Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus) seen in pet stores and aquariums today differ in appearance from the wild stock in South America, but they have the same in attitude. But in many ways, they are typical cichlids. They are intelligent, carnivorous fish that reportedly can recognize their owner/feeder from other people.
Oscars sold in pets shops are usually juveniles in their small, cute stage. Adults need to be housed separately from other species or even other Oscars when they get to be full grown at 12 – 18 inches . Also known as velvet cichlids, they can often live to be ten years old, so taking one on is a major commitment.
The most common Oscars found in the pet trade are very round, bumpy fish with a mottled pattern on their bodies. They have very big mouths and staring eyes. If you get an Oscar, be prepared for people constantly asking, “Why is that fish so ugly?” They can often grow to sixteen inches long and often have very distinct characters. For all of the “rules” about Oscar behavior, there will always be an Oscar somewhere who breaks all of the rules.
The most popular Oscar is called the Red Oscar. It’s this type that lets you see where the Oscar’s other name, the velvet cichlid, comes from. The Red Oscar is black and a rusty red. The black is so think that it does look more like velvet than scales. This is also seen on the Tiger Oscar.
Oscars can also come in lemon yellow, albino and white (not to be confused with the pink-eyed albino). There is a green Oscar living in the Everglades in Florida. There are also Oscars bred to have very long fins, but these fins often tear.
Although Oscars are carnivorous, it’s not recommended to give them live fish as food. The feeder goldfish or minnows can transmit diseases to your beloved Oscars. It’s better to feed them bait worms, feeder crickets, cichlid pellets or even table scraps of high quality meat.
Oscars need lids on their tanks that are either duct-taped closed or weighed down with a rock. These are incredibly strong fish that like to jump. They don’t seem to realize that the rest of the world isn’t water.
Oscars are often sold in pet stores as young as a month and a half old, when they are less than two inches long. At this size, they will get along with most kinds of fish in community freshwater tanks. But you will soon need to move the Oscars into their own tank or one day you will come home to find your Oscar swimming about bits of floating fins and spines. An adult Oscar needs at least a fifty gallon tank.
Although some Oscars get along with other large aggressive cichlids like big Jack Dempseys and green terrors, it’s best to keep Oscars only with other Oscars, especially when they get to be over a foot long.
“Oscars.” Neal Proneck. TFH Publications; 1993.
FishLore.com. “Oscar Fish.” http://www.fishlore.com/Profiles-Oscar.htm
First Tank Guide. “Oscar Care Basics.” Keith Sayffarth. http://www.firsttankguide.net/oscar.php
OscarFish.com. “Oscar Fish FAQ.” 2008. http://www.oscarfish.com/
Author’s personal experience