Oscar Fish Care & Species Guide

Oscar fish are part of the cichlid family and are infamous for their aggression. This may be hard to imagine, as they swim so gracefully, but they prove that looks can be deceiving.

Those who are brave enough to keep them may initially be attracted by their appearance and colors, but quickly come to appreciate their intelligence and social behaviors.

These are temperamental creatures that should only be looked after by experienced fish keepers. As omnivores, they’re easy to feed, but it can be hard to find suitable tank mates.

This is definitely a species worthy of a place in your home; their complex behaviors will captivate you for hours.

Oscar Fish Facts & Overview

Oscar

CategoryRating
Care Level:Moderate
Temperament:Aggressive/territorial
Color Form: Various
Lifespan: Up to 20 years
Size: Up to 12 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Family: Cichlidae
Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater: rocks and caves
Compatibility: Large, passive fish

Oscar fish (Astronotus ocellatus) are a species of cichlid, so it won’t surprise you that they’re from the Cichlidae family. Most cichlids are from either Africa or South America, these are from the latter.

They’re native to Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, French Guiana, and Peru. They can be found along the Amazon river and its surrounding areas, which is one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world.

Wild populations have also been found elsewhere (in places such as North America and China), though they’ve only spread to these areas through the fishkeeping industry. These fish are very popular for home aquariums, but they’re not to be purchased without thought. They’re infamous for their aggressive and territorial behavior which can make them difficult to handle.

This is a species full of personality. A few different varieties have been bred which offer some different colors and patterns. Pick wisely because they can live up to 20 years if kept in good health.

You will find oscar fish in most aquarium stores – a healthy individual can be found for under $10.

Typical Behavior

Oscar fish are territorial, so adding them to your tank can be risky.

They aren’t afraid to attack other fish and will do so if a fish encroaches on their territory. Mating and feeding times can also fuel their aggression.

Most of their time will be spent swimming in the mid-levels of the tank, though they’ll often head down to the substrate in search of food. You might see them uproot plants and decorations during this search, so everything in the aquarium should be secured down.

The good news is that if the tank is set up correctly and you choose the right tank mates, their aggression can be controlled.

FAQs about Oscar Fish

How Big Do Oscar Fish Get?

They grow very quickly; up to one inch per month until they reach around 12 inches in length. In the wild, they usually grow slightly larger and there have been reports of these fish growing up to 18 inches.

What Do Oscar Fish Eat?

They are omnivorous so they’ll eat a wide variety of foods. In the wild, they mostly live off a diet of small insects and crustaceans, supplemented by some live fish and dead plant matter.

You can feed them a pellet or flake diet, with the occasional live food treat.

How Long Do Oscar Fish Live?

Most live between 8-12 years, however, given the right care, tank conditions, and diet, they can live up to 15 years.

What Is Hole in the Head Oscar?

Hole in the head disease is a common freshwater fish disease that commonly affects large cichlids such as oscar fish and discus fish. Also known as Hexamita, symptoms include white stringy feces, faded color, and loss of appetite.

Sometimes, but not always, this disease leads to lesions on the head and the body of the fish. This disease is caused by the parasite ‘Hexamita’ and can be fatal if not caught early enough.

Types of Oscar Fish

Group of Oscars

Most varieties grow to be large, reaching up to 12 inches. They reach this size quite quickly in their lifetime, growing one inch a month until fully grown.

They have a long oval body. The dorsal and anal fins extend along the body to the caudal fin, which forms a fan at the rear. You’ll find it difficult to sex this species as they’re monomorphic, which means that both sexes have the same appearance. It takes a close look at the genitals to tell them apart.

Classically these cichlids are covered in an assortment of irregular black and orange splotches (tiger oscars), but colors may change over time.

Many varieties have been created through selective breeding.

Red and lemon oscar fish have bodies that are almost completely solid red or yellow respectively. Their fins tend to be either black or white.

Albinos are another popular choice. You can get albino varieties for lots of species, people are drawn to the bold white that covers the entire body.

What Makes The Perfect Oscar Tank?

Remember, fish have evolved to live in their natural regions, so you need to set up your aquarium to replicate these natural conditions.

The freshwaters of South America are warm with a neutral pH, so oscar fish can’t handle extremes in acidity or alkalinity.

Water flow tends to be strong since most populations are found in rivers like the Amazon. While the sunlight would be strong, the water wouldn’t be crystal clear so some of the intensity is lost as the light penetrates the water.

At the bottom of the river would be a soft substrate with rocks, debris, and vegetation scattered around on top.

It’s fairly easy to recreate these conditions in your tank.

Tank Conditions

At the base of the tank should be a layer of soft substrate. The softest substrates are fine-grained, so sand would be ideal. Oscar fish like to dig so a coarse substrate would scratch them.

The most natural look would be to place rocks and bogwood around the tank, but you’re free to choose any decorations. Make a couple of caves for each fish so that they have somewhere to hide away within their territory. Also, remember to firmly fix the decorations in place.

This species will dig around objects when looking for food which can dislodge them.

Live plants are unlikely to be eaten, but they’re still not safe. Just like the decorations, plants may be uprooted while they dig through the substrate.

Use hardy plants so they can survive the trauma. Floating plants should be safe from damage, a good option is hornwort.

Ideal water conditions are in the range of 74-81°F, 6-8 pH, and 5-20 KH.

You don’t need any special equipment to keep the water healthy, just a filter to clean it and a heater to maintain the ideal temperature range. Most aquarium lights are suitable too.

Attach equipment firmly to the tank or they will suffer at the hands (or fins) of an oscar’s digging. Keep the lid on because these fish are powerful and may jump, or force other fish to jump.

While they like strong currents in the wild, the filter outlet should create a strong enough current, so you shouldn’t need a water/air pump.

What Size Aquarium Do Oscar Fish Need?

Oscar fish will need a fairly large aquarium, 55 gallons or larger is ideal. A smaller tank will cause them stress which will make them ill or more aggressive.

How Many Can Be Kept Per Gallon?

Their size and need for territory mean each fish needs lots of space. Try 55 gallons for the first oscar, then 20-30 gallons more for each additional fish.

Tank Mates

Red Oscar

This species is not the best at making friends. In South America, they live in some of the most diverse areas of the world, so they are used to lots of other fish.

However, this is not the same in a tank because there’s much less room, so tensions rise. An oscar-only tank is probably the best idea if you want these cichlids.

If you are looking to turn your tank into a community then you’ll need to choose some large, passive fish that will stay out of the way while also being able to defend themselves.

Oscar fish are aggressive nature can cause tank mates to live in fear, so choose passive fish. A few good examples include Arowanas, Bichirs, convict cichlids, Firemouth Cichlids, Green Terrors, Jack Dempseys, Jaguar Cichlids, Sailfin Plecos, Severum Cichlids, and Silver Dollars.

As you can see, fellow cichlids are the most common tank mates since they can usually hold their own against an oscar.

Any small fish you add will quickly disappear from the tank. This will be the same for small invertebrates like cherry shrimp and snails too.

Keeping Oscar Fish Together

Oscar fish can be kept together, and this is usually the safest option. Just make sure to follow the stocking guidelines mentioned above.

Their need for territory can cause them to attack tank mates. Make sure they have lots of space as this reduces territory disputes.

Diet

Pair of Oscar Fish

Whilst it can be difficult to find suitable tank mates for oscar fish, providing a healthy diet is not. They’re omnivores and will eat pretty much anything you give them.

In the wild, they would eat small fish, larvae, and small pieces of plant debris. Small insects and crustaceans would make up the largest part of their diet.

In an aquarium, the simplest option is to use store-bought flake/pellet foods. These have been designed to contain all the nutrition your fish need, you can even buy some specifically for cichlids.

Other options include live/frozen foods (which are full of protein). These include bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia. Live foods encourage oscar fish to catch their food which brings out their natural hunting instincts.

If you have some spare green vegetables around your kitchen then you can chop them up and put them in the tank. Or you can use them to make your own homemade fish foods.

Though they might nibble at plants, this won’t be a large part of their diet if you’re feeding them enough of other foods.

The best diet will be a mixture of different food types to provide a range of nutrients that your fish will need to stay healthy.

Feed them a couple of times a day, in amounts that they can completely finish in a couple of minutes. Watch out for aggression as these cichlids get excited around food.

Care

Albino Oscar

Oscar fish require more care than most other species.

Their size and large appetite mean that they produce a lot of mess.

This makes cleaning the tank very important, or conditions will deteriorate quickly. Perform water changes at least once a week, ideally twice.

These cichlids are hardier than most fish, so they don’t get sick often, but they can get ill just like all species.

A common problem for these fish is “hole in the head” disease. This is where cavities and holes begin to form.

This could be a sign that they’re not getting enough nutrients in their food. It is worth changing their diet if you see signs of this disease.

Most aquarists will have heard of ich. This is a parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis that causes a range of different symptoms.

The most notable symptom is the plethora of white spots that develop across a fish’s body, which is why the disease is sometimes known as “white spot disease”.

Other symptoms include flashing and a loss of appetite. Infected fish will be more susceptible to other problems too.

If you spot an infected fish, separate them into a quarantine tank to help prevent the spread of disease to other fish. It also ensures that any treatments will not impact tank mates.

Complete the treatment here and only return the fish once it has returned to health.

Quarantine tanks are useful for new fish too. Keep new additions in a quarantine tank for a while before moving them to your main tank so that you can be confident that you’re not introducing disease to your setup.

Pathogens thrive in poor water conditions, so maintaining a clean environment will help to keep outbreaks of disease at a minimum. 

Using a water testing kit each week will help you to spot changes in the water conditions as soon as possible.

Breeding

These are one of the hardest fish to breed in captivity.

Individuals are very picky when choosing a mate, so you can’t assume that putting any old male and female together will result in juveniles.

You can try to buy an already established breeding pair. Another option is to buy a group of juveniles, as they grow together they will build a connection and be more likely to form mating pairs.

A problem with the second option is that it will take a while for breeding to happen since you will need to wait until the juveniles have matured; this takes 1-2 years.

As long as the oscar fish think they’ve found a suitable mate, you can breed any combination of individuals from different varieties.

Naturally, these fish would breed in the “rainy season”. To signal the rainy season in an aquarium try lowering the temperature a couple of degrees. Water changes every couple of days along with sprinkling water on the surface for a few minutes each day will also help.

When the fish are ready to spawn they’ll flare their gill and use their fins to indicate to their mate. This could be simple fin waggling or vibrations.

The pair will clean a rock surface for the eggs to be laid on. The largest females can produce up to 3,000 opaque white eggs.

Both parents will guard the eggs until they hatch (after 2-3 days); females fan them to keep the substrate from smothering them, while males keep other fish away.

Move the juveniles to a new tank with a sponge filter for the best chance of survival. Feed them around 2-4 times a day to help them grow quickly. You will have to move them again as they get bigger or the tank will get too small and their growth will be stunted.

Are Oscar Fish Suitable for your Aquarium?

It’s rare that oscars can just be added to an already existing tank since they need a carefully planned setup and specific tank mates. This cichlid is usually a centerpiece that you design the rest of the tank around.

This may sound like a lot of work, but your effort will be rewarded with some bright colors and unique social behaviors.

Once the tank is up and running you shouldn’t experience many problems. Diseases are uncommon and you have lots of choices with their diet. Breeding them may be a challenge but it’s not impossible.

If given the chance, oscar fish will quickly work their way to become one of your favorite fish.

FAQs

About Robert 394 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third-generation fish keeper, and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America, and the Nature Conservancy.

36 Comments

  1. Luke says:

    I have an oscar in a tank with an albino rainbow shark, bristlenose pleco also an angelfish.

    • Joseph Gayton says:

      My oscar is tank mates with a redeye bass

    • Jack says:

      Hi, my common oscar lives happily with 2 albino pangasius catfish, a spotted sydontis and 3 bnose plecs

  2. Nathan says:

    I have albino Oscars with blue acaras, silver dollars, lemon cichlid,banjo catfish, sail plec, red tail catfish all doing great no problems at all

    • Xmegatron10 says:

      I woul put an 0scar cichlid with black crappie sunfish

  3. Jillian says:

    I have a huge 10+Inch Oscar (panda’s his name) in a beautiful 75 gallon with a 5 inch rainbow shark (bullet) and 2 chunky Raphael cat fish ( rubble, and double) they are all super happy and thriving! They have all lived together in my dinning room since the beginning going on 4 years. The next step is to get them in a 120 gallon!

  4. Shandi Bryce says:

    I’ve only just received an Oscar from my mum as a gift and I have no clue about them?? And as I’m on a government pension I can’t afford a 55 gallon tank straight away I can get one in 2 weeks ….please help me I clueless!

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      Hi Shandi, what is the Oscar currently housed in? He should be fine for a week or two until you can get 55 gallon tank in a couple of weeks. Thanks, Robert

    • Ellen Taylor says:

      I’ve had one in a 20 gallon tank in my classroom for about a year. I know this isn’t the ideal situation, but he was small when I got him and being clueless, I had no idea he would grow so large. I am finally upgrading to a fifty gallon tank thanks to generous donors! So, they can survive in a smaller tank 🙂

    • Shubham says:

      Please tell me your tanks size..what is water capacity of you tank

  5. Joseph Rabinaud says:

    I have a 6 inch (head to tail) Red Oscar in a 55 gallon along with 2-5 1/2 inch Bala sharks and 1-4 1/2 inch Silver Angel fish, they get along nicely being they’re in the same size range

  6. Marie says:

    I have an albino oscar and a tiger-barb oscar and the tank mates are a fire mouth cichlid an electric blue cichlid a tin foil catfish a sucker mouth algae eater and a freshwater perch. My oscars are just over 7″. All my fish were gotten very young and they are really good tanks.

  7. Sue says:

    I have a tiger Oscar, a blood parrot cichlid and two large red fin sharks. All coexist happily in a 55 gallon tank.

    • Bernard Jones says:

      I hav three Oscar as yes they are very territorial fish, I like that about them, I hav two Oscar in a 55gal tank, with a jack demsey an a few gold fish

  8. Will says:

    Can Oscars live with Africa Cichlids?

    • Fishkeeping World says:

      Hi Will, personally I’d keep Oscars in a species only tank. If you’re set on keeping them with other Cichlids, you could keep a couple with Green Terrors, Convict Cichlids or Jack Dempseys. Thanks, Robert

  9. Robert didszun says:

    I have a 55 gallon tank with a tiger and albino oscar, and also a turquoise severum and a gold severum. Although my tiger oscar tends to chase and nip at my albino oscar, they mostly get along fine. They are all around same size, about 3 to 4 inches long but tiger grows faster than other fish in my tank.

  10. Roxy says:

    Well, I have a 7″ tiger oscar (Diesel) and he will not allow anything else in the tank with him – 75 gallons. Though in the tank with him is a pleco (ghost) which is the same size. I had to give Ghost plenty of hiding places because an oscar will gut out a pleco’s belly. So, I don’t suggest putting another fish in the tank with an oscar if the tank is smaller than a 55 gal or smaller, though the tank looks nicer when there are more fish in it. Fish lives in an OCEAN and we put them in a drinking glass – sort of speak.

  11. Nilesh Kumar Hati says:

    I have got a pair of most beautiful Tiger Oscars in a 115 gallon aquarium for an year or so.

  12. JERRY says:

    I got a 200 gallon tank for my little Oscar (only 2 1/2 inches) and his buddy is a Jack Dempsey (2 inches).
    I think I might have over killed the tank size a little, but got one hell of a deal on it, and those two should be happy in it for years to come.

    • Erica Biamonte says:

      How do you clean a tank like that twice a week like the article says.

      • Heath says:

        Good question I was wondering the same thing lol

  13. Logan says:

    I have two oscars and a sailfin pleco in a 75 gallon tank, which is way to small. But we just got a 154 gallon tank off of facebook for $100 and are soon going to move them in it. The two oscars I have were my beginner fish, aka the second and third fish that I have ever put in a tank. I have an albino and tiger oscar that are both maybe 10 inches, both two years of age. When got the first oscar, I kept it in a one gallon due to how small it was, but then put it in a 5 10 gallon tank when it was two inches big. Around the same time, I spotted an albino oscar in a store that was at the bottom of the tank on its side, and bought it out of sympathy (It is now the most aggressive one and has the largest appetite). I ended up putting both the oscars in the 10 gallon, but the albino oscar tore most of the scales off of the tiger oscar, so then I had to move it to the 5 gallon tank. As a result, the tiger oscar has a malformed jaw because of how cramped it was. When we moved them both into the 75 gallon tank, we added a sailfin pleco with them and it was less than an inch long. The first thing that happened when I added the pleco was it having half of its body in the tiger oscars mouth because the tiger oscar tried to eat the pleco, (at this point the oscars were about 5 inches long). And thats all the interesting moments I have with them, but now the pleco is 16″ or 17″ long.

    • Marie Polkowski says:

      I got to know how did you get the Oscar’s not to eat the pleco? I heard they won’t because like any catfish they have barbs. Just curious how that story ended and he or she survived to 16 inches. How long do you think it took to get that big?

  14. Debbie says:

    Cam Oscars live in a round tank

  15. Xmegatron10 says:

    I’m getting a pair of Hybrid cichlids called the (NIGHT CRUISER CICHLID ??) they are bloodthirstingly aggressive literal killers the male gets to a large 40 inches the female 16 inches I will add 4 firemouth cichlids 2 blue botia loach catfish and 1 single male 0scar cichlid.

  16. Vivek says:

    Thanks for informative article. I have one 8″ oscar with common pleco housing in 55 gallon tank. Sometimes my oscar chase pleco but rest of the time it doesn’t bother.

  17. Mark says:

    I’ve got a friend who’s currently unemployed, and is suggesting I take care of her fish.

    It’s a seventy-five gallon, with an oscar, three convict cichlids and a wild-caught flathead.

    She said I can re-home the cichlids, and I suggested re-releasing the catfish back to where she caught it.

    I have an African sideneck turtle, Kobe, I had for going on a couple of years, now. Last time I checked, she was about four and a half-inches long (quick rule of thumb for keeping aquatic turtles, every ten gallons of water for one inch of their shell-length). I personally think she’s fully-grown, now, ‘cuz she hasn’t grown *that* much since I last measured her. Anyway, me and my folks were going to upgrade her to a bigger aquatic turtle-specific tank, but this just came out of the blue with her tank and collection.

    Funny enough, there’s a video on YouTube from literally five years ago with this guy, also with a 75-gallon, with an albino oscar, an African sideneck just like my Kobe, and a Mississippi map turtle (me and Christina don’t have a map turtle).

    I *literally* don’t have much experience with fish; I made the mistake of putting a bristlenose pleco in with Kobe. Sure, it grew about an inch or two longer, and she left if alone for I would say a good year and a half, but one day she just attacked it. I quickly scooped him (at least I *thought* it was male, “Cookie”) up, put it in my mom’s betta tank, but he later died from the stress afterwards.

    Again, I don’t have *that* much experience with fish, but with an oscar’s larger size and aggression, would my turtle (African sidenecks have their own aggressive streaks, too) leave it well alone?

  18. Daniel Peterson says:

    I have a 36 gallon bow front tank which I purchased about a month ago. I have an Oscar with a Parrot Cichlid and 3 Plecos left. They are all getting along fine right now after Ocsar killed all the other fish I had(about 15) within 2 days of setting up my aquarium. It seems the Oscar and Parrot Cichlid are best buddies now seen swimming around together often. Both have doubled in size in a month.

  19. Dave Smith says:

    I have a 125 gallon tank with a 9 inch albino Oscar and an 11 inch red Oscar with a 7 inch Rot Keith Severum and 6 inch Jack Dempsey. Tank boss is the red Oscar, all tolerate each other well. The Sevrum and Jack Dempsey occasionally get into it, but nothing serious.

  20. Kisha says:

    Our Oscar is a year old and extremely peaceful. We have a 75 gallon tank and the tank mates are 2 neon tiger barbs, two neon tetras, a rosy barb, a corydora, two australian rainbow fish, a chinese sucker, a bristol nose pleco, a pictus catfish, a electric yellow ciclid and a feeder guppy. They all swim around happily and not stressed at all. This tank started as a neon tank And became a catch all for bullied fish from our other tanks. It’s a weird mixture but beautiful community tank.

  21. Louise says:

    We started off with 2 Oscar fish then added 2 parrot fish, all was going well 🙂 then added a silver arowana! The oscars turned quickly and started attacking the arowana so we had to separate everyone! We moved the oscars into their own tank & added 2 more oscars (all now cohabitating smoothly) then added a fire eel in with the arowana & 2 parrot fish (also now cohabitating smoothly) we also have a large common plec in with the 4 oscars & 2 albino plecs in with the others.

  22. Twila says:

    We just bought a 125 gallon tank and we’re trying to decide how many Oscar would be comfortable. We had a 55 gallon with an albino Oscar and a tiger Oscar, and lost them both during an ice storm that knocked out the power for 3 days. I appreciate all the success stories it gives me hope.

  23. Twila says:

    Anyone have any experience with a water softener being a problem with water changes?
    We have really hard water naturally and I wasn’t sure how the softener would change conditions for the Oscar.
    TIA

  24. Rod Hurst says:

    These are one of the hardest fish to breed in captivity.I HAVE TO CALL BULL ON THIS COMMENT I have had my 2 for just a month and up till 4 days ago I didn’t know they were A PAIR well I came home from work today and found an egg covered rock in my tank I have not done any of the things in this post to have this happen I just happen to get a young pair that decided their new 120g home was the perfect place to start a family !

  25. Jo says:

    Wish I’d read this before I bought three lovely little Oscars for my 70 litre tank (I can hear you gasping and tutting away already ?). Apart from munching on a few balloon mollies and my Betta (the rest got moved real quick to another tank), they seem to be living quite happily with a couple of ghost knives, an angel, two bristlenose plecos, a couple of gouramis, some sailfin mollies and a loach – I moved the corydoras as well, just in case. Never seen such enthusiastic feeders. Probably doesn’t hurt that I feed them tidbits out of my fingers just for the fun of it whenever I walk past the tank! And yes, I’ve got a 4x1x1″ tank in set-up stage, so they’ll be getting moved soon. They’re still only about two inches, but I can’t wait till they get bigger.

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