How to Breed Jack Dempseys

Jack Dempseys are relatively easy breeders
Jack Dempseys are relatively easy breeders (Image: Image from WikiCommons)

Among pet fish, Jack Dempseys are among the easiest to breed. However, these are aggressive cichlids and need to be housed in their own tank when they get to be an adult. You should always have customers waiting for the babies before breeding. Although you can make the female's tank the breeding tank, you will have to eventually separate the parents from the fry.

Things You'll Need

  • 3 or more aquariums all set up for Jack Demseys (2 should be over 20 gallons and one can be smaller)
  • Small, clean flower pot or flat slate piece for the eggs to go on
  • Hiding places for the female, such as large plastic plants
  • Aquarium foam or sponge
  • Nightcrawlers or good quality protein-rich foods

Set up your three tanks. Have them bubbling away for at least one month before adding any fish. If you already have the male and female Jack Dempseys in tanks, then you only need to set up a tank of less than twenty gallons for the fry. Some fish breeders prefer setting up a breeding tank, but some just use the female's tank as the breeding tank. Keep the temperature about 76 to 82 degrees F.

Try to determine which fish are the male and female Jack Dempseys. The male has longer fins. If you have trouble telling them apart, don't worry -- even Jack Dempseys can't tell the difference. Expect to do some trial and error during this step. Try to get the parents as close in size as possible.

Feed the parent fish more protein-rich foods to get the fish's bodies prepared for the stress of spawning. You could feed half a nightcrawler, a pinch of hamburger or high quality cichlid pellets.

Place the slate or flowerpot on its side inside the breeder tank. Place foam over the filter opening to keep the fry from getting pulled into the filter and killed.

Introduce the parent fish. If the parent fish try to kill each other or should both prove to be of the same sex, try switching one of the fish. The mating dance is like a dance, including lip-locking. Reflections of the fish can get the male more "in the mood."

Leave the pair alone as much as possible. They don't eat their own eggs. They may look like they are, but they are just cleaning the area around the eggs. The eggs will hatch in two to three days.

Feed the fry finely crushed high quality cichlid or freshwater fish flakes, brine shrimp or microworms. When they grow to be a 1/2-inch long, remove the fry to the smaller tank or the parents will eat them.

Start finding homes for the babies or you'll be drowning in Jack Dempseys.

Tips & Warnings

  • White eggs are dead eggs. Leave them there until the clutch has hatched, otherwise the parents will think you are attacking and may eat the eggs.
  • While most male Jack Dempseys make great fathers, you do get the occasional psycho-fish. Keep an eye on his behavior and if he keeps attacking the female, get him out.
  • Some Jack Dempsey enthusiasts think that you should have several Jack Dempseys to be sure of having at least one female and one male.
  • Don't have any other fish in the breeding tank. The Jack Dempseys will kill them.
  • Don't feed live fish to the Jack Dempseys as they could accidentally spread disease to the breeding parents.
  • Don't put the fry in a tank larger than twenty gallons, as they might not be able to find and catch their food.
  • Don't wash anything that will go into the tank with soap.

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