding pair, it is best to put them in a tank by themselves, or use partitions to separate them from others in the tank.
As a general rule, Tiger Oscar Cichlids don’t form schools in captivity. The most you can expect is for these fish to sort of co-exist with each other provided there is enough space for each fish to claim its own territory.
Other large Oscars and Cichlids. They will also do Ok with Arowanas provided there is enough room. If you want to keep these fish in any kind of community setting, it would be better to use a pond.
Species to Avoid
Avoid any creature that is smaller or more peaceful than Tiger Oscar Cichlids. They will see everything from snails and freshwater shrimp to smaller Cichlids as prey.
Common Behaviors You May See in Aggressive Tiger Oscar Cichlids
|Changes in Eye Color||Yes, however black coloring signifies the fish in question lost the battle.|
|Circling with Fins Splayed||Yes|
|Fins Splayed as Other Fish Approach or When Approaching Other Fish||Yes|
|Mouth to Mouth Biting||Yes|
It should be noted that aggressive signals in Tiger Oscar Cichlids are very similar to mating signals. I would give more credit to these signals being pure aggression in younger fish as opposed to older ones that have already established themselves as a breeding pair.
When it comes to younger fish, you will have to watch carefully and make sure you know how to handle any injuries that occur. Also, pay attention to the signals and cues from the victim fish.
Individuals that are courting aren’t as likely to dart away when a prospective partner approaches or show other signs of fear. On the other hand, a male fish that is being harassed by another male will most certainly show signs of fear such as hiding, or moving their eyes frantically.
Anti-Bullying Solutions That Work Best With Tiger Oscar Cichlids
|Add More Fish of the Same Species||No|
|Change Feeding Methods, Quantity, or Number of Feedings||Increase the number of feedings.|
|Increase Number of Hiding Places||No|
|Isolate the Bully||Yes|
|Move Decorations to Shake Up Territorial Boundaries||Yes, however this may only last for a few days. These fish are fast learners!|
|Move to a Bigger Tank||Yes|
|Water Chemistry or Temperature Changes||Increasing water temperature will spur breeding behavior and also aggression levels. You can try lowering the temperature during non-breeding times.|
Add More Males or Females
I don’t recommend adding more of the same species because these fish actually start courting at around 6 months of age, even though they will not mate for another 2- 3 years.
It is hard to say if the window for beginning this process will close too quickly, and in a way that would make adding more fish to curb aggression a thankless task.
Gender and Reproductive Considerations
If you purchase fish designated for home, or hobby aquarist tanks, it is likely they will not be suitable for breeding. Even if you do get them to mate, it is likely the eggs will be non-viable, or the juveniles will be deformed.
If you want to breed Tiger Oscar Cichlids, start out with an aquarium large enough to house at least 6 – 8 fish. From there, you may or may not wind up with at least one breeding pair. The easiest way to get started is to purchase a pair of 2 -3 year old fish from a reliable breeder selling them for that purpose.
How to Recognize Breeding Pairs
During the courtship process, they may lock jaws with each other, chase, and flare up their fins. Later on, they will work on cleaning rocks together of debris, as well as swim close to each other.
How Many Babies?
Younger females will lay around 500 eggs, while fish in their prime can lay up to 3000 eggs per spawning cycle.
Special Needs for the Fry
Adult fish will watch over the eggs and defend the nest.
Managing the Babies
After the fry are hatched, you will need to watch them carefully, as larger fry will hunt and consume smaller ones of their own species. You can separate them out, or simply wait for the largest ones to dominate the hatchery.
Feed fry commercial fry food for egg layers. Once they are big enough, you can feed them baby brine shrimp, live insect larvae, and crushed staple fish food.
Tiger Oscar Cichlids considered omnivores, even though they mainly consume meat. They do enjoy some vegetable matter, however it should not be the main staple for them.
|Wild Foods||Insects, small aquatic animals, other fish, sometimes bits of plants|
|How Obtained||Tiger Oscar Cichlids are avid hunters. They are messy fish that will dig in the substrate looking for food as well as snatch it directly from the water.|
|How to Replicate||You can introduce live food into the tank daily, or try to establish colonies of feeder animals in the tank.|
|Best Sustenance Food||Pellet or flake food formulated for South American Cichlids. I do not recommend using flakes with young fish because the flakes can get stuck in their throat and choke them.|
|Additional Foods for Optimal Health||Frozen meat based foods such as blood worms, tubifex worms and daphnia.|
|Special Foods for Color and Growth||Crickets, earthworms, mealworms, Iive freshwater shrimp, live brine shrimp, small minnows and other feeder fish, Vitamin C supplements made for Cichlids|
|When and How Often To Feed based on Place in Life Cycle||Feed juvenile fish 3 – 4 times daily, especially if there is more than one fish in the tank. You can try cutting back to 2 times per day for adult fish, but may need to go back to smaller feedings several times a day if they become aggressive.|
Finicky Fish Management Troubleshooting Checklist
|Check (and get rid of) Ammonia and Nitrites||Yes|
|Lower Nitrates to Level Suitable for Tiger Oscar Cichlids||Keep below 20 ppm|
|Test (and Adjust if Needed) Other Water Chemistry Parameters||Yes|
|Check for Illness||Yes|
|Look for Signs of Bullying Such as Missing Scales, Nipped Fins or other Damage||Yes|
|Try These Frozen/Thawed or Live Foods||Fresh, live foods such as brine shrimp or live insect larvae|
Observe for Possible Environmental Stresses
Too Much/Too Little Light – Usually too much light can be a problem.
Sounds – Yes.
Vibrations – Yes.
Odors From Air Sprays, Cooking, Construction, etc – Yes.
Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them
Because Tiger Oscar Cichlids can get into a lot of fights with other fish, you should always be on the lookout for fungal and bacterial skin, mouth, fin, and tail fish diseases.
How to avoid species-specific diseases
These fish are a bit more susceptible to Hole In the Head Disease (Hexamita) than other fish.
You can use any antibiotic designated as safe for Cichlids.
Treatments to avoid
Avoid formulas with salt, especially if you already use it as a preventative in the tank. Too much salt can pose a danger to a freshwater fish.
Live foods that will stimulate their appetite. Also introduce medicated flakes or pellets to help prevent internal, opportunistic parasites from making the fish even more sick.
Isolation or Hospital Tank?
Yes, but only if other fish are harassing them.
3 Interesting Facts About Tiger Oscar Cichlids
- Tiger Oscar Cichlids mate for life and are monogamous. These pairs, in turn, can be aggressive to other fish that interfere in their territory.
- These fish make grunts and other sounds that may only be audible under water. They can communicate with each other using both visual and auditory cues.
- Even though these fish are not considered an invasive species, they often wind up being released into the wild by owners that can no longer take care of them. At some point, this is bound to be a problem, especially in regions with warm enough waters all year round.
Before you purchase this aquarium fish, make sure you can return it to the pet store years later. It is possible that other aquarium keepers will need a new fish of the same age as their own, so there is a chance the fish can be rehomed.
Overall, Tiger Oscar Cichlids are fascinating creatures. They will do well in home tanks provided the setup is large enough, and you take some precautions when choosing tank mates.