What is a “large” aquarium fish to you? Some aquarists think Gouramis are large. Others might say Oscars are very large fish. How about a 3 foot predatory cichlid instead?
If that sounds interesting you should consider picking up an Amazonian Peacock Bass. These fish are large, exciting, and well worth the effort, assuming your floor can hold a 500 gallon aquarium!
What Are Peacock Bass?
Peacock Bass are native to tropical South America; the Guyanas, Brazil, and the other countries in the region are their home ground. However they have been spread around the world because they are some of the most exciting game fish for anglers.
Peacock Bass have a hard-hitting, tenacious fighting style when hooked that makes them famous with fishermen the world over. Therefore they have been imported to several countries, including Florida, in the United States.
Being tropical fish, they can only survive year-round at the southern tip of the peninsula but have naturalized there. Peacock bass can also be found in Singapore, Panama, and a few other areas.
Unfortunately, these massive predators can sometimes cause harm to the local ecosystem. Peacock Bass are alpha predators and have an appetite to match their size. Fish species can be eaten to extinction.
When that happens the voracious bass simply start eating their own kind rather than dwindling in numbers! If you aren’t too intimidated yet, let’s talk about how to keep the world’s largest cichlids in captivity!
- Common Names: Butterfly Bass, Peacock Bass, Tucunaré, Pavon
- Scientific Name: Cichla sp.
- Origin: Amazon & Orinoco River basins
- Size: Up to 30 inches
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive; Predatory
- Ease of Care: Moderate
Peacock Bass Care
This sections covers everything you need to know about setting up a suitable peacock bass tank, feeding, tank mates, and more.
Peacock Bass Tank Size
Surprisingly, Peacock Bass aren’t especially difficult to keep in captivity. However the main limitation is something you really have to plan for; these are not impulse purchases!
And that factor is aquarium size. Adult size can vary quite a bit, depending on the sex and species. The largest is the Speckled Peacock Bass (Cichla temensis), which can top 3 feet and nearly 30 lbs fully grown!
The Butterfly Peacock Bass (Cichla ocellaris) is commonly found in the aquarium trade and can grow nearly as large. Obviously, these are fish suitable only for the largest possible tanks.
A few, such as Cichla kelberi and C. intermedia “only” grow to around 12-14 inches, making them suitable for fish tanks in the 100 gallon area.
Identifying which species you have isn’t always easy when they are young. And getting the wrong species is the difference between needing a 75 gallon and a 500 gallon aquarium.
You’ll need to trust that the importer your local fish store is keeping proper species logs or have a good backup home in mind because these fish grow fast!
You can expect around 1½ inches of growth per month until they reach 6-8 inches. And then about 1 inch of growth per month, slowing down as they approach full size.
Lastly, keep in mind that Peacock Bass can sometimes be a little bit “spazzy.” While usually slow and majestic they can dart from one end of the tank almost instantly when chashing food.
And if spooked they will easily injure themselves in a tank that’s too small. Space is really important for these fish.
So long as you can provide them enough space, Peacock Bass are hardy and undemanding. They should be provided Amazonian conditions; soft, acidic water is preferred but they tolerate neutral and even slightly alkaline conditions well.
Temperature is more important, with the upper range of 80-86℉ being ideal. Any lower raises their risk of disease and drastically slows their growth.
- Temperature: 76-86℉
- Water Chemistry: Acidic; pH 6.0-7.0
- Hardness: 5 – 12 dGH
- Current: Low to Moderate
While they aren’t especially sensitive they should not be kept in elevated ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate levels for long. These compounds cause stress and eventual death.
The problem is that large carnivores like Peacock Bass create a lot of waste. Unless you want to be performing daily water changes, you’ll need a filter that can process enough water to keep the aquarium pristine.
I recommend the Fluval FX6, rated for aquariums up to 400 gallons in size. It proves 5 gallons of space for biological filter media to break down nitrogenous waste and processes over 500 gallons of water per hour.
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Plants and Decorations
Peacock Bass are actually much easier on decorations than most large cichlids. They have a long, protruding jaw made for latching onto fish so they don’t do much digging or tearing up plants except when breeding.
They are also mostly open water swimmers as adults so they will leave densely planted areas alone. Broad leaved plants like Amazon Sword Plants go well with them as do dense thickets of Vallisneria in the background.
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If space allows for it, driftwood provides a sense of security for the occasionally shy Peacock Bass. And the tannins they release help buffer the water towards acidity. If you don’t have space for driftwood, consider adding Indian Almond leaves to ensure the water stays close to their preferred range.
Peacock Bass Tank Mates
As you likely know already, the major challenge to finding tank mates for Peacock Bass is their size and appetite. These are the lions of the aquatic world and they will eat anything they can fit into their very large mouths.
Your Peacock Bass may also decide to try eating a fish if their tank mate is slender and acts distressed, such as when first being introduced to the tank. While they will eventually spit out the too-large fish, the attempt is still highly stressful and possibly lethal.
It’s best to choose fish that are either raised with them, especially slimmer fish like Bichirs or Spiny Eels or fish that are obviously too wide to be eaten.
Best Tank Mates for Peacock Bass
- Other Cichlids: Peacock Bass get along well in large cichlid display tanks. Remember that while they are predators they aren’t especially aggressive. Semi-aggressive species like Zebra Tilapia, Oscars, and Green Terrors work well. For Cichlids they are gentle with each other as well. You can easily keep a group of Peacock Bass together if you have enough room.
- Arowanas: Arowanas grow just as fast as Peacock Bass and have the same predatory instincts. As a result they get along perfectly, though you’ll need the largest possible aquariums for so many 3 foot fish!
- Stingrays: Also native to South America, Freshwater Stingrays are in some ways the perfect tank mates for Peacock Bass. They are carnivorous but entirely peaceful. Stingrays also stick to the bottom of the tank, giving your Bass plenty of space to roam. They are very demanding in terms of water quality, however.
- Silver Dollars and Tinfoil Barbs: It can be hard to find dither fish that these Bass won’t eat. However SIlver Dollars and Tinfoil Barbs are too large when fully grown and provide diversity to your community tank.
- Datnoids: Tiger Fish fill the same open water predatory niche as Peacock Bass do, only in Asia! They have identical water quality requirements (except for the brackish species) and grow both large and thick-bodied.
- Large Catfish: If you’re looking for more bottom dwellers, large catfish like adult Plecostomus and Shovelnose Cats are great tank mates. Just make sure your Peacock Bass keep growing quick;y. Some of the largest predatory cats may try to make a meal of them otherwise!
Poor Tank Mates for Peacock Bass
Any fish significantly smaller or slimmer than your Peacock Bass is at risk of being eaten. Only keep them alongside the largest of aquarium fish or they will eventually be eaten.
You might be surprised by what they can gulp down. Even relatively deep bodied fish like Red Rainbowfish may be an expensive lunch for a determined Bass.
Feeding Peacock Bass
Feeding is the second most important part of keeping Peacock Bass because they eat a lot. Even as youngsters, you’ll need a constant source of high-quality protein to fuel their rapid growth.
In the wild Peacock Bass eat almost exclusively smaller fish. However they opportunistically take worms, insects, and even small mammals and baby birds struggling along the water’s surface.
In aquariums you should stick to fresh, frozen, and live foods. Prepared food isn’t great for Peacock Bass and they rarely even recognize it as they respond strongly to movement. However, the smell of freshly chopped fish and shellfish is often enough once they’re trained onto it.
Keep in mind these fish are fast. You’ll likely get splashed quite a bit as they often attack as soon as food hits the water. They occasionally jump as well so be mindful about how open the aquarium lid is.
Breeding Peacock Bass
So long as you can provide for their space needs they aren’t especially difficult to spawn!
However space is really important here: the pair needs to feel that they can form a territory that they can defend from their tank mates. Otherwise they won’t bother spawning in a crowded tank.
Here are some more tips on breeding Peacock Bass.
Sexing Peacock Bass
Unfortunately, sexing Peacock Bass is next to impossible until they are ready to spawn. Males and females look exactly the same; adult males tend to grow slightly larger but females still exceed 20 inches.
Males often have a slight nuchal hump that grows out when in breeding condition but not to the degree of cichlids like Flowerhorns or Frontosas. Other than that, there’s a degree of luck involved in getting a pair.
Even if you have a male and female there’s no guarantee they will like one another enough to spawn. The more choices you give them (and the larger the tank) the greater your chances of success.
Conditioning Peacock Bass
Warm temperatures, clean water, lots of space, and plenty of food are how you get them to breed. Assuming you actually have a male and a female. The Bass can tell the difference even if you can’t.
Raising them in small groups is the best way to get a pair. And while they do defend a territory they aren’t nearly as aggressive as other cichlids. They won’t terrorize their tank mates so long as the tank is spacious enough for them to have a couple of feet around their nest free of intrusions.
You’ll also need more than a bare tank to get your Peacock Bass to spawn. Flat rocks and other places for them to deposit their eggs (up to 3000 at a time) are essential.
Spawning and Raising the Fry
Once they pair off and spawn, the eggs will hatch within 72 hours at 84-86℉. Initially the fry won’t eat, feeding exclusively from their yolk sack.
After about 10 days they will start to accept brine shrimp nauplii and other appropriately sized live foods. They grow fast and will reach about 1 ½ inches in just under 2 months! As they grow, you can scale up their food to adult brine shrimp, blood worms, and guppies.
Since they are little more than a snack for the other fish in the adult’s tank you should remove the fry once they become free-swimming to ensure most reach adulthood. You’ll still lose a few as they are also cannibalistic; the largest will eventually eat the slowest growers.
Are Peacock Bass Right for You?
Peacock Bass combine all of the best qualities of cichlids in the largest of packages. While they are predators they aren’t very aggressive. They are very beautiful and even personable once they recognize who keeps showing up with food.
If you have the space and desire to keep the world’s largest cichlids, I highly recommend giving Peacock Bass a try. Just make sure you spend plenty of time planning for their final adult size!