Understand Your Oscar Fish And Give Them The Best Care

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Oscar fish are big, beautiful, and intelligent. Oscar fish are considered to be some of the most intelligent fish available in the hobby. But their intelligence poses as many challenges as it does benefits, and the more educated the aquarist is, the better care he can offer the fish.

Tiger Oscar Cichlid varieties



Tiger Oscar Cichlid

  • Scientific Name: Astronotus ocellatus
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Origin: Amazon river basin drainage
  • Maximum Size: 12"
  • Lifespan: 10 -13 years
  • Tank size: 50 gallons for a single Oscar and 75 gallons for two
  • Temperature: 72 - 80°F (80 - 85°F for breeding)
  • pH: 6 - 8,  acid to neutral
  • Hardness: moderate, dH 5 - 20.

Albino Oscars

The standard Tiger Oscar Cichlid has a black body with bright orange stripes and the Albino Tiger Oscar Cichlid has a white body with vibrant orange striping. Each fish has a very unique stripe pattern; yes, like snowflakes!

Oscar Cichlid's dorsal, anal, and caudal fins all have a round shape that flows in line with their bodies, making them look even more massive. The pelvic fins are very elegantly flowing, much like the pelvic fins on angel fish.

Red Oscar

In addition to the Tiger Oscars, there are Red Oscars. They are very similar to the Tiger Oscar Cichlid in coloration, they just lack the stripe pattern. Aside from the lack of stripes, they are the same fish.

When they are juveniles, all of the color looks very smooth, as if they were painted, but as they grow, you will begin to see the color in individual scales. I seriously LOVE the look of these fish when they get to this point. This is when you will begin to feel like they are getting bigger by the day. After they grow out of their awkward teenager bodies, into mature adult ocellatus, they will have beefy, football shaped bodies. (When full grown, they’re about the size of a football, too!).

Oscar intelligence and training


Oscars are capable of recognizing their owners and, like most fish, associate their owners with feeding. These South American cichlids are also intelligent enough to distinguish their owners from others and develop recognition of those people, cultivating multiple bonds.

Oscars are hungry fish and eager eaters. As such, they can be readily trained with food. Hand-feeding can be accomplished by gradually feeding small amounts of food near the fish. The aquarist should keep his hands nearby the food so that the Oscar must come close in order to eat. Eventually the fish will associate the aquarist with food and learn that the physical presence of the aquarist in the water poses no threat. The ultimate goal here is to foster trust, and with enough patience and time, that trust will be earned and the Oscar will be comfortable enough to eat straight from its owner’s hand. In time the fish may even appreciate being pet.

Don’t be discouraged if the Oscar is wary or avoids contact. While not always the case, Oscars can take a long time to warm up to their owners: sometimes months, or even years. They spend a significant amount of time watching and studying their owner’s movements and habits.

Overall, Oscars tend to be very social and enjoy interacting with people. Some of these cichlids enjoy playing with foreign objects such as ping-pong balls or other floating objects, and the fish can even be taught to perform simple tasks (such as moving a ball from one side of the tank to the other).

Oscar fish are also very attentive to detail and frequently rearrange their aquarium according to their tastes. It is not unusual to see them move ornaments, rocks, heaters, or filter tubes. They also burrow in the substrate. For these reasons, it is nearly impossible to keep them in planted aquariums.

Understanding and anticipating the behavior of Oscar fish allows the aquarist to avoid potential problems, especially when it comes to housing them with other fish. Moreover, coming to terms with just how intelligent these fish are proffers the aquarist many opportunities to form rewarding and long-lasting bonds with their Oscar.

Aquarium setup


If you are purchasing a Tiger Oscar Cichlid from a pet store, it will probably be about the size of a half dollar coin. Roughly 2 inches in length. Make sure you have at least a 50 gallon aquarium for a single Oscar; 75 gallons will be enough to house 2.

A simple setup works best for this fish. All you need for a perfect Oscar tank is two to three inches of sand or very fine gravel and a few rocks and drift wood. Large rocks are best and they should be placed directly on the bottom of the tank with the substrate filled in around them to deter Oscars from digging up the rocks and over turning them. Keeping a lot of space open for them to swim is most important.

You will have difficulty keeping a planted aquarium, as the Tiger Oscar Cichlid is a fish that loves to dig and uproot plants. (Seems to be a trait shared by most Cichlids.) If you do decide you want to have plants in the tank, I’d make sure that they were potted well and maybe have some rocks over the roots.

Aggression in Oscar Fish

The most well-known and notorious trait possessed by Oscars is their aggression. Anyone aspiring to keep these fish should carefully consider this fact before purchasing an Oscar. They are also territorial and strive to rule the aquarium, often casting themselves as bullies. In a small or crowded aquarium, this problem is greatly magnified.

While there are cases of Oscars maintaining a peaceful disposition and finding homes in community aquariums, they are rare. Generally, Oscar fish should either be kept alone as specimens, in groups of six or more Oscars, or in aquariums with other large, aggressive fish.

Oscars kept in pairs tend to do fairly well, especially breeding pairs. However violence is not uncommon, even in these situations.

If they are being kept in groups, they should number five to six or more. When kept in smaller groups, Oscars sometimes have the tendency to single out one of their kind and direct their aggression towards it. Generally what happens is the smallest or weakest Oscar is singled out and constantly harassed and attacked. Eventually the fish stresses out, develops secondary bacterial infections and dies unless it is removed. Providing more space through a larger aquarium can sometimes alleviate this tension.

In any case, tank mates should be chosen very carefully and should be relatively hardy and capable of standing up to some aggression and potential bullying.

Tank mates


These fish really are not that bad in terms of aggression. Considering the size of the fish, as well as the fact that they are carnivores, you might assume that they are terrifying aggressors. This just isn’t the case. They have massive mouths and one hell of an appetite, so they will eat any fish in the tank that will fit in their mouths. What is the lesson here?.. Don’t keep your Tiger Oscar Cichlid with a school of neon tetras!

If you’re considering tank mates for a Tiger Oscar Cichlid, avoid little fish (for their safety) and avoid aggressive fish that may nip at the oscars dangling pelvic fins. Oscars will do very well with other Cichlids from South America and Central America. These Cichlids will be large enough to not be eaten and they are typically not as “nippy” as the African Cichlids that I've kept.

Some specific options that will make good roommates for them are, Jack Dempsey Cichlids, Fire Mouth Cichlids, Convict Cichlids, Parrot Cichlids… The list could go on for quite a while and these are just a few Cichlids that I would recommend. Just keep in mind the size of your aquarium and the size that the tank mates will grow to as well as the Tiger Oscar Cichlid, it is way too easy to over stock a fish tank!

Fish foods and feeding

The fact that these Oscars are carnivores does NOT mean that you will need to be preparing meaty meals every night. Most often, my Oscars are fed Cichlid Sticks; two or three times a week you should give them something meatier. After a good rainfall, go outside and find some earthworms for them, otherwise, cut up some precooked shrimp or buy feeder fish for them.

They can eat almost types of fish foods from pellet foods, live foods to freeze dried fish foods (brine shrimp, blood worm, earth worm…) Besides, they can eat vegetables such as romaine lettuce, cucumbers and zucchini. The Oscar fish is really not a difficult fish to please in terms of feeding. As long as you don’t make them a salad, Oscars will eat until food is spilling out of their mouths and gills… Literally!!

Are Oscars a good fish for you?

If you have a large enough tank that either doesn’t have any fish yet or has fish that are compatible, then I’d say these fish are a good fit for your aquarium.

They are one of the few fish that I feel like I can identify as a pet. Every time you approach the glass, they will be there to greet you! They will follow you along the glass waiting to be fed, and, with some patience and persistence, they will even eat right out of your fingers!

One last thing to keep in mind. They can be rather messy eaters and it’s pretty likely that there will be uneaten food in the tank. This just means that you might need to do your water changes a little more often than once per month (this depends on your filtration as well).

Generally speaking, it’s always best not to overfeed fish, but sometimes it’s unavoidable with Oscars. I may drop a piece of shrimp in the tank and they just don’t see it, so it ends up on the bottom of the tank, rotting away.

All in all, a Tiger Oscar Cichlid is going to make a great pet that will look great in your aquarium. If you want one, I say get one. You won’t regret it!

Affiliate links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. Last update on 2022-09-11.

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