January 28, 2010

How and What To Feed Jack Dempsey Fry


Baby Jack Dempsey cichlids hatching from eggs to 8 days old. 

How and What To Feed Jack Dempsey Fry

      Congratulations, you’re the proud aunt/uncle of tiny, baby Jack Dempsey cichlids. They are tiny and yet they will soon eat crushed up flake foods and even pulverized cichlid pellets. During the first 3 days of life, these little critters won’t be eating such foods but just absorbing their protein sack. But even then, they will be nibbling around at things and possibly getting some micro, micro organisms to munch on.

     It has always been my thinking that the best nursery tank for newborns of any egg laying fish is an established aquarium. The reason being is that a good food source for these tiny fry are the micro organisms and bacteria that are covering the gravel or even bare glass bottom. Many types of bacteria that you find in an established aquarium are full of beneficial vitamins and minerals (like kids vitamins). In a newly set up nursery tank, you won’t have these beneficial bacteria and certainly not any micro organisms such as those tiny white worms you see on the glass. Those make good food for young fry.

     Despite the age of your nursery tank, you still have to provide some normal food after a few days. Now if the parents are still with the babies then they will take care of most of the feeding for a few weeks. They will, very unselfishly, accept your cichlid foods and chomp it up in their mouth, spilling tiny crumbs out their gills and mouth just over their young. It’s such an amazing thing to watch and both the male and female participate. Who ever taught them to do this? The parents try to keep the young fry in a group so that at feeding time they will all get their share. Watch the parents as they rush around the tank, sucking up in their mouth the little runts that are roaming out beyond the safety of the group.

     If you had to remove the eggs to a nursery without the parents, then your job is a bit more difficult. You must be sure to crush the food up to a powdery state to feed them. The first 10 days are critical and many of the young will probably die during this period. After a week or so, the young should be large enough to feed them newly hatched artemiabrine shrimp. Micro worms are also an excellent food source for these apprentice Jack Dempsey fish. Always take care NOT TO OVERFEED. If you find food debris on the bottom of the nursery, remove it ASAP. Feed your babies 5 times a day if possible for the first 3 weeks. Any less then that and their growth will be stunted and some will weaken and perish. As a norm, a brood of 500 fry will be shrunk down to maybe 200 after 4 weeks, even with good care and feeding… it’s the natural course of nature. 

     A 5 or 10 gallon aquarium is best for your nursery for the first month. This is so that when you feed your fry, they won’t have to wonder very far to find the food. Water conditions are not critical but stability of those established conditions are important. Temperature 72 – 82 F — PH 6.5 to 7.2 is good for fry.  But whatever parameters you initially establish, try to maintain that constant.

 Filtering is not all that important for the initial fry tank. If you’re doing it right, you’re changing about 10% of the water every day (that’s only 1 gallon of water a day in a 10 gallon tank), and keeping the bottom of the tank clean.  It’s best not to have gravel on the bottom of your nursery so that uneaten food and debris can be easily seen and siponed off.  Sponge filters are an excellent choice for your nursery tanks. This will give some filtration while creating a mild current for the young. Remember, keep the temperature stable and make sure the water you add every day is chlorine free and temperature adjusted.

     As they mature, larger food chunks may be fed, some small pieces of frozen foods and a meal of live artemia brine shrimp hatchlings every day is a great way to increase their growth rates. Raising artemia shrimp to adult stage is quite easy and will give you a great food source for older juveniles as wel as the fry grow and continue on through their intense growth period those first few months.

     Moving the fry to a larger tank (20 gallon) is advisable after 5 or 6 weeks. They will be good swimmers by then and the larger tank will give them the space they need for the coming weeks to grow out. Keep in mind that 150 to 200 Jack Dempsey cichlids in a 20 gallon aquarium is not a pretty sight after a few short months of growth. The parents should probably be removed from the fry at this time and placed back in their own aquarium. You must give thought to how you are going to house these creatures as they mature. Pet stores may take some but most will not take them under 3 months of age or 2 ½ inches in length. You will have to provide more space or more aquariums to grow that many cichlids to that size and age and have them in good health. This is the time to call on your local shops and find out who’s interested. I trade my JDs for credit towards purchasing aquarium products… no exchange of cash.

     If you’ve kept the fry in the same aquarium with their parents, I would suggest that after 4 to 5 weeks it’s best to move them to their own nursery tank. A 20 gallon aquarium is the minimum size I would suggest, depending on the number of fry you have left at this point. Parent fish often want to spawn again after about 6 weeks and they may begin to kill off some of their young if in a crowded space. When the parent JDs do spawn again, you can kiss your juveniles goodbye. The adults will see their own offspring as a danger to their new brood and attempt to clear the aquarium of them. The NEW EGGS are all important and they will do whatever to protect them. That’s how it is in “The World of Jack Dempsey Cichlids” be it in the wild or in your home aquarium.  If you have questions about this, email me and I’ll respond within 24 hrs.  jackarthur46@yahoo.com.   Have fun.

        — Jack Lamountain   “The World of Jack Dempsey Cichlids”

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  • nicole

    May 17, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    ok so…we bought 5 baby jack dempseys in Feb. 2010 for our 75 gallon aquarium..the week before easter weekend i noticed babies swimming about. yes my babies had babies!…we left them in the tank with know where to move them and they were all eaten..well about 2.5 weeks later we have babies again…i purchased a net basket made for the babies.. to maybe give them a chance but i was reading that they eat bacteria off of the gravel and the glass of the aquarium…keep in mind my dempseys are still babies themselves…them female is about 3 inches and the male is only a little bit bigger…what do you suggest to give these fry the best possible chance at survival..should i use the net basket…or i have a 55 gallon aquarium full of tetras and barbs…would the babies hurt them or vice versa….

    • jackarthur46

      May 18, 2010 at 3:39 am

      Nicole… All fish, other then the parents, will consume these Jack Dempsey fry. Even the tank of Tetras will consume them. You must place them alone or with just the parents.

      Your parent fish are small yet sexually mature.. so.. I would guess that they have been raised in very crowded conditions which restricts proper growth rate. Doesn’t mean they’re not healthy but I do believe they will have a shorter life span. Good luck with the fry.

  • Chris

    May 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Hey Jack.

    You seem to know what your talking about so I figured Id share my endevours with you. I have a crazy mixed 55g with a little bit of everything. Couple of weeks ago I noticed hatched eggs in my tank. Found the fry that the dempsey were fiercly protecting (at first). after about a week or so they gave up on thier parental duties for some reason and thr fry disaspred in about 2 hours as I watched every other fish in the tank treat it like a buffet. Well, last night they did their deed again and laid a bunch eggs. Almost immedietly after they laid them they same off to the other side of the tank and spent several hours “Lip-Locking” wich I founs wierd cause I thought that was something that happened befor hand, anywho. So as they spent their time on the other side of the tank dancing around, perodicaly checking on the eggs and chaseing off the the others who were constantly trying to eat them, I scrambled and got an old 10g together cleaned er out, filled it with water from the tank (they were in) and put a small sponge filter on it. I took the Pot the eggs were on (that’s where they laid) and placed in in the 10g. They majourity of the eggs are fertile as a few 10-20 have allready turned white. Soooooooo, time will tell how I do this go around, any pointers you may have as I go along would be great as im a 1st timer, well 2nd but we know how that went. :(. Anyway thought I’d share….. WISH ME LUCK!


  • Jennifer

    June 14, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I have a 55 gallon with serveral large cichlids. I have a large male Dempsey, but I have what I was told to be a green terror, they had babies!! I have never had a breeding pair of fish my whole life. The parents are attacking my bumble bee and parrot fish. I have to get them out. Should I leave the Dempseys and move the rest?? The babies hatched yesterday some time. They are around 24hrs old. How long does it take them to grow to around 1 or 2inches?? I want them to make it. This is soo cool!!

  • Derrick

    June 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    My jacks had their first brood about a week ago. I was in the middle of moving, so I housed the parents at a friends till their 150 gl. is set up. I put the rock with the eggs in a 25 gl. while they hatched. There were 700-1000 eggs, but I thought Jacks only had 500 tops. Anyways, most hatched and only several fuzzies. About 4-5 days after hatching, a couple of hundred died. Yesterday, became free-swimming and yolk sacks are gone. I hatched brine shrimp yesterday and feed them with a 3ml sucker/baster thingy. I sucked up the brine shrimp and deposited them into a dish of salt-free water. After, rinsing the brine into the water I sucked up two 3ml plungers of brine and water to feed. My question is, I know you need to watch over-feeding, but how do you calculate that with the small brine shrimp? Watch their bellies? Or should I just feed them a little several times a day?

    Thanks in advance for any help

    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      it is ok for a weill
      good lock

  • Wayne

    July 3, 2010 at 3:08 am

    What ph do you suggest for adult jack dempseys? I have a 300 gal. tank.

    Also I just had babies and removed them from larger tank. they still have the protein sacks. the parents don’t always let them live long so that’s why i moved them. I’ve tried all different ways to get the fry to live but was only successful with one batch.

    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      you need a 10 gal. for the fly

  • wayne

    July 3, 2010 at 3:14 am

    When I buy fish at the pet store they are more colorful and when I put them in my tank the colors change and look somewhat washed out and duller. Any Ideas?

    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      the water is not good

    • Tim

      March 24, 2011 at 1:22 am

      My guess is the type of light. Aquarium bulbs vary greatly. Try a full spectrum bulb. They do however lead to more algae growth. For me the extra care is worth the better colors.

  • Nek27

    July 16, 2010 at 3:07 am

    I would agree with jackarthur 46. I had problems with my jewelfish cichlids and we eventually had to put them in a different tank. The parents may be happy to raise the babies in safety.

  • Carlos

    July 28, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Hey, my JD’s just layed eggs and I’m expecting the babies soon. I was wondering how long should I wait to feed the fry brine shrimp and when should I move them in a nursery tank?

    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      3 day is a good time

  • R

    July 29, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Bought 2 Jacks about a week ago, they are about 2″ in length, and added them to 55gallon tank with Jewel that’s twice their size. Jewel is chasing them allover the place and although the Jacks don’t seem hurt they don’t show any colors and I am wondering if they are stressing out. I did not add any ornaments except for a few plastic plants. Should I return the Jewel or will this be sorted out once I give them some caves? Also, the Jewel eats those tiny red pellets and tropical fish flakes from the Tetra brand, but the Jack’s seem to not enjoy them, I was expecting them to come swimming for the food but the Jacks almost seem lackluster about it. Some tips on what to feed these small guys?

    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm

      they are scard they shod be in a 40gal. feed them guppys

      • EO

        September 27, 2011 at 1:00 am

        You need to give them lots and lots of places to hide. If their color is all washed out, it’s because they’re stressed. Hiding spaces should help. They will eat the pellets and flakes but not until they feel safe.

  • Sami

    August 2, 2010 at 4:46 am

    Hi, Our Jack Dempsy had babies and as it was moving around like tiny little dots, we thought Mom and Dad were caring for their babies but few days after the started to swim, it was all gone! (eaten by Mom and Dad). Well, about 2-3 weeks later, we noticed they had babies again and it has been two days since it hatched. This time, we have devided the tank to put parents in one side of tank, babies in the other side. However, I am very concerned that if I did the right thing? I can see Mom and Dad actively attacks glass deviders and babies are all moved towards glass devider. Needs advice. Thank you.

    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      it good is it a dvideyer

  • berwickdave

    August 2, 2010 at 6:41 am

    loved the vid and just had my pair do same what a wonderful fish they are

  • Dimitra

    October 28, 2010 at 2:34 am


    • mark

      January 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

      no it is good if i konw if you were selling them are you?

  • carlos

    December 30, 2010 at 7:42 am

    i had a question i have a 90-110 gallon tank dat soon is going to have playsand..and maybe some driftwood and rocks…with a canister filter and heater…now im going to try to breed electric blue dempseys…can the babies stay in the tank with the parents?and what should i feed both parents and fry? any advice would be greatly appreciated thank you

  • Steven

    February 24, 2011 at 6:12 am

    I have 5 JD’s that are in a 55gal and i have ten two month old JD’s in a twenty. I’m gonna be moving soon an 8 hour trip what would be the best way to move them? I have planned on transporting in a large cooler with air.

    • jackarthur46

      February 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm

      Hello Steve…

      For a long trip like that, you first want to prepare them for the journey. Two days before you place them in your cooler, cut way back on feeding. I’d suggest feed only half of what you would normally. The day before transport, cut back to only 1/4 of what you would normally feed. Do not feed them any live foods during these two days.

      When transporting them, your only concern will be that you provide plenty of AIR for them. It is surprising how quickly they will consume all the oxygen in a tightly closed container with a minimum amount of water. If you’re transporting them in cold weather and you don’t think you can keep the temperature around the container very warm then begin to acclimate your fish to lower temps a week or so before your trip. Jack Dempseys are quite hardy but when temps get to around 62 or lower, they can suffer.

      Be sure to add to the water a product that will help them through the trip. You can purchase these products at any pet store. Your biggest concern is the stress placed on the fish during this long journey that can cause you problems with disease after the move. Good Luck Steven.

  • Baby JD's 1 week old

    March 21, 2011 at 10:02 am

    […] 49 How and What To Feed Jack Dempsey Fry […]

  • jennie

    July 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    my jd has breeded about 60 babies they seem to be doing well inspite of me going near the tank do i-leave them or take them out they seem to be ok the parents are on guard and they are swimming like little tapoles

  • Lacy

    August 11, 2011 at 8:30 am

    ok so i have a 20gl tank with just mommy and daddy and who knows how many lil wiggalers, i guess my question is, how, when and what do i feed these lil guys. this is my first time having and caring for JD’s and their fry! Please help!!!!

  • cardell

    August 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    when will jack dempseys start feeding their fry…they hatched about 3 days ago and i have yet to see the parents feed them

    • Jack

      August 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Your fry live off their egg sack for a few days. Don’t worry, the parents know when to begin feeding. Good luck Cardell.

      Jack Lamountain / The World Of Jack Dempsey Cichlids

  • cardell

    August 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    thanks a lot i was worried

  • cardell

    September 8, 2011 at 3:54 am

    hi…my jacks mated about 2 weeks ago…today i noticed that there are no fry in the tank….did i do something wrong? the water temp was at 79-81 degrees….i had an air stone and filtration going..both parents were in the tank…

  • Kaylee

    November 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    I just found out that my electric blue jack dempsey and my reg. jack dempsey layed eggs im am verry new to the spawning of these fish and i need some good advice they just layed yesterday before i got home around 4:30 and they are in a 10 gallon with (2 kenyi cichlids 1 male 1 female)about 2 inches also (one verry young jaguar cichlid)about an inch an half in length + (2 lace catfish verry young as well)=about an inch and a half in length (one verry pig pleco”sucker fish/alligie eater” who is verry calm all the time along with one green emerald corry cat and one corry cat that is amazingly about two and a half inches i don’t know the breed…the electric blue jack and the reg. jack dempsey are both aroung 5 and a half inches… this is my 55 gallon tank that they are all in i also have a 10 with two tetra’s male & female with 3 angle fish one is a platinum angle the other two i don’t know what they are but there atill really young this 10 gal. has alot of growing plants and was the first i set up but i don’t know if i can put my angles with me small cichlids and have them be ok cause i would move the new parent jacks to the 10 but how to make sure they all my angles and tetra’s live i don’t know what to do?? Can you maybe help me out ? one thing that idk if you might know is that electric blue jacks and reg. jacks dempsey are really really hard to breed and even more so to get to live together not only to get the young to stay alive …and i half to do all this on a verry short budget….thankyou for any help you have to offer for anyone else that can help me you can contact me at … babyred7@live.com

  • Alexis

    May 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I have a 55 gal tank..now divied because two jack dempseys had babies..didn’t even see the eggs at all..came home and there were hundreds of babies…its been about 5 days…and I’ve. Noticed the mom is already eating them..should I seperate her from them to the other side of the tank? There is plenty of room for them and all the babies so don’t see a need to kill off and I’ve been feeding them regularly..unless that is normal but its just so sad to see! What should I do now?

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