Jaguar Cichlid (Parachromis managuensis)


The Jaguar cichlid (Parachromis managuensis), also known as managuense, tiger guapote and the Aztec cichlid, is a popular cichlid in the aquarium hobby. It is considered a “tank buster” with cichlid enthusiasts due to its large size and powerful build.

Male fish grow to a total length of 14-inches. Female Jaguars are a little smaller, about twelve inches long.  The base color of the body is yellowish-bronze throughout the body. As the fish matures, you’ll see the emergence of black spots sprinkled over the sides of the fish and operculum (gill plate). A row larger black spots run horizontally along the lateral line. The fish eventually develops a pattern like a jaguar.

What an impressive appearance in the aquarium! Jaguar cichlids are native to Central America. The first discovery of the Jag was in Lake Managua in Nicaragua. That’s where the species name “managuensis” came from. Their natural range is from Honduras to Costa Rica. The fish are used commercially for the dinner table and sport fishing.

The species has been found in other areas of the world including Puerto Rico, Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana. Fisheries biologists believe the fish escaped from fish farms or were released by aquarists. The Jaguar cichlid, as well as other cichlids, have recently been discovered living in urban run-off ponds in Singapore.

Jaguar Cichlid

Natural habitat

Jaguar Cichlid

In the wild, Jaguar cichlids inhabit lakes but they’ve also been discovered in rivers, mostly as invasive species. The fish is very aggressive and territorial. It will attack and chase off trespassers. Jaguar cichlids are carnivores. They eat small fish and crustaceans. Their jaw is able to extend quite far, making it easy to gulp prey. The combination of opening their mouth and manipulating the gill covers, creates a strong suction that aids in pulling fish and other live foods into the predatory teeth and jaws.

Jags in the wild are very tolerant of murky water. They can live in muddy drainage ditches and other silty, low-oxygen environments that would kill most other tropical fish. Jaguar cichlids are also found in clear water with sandy substrates and scattered leaf litter. Its not surprising that their water condition tolerance is somewhat extreme compared to other tropical fish.

The normal pH range in these natural waters is 7.0–8.7. Water hardness rages between 10–15 degrees general hardness (GH). The natural, tropical water temperature range is 77 to 97 °F (25 – 36°C).

Aquarium requirements

Jaguar Cichlid

Although you can purchase small, juvenile Jaguar cichlids, you must be prepared to keep them in a 50-gallon aquarium or larger. Young fish appear a bit drab, but will color up as they mature. But even the pale small fish are quite aggressive.

Full-size fish will need a 70-gallon tank or larger! Jags like to dig and burrow. You can use coarse gravel to reduce the chances of your fish pushing the gravel to one side of the aquarium. Don’t bother adding plastic or live plants. Jags just dig them up! It is a good idea to give them some caves and rocks to take cover in. They are active and need room to swim around the aquarium.

Water Chemistry Conditions

Even though Jags tolerate poor water quality in the wild, you’ll want to provide a stable aquarium environment. The fish can be kept in a pH range of 7.0 to 8.0. Water hardness and alkalinity (carbonate hardness) are not critical. A range of 8 to 15 degrees is acceptable for Jags. If your water has low alkalinity (KH), the pH may tend to drop to the acidic pH range over time. Alkalinity stabilizes pH.

Big fish produce a lot of waste products. Natural acids produced by the break-down of fish waste and biological filtration neutralizes alkalinity. If the alkalinity drops to less than 3 degrees, the pH could suddenly drop below pH 6.0. This is common when keeping large tropical fish. Test pH and alkalinity every week or two to keep a close watch on these important water chemistry parameters. Water changes, made every one to two weeks, will usually replenish alkalinity and stabilize the pH.

Set the aquarium heater to maintain a water temperature of 78 to 80°F. An aquarium thermometer is helpful for making sure the heater is keeping the water temperature at the desired set point.

Ammonia and nitrite must always be zero. Even low levels of these pollutants will stress your Jags. Chronic exposure to ammonia or nitrite will weaken the fish’s immune system, leading to many disease problems.

pH:7.0 – 8.0
General or Total hardness:5 – 12 degrees
Alkalinity or carbonate hardness:8 – 15 degrees
Water temperature:78 – 80°F (25 – 27°C)
Ammonia & Nitrite:0.0

Water filtration

Big fish, like Jaguar cichlids, produce large quantities of solid waste. The solid waste can accumulate on the bottom the aquarium. Be sure to have a powerful aquarium filter system capable re-suspending solid wastes and filtering them out of the water. Don’t skimp on the filter system. Tank-size ratings are often exaggerated on filter specifications. It’s a good idea to go with the next largest size aquarium filter, especially for a big aquarium containing large carnivorous fish.

Hang-On-Back (HOB) power filters with multiple cartridges are easy to clean. They should also contain activated carbon to remove odors and adsorb dissolved organics. A canister filter will hold more mechanical filter media like filter sponges. Mechanical filter media traps and hold solid particles, helping the water stay clear. No matter what type of filter you choose, be sure to service it once a month.

Aquarium filters are designed to allow water to bypass the filter media if it becomes clogged. This safety feature ensures the filter still pumps water, even if the media are clogged with debris. The downside is that the organic “muck” will decompose inside the filter if not cleaned out frequently. Decomposing organic matter releases algae-promoting nutrients into the water, stimulating green water blooms and growth on the glass, gravel and ornaments.

Aquarium lighting

Jaguar cichlids don’t have any special lighting requirement. You won’t be growing live plants so there is no need to consider the light spectrum. However, a well-lit aquarium creates the appearance of a deep lake and highlights the beautiful colors of your Jag.

Fluorescent lighting is the standard light style for aquariums, but new LED lighting fixtures are also a favorite fixture for aquarium lighting. Keep in mind fluorescent lights will gradually dim and the color shift over a period of 9-12 months. Your tank will look dimmer and the fish’s colors won’t look as vibrant. The bulbs require replacement to maintain the same level of illumination. LED lighting, however, uses much less energy and lasts for many years.

Basic LED aquarium fixtures will provide natural-looking light and very low energy consumption. Some fixtures even have a built-in on-off timer. The next level of light fixture has more LEDS for better light penetration, especially good for deep aquariums. Some models even allow you to custom-tailor the light color to highlight the Jag’s colors and create a gradual sunrise and sunset lighting program.

Aquascaping for Jaguar cichlids

Like most big cichlids, Jags have a natural instinct to push around the aquarium substrate. Jags like crustaceans and they sift through the gravel, looking for food like shrimp and worms. You can use any size gravel, even fine sand. The sand is easier for the fish to sift but be aware you may find craters and piles of sand after the fish gets through exploring.

In the case of Jaguar cichlids, you may want to go with larger aquarium gravel. It will be a little easier to siphon and remove solid particles and sludge. The fish like rocks and crevices to hide in and explore. Driftwood or resin logs and branches provide much appreciated cover and territory for the Jags. Any lightweight ornaments and plants will be dug up and pushed around.


Jaguar cichlid will eat most fresh, frozen and prepared foods. Floating carnivorous pellets are readily available. But also offer a variety of other foods like frozen krill, blood worms and mysis shrimp. Floating and sinking pellets are easy to feed. But add only what the fish will eat in a minute or two. Never let the uneaten food float or sit at the bottom of the tank after feeding time. The food will decay and pollute the water.

You may be tempted to throw some “feeder fish” into the jag tank. Most feeder fish are in very poor condition and carry diseases like parasites, fungus and bacteria pathogens. You’ll be introducing disease organisms into your aquarium and allowing your fish to swallow infectious diseases! Don’t do it!

Jaguar Cichlid Breeding

Jaguar Cichlid Breeding

Females Jags tend to be smaller than the males. You may also notice more reddish coloration on the gill covers.  Male dorsal and ventral fins are noticeably longer than the female’s fins.

To get a breeding pair, you’ll need to purchase several (6 to 10) juvenile jags and raise them until sexually mature. Expect one or two pairs out of this grow-out process. You can tell because the pair will stay together and become aggressive toward other fish in the tank.

Put the pair in their own breeding aquarium. The female with lay 1000–1500 orange colored eggs, which are fertilized by the male Jag. The eggs will be protected by both parents. The eggs hatch in 5 to 7 days.

The fry will be moved to gravel pits and tended by the parents. The fry will start to swim in about a week. When this happens, start feeding them with frozen baby brine shrimp, fine flake food or prepared fry food. It is a good idea to move the fry to their own tank at this growth stage.

Tank-mates for Jaguar cichlids

The best scenario is a dedicated Jaguar cichlid aquarium. If you would like to keep other fish with jags, be sure they are cichlids of a similar size. Experienced aquarists report that they’ve been able to keep several kinds of large South and Central American cichlids together, if the aquarium is large enough. Other have mentioned that you still may see some aggression due to individual fish temperaments.

Final thoughts

Jaguar Cichlid

With proper care, Jaguar cichlid can live up to 12 years in an aquarium. Aquarists tend to over-feed predators because they like to see their fish eat. Over-feeding and feeding fatty or poor-quality foods will make the fish build-up excess fat tissue in the body cavity. Resist over-feeding! Stable water conditions, free of ammonia and nitrite, are critical for the health of the fish.

Jags are big fish that produce a lot of waste. Test the water frequently and make partial water changes to eliminate organics. A build-up of sludge in the aquarium, common with large fish, can become a breeding ground for disease causing organisms. Use a gravel siphon to keep the substrate clean. Change 15 to 20% of the aquarium water every two weeks. Follow these guidelines and your Jaguar cichlid will color-up and live a long, happy live in your aquarium.