jaguar cichlid swimming in aquarium

Jaguar Cichlid Care: Tank, Diet, Breeding, and What You Need to Know

The Jaguar Cichlid is a popular species of freshwater fish. They’re beautiful fish with lots of personality but aquarium owners need to know how to create the right environment for them to thrive. For example, their tanks need to be sized and set up appropriately. These fish need a lot of space so your little 10-gallon won’t work for this species! You’ll also need to stock their tank with all of the necessary equipment in order to keep them happy and healthy.

This blog post outlines everything that an aquarist needs in order to care for their Jaguar Cichlid. Let’s dive in!

Recommended Jaguar Cichlid Care Items:

Jaguar Cichlid Overview

The Jaguar Cichlid is a popular species from the Cichlid family. They hail from the lakes and rivers of Central America. There are also invasive populations in South America, Mexico, Florida, and Singapore.

Invasive species situations occur when an aquarist or fish store dumps an unwanted fish in a local water system where it thrives and begins to compete with natural species. Jaguar cichlids are tolerant of different water conditions, meaning it is relatively easy for them to adapt to the conditions where they’re dumped.

Jaguar cichlids have a lot of different names including Managuense Cichlids and Aztec Cichlids. Their main name, jaguar cichlid, comes from the color patterns on their bodies, as they resemble jaguars.

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Overall, they are aggressive, predatory fish that can get very large. Wild jaguar cichlids get extremely big, topping out at about 24 inches, whereas domestically-kept fish tend to max out at 12 inches.

Jaguar Cichlid Appearance

The Jaguar Cichlid is a large, elongated silvery fish with an oval-shaped body. The body appears large and flat when viewed from the side but is slender and sleek when viewed from above. Their thin frame helps them dart quickly through the water, which enables their hunting prowess.

As their name suggests, they look like jaguars of the fish world. They have black and brown spots over a golden background. They also have a large mouth and a protruding lower jaw with teeth sticking out, making them visibly intimidating. Their jaw can extend, helping them gulp down larger prey than you might guess.

How long do Jaguar Cichlids live?

Jaguar cichlids can live about 15 years in captivity under good conditions. This means if you purchase a jaguar for your tank, be prepared for a long commitment!

Some aquarists have reported their fish live longer than the 15-year mark but this requires consistent, pristine conditions. Aspire to this!

How big do Jaguar Cichlids get?

These bad boys get big. In general, cichlids are known to get pretty large and Jaguar Cichlids are no exception. When full-grown, male Jaguar Cichlids can reach 14-16 inches in length. Females are usually a few inches shorter than males.

If you were to encounter a Jaguar cichlid in the wild, you might come face-to-face with a 24-inch specimen!

The max sizes assume a large enough tank for your fish and good water conditions. If you keep your fish in a tank that is too small, they won’t be able to reach their full-size potential.

Jaguar Cichlid Temperament

Expect aggressive behavior with your Jaguar Cichlid. They’re not good community tank members. They will actively pick fights with other fish in the tank and try to eat anything they can get their mouth around.

They are territorial and will likely attempt to kill any fish that enters their territory. Because they’re such big fish, this means you would need a pretty massive tank in order for it to be large enough to avoid territory fights.

Besides their noteworthy territory aggression, Jaguar Cichlids tend to hang out in the bottom half of the aquarium. Like a lot of cichlids, they’re prone to digging around in your substrate so beware if you’re considering including them in a planted tank. They’re also active fish who tend to stay busy.

How aggressive are Jaguar cichlids?

This species is definitely towards the aggressive end of cichlids. They’re extremely territorial and even bonded pairs have physical altercations on occasion. They frequently make the cut for the lists of most aggressive freshwater fish species. Because of this, we recommend them for experienced cichlid owners.

Jaguar Cichlid Care

Our guide covers the ideal habitat, including tank, lighting, filtration, and more for Jaguar Cichlids. Let’s dive in!

Jaguar Cichlid Habitat

When planning the ideal Aztec cichlid tank, it is recommended to try to recreate their natural environment. This principle works well when designing tanks and making sure your fish are eating correctly. Recreate their natural environment for best results. 

What is the best tank for a Jaguar Cichlid?

These fish get big so as you might expect, they need a big tank. The ideal tank size for a single Jaguar cichlid is 100 to 125 gallons. If you have a mated pair, you’re going to want at least 150 gallons. Some aquarists have tried smaller tanks, around 70 gallons, and see success but we recommend the 100 to 125-gallon range for best results.

For a tank this big, you’re definitely going to need a dedicated aquarium stand. You should also consider a natural aquarium background to keep stress levels low.

Jaguar Cichlid Water Conditions

This species comes from the lakes and rivers of Central America. This means their natural habitat water is warm and close to neutral in pH.

As we mentioned before, Jaguar Cichlids are very tolerant and adaptable to a variety of water conditions. That means they’ll be more forgiving to a wider range of conditions. However, this doesn’t mean that you can let their water parameters fluctuate wildly. They will do their best in consistent conditions.

Also try to keep the temperature on the lower end of the scale, as warmer conditions tend to bring out aggressive behavior.

Here are some of the most important parameters to consider:

  • Water temperature: 73°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 7.0 to 8.5
  • Water hardness: 10 to 15 dGH

Use an aquarium testing kit to test your water weekly and stay on top of any changes.

What is the Best Type of Substrate for Jaguar Cichlids?

For cichlid tanks, we generally recommend sand or gravel for the substrate. Avoid putting this species in a planted tank with planted substrate. Your cichlids will dig, uproot your plants, and cloud the water. Planted substrates are excellent but it would be a total waste of money in this situation.

What Kind of Lighting do Jaguar Cichlids need?

Jaguar Cichlids’ natural habitat includes cloudy water with floating plant debris. This means they won’t be bothered if you don’t have super bright lights blasting 24/7. In fact, if the light is too bright or left on too long, it will stress them out.

We recommend a straightforward LED light that can be customized to your preferences. This LED lighting guide has more options if you want to shop around.

What Kind of Filtration do Jaguar Cichlids Need?

Jaguar Cichlids are big, powerful fish. They like a strong current for swimming (you could consider a wavemaker) and keeping their form in fine hunting shape.

They’re also big fish which means they produce a lot of waste. Because of their heavy bioload, you need a heavier duty filtration system.

We recommend a canister filter for Jaguar Cichlids. Canister filters are excellent for cleaning the water of high-bioload fish and creating a strong current for swimming. This Fluval canister filter is a great option.

What is the Best Heater for Jaguar Cichlids?

If you read the preferred temperature range above, you probably realize this fish needs a heater.

One factor to consider when thinking through your heater selection is the strength of Jaguar Cichlids. They can and will damage less-durable glass and ceramic heaters. Your heater is not a place to skimp on the budget. 

Because of their strength, we recommend a heater that includes a heater guard or one that is constructed from titanium. The Fluval E300 series is a great option.

Jaguar Cichlid Decorations

We recommend a natural tank environment for your jaguars. We like to decorate with plants, rocks, and driftwood. For plants, floating plants or rooted plants that have been potted are recommended. Rocks, caves, and driftwood are also good choices.

When you’re planning the tank, think about providing some hiding spots for your cichlids. It helps them feel safe and secure, which helps reduce aggression. You can also consider a large flat rock for breeding if you have a pair.

For placement, place the majority of the decorations around the perimeter of the tank. This will create max swimming space for your fish.

Jaguar Cichlid Plants

Jaguars can be difficult to keep in planted tanks. They have a tendency to snoop around in your substrate and seem to take special joy in uprooting plants. For this reason, we recommend floating plants or rooted plants that have been potted. Examples of floating plants include duckweed, hornwort, and cabomba.

Jaguar Cichlid Potential diseases

Important notice: we are not veterinarians at Aquarium Friend so the information below should be used for general awareness only. If you are concerned about the health of your cichlid, consult a veterinarian immediately.

In general, Jaguar Cichlids are a hardy, healthy species. They don’t have any species-specific illnesses. However, this does not mean you keep them in a dirty tank without the proper diet and expect them to be fine. If you give them the right conditions, they will generally stay quite healthy.

Keep an eye out for the diseases common to all freshwater fish such as Ich and other bacterial infections. Although Ich is common, it can be deadly if not cared for properly so make sure you address it quickly if you see the telltale white spots.

The best way to avoid Ich and other illnesses is to regularly monitor water conditions. Also, make sure you’re doing regular water changes to avoid a buildup of ammonia and nitrates. Bad water conditions will trigger stress which makes disease development more likely.

Jaguar Cichlid Feeding 

Jaguar Cichlids are carnivorous fish, meaning they are protein-eaters. If you start them early, they can be trained to eat flakes and pellets. However, they will be healthiest with a protein-based diet.

They’re pretty opportunistic and will basically eat whatever you give them. This means feeder fish, insects, crickets, worms, and anything else that they can fit into their mouth are all possibilities. They can eat both dry and frozen foods.

We recommend feeding them once a day. Only provide as much food as your fish can consume in a few minutes.

Jaguar Cichlid Tank Mates

These fish are highly territorial and aggressive as full-grown adults. That means you should not be including an adult Jaguar Cichlid in your community tank unless you want them to promptly eat all of their tank members. Juveniles are less aggressive so you might be able to include them in a mixed tank but you will need to keep a close eye on how they’re behaving.

The best fish for a tank companion is another Jaguar Cichlid. Bonded pairs can live happy lives together (although like any long-term mates, they might squabble occasionally). You can purchase a pair that has already bonded or you can house juvenile males and females together until they begin to pair off.

If you really want to keep other fish in your jaguar tank, know that It is possible. However, your success will be largely dependent on your fish’s personality. Some fish are more aggressive than others. Potential tankmates include other large Cichlids and large catfish. Here are some potential pairings:

Jaguar Cichlid Breeding

If you’re interested in creating offspring, you’re in luck with this species. Breeding Jaguar Cichlids is pretty straightforward. They do a lot of the work for you by pairing off in bonded pairs. They’re also great parents which makes raising the fry easier.

If you notice your bonded pair is getting more aggressive with other members of the tank, it is time to move them to a separate breeding tank.

You can trigger breeding with a few simple steps. First, raise the temperature a few degrees and perform 50% water changes every other day for a week. During this week, provide high-quality, protein-rich live food to get your fish in the mood.

You might notice your female will increase in size because of the eggs. Females can lay about 2,000 eggs at once so she is carrying a lot! When she is ready, she will use a flat rock for laying the eggs. The male will then promptly fertilize the eggs.

After they’re fertilized, the eggs should hatch within 5-7 days. Both parents will guard the area aggressively during this time so if there are any other fish in the tank, remove them promptly or the parents are likely to kill them.

After the eggs hatch, the parents might dig a pit in the sand and transfer the tiny fry to the pit so they can watch them closely. Once the baby fish begin to swim freely (about a week old), .you can provide baby brine shrimp to feed them.

How to Sex Jaguar Cichlids

Jaguar cichlids are difficult to sex until they are mature. Both males and females have the same dark stripes. However, males lose their dark stripes as they mature. Males also grow bigger than females. If you have immature or smaller jaguars, venting is the only sure way to determine sex.

Do Jaguar Cichlids eat their babies?

Quite the opposite! Jaguar Cichlids make excellent parents and they will protect their eggs and fry at all costs. However, if your fish are in a tank with larger, more aggressive fish (like Oscar fish or Jack Dempsey), it is possible that the larger fish could eat the young jaguar cichlids.

Jaguar Cichlid FAQs

Do Jaguar cichlids have teeth?

Yes, jaguar cichlids have a bottom jaw that typically protrudes with two to four sharp incisors that are visible. They also have pharyngeal teeth (teeth in their throat) which they use for hunting.


Jaguar cichlids are a popular freshwater species of fish. They’re active, intelligent, but also aggressive and they get quite large so aquarists need to be prepared to care for this sort of fish. This guide covered their tank setup, diet, and breeding. Do you have a jaguar cichlid? Tell us about your experience!

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