Peacock bass

Peacock bass
An adult butterfly peacock bass
A juvenile peacock bass
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Cichlidae
Genus: Cichla

Peacock bass is the common name in English for a group of closely related species of tropical, freshwater fish of the genus Cichla.

Taxonomic and common names

There are 15 known species of peacock bass,[1] others will surely be described (but see the results based on DNA data[2]). Their common names vary greatly depending on the country, region, stage of development and local anglers. Below is a complete list of the taxonomic, binomial names for these cichlids, along with available English common names.[3]

Extensive molecular data has cast doubt on these designations, however.[2] Aside from limited hybridization among many species, in both natural and human-altered environments, several species do not show sufficient differentiation to imply reproductive isolation and/or a history of independent evolution. Among the species implicated as probable "good" species were Cichla intermedia, C. orinocensis, C. temensis, C. melaniae, C. mirianae, and C. piquiti. The other species were suggested to be part of two widespread meta-species or species complexes, called Cichla pinima sensu lato (including C. jariina, C. thyrorus, and C. vazzoleri) and C. ocellaris sensu lato (including C. monoculus, C. nigromaculata, C. pleiozona, and C. kelberi).

There are many common names for these fish in Brazil, the country of their largest native region. The most popular of these is tucunaré (too-koo-nah-REH). In Spanish, the generic common name for these cichlids is pavόn (pah-VOHN). Pavón, in Spanish, also means "peacock", while the Brazilian name (tucunaré) comes from the Tupy, a native, Indian, language and means "friend of the tree", once the peacock bass uses to stay always close to the submersed trees, either to hunt or to protected itself as well as its nests.


The speckled peacock bass is the largest species and can grow over 100 centimeters in length, and may be the largest of all cichlid fishes. Most display a color pattern based on a theme of three wide vertical stripes on their bodies, sometimes with smaller intermediate bands, only a grey, brown, yellow, or green background. They also exhibit a spot on their tail fins that resembles the eyes on a peacock's tail feathers—a feature which resulted in their common names (this "ocellus" is a common feature of South American cichlids, and is thought to deter predators and fin-biting piranhas). In addition, many adult fishes (primarily males, but also some females) develop a pronounced hump on their foreheads (nuchal hump) shortly before and during the rainy season, when the fishes generally spawn. Other physical traits can vary greatly, depending on the species, individual and stage of development. These include, but are not limited to: dark rosettes instead of stripes, light speckles and impressive shades of bright green, orange, blue and gold. Very young fish exhibit dark horizontal stripes down half (C. orinocensis, C. ocellaris, et al.) or the whole (C. temensis, C. pinima, et al.) body.

Conservation status

The IUCN has never investigated the conservation status of any peacock bass species. Therefore, they do not appear on its red list.[4] Currently, there are no reports of any peacock bass species being endangered.

Valued as gamefish

Fly fishing
brook trout
hucho taimen
largemouth bass
northern pike
peacock bass
shoal bass
smallmouth bass
more fly fish...
other sport fish...



Sport fishermen have made these cichlids prized game fish for their fighting qualities, so much so that many travel agencies now arrange fishing trips to Brazil and Florida specifically to catch peacock bass.

Renowned American peacock bass fisherman and fishing author, Larry Larsen, refers to them as "freshwater bullies" due to their ferocious nature when hunting and their tendency to damage and sometimes destroy fishing gear when striking.

The most common techniques for catching these cichlids are similar to those for catching largemouth bass, with the notable exception that peacock bass usually will not strike artificial worms, a widely used lure among largemouth bass fisherman. In addition, fly fishing techniques, including lures such as poppers and large streamers, are becoming increasingly popular for catching them.

Invasive species

Despite their popularity among anglers, some naturalists have identified peacock bass as potential pests for causing ecological imbalances in some of their introduced areas.

Peacock bass introduction in the Rosana Reservoir and upper Paraná River, both in Brazil, resulted in a 95 percent decline in native fish density and 80 percent decline in richness in only two years.[5]

Few measures can protect native fish once peacock bass have been introduced. Reduction in native species richness in lakes with introduced peacock bass was observed in all of the Gatun-area lakes, regardless of the presence of macrophyte refugia.[6] After initial increase in abundance, introduced peacock bass often deplete local prey and resort to cannibalism.[7][8][9]

Panama's Gatun Lake introduction

Cichla cf. ocellaris was introduced into Panama via a freshwater creek in the Rio Chagres drainage region unintentionally in the late 1950s (experts are not certain of the exact date). A well-known aquarist and medical doctor began raising peacock bass in a small pond in his back yard for sale as aquarium fish. Within a year, heavy rains flooded the pond, causing some fry to escape into a nearby creek which drained into Gatun Lake. By 1964, the lake and nearby rivers and creeks were overrun with the cichlids, providing sport fishing opportunities that had not existed previously. Since then, C. cf. ocellaris has become the dominant sport fish species in the area.

The presence of peacock bass in Panama has caused significant damage to the native fish assemblage, by eliminating seven out of 11 previously common fish species, and significantly reducing three others. Local extinctions and decrease in abundance of many species led to cascading second-order effects on zooplankton and tertiary consumer communities.[10] It has been reported that malaria incidence rose significantly in the area around Gatun following the elimination of prey fishes that had previously kept the mosquito population at lower levels.[10] This is an example of how species introductions can have explicit consequences for human health.

Florida introduction

In 1984, after 10 years of study, Florida officials deliberately introduced butterfly peacock bass and speckled peacock bass to the southern region of that state[11] to prey on other non-native species, including the oscar (Astronotus ocellatus), Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus), and the spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae). Their introduction also provided additional sport fishing opportunities for anglers. While the butterfly peacock bass has flourished in Florida, the speckled peacock bass has not. Therefore, it is now illegal to kill or possess speckled peacock bass in Florida. The butterfly peacock bass tend to flourish in the canals and fresh waterways throughout south Florida.

Because of their tropical origins, peacock bass cannot tolerate low water temperatures. This has prevented them from becoming abundant in Florida outside of Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.


Peacock bass make for great aquarium fish if kept in a large enough aquarium. The minimum tank size for an adult of one of the smaller species (e.g. C. ocellaris) would be 180 gallons, and nothing less than a 300-gallon tank should be reserved for C. temensis. As with all specialty fish, buy healthy stock from a reputable dealer. Tankmates should be other fish that are too large to swallow, such as arowanas, other large cichlids, and larger members of the Loricariidae family. The peacock bass produces more waste and uses more energy than a typical tropical fish, therefore significant biological filtration and aeration are necessary. Water changes of up to 25% weekly are required with such messy fish. Feeding should be 2 to 3 times a day for young peacock bass (under 4"), decreasing to once a day as they get older, then as an adult they should be fed every other day just enough to round off their stomachs. Peacock bass can be trained to take pellets, though occasionally this is a challenge. Avoid feeding them live goldfish (bait minnows would be a better choice). Even if they do not accept pellets, they may still eat other foods such as krill, bloodworms, and silversides. The temperature of the aquarium should range from 78 to 84 °F. Temperature plays a big role on the looks, behavior, and feeding habits of the fish. Lower temperatures cause the fish to eat less, and reduces the efficiency of the immune system. Higher temperatures also affect aggression, making the fish more aggressive. A strong lid is an absolute must with these fish, as they will often bolt and attempt to jump out of the tank if startled. For the same reason, sharp decorations should be avoided in a Cichla tank.


Tilapia farmers sometimes keep peacock bass to eat any spawn that occur among their fish, in addition to eating any invasive fish that pose a threat to young tilapia (e.g. sunfish, piranha). Spawning and brood-raising reduce the growth rate of the tilapia, so introduction of Cichla is thought to maintain a high growth rate in the Tilapia.

They are also raised commercially for the aquarium trade. Asia is one of the main sources for aquacultured peacock bass. Peacock bass prey among anything that catches their eye but fish that they seem most interested in (Tilapia, Crayfish, Tadpoles, Mosquito Fish, Minnows, Guppies, and they'll even eat their own young hungry or not.

Eating quality

Their eating quality is very good. Their flesh is white and sweet when cooked, and has very little oil, making it similar in taste to snapper or grouper. Also, they are not excessively bony. However, most professional American anglers recommend practicing catch and release for these species to protect their numbers in the United States. To help ensure this, Florida Wildlife and Game Commission officers strictly enforce bag limits for these fish.


  1. Kullander, Sven; Efrem Ferreira (2006). "A review of the South American cichlid genus Cichla, with descriptions of nine new species (Teleostei: Cichlidae)" (PDF). Ichthyological Explorations of Freshwaters. 17 (4).
  2. 1 2 Willis, Stuart; Izeni Farias; Guillermo Orti. "Simultaneous delimitation of species and quantification of interspecific hybridization in Amazonian peacock cichlids (genus Cichla) using multi-locus data". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 12 (96). doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-96. PMC 3563476Freely accessible. PMID 22727018.
  3. Info on peacock bass species
  4. Info on peacock bass on
  5. Pelicice, Fernando M.; Agostinho, Angelo A. (14 October 2008). "Fish fauna destruction after the introduction of a non-native predator (Cichla kelberi) in a Neotropical reservoir". Biological Invasions. 11 (8): 1789–1801. doi:10.1007/s10530-008-9358-3.
  6. Latini, A. O.; Petrere, M. (1 April 2004). "Reduction of a native fish fauna by alien species: an example from Brazilian freshwater tropical lakes". Fisheries Management and Ecology. 11 (2): 71–79. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2400.2003.00372.x.
  7. Santos, G.B.; Maia-Barbosa, P.; Vieira, F.; Lopez, C.M. (1994). "Fish and zooplankton community structure in reservoirs of Southeastern Brazil: effects of the introduction of exotic fish". In Pinto-Coelho, R.M.; Giani, A.; von Sperling, E. Ecology and human impact on lakes and reservoirs in Minas Gerais, with special reference to future development and management strategies. SEGRAC, Belo Horizonte. pp. 115–132.
  8. Gomiero, L. M.; Braga, F. M. S. (1 August 2004). "Cannibalism as the main feeding behaviour of tucunares introduced in Southeast Brazil". Brazilian Journal of Biology. 64 (3b). doi:10.1590/S1519-69842004000400009.
  9. Fugi, Rosemara; Luz-Agostinho, Karla D. G.; Agostinho, Angelo A. (2008). "Trophic interaction between an introduced (peacock bass) and a native (dogfish) piscivorous fish in a Neotropical impounded river". Hydrobiologia. 607 (1): 143–150. doi:10.1007/s10750-008-9384-2.
  10. 1 2 Zaret, T.M.; Paine, R.T. (1973). "Species Introduction in a Tropical Lake". Science. 182 (2): 449–455. doi:10.1126/science.182.4111.449. PMID 17832455.
  11. Shafland, Paul (May–June 2008). "Butterfly peacock bass: A new Florida tradition" (PDF). Florida Wildlife. 61 (3): 27–29. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2010.
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