The Oscar Fish Cichlid
The Oscar Fish Cichlid is native to the Amazon region of South America. Most people look upon the Amazon River as just being the one winding river flowing down through South America and then emptying out into the Atlantic. However, there are actually thousands of rivers and tributaries that make up the waterways of the Amazon basin. The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world and during the wet season can flood extensively resulting in waters rising up 60 feet. The Amazon River is truly immense in size, more water travels through the Amazon River in one day than it does in the Thames in a whole year.
Oscar Fish can be found in regions ranging from the upper Amazon, right down to the Rio Tocantins. They have also been found by Heiko Bleherin nearly every tributary in the Paraguayan basin. He also writes that he believes he has found a completely different species living in the Orinoco basin. The Oscar fish also lives naturally in Surinam and French Guyana.
There are various different types of Oscar fish available commercially nowadays. Some of the most popular types of Oscar fish available include the Red, Tiger, Albino and Lutino. All of these have been artificially bred from the original wild, or common Oscar and will not be found in their native waters.
Nobody actually knows exactly why this South American cichlid was labeled as the "Oscar", however it has stuck and I don't suppose it will ever be called anything but the Oscar Fish. The Oscar has become one of the most popular aquarium fish in recent times and people just seem to fall in love with them as soon as we see them. They are not the most colorful aquarium fish around, and certainly not the prettiest, in fact some people may describe them as being rather ugly. However, nobody will argue that they are extremely fun to keep. They almost certain appeal to people because of the way they interact with their owners. They have been nicknamed the "River, or Water dog" because of the way they behave. They often shake their heads and tails just like a dog, they really are adorable and it won't be long before know exactly why they have gained this particular nickname.
The Oscar Fish is definitely one of the more intelligent aquarium fish that you will come across, they seem to have the ability to recognize their owners and almost seem to be aware of what is going on outside of their aquarium. Feeding time is always fun as the Oscar really does live for food and dinnertime. The Oscar is the boss of its own tank and once you have been keeping them for a while, you will realize that it's best to leave them to rearrange the tank to how they like it. They are very well known for creating havoc in the aquarium, but in an amusing way I must add. They excavate the substrate like a JCB and move rocks and decor around with ease, an Oscar aquarium can sometimes look like a battle zone. Plants don't last very long so if you want to setup a showcase display aquarium, Oscars probably aren't for you.
Oscar fish Cichlids have become extremely popular in recent years, especially since information is readily available on the Internet. Oscars are normally purchased as small babies but grow extremely quickly and can easily reach 10 or even 11 inches within 12 months. Assuming that you are keeping your Oscar in a suitable aquarium, feeding it on a healthy diet, and keeping the water in good condition, an Oscar can easily exceed 12 inches in size within a couple of years. Most people choose Oscars over any other fish because they do possess a personality. I know that's hard to believe but it really is true. Oscars seem to be able to portray what mood they are in. At feeding time they are excitable and swim around the tank like it's the last meal they are ever going to get. On the other hand, they can often sulk like little children if something has happened which they don't like, such as a water change, or rearranging the aquarium.
There are hundreds of species of aquarium fish available to buy, many of them have beautiful colors and will make an aquarium look stunning. But there is something about the Oscar Fish that puts it in a class of its own. The Oscar will often become very tame and can be coaxed to feed from its owner's hand. Many people also like "petting" the Oscar and strangely they sometimes seem to enjoy it and will approach your hand. It's not something that we actively encourage but there's nothing wrong with doing it as long as your hands are clean and you are not too rough.
All Oscar fish available commercially originated from one type of Oscar, the "Common" or "Wild" Oscar. Wild Oscars vary slightly in colour depending on where they come from in South America. Some wild Oscar fish resemble the common "Tiger" Oscar and have black and orange colouration, whilst other types of wild Oscar may have a greenish brown colouration. All varieties of Oscar sold in shops originated from this wild Oscar that was originally brought in from South America. If you were to go to the Amazon in search of Oscar fish you would not find Red Oscars, Tiger Oscars, Albino or any of the others that you commonly find at the fish store.
The Tiger Oscar fish most resembles the original wild Oscar and is probably the most common strain of Oscar that people keep nowadays as they often exhibit the widest variety of colours that can look stunning in healthy fish
In the late 60s, the Red Oscar made an appearance for the first time. It was completely different to what was already available which got people very excited. The Red Oscar fish was originally bred by a businessman in Thailand. He had discovered a few unusual Oscars amongst many others and after much hard work, finally managed to breed the Red Oscar which is much loved by many an Oscar enthusiast.
Two other strains of Oscar include the Albino and Lutino Oscar which were bred I believe in the 1980s so are relatively new to the Oscar fish scene. There is often confusion when it comes to identifying these two types of Oscar fish. A true albino has no colour pigmentation at all, nine times out of 10 the albino Oscars that people own do have colouration, mostly yellow and red. So really if you own an Oscar that have any colouration it is not a true albino, it's what we call a Lutino Oscar fish. However, Oscar fish that have more white than any other colour are most commonly called Albino Oscars nowadays.
There are many other species of Oscar that you may never heard of. I will briefly cover a couple. At some stage you may come across a purple, or even a raspberry Oscar. They will probably be very striking with vibrant colours which may take your fancy. You may wonder how they manage to breed the colours in to these type of Oscars. Well, they don't, they dye them in many cases. You may be wondering how they do that to a fish, surely all the colours will run off as soon as they put it back into the water. This is where things get quite horrible. What they do is dip the fish in what can be only described as a sort of acid. The protective membrane is then burnt away and then the dye is literally painted on. They are then treated once again so that the membrane grows back. The problem is, the dye often wears off in time which leaves you with a dreary looking fish. In many people's opinion, a horrible disgusting practice that should be phased out.
There is an Oscar fish that is named that "Veil Tail" Oscar fish. These Oscars have been bred to exhibit long flowing fins. They are very rare and you don't often come across them in the fish stores. If you do get one of these Veil Tail Oscars then you must be aware that their fins can become damaged very easily.
The photos below which you can click on to enlarge show several Oscars that are the most common variety, plus several that are not so common.
- Tiger Oscar fish - this most resembles the original Wild Oscar fish and is extremely common
- Albino Tiger Oscar fish - if you want to be pedantic then this is actually a Lutino Oscar fish as it exhibits colour pigmentation, whereas true albino creatures do not. However, for the sake of stopping confusion, they are normally referred to as albino. This particular fish all so has some Tiger Oscar fish in it as well.
- Red Oscar fish - first bred over 40 years ago, the red Oscar fish is truly beautiful when displaying its vibrant red colouration
- Veil Tail Oscar fish - these Oscars have been bred to exhibit long fins. As you can observe by our example, the fins can become damaged quite easily. Nevertheless they are beautiful fish with their long flowing fins that often look like silk
- Red Lutino Oscar fish - this is what we would call a red Lutino Oscar fish, although some people may still referred to it as albino, does it really matter?
You Want to Keep Oscars
You might be surprised to know that the Oscar Fish can live as long as a dog, up to 15 years, sometimes longer. The oldest recorded Oscar I have heard of is 21 years old. To enter into the world of keeping the Oscar Fish is to enter into a long-term relationship that will involve commitment and loyalty from yourself for the entirety of the Oscars life. The majority of people who come seeking help on our forums have purchased an Oscar without knowing anything about how to look after it. The last thing you should do is purchase the first Oscar you see. It's very easy to fall for a cute little 2 inch Oscar, take it home and put it in your 20 gallon aquarium, believe me, this happens all the time.
If you are serious about keeping the Oscar Fish then carefully read everything that is included on this website. We have spent considerable time putting together the various articles that will help newcomers understand what it takes to look after the Oscar Fish.
An Oscars Growth Rate
Oscars are one of the fastest growing fish you'll come across. You will often buy baby Oscars between an inch and 2 inches. These little guys will easily gain 1 inch a month for the first seven or eight months of their life. Not all Oscars grow at the same rate, some grow faster and bigger than others. Tank size, water quality and food will all play a part in an Oscars growth. Expect the average Oscar to be seven or 8 inches by the time it reaches 12 months old.
It's very easy to become instantly attached to a baby Oscar when you see it swimming around at the fish store. They really are the most adorable little fish that will capture the hearts of most people.
These two videos show the contrast between a small baby Oscar and a fully grown adult Oscar fish. It's hard to believe that the small cute little baby Oscar that you brought home from the fish store could be a 14 inch monster in less than two years. But that is something that you have to be aware of and plan for, Oscar's grow incredibly fast so unfortunately time if something you don't have. Don't start off by keeping your Oscar fish in a small 30 gallon tank because within just a few months you have to start all over again.
Thanks to Marshall and Miss Nikki for the use of their videos
Choosing your Oscar
Okay, your tank is fully cycled and you are ready to choose your Oscar. When you go to the fish shop to choose your Oscar, have a very good look at them before you actually buy. Try to go for ones that are nice and alert, in other words, they are very perky and active. Don't choose any that are just lying on the bottom of the tank, there's a possibility they may be something wrong with that particular fish. If you are choosing from a tank that has a lot of babies and they are all nice and healthy, they should all be acting the same, probably hanging around hoping to be fed. The picture above shows some 3 inch baby red Oscars. They are always alert and on on the lookout for food, this is the sign of a healthy fish.
If you are going for a mature Oscar, study it very carefully. If it has any pitting, or holes around its head, leave well clear. There is a possibility it could have hole in the head disease. You never know how it has been treated and what kind of environment it has been kept in before. Having said that, if you want to buy a diseased fish and try and treat it, go-ahead. Just remember that the treatment could be very time-consuming and expensive, and it may not work at the end of the day.
Because Oscars come from the tropics, their tank water needs to be warm. Oscars will be okay with temperatures ranging from 22°C (72°F) to 28°C (82°F) You would normally have transported your fish home in a large plastic bag. Don't just open the bag and pour the fish in. Float the bag in the tank for around 15 minutes until the water inside the bag has had time to match that in the tank. The fish will already be a little bit stressed out from the journey, putting them straight into a tank that has a different temperature water could very well stress them even more, which could increase their chances of developing diseases.
To avoid causing too much stress to your fish, when bringing new fish home don't just tip them straight into the tank as this could shock to the fish if there is a big difference in water temperature between the tank and bag you are transporting the fish in. What you must do is place the bag in the aquarium for about 30 minutes whilst the temperature in the bag slowly matches the temperature of the aquarium water. Even when you put the fish into the aquarium it is going to be quite stressed so don't be surprised if the fish just sinks to the bottom and lies motionless, maybe even lying on its side for a while. You also may notice your fish breathing heavily and even changing color. This is not uncommon and shouldn't be a cause for concern.
Keeping Three Oscars Together
There is often a lot of controversy about how many Oscars you should keep together. There really isn't anything written in stone that gives you a definite guidance on how many Oscars can live in harmony. From my experience you don't normally have anything to worry about if you keep a couple of Oscars. However, keeping three Oscars together is normally okay until two of them decide they are going to pair off and start breeding. You may then find that a third Oscar is not welcome in an aquarium where you have a breeding pair of Oscars. The easiest way to curb aggression if you do want to keep more than two Oscars is to provide them with plenty of space.
I don't care what anyone says, Oscars are not aggressive fish, not like other cichlids such as terrors. Red terrors have been known to jump out of the water and attack a hand when it is placed over where their eggs are. Okay, you might be unfortunate and cop an aggressive Oscar, but they shouldn't all be put in the same boat which some people tend to do.
If you have got more than one Oscar then you may well have seen them performing all kinds of funny behaviour. It is quite difficult to determine what is aggressive, and what isn't. Jaw, or lip locking is when Oscars face each other off with mouths wide open, they often grab hold of each other's mouths and almost perform tug of war. Basically, this is how they test each other's strength. And this is where it can get confusing, this can be a sign of aggression, however, it can also be what we call a breeding ritual. It is thought that this is the way that the female tests the males strength to whether they are suitable candidates to carry on the gene pool. There is a possibility it could be similar to how African cichlids choose their mates, they do it by colour, rather than fighting.
You may also have seen your Oscar flaring its gills and opening their mouths wide. I am actually of the opinion that they do this for the same reason a cobra snake expands its neck, to make themselves look bigger and more menacing. I've watched my Oscars do this quite a lot and I can't think of any other reason why they would expand their gills and open their mouths wide other than to try and make themselves look bigger than they actually are.
On occasions, you may well see your Oscar charging at the side of the tank. It is thought that they can see their reflection and probably think that another Oscar is intruding their space. I don't think this has been proved to be the absolute reason why Oscars do this, it just seems the most likely reason.
First-time Oscar owners often panic when they see their fish performing These strange antics. I will warn you now, even a breeding pair can, and will cause each other some quite nasty scrapes and abrasions. Don't jump the gun too quickly and separate them when you see them doing this. Just observe them for a while and see how things go. It should become apparent if they are out and out fighting, or whether they are just going through a kind of breeding ritual. If they hang around with each other most of the time then you should be okay. It is very sweet to see them when they are like this, a lot of the time they won't leave each other side. Oscars can actually mate for life which makes owning a pair that much more special. Mind you, if they are stuck in the same tank for 15 years, they don't really have a choice if they get horny
Oscars are what we call monomorphic. This means that males and females look the same. Unfortunately, you won't be able to go into a shop and choose a male and a female like you can with other species of fish such as guppies. You will normally only know the sex of your Oscars when they start laying eggs. There are various ways you can increase your chances of obtaining a male and a female. Probably the easiest way is to find somebody who is willing to let you have a known mating pair of Oscars. Most people would prefer to get their Oscars at a young age so the best way to make sure you get a pair is to buy several Oscars at a very young age and wait for them to pair off. Obviously, the more you get, the more chances are that you will have a pair. The downside of doing this is that you have to make sure there is someone who will take the Oscars you are left with when you have finally got your pair.
Only when Oscars start laying eggs will you know for sure that you have got a male and a female. The females egg tube is overall in the shape, not unlike the pointed end of an egg. The males sexual organ is pointed and looks rather like a thorn.
Oscars grow very big indeed, we all like to have a huge Oscar and it's nice bragging about how big it is. Now, how to measure Oscars is one of those questions that is forever coming up on various forums. Some people say you should only measure standard length SL (this means from the nose to the wrist of the tail) and other people say you should measure total length. Every country has their rules on measuring fish and how long fish should be before you are allowed to keep them . The main reason this is done is for conservation purposes. People cannot be allowed to take undersized and juvenile fish out of the rivers and seas. If there were no rules governing what can be kepted, and what cannot , there wouldn't be any fish left. For this reason, I don't see the point of arguing about how to measure fish when they are in your aquarium. It is also probably worth mentioning that freshwater fish should be measured total length. This means you measure the whole body including the tail. Since Oscars are freshwater fish, you include the tail. There shouldn't really be any argument about this on forums.
Before you buy
Use a Reputable Fish Store
If you already keep fish you probably have a good relationship with a particular aquatic centre, maybe more than one. However, if you are new to fish and are looking to buy your first Oscar and please don't walk into a fish store and buy the first Oscar that you clap your eyes on. It is good practice to vet a supplier. Just because they sell fish, it doesn't mean they are competent and good at their job, anybody can open up a fish shop.
Have a wander around the shop first, is it nice and tidy and clean? Is there rubbish left on the floor? if you find that this is the case, you can bet your bottom dollar that their maintenance regime isn't up to much. A tidy shop tells you a lot about the people who run it. Have a look in the tanks, do they look clean and well cared for? Is the glass covered in algae? are there sick and dying fish left in the tanks ? However, if you see tanks that are clearly marked "quarantine" or "not for sale" this would indicate to me that the people who run the premises have a responsible attitude. This alone tells me that there is a good chance they are selling healthy fish.
Before I ever purchase fish, I like to have a chat with the owner, if they have a good knowledge about fish and are willing to take responsibility if fish bought from them become ill very quickly, I will certainly have no qualms in purchasing fish from them. I also like to see separate filtration systems on each tank. I'm not keen on one filtration systems servicing all the tanks. Whereas this is a good way filtering tanks, it can also have a detrimental effect, especially if one tank suddenly becomes diseased. Finally, I like to see water changes being carried out during shop hours, even if it's youngsters who have been employed to do the job
A Fish Is for Life, Not Just for Christmas
A corny title probably, but I'm deadly serious. Please don't be complacent when you enter the world of keeping Oscars. Too many people think that fish are an easy option when it comes to keeping pets. It is quite the opposite, you'll probably find that a dog or cat is easier to look after than an Oscar. Some tropical fish can live longer than dogs or cats, Oscars can easily live for 10 years so think carefully before buying one. If you go on holiday you'll need someone to come in and look after your fish for you, you can't send your Oscar off to the kennels. Keeping Oscars will mean water change once a week for the entirety of their life. Remember that you'll have heaters and pumps running 24/7, the bigger the aquarium, the more electricity you will use. Think long-term, what happens if you get fed up? It's not easy to find a new home for a fish that can exceed 1 feet in length. Oscars are brilliant fish that will give you hours of entertainment, be fair to them and look after them properly. If in doubt, we are here to help.