The Oscarfish, or to give it its scientific name, Astronontus ocellatus. Astronontus actually means being marked with a star on the back. Ocellatus means bearing an "eye spot" The Oscar is a fresh water fish that is a member of the Cichlid (pronounced sick-lid) family which is native to the Orinoco, La Plata, and Amazon river in South America where they inhabit the many slow-moving rivers that are attached to the Amazon. Their favour hunting grounds will be amongst submerged roots, underwater structures and under overhanging trees.
The Oscar has also found its way into other tropical and subtropical parts of the wild such as some of the canals in Florida USA. However these are not native and were probably introduced accidentally, or released on purpose.
The oscar has various names such as velvet and peacock cichlid. It is fairly obvious why people sometimes refer to an Oscar as a peacock cichlid, you only have to look at its tail to realise why this has come about. The reason it is sometimes called a velvet cichlid is because of the size of its scales, if you look very closely, it almost has a velvet appearance. Having said all this, is most commonly known as an Oscar with aquarium hobbyists. Nobody is actually sure where the name Oscar came from. It probably came about from an early importer of tropical fish that for reasons of his own, gave the fish the name that we all love. The Oscar can reach 16 in + (2LB +) in size and weight. However, fish normally only reach their maximum size in the wild. Having said that, there is no reason why an Oscar couldn't reach its maximum size in captivity if given proper care and attention. There are various different types of Oscar, some of which include the Common or Wild Oscar, this being the original Oscar from the wild. Oscars bred from this wild Oscar include Red, Tiger, Albino, Lutino, yellow, Lemon, Green, and quite a few more.
The popularity of Oscars
They have become very popular with fish keepers and have gained the nickname water, or river dog. This came about because of the way they act whilst in the tank. These fish are professional beggars, they are always on the lookout for food. As soon as you approach the tank, they'll be there wriggling and opening their mouths in the hope that you will drop some food in for them.
Contrary to popular belief, Oscars are not aggressive fish. You often see them labelled as killers of other fish. Yes, an Oscar is more than capable of killing another fish but they don't make a habit of terrorising their tankmates. You may well have problems if you keep two Oscars that just don't like each other, but as a rule, Oscars are definitely not among the most aggressive of the South American Cichlids.
They can also be incredibly moody and have been known to sulk for days at a time. This normally occurs if you move things around in their tank, or sometimes when water changes are carried out. As you can see in the photograph to the left, the two Oscars are sulking after a water change. They will also become very tame and will show little fear if you put your hand in the tank, if you are lucky, they may even let you caress and stroke them. It's no wonder people have fallen in love with them. Having said that, try not to handle them too much, the delicate membrane that covers their skin can easily be damaged which could leave them open to infection. What I actually do sometimes is put my hand in and let them come to me, rather than chase them. Remember that it is not natural for fish to let you touch it so if you want to pet your Oscar, take your time and don't rush things. Don't just shove your hand in the tank and expect the Oscar to let you touch it, it won't. You could start by hand feeding your Oscar. Quite often, Oscars are so interested in the food, they will actually barge through your hand to get to it. Once they become accustomed to taking food from your hands, you could try just touching your Oscars head with a finger. Once they get used to this try putting your hand in the water whilst they are feeding and let them brush up against your hand. Once again, don't make any sudden movements, just keep your hands still and they will just get on with things. You could also start petting them whilst you are cleaning the tank. They will often approach you by themselves, just leave your hand in one place and they may just brush past.
Putting your hand in their tank if they have eggs is certainly not advisable. Oscars have got very small teeth in their mouths. They won't be very apparent until an Oscar actually catches you on the finger when feeding. A large Oscar is more than capable of drawing blood. (More on this later)
Where did it all begin?
You may ask where all of the different types of Oscar came from. Well, as we know, there are many types of Oscar available. Tiger Oscar, Red Oscar, Albino Oscar, Red Tiger Oscar, Lemon Oscar, the list goes on. None of these Oscars will be found in the wild, they have all been bred from one original species of Oscar. This species is the Wild Oscar, sometimes referred to as the Common Oscar. Most of us have heard of the Tiger Oscar, in fact, according to the poll on this website, the Tiger Oscar is the most popular choice. The Tiger Oscar was the first commercially available strain that was developed from the original Wild Oscar. While it retains all the colours of the wild Oscar, it does contain other colours such as red or orange which was thought to be a considerable improvement on the original.
In the late 60s, the Red Oscar made an appearance for the first time. It was completely different to what was already available which got people very excited. The fish was originally bred by a businessman in Thailand. He had discovered a few unusual Oscars amongst many others and after much hard work, finally managed to breed the Red Oscar which is much loved by Many an Oscar enthusiast.
The albino Oscar is relatively new, in fact, it was developed around 20 years after the Red Oscar so I suppose it could be classed as "the new kid on the block". actually, in many cases, you be no Oscars more than likely a Lutino Oscar.If you want to be really pedantic, a true albino contains no pigmentation and will have red eyes. However, Oscars that are white and not round I referred to as albino Oscars.
There are many other species of Oscar that you may never heard of. I will briefly cover a couple. At some stage you may come across a purple, or even a raspberry Oscar. They will probably be very striking with vibrant colours which may take your fancy. You may wonder how they manage to breed the colours in to these type of Oscars. Well, they don't, they dye them in many cases. You may be wondering how they do that to a fish, surely all the colours will run off as soon as they put it back into the water. This is where things get quite horrible. What they do is dip the fish in what can be only described as a sort of acid. The protective membrane is then burnt away and then the dye is literally painted on. They are then treated once again so that the membrane grows back. The problem is, the dye often wears off in time which leaves you with a dreary looking fish. In many people's opinion, a horrible disgusting practice that should be phased out.
Finally, I will just mention an Oscar called the vieltail. These Oscars were developed quite a few years ago but don't seem to be as abundant as all their other counterparts. Occasionally you may come across one in the fish shop. If you do decide to purchase one of these, you have to be aware that they should be kept alone so their fins can develop properly. Also, their fins are prone to damage which can expose them to various fin diseases so do think carefully before purchasing one of these.
So you want to keep Oscars?
If you decide you want to keep Oscars, you are going to have to put a lot of thought into exactly what is involved. Too many people see a cute little 3 in. Oscar in their local fish shop. They buy it and then take it home and put it in a ridiculously small tank, thinking that it will be perfectly okay. Two things that they don't realise about Oscars are, when fully grown, they can reach sizes of 14 in., another thing that you have to take into account is, Oscars can live for 10 to 15 years. For this reason, it is very important for you to understand that Oscars are a long-term commitment. It's no good buying an Oscar thinking that you can get rid of it in a couple of years time. You may have problems finding a new home for a large fish. Tropical fish shops will take fish off you, but I am not always convinced that they end up going to a good home.
Oscars, how fast do they grow?
This is a very common question. You will often hear people say an Oscar grows 1 in. every month in the first year. Yes and no. You will probably find a juvenile Oscar will grow 1 inch a month in the first six months and then it will slow down. If it did grow 1 inch in the first year, assuming we are talking 12 months, it would be 12 inches long and I have never seen a 12 inch one-year-old fish. There is not a uniform rate that they grow at, you may have three Oscars that are all the same size when you buy them. Two years down the line and you will probably find that one Oscar is 2 in. longer than the other one. Roughly, an Oscar should reach around 7 to 8 in. within the year, after that, their growth rate slows right down. You won't notice a rapid increase in their length, however, you will notice that they bulk up considerably. A two or three-year-old fish could range from nine to 12 inches.
I often read about people whose Oscar has grown to 10 inches in the first year. I actually don't believe this is the case, I've never had an Oscar that has grown to this size within a year, and I've always kept Oscars in big tanks. I don't think people are trying to mislead intentionally, I think that it's very easy to overestimate how big a fish is when you look at in a tank. When was the last time you got a tape measure out? Why not try it, have a look how big 10 inches is and then have a look at your fish, I think you'll be very surprised how far out you are. In fact, your 10 inch fish is probably more like 8 inches.
...to be continued....
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Choosing your Oscar
oscars in tankOkay, your tank is fully cycled and you are ready to choose your Oscar. When you go to the fish shop to choose your Oscar, have a very good look at them before you actually buy. Try to go for ones that are nice and alert, in other words, they are very perky and active. Don't choose any that are just lying on the bottom of the tank, there's a possibility they may be something wrong with that particular fish. If you are choosing from a tank that has a lot of babies and they are all nice and healthy, they should all be acting the same, probably hanging around hoping to be fed. The picture above shows some 3 inch baby red Oscars. They are always alert and on on the lookout for food, this is the sign of a healthy fish.
If you are going for a mature Oscar, study it very carefully. If it has any pitting, or holes around its head, leave well clear. There is a possibility it could have hole in the head disease. You never know how it has been treated and what kind of environment it has been kept in before. Having said that, if you want to buy a diseased fish and try and treat it, go-ahead. Just remember that the treatment could be very time-consuming and expensive, and it may not work at the end of the day.
Because Oscars come from the tropics, their tank water needs to be warm. Oscars will be okay with temperatures ranging from 22°C (72°F) to 28°C (82°F) You would normally have transported your fish home in a large plastic bag. Don't just open the bag and pour the fish in. Float the bag in the tank for around 15 minutes until the water inside the bag has had time to match that in the tank. The fish will already be a little bit stressed out from the journey, putting them straight into a tank that has a different temperature water could very well stress them even more, which could increase their chances of developing diseases.
When you first put your new Oscar in the tank, you may well find that he just swims to the bottom and sits motionless. Don't panic, he may just be a little bit stressed. This will normally happen if you purchase just one Oscar, just give up a little bit of time to settle in. If you purchase more than one Oscar, they are normally more relaxed, safety in numbers I suppose. Anyway, in my experience, the love for food normally overcomes just about anything when it comes to baby Oscars.
Oggressive Oscars, yes and no
I don't care what anyone says, Oscars are not aggressive fish, not like other cichlids such as terrors. Red terrors have been known to jump out of the water and attack a hand when it is placed over where their eggs are. Okay, you might be unfortunate and cop an aggressive Oscar, but they shouldn't all be put in the same boat which some people tend to do.
If you have got more than one Oscar then you may well have seen them performing all kinds of funny behaviour. It is quite difficult to determine what is aggressive, and what isn't. Jaw, or lip locking is when Oscars face each other off with mouths wide open, they often grab hold of each other's mouths and almost perform tug of war. Basically, this is how they test each other's strength. And this is where it can get confusing, this can be a sign of aggression, however, it can also be what we call a breeding ritual. It is thought that this is the way that the female tests the males strength to whether they are suitable candidates to carry on the gene pool. There is a possibility it could be similar to how African cichlids choose their mates, they do it by colour, rather than fighting.
You may also have seen your Oscar flaring its gills and opening their mouths wide. I am actually of the opinion that they do this for the same reason a cobra snake expands its neck, to make themselves look bigger and more menacing. I've watched my Oscars do this quite a lot and I can't think of any other reason why they would expand their gills and open their mouths wide other than to try and make themselves look bigger than they actually are.
On occasions, you may well see your Oscar charging at the side of the tank. It is thought that they can see their reflection and probably think that another Oscar is intruding their space. I don't think this has been proved to be the absolute reason why Oscars do this, it just seems the most likely reason.
First-time Oscar owners often panic when they see their fish performing These strange antics. I will warn you now, even a breeding pair can, and will cause each other some quite nasty scrapes and abrasions. Don't jump the gun too quickly and separate them when you see them doing this. Just observe them for a while and see how things go. It should become apparent if they are out and out fighting, or whether they are just going through a kind of breeding ritual. If they hang around with each other most of the time then you should be okay. It is very sweet to see them when they are like this, a lot of the time they won't leave each other side. Oscars can actually mate for life which makes owning a pair that much more special. Mind you, if they are stuck in the same tank for 15 years, they don't really have a choice if they get horny.
Oscars are what we call monomorphic. This means that males and females look the same. Unfortunately, you won't be able to go into a shop and choose a male and a female like you can with other species of fish such as guppies. You will normally only know the sex of your Oscars when they start laying eggs. There are various ways you can increase your chances of obtaining a male and a female. Probably the easiest way is to find somebody who is willing to let you have a known mating pair of Oscars. Most people would prefer to get their Oscars at a young age so the best way to make sure you get a pair is to buy several Oscars at a very young age and wait for them to pair off. Obviously, the more you get, the more chances are that you will have a pair. The downside of doing this is that you have to make sure there is someone who will take the Oscars you are left with when you have finally got your pair.
Only when Oscars start laying eggs will you know for sure that you have got a male and a female. The females egg tube is overall in the shape, not unlike the pointed end of an egg. The males sexual organ is pointed and looks rather like a thorn.
Oscars grow very big indeed, we all like to have a huge Oscar and it's nice bragging about how big it is. Now, how to measure Oscars is one of those questions that is forever coming up on various forums. Some people say you should only measure standard length SL (this means from the nose to the wrist of the tail) and other people say you should measure total length. Every country has their rules on measuring fish and how long fish should be before you are allowed to keep them . The main reason this is done is for conservation purposes. People cannot be allowed to take undersized and juvenile fish out of the rivers and seas. If there were no rules governing what can be kepted, and what cannot , there wouldn't be any fish left. For this reason, I don't see the point of arguing about how to measure fish when they are in your aquarium. It is also probably worth mentioning that freshwater fish should be measured total length. This means you measure the whole body including the tail. Since Oscars are freshwater fish, you include the tail. There shouldn't really be any argument about this on forums.
Before you buy
If you already keep fish you probably have a good relationship with a particular aquatic centre, maybe more than one. However, if you are new to fish and are looking to buy your first Oscar and please don't walk into a fish store and buy the first Oscar that you clap your eyes on. It is good practice to vet a supplier. Just because they sell fish, it doesn't mean they are competent and good at their job, anybody can open up a fish shop.
Have a wander around the shop first, is it nice and tidy and clean? Is there rubbish left on the floor? if you find that this is the case, you can bet your bottom dollar that their maintenance regime isn't up to much. A tidy shop tells you a lot about the people who run it. Have a look in the tanks, do they look clean and well cared for? Is the glass covered in algae? are there sick and dying fish left in the tanks ? However, if you see tanks that are clearly marked "quarantine" or "not for sale" this would indicate to me that the people who run the premises have a responsible attitude. This alone tells me that there is a good chance they are selling healthy fish.
Before I ever purchase fish, I like to have a chat with the owner, if they have a good knowledge about fish and are willing to take responsibility if fish bought from them become ill very quickly, I will certainly have no qualms in purchasing fish from them. I also like to see separate filtration systems on each tank. I'm not keen on one filtration systems servicing all the tanks. Whereas this is a good way filtering tanks, it can also have a detrimental effect, especially if one tank suddenly becomes diseased. Finally, I like to see water changes being carried out during shop hours, even if it's youngsters who have been employed to do the job.
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