About Oscar Fish Breeding Behavior

Written by rena sherwood
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About Oscar Fish Breeding Behavior
(Image by WikiMedia Commons)

Oscars (also called velvet cichlids) can be hard fish to figure out, especially when their thoughts turn to mating. How can you tell if your Oscars are spawing or fighting?

Time Frame

Oscars are hardy fish, but breeding them can be tricky. They choose their own mates. Also, it is very difficult to tell a male from a female. Even the fish get confused. Female Oscars can only be determined when they lay eggs. Males have a hard time seeing the thorn-shaped organ around their anal opening.

Oscars of both sexes begin mating behaviour at a year old but usually can't successfully spawn until they are at least 16 months old. Afterward, they can spawn every month, if tank conditions are right and the fish are healthy enough. The eggs hatch three days after they are laid. The babies need to be taken care of until they are about 2 months old, and then they can be sold or given away.


Oscar males and females need to be of nearly the same size, or they may try to eat each other. They do a very rough courtship dance for a few days, which consists of tail and body-slapping side by side, chasing and lip-locking. The female or male often catches the other's mouth and drags the other fish about. The female then dumps her eggs onto a flat surface such as a rock in periods of a few hundred at a time. She can often lay over 1,000 eggs. The male fertilises them and both parents guard the eggs and raise the babies, called fry.

Sometimes it will look as if the parents are eating their eggs. They are actually cleaning debris away from the eggs. Sometimes they will place the eggs or newly hatched fry in their mouths but won't eat them.

The fry are sperm-shaped but grow quickly. Soon they resemble tadpoles and then miniature versions of their parents by the time they are a month old. You need to remove the parents or the fry when they get to be about an 1 1/2 inches long, or the parents will suddenly think they are dinner.


You can't tell a male Oscar from a female from the size or colour of the fish. There's also no way to tell from fin shape. The male's small organ is about the only hint you'll get. However, Oscars don't like to stay still long enough for you to check out their various openings.

Also, it used to be thought that live fish like feeder goldfish were the best food for breeding Oscars. Now, it's known that the feeder fish can introduce disease to the Oscars. It's best to feed frozen foods, cichlid pellets, feeder crickets for pet reptiles or bait worms.

Another misconception is that there is a very high die-off rate among the eggs. Usually, about 90 per cent survive. But even if only 50 per cent survive, that means you have about 500 baby Oscars that need homes.

Expert Insight

Oscar breeders state that the hardest part of breeding Oscars is finding a pair that like each other enough to spawn. Some suggest that you either buy a pair that have already successfully spawned or buy six to eight baby Oscars, raise them together and hope that two of them will pair up.

Either way, you are going to need a lot of tanks and a lot of room for these tanks. You need at least three tanks at minimum of 50 gallons each.

The fry live off tiny youlk sacks for four days, then they need to eat other food. Feeding the fry can be difficult, but there is now commercially made "fry food." Experts also recommend baby brine shrimp for Oscar fry.


There are many types of Oscars, but they all can interbreed. The most common are red Oscars and red tiger Oscars, and the albino verions of those two. But there are now long-finned Oscars, such as the white long-finned Oscar. This white Oscar is called leucistic rather than an albino, because there are still pigment cells and the eyes aren't pink or red. There is also a yellowish Oscar as well, and Oscars that are nearly black but have some small hints of gold or orange. There is also a green Oscar that lives in the Everglades.

If you come across a purple or pink Oscar, that isn't natural. It has that colour because it was coated in a mild acid to burn off the protective slime coating and then dyed that colour. Eventually, the colours fade. Hopefully, this practice will fade, too.

About Oscar Fish Breeding Behavior
Image of white veiltail Oscar from WikiMedia Commons


The Oscars available in pet stores and hobbyist tanks derive from a carnivorous South American ancestor. They originated in the Amazon rainforest. They are only designed to live in freshwater at about 26.7 degrees C. These are aggressive, intelligent and long-living fish. Please do not release any Oscars into your local rivers, streams and creeks. This could create an ecological disaster, as the Oscars will easily eat up all of the native fish, amphibians and anything else they can get their mouths on.

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