Jaguar Cichlid Expert Care Guide & Tank Set Up For Aquarists

Jaguar Cichlids are aggressive, they get very big and they require a lot of space and care.

It’s not something I’d recommend to a beginner aquarist. However, if you’re able to, owning one or two of these can make for a real show-stopping tank.

If you’re up for a 15 year journey, continue reading and I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to care for Jaguar Cichlids.

Jaguar Cichlid Care Overview

  • Min. Tank size: 100-125 gallons (378-473 liters)
  • Temperature: 75°-82°F (24°-28°C)
  • Care level: Advanced
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Behavior: Highly aggressive predatory fish
  • How many can be kept together: A single fish or 1 mated pair
  • Size: 14-16 inches (35-41 centimeters)

Jaguar Cichlids In the Wild

Jaguar Cichlids are native to Central American lakes and streams. However, there are now invasive populations in South America, Mexico, Florida and even Singapore due to the aquarium trade. 

They are very tolerant of different conditions and can thrive in a variety of habitats that include lakes, streams and river basins.

They are an extremely aggressive, predatory fish and get very large in the wild.

Wild Jaguar Cichlids grow up to 24”(60cm) long and 15 pounds(14 Kg) and are sometimes used as a food fish.

Jaguar Cichlid Appearance

Jaguar cichlid swimming in fish tank

The Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis managuensis), also known as the Aztec Cichlid, is a large, elongated silvery fish with an ovate shape. 

They have black and brown spots of varying sizes and patterns over a golden background, making them resemble their namesake, the jaguar.

This species has prominent,showy dorsal and anal fins supported by spiny rays. 

They also have a large mouth and a protruding lower jaw with visible teeth.

Juvenile Jaguar Cichlids are difficult to sex because they are very similar in appearance. 

However, juveniles have a series of dark, vertical bars on their bodies which fade away in males as they mature. This makes adults pretty easy to sex as the females retain the dark bars

Males are also significantly larger and have more prominent dorsal and anal fins than the females. 

Lifespan

The Jaguar Cichlid has an average lifespan of 15 years. With excellent water conditions and consistent care they can live even longer!

How to Set Up a Jaguar Cichlid Tank

Jaguar cichlid (Parachromis managuensis) swimming in blackwater tank

Tank Size

These fish get huge so they need a lot of space to really thrive.

I would recommend at least a 100 gallon (379L) for a single male and at least a 150 gallon (568L) for a mated pair. If you want to have tank mates for a single fish then you will need a much bigger tank of course.

Filtration

Jaguar Cichlids are big, powerful fish that do a lot of swimming and like a strong current. 

Because they are so big they produce a ton of waste and this can change water parameters quickly if there is insufficient filtration.

They are also quite capable of damaging equipment like fish filters and heaters. 

For all these reasons I would strongly recommend a canister filter, like the Fluval FX6. Canister filters have tons of room for filter media to process the waste these large fish produce. 

Water Parameters

  • Temperature: 75°-82°F (24°-28°C)
  • Ammonia/Nitrite: 0
  • Nitrate:<30ppm
  • pH:7.0-8.7
  • GH:10-15
  • KH: 3-8 

Heater

This is a tropical species so it is essential to have a heater. 

Jaguar Cichlids are very strong and can easily damage heaters made from less durable materials such as glass and ceramic. 

Therefore, a titanium heater or one protected by a heater guard such as the Fluval E300 is highly recommended.

Substrate

You should use sand or gravel for your substrate. I don’t recommend using a planted substrate because cichlids love to dig and they will uproot anything you plant in the substrate.

A planted substrate would just be a waste of money in this case.

Lighting

In their natural habitat Jaguar Cichlids are used to cloudy water with a lot of plant debris floating around so subdued lighting is best for these guys. 

If the light is too bright it can stress the fish out and you definitely don’t want that.

Plants and Decor

Generally speaking I wouldn’t recommend rooted plants unless you grow them in pots. Jaguar Cichlids will happily dig up anything planted in the substrate. 

Floating plants are a better choice because they will provide the shade that Jaguar Cichlids are used to in their natural habitat. 

Some floating plants that would provide good shade are Brazilian Pennywort or Duckweed. 

You can also try rhizome plants, like Java fern and anubias, that you can attach to rocks or driftwood.

Any aquarium decor should be sturdy and heavy so it is not easily moved. Largish rocks and driftwood are especially good because they also provide something for the fish to hide behind so they feel more secure.

Feeding Jaguar Cichlid

It is possible to train Jaguar Cichlids to eat pellets or flake food if you start at a very young age. 

These fish will do much better and be healthier on a high protein diet consisting of live and/or frozen foods. In the wild, Jaguar Cichlids are opportunistic predators and so they will eat a wide variety of foods. 

Some good choices are California blackworms, tadpoles, crickets and other insects. 

You should never feed them meat from warm blooded animals, like beef heart, because of the high fat content. 

Fish haven’t evolved to eat these kinds of foods and they can be very unhealthy. Fat from beef, pork, chicken and other mammal meats can cause fat to build up around  your fish’s heart and over time it can damage their liver and reproductive organs.

Jaguar Cichlids should be fed once a day. You want to give them as much as they can eat in a few minutes. You don’t want leftover food in the aquarium as it will rot and cause problems with the water quality in your tank.

Jaguar Cichlid Breeding

Once they are paired up Jaguar Cichlids are actually pretty easy to breed. To get mated pairs your best bet is to put 4 to 6 juveniles in a tank together and see who pairs off.

Jaguar Cichlids will be mature and ready to breed when they are about 4 inches long.

Of course, if you can find them and afford them, you can also just buy a pair that are already bonded.

Mated pairs are especially aggressive when breeding and should be housed in a large tank by themselves, if they aren’t already.

You can get the breeding process started by raising the temperature to 80-82F(27-28C) and doing two 50% water changes within a week. 

At the same time you also want to be feeding them lots of high protein fresh or frozen foods such as California Blackworms and tadpoles.

Females will lay eggs on a flat rock where the male will fertilize them. They watch over their eggs and fry and protect the fry until they are free swimming (about a week). 

Males will fight any other fish to the death to protect the eggs and fry.

Jaguar Cichlid Tank Mates

 Jaguar Cichlids are very aggressive, especially towards other species of fish. This makes the optimal choice for a tank mate another Jaguar Cichlid, preferably one that is part of a mated pair. 

Can you keep other species of fish with a Jaguar Cichlid?. Yes, but they have to be big enough to fend for themselves and you need a huge tank with lots of room for each fish. 

Other large aggressive species of cichlids are best such as Oscars, Green Terrors, Red Devils and Flowerhorn Cichlids. Large catfish like the Red-tail Catfish and large Plecos such as the Common Pleco and the Sailfin Pleco  can also make good tank mates.

The best chance of success is to put all of the fish together as juveniles and let them grow up together. But you still need to be prepared to separate the fish moving some to another tank if a problem arises. If you don’t have another tank you can also use a tank divider.

Is a Jaguar Cichlid Right for You?

I definitely would not recommend this fish for beginners. 

These fish are aggressive, they get very big and they require a lot of space and care.

Jaguar Cichlids live for about 15 years on average so you are making a fairly long-term commitment when you get one.

However, if you have some experience, especially with cichlids, and you are prepared to care for them for many years then this beautiful and impressive fish could be the star of your aquarium. 

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Steve Morgan
Steve is an aquarist with 25 years of experience in the hobby. He's a DIY genius by day and a Krav Maga fanatic by night.

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