Jack Dempsey cichlids are often considered to be aggressive cichlids that aren’t great tank mates for just any fish. They’re named after the famous boxer of the same name who was known for being the world heavyweight champion between 1919 to 1926. Dempsey was known for a hard-hitting and aggressive fighting style that kept him winning fight after fight. Because of this, the Jack Dempsey was named since it’s known to be an aggressive fish. Some people even say that the fish look similar to Jack Dempsey as well.
Choosing tank mates for your Jack Dempsey cichlid can be a challenge, and not only because of their aggressive tendencies. These fish can get quite large, making them a risk to smaller tank mates that might become a snack. Like many cichlids, the Jack Dempsey tends to be territorial and can become overly aggressive when it comes to breeding. However, they generally will leave tank mates in peace as long as the environment is suitable and there is enough space. It’s important to select tank mates that get large enough not to be eaten, and that can withstand the occasional nip if your Jack Dempsey feels the urge.
The 23 Top Jack Dempsey Cichlid Tank Mates
1. Common Plecostomus
This popular fish has an armored body, keeping it safe from the aggressions of any tank mates. They are generally peaceful fish that stay toward the bottom of the tank, often keeping them out of the territory of other fish. They can exceed 12 inches in length when full grown. Between their size and armored scales, they are almost impossible for even the meanest Jack Dempsey to seriously injure.
2. Hoplo Catfish
The Hoplo catfish is a bottom-dwelling fish that tends to keep to itself. They tend not to be aggressive or territorial, but they are known to eat smaller tank mates, especially those that spend time near the bottom portion of the tank. They are shy fish that are usually happy to hide throughout the day. Jack Dempseys make great tank mates to Hoplo catfish since neither can eat the other. Hoplo catfish can exceed 6 inches in length when fully grown.
3. Iridescent Shark
The iridescent shark isn’t a shark at all and is actually a type of catfish. These huge fish can exceed 3 feet in length, so they are not suitable for just any tank! However, their large size makes them suitable tank mates for Jack Dempseys. They can live upwards of 20 years in captivity, making the iridescent shark quite the long-term commitment.
4. Striped Raphael Catfish
The Striped Raphael catfish has a thick, torpedo-shaped body that can reach around 8 inches in length. They are not shy fish, making them quite fun to watch. However, they tend to be peaceful fish that make an excellent addition to a community tank. They are primarily nocturnal and are likely to keep to themselves when they are out and about. They are happiest when kept with other Striped Raphael catfish, preferring to live in groups of 4–5 fish.
5. Pictus Catfish
Although slightly smaller than the other catfish species on the list, the pictus catfish still reaches around 5 inches at maturity. They are primarily nocturnal fish that may be shy, keeping them out of the way of your Jack Dempsey. However, they are quite energetic fish that are interesting to watch, if you catch them out during the day. They are easy to care for and feature lovely spotted markings that bring interest to your tank.
6. Featherfin Synodontis
Also known as the featherfin squeaker due to the noise they are known to make, the featherfin synodontis is a great addition to your Jack Dempsey’s tank. This fish can reach up to 12 inches in length, making it too large for your Jack Dempsey to eat. They have interesting markings and tend to be hardy fish that are agreeable to a variety of tank conditions. They may eat tank mates that are small enough to fit into their mouths.
7. Red-Tailed Black Shark
The red-tailed black shark is a popular aquarium fish that gets larger than many people anticipate, often reaching 6 inches in length. They are popular primarily due to their beautiful contrasting red and black coloration. They can be territorial fish and do best in large tanks, making them suitable to a large tank with a Jack Dempsey. They are considered to be semi-aggressive fish, so they should not be kept in tanks with shy or nervous tank mates.
8. Green Terror Cichlid
This stunning fish is one of the most colorful and eye-catching fish you can get for the home freshwater aquarium. They reach around 8–12 inches in length, making them similar in size to the Jack Dempsey. They are hardy fish that can be territorial, making them suitable tank mates to the equally territorial Jack Dempsey.
9. Firemouth Cichlid
The firemouth cichlid is another beautiful cichlid species that is slightly smaller than the Jack Dempsey, typically only reaching around 6 inches in length. They are generally peaceful cichlids, although they can become aggressive during spawning and may be territorial, especially in small tanks. They are easy to care for and are often considered to be beginner-level fish.
10. Midas Cichlid
This large fish can reach up to 14 inches in length, making them suitable for a Jack Dempsey’s tank. They have a distinctive hump on the head that can really make them stand out in your tank, if their size alone doesn’t do it. They can be quite aggressive fish and won’t shy away from a fight, especially with another fish that is encroaching on their territory.
11. Red Devil Cichlid
The red devil cichlid is similar in appearance to the Midas cichlid but it gets slightly larger, reaching up to 15 inches. They can live for more than 10–12 years with proper care, with some people reporting even older fish. They are aggressive, territorial fish that are considered to be more difficult to care for than most other freshwater fish. They require a large aquarium, especially if they’re going to have tank mates. The more space they have, the less likely they’ll be to have issues with tank mates.
12. Jaguar Cichlid
The jaguar cichlid can reach up to 16 inches in length and can live for up to 15 years, making them a long-term commitment. You may also see these fish called Aztec cichlids. They are aggressive fish that are known to show aggression toward tank mates, including other jaguar cichlids. They do best in a very large tank environment and should not be kept with peaceful tank mates, except maybe peaceful armored fish.
Oscars are popular fish that are often purchased when they are very small. Many people give them up later on, though, when they realize just how large these thick-bodied fish can get. Oscars can reach up to 18 inches in length and can exceed 3 pounds in weight, although most captive Oscars don’t exceed 12–14 inches. They are aggressive and territorial fish that require very large tanks to feel comfortable. Oscars should not be kept with tank mates without ample space.
14. Convict Cichlid
The convict cichlid only reaches around 5 inches when fully grown, but this is still large enough to avoid being eaten by a Jack Dempsey cichlid. They can be quite aggressive, but are suitable tank mates for other aggressive and territorial fish. They can live up to 10 years in captivity, and they are one of the most popular cichlids year after year, typically coming in only behind the Oscar and angelfish.
15. Pearl Cichlid
Male pearl cichlids can reach upwards of 9 inches in length, but females tend to stay closer to 4–5 inches. They feature beautiful colors and patterning, making them a standout inhabitant to your Jack Dempsey’s tank. They are territorial and aggressive fish, but can be quite interesting to watch as they dig through the substrate. You may also see the pearl cichlid referred to as the pearl eartheater.
16. Blue Acara
This colorful and beautiful cichlid averages 6–7 inches in length at maturity. They are peaceful fish that are likely to avoid conflict with tank mates, although they may eat smaller tank mates. They are doting parents, though, and may show aggression when it comes to protecting their young. The blue acara is believed to be a hybrid of multiple types of South American cichlids.
17. Peacock Cichlid
The peacock cichlid is a smaller cichlid, only reaching 4–6 in length, but they are large enough to not be eaten by most Jack Dempseys. They are generally peaceful fish that are a good addition to many types of community tanks. They come in a variety of eye-catching colors and patterns, making them an excellent addition to your tank if you’re looking for a centerpiece.
18. Blood Red Parrot Cichlid
The blood red parrot cichlid is a highly controversial fish that is a hybrid species. They are controversial due to their tendency to have health problems and deformities, and their potential for short lifespans. They are unusual, colorful fish that can reach up to 8 inches in length. They may exhibit aggressive behaviors, but these are typically only brought out by aggressive tank mates. They can be territorial and do need a large tank.
19. Giant Danio
The Giant Danio is a peaceful shoaling fish that is suitable for a community tank, Although peaceful, they get larger than other species of Danios commonly kept in aquariums. Since they can reach 4–6 inches in length, Giant Danios are too large for Jack Dempsey’s to eat. They may bring out the best in some of the more shy fish in your tank, simply by being present. Since they are non-predatory fish, their calming presence may make other fish feel safe.
20. Tinfoil Barb
Getting larger than most barbs, the tinfoil barb can reach up to 14 inches in length. They tend to be relatively peaceful fish, although they are known to be fin nippers and will eat smaller tank mates. They need lots of open space to swim to feel happy and comfortable, as well as to prevent aggression from coming out. They are happiest when kept in shoals of at least 5 fish.
21. Silver Dollar
The silver dollar closely resembles its more aggressive cousins, the pacu and piranha. They can grow up to 6 inches in length and are happiest when kept in large shoals. This requires a large tank with lots of uninterrupted swimming space. They are pretty peaceful fish that are suitable for a Jack Dempsey’s tank due to their size and force of numbers.
22. Blind Cave Tetra
At first glance, the blind cave tetra may catch you off guard because these fish lack eyes. However, this doesn’t slow them down one bit. They do best in shoals of five or more fish, and they are peaceful fish, although they’ll eat smaller tank mates when the opportunity presents itself. They tend to be nocturnal fish that will stay out of the way of your Jack Dempsey, but they aren’t afraid to defend themselves when necessary.
23. Boesemani Rainbowfish
The Boesemani rainbowfish is an easy-care, brightly-colored fish that reaches around 4.5 inches in length. They are peaceful additions to a community tank and are happiest in groups of six fish or more. Their size will keep them from being eaten by most Jack Dempseys. However, female Boesemani rainbowfish tend to stay smaller than males, so this should be taken into consideration when selecting this species as Jack Dempsey tank mates.
Not all fish are a good fit to keep in a tank with your Jack Dempsey. Many aggressive fish are suitable tank mates for the Jack Dempsey, but there are also peaceful community fish that can be excellent tank mates. It’s important to carefully select your tank mates to ensure the safety of all the fish in your tank. Keep in mind that if you have a large Jack Dempsey, it will likely eat tank mates that are much smaller, even if those fish will eventually grow to a large enough size to not be eaten.
Featured Image Credit: Darko Cvetanoski, Shutterstock