January 25, 2010

Why is my Jack Dempsey so pale and colorless?

       If your Jack Dempsey cichlid suddenly changes its coloration, the alteration can have been caused by a number of factors. Sudden changes can be caused by mood swings, and stress can also make the Jack Dempsey cichlid dampen its colors. A varied and nutritious diet is also necessary if you want your Jack Dempsey cichlid to display really great colors. Age and health will also affect the coloration of a Jack Dempsey cichlid. If your Jack Dempsey cichlid becomes ill or experience a lot of stress in the aquarium, it can turn much paler than normal and look dull. The dots and bands will be less visible. 

     A healthy, adult Jack Dempsey cichlid will typically feature a strong purple coloration with shimmering spots of blue, green and golden. You can clearly see a dark dot on each side of the body and tail, and the dorsal side features dark bands. If you closely at one scale, you will notice green or yellowish spots against the darker background. In older specimens, these spots will gradually become less visible. Really young specimens on the other hand will not have the purple coloration of the adult Jack Dempsey cichlids. Young Jack Dempsey cichlids are camouflaged by a pale grey or tan coloration, and have bleak turquoise dots. The mature male Jack Dempsey cichlid differs from the female, since the ends of his anal and dorsal fins are elongated and pointy.  


    It can’t be stressed enough that a  varied and nutritious diet  is very important not only for the coloration but for the health and longevity of your pet.  A crowded aquarium or one with constant aggression by other fish will cause stress to ALL the fish and effect many in the display of their natural colors.  Take care that you eliminate as much stress as possible, it’s a killer not only of color, but of your fish.  

            … Jack Lamountain


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  • Jennifer Zack

    July 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I am not sure if I can leave a question here, but I am sort of new to the Jack Dempsey world. I have had my fish since december (they were only about 2 months when I got them). I didn’t really know what they were until recently (in terms of the type of cichlid). I bought them some cichlid stones. They really love them. One of them got stuck in the smaller stone (I immediately got rid of the smaller ones). We managed to get him out ok, but he is a little more pale right now. I am just wondering how long that will take to pass? No other fish is picking on him, he just looks stressed.

    Also, I encountered 2 of my cichlids fighting or spawning? I couldn’t really tell. They were lip locking, but they looked kind of angry like they were fighting. Then when they saw me, they both starting opening their mouths wide like they were yelling at me! I am a little confused because there is so much information out there. There are 7 cichlids in my tank. 4 of them are about 3.5 to 4 inches and other other 3 are about 1.5 to 3 inches. I am not sure who is male or female…are they old enough to breed?

    This is frustrating. I would like to provide them with the best “home” possible. In addition, I would like add a few more fish. Any recommedations?

    • william

      June 12, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      hey man…i read your intro and i can tell you first hand..the lip locking means they are mating….by you having soo many of them you just need a fairly large tank to allow them space of their own. i currently have a 55 gallon tank and i have 2 jack dempsy cicklids..3 oscars…1 angel fish… and one goldfish i need to get rid of…my jack dempsies just had a litter and i never knew.. i just noticed they had become territorial and defensive to the other fish…never the less i noticed babies…they are pretty easy to take care of …get good food and do ur research on that and make sure they have plenty of space in the tank..they are very self sufficient as long as u take care of them

  • Laurene

    September 9, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    My Jack is breathing hard and staying at the top of the tank and doesn’t appear to be eating . Any ideas what could be wrong ?

    • Mike

      June 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      Add some airstones for more oxygen in your tank

      • rita

        September 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm

        to laurene

        well obviously your gunna need airstones to provide oxygen

        I say if you couldn’t figure out on your own that he needed air than you need to learn more about fish before you buy them.

        I myself am a lil new with cichlids (2 yrs now)
        but I alredy knew they needed air pumps and all that before I
        got them..

        • Glabe

          November 12, 2011 at 5:32 am

          You don’t NEED air pumps. They can even stress out fish that aren’t used to them. All you need to do is agitate the surface. It helps if your tank has a large surface area. Long tanks have more surface area than tall tanks.

          You can either lower your water level a bit so the HoBs hit it harder, or place a power head or something near the surface. nice quiet calm aeration without the noise of bubbles or an air pump =)

  • Monica

    February 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    My “Mobey” is about 7 years old. I noticed a grayish color slim covering his body, fins, gills and inside his mouth. He is also at the top of the tank gasping and not eating.
    I checked the pH which was a little low so I adjusted it. That didnt help. I changed 1/2 of the water and that didnt help. A friend brought over some Ich medicine and I’ve treating the water 3 times, changing 1/3 of it each time.
    I havent seen any changes. My sucker seems fine.

    • jackarthur46

      February 2, 2011 at 4:12 am

      Hi Monica…

      It seems likely to me that your “Mobey” is close to meeting his maker. What you describe is common to older fish whose immune system is failing them. It could be just old age or any number of other things that bring a fish to the end of his days. I hope he survives but there is nothing that I can suggest to reverse the process. In my opinion, the Ich medication is only going to stress him more. Doesn’t sound like Ick to me at all. I wish you well Monica and please let me know how this turns out.
      Jack Lamountain / The World Of Jack Dempsey Cichlids

  • Monica

    February 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Mobey seems to have improved. His color is returning, he’s swimming around a little, I only see a little gray slim and he finally ate some bloodworms. I’m leaving his tank alone for a few days and then I’m doing a complete water change and adding some salt. I’m hoping he is over what ever he had. Thanks for your help.

    • jackarthur46

      February 3, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Monica…

      I’m truly glad that Mobey is doing better. I would suggest, however, that you do NOT do a complete water change but only about 25%. Be sure the water you replace is conditioned well and temp and PH are close to tank readings. A complete water change may stress Mobey and you don’t want that. I would recommend a 25% water change soon and then maybe every other day a 15 to 20% change for 6 to 8 days. This slow improvement will not stress his immune system and surely do him a lot of good. Let me know how he does Monica. Just one more suggestion… keep the lights dimmed a bit while he’s going through his recovery. It helps keep his stress down.

      Jack Lamountain / The World Of Jack Dempsey Cichlids

  • karina

    March 22, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    My jack is not moving as much she also change color when I frist got her he was colorful .Now she sit at the bottom of the tank and don’t move how would I know if she upset or what worng with her

    • devin

      August 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      she is lonely I would suggest getting a male jack dempsey. it worked for my.male he was.lonely I.bought 2 more and his color came.back I hope this helps you

  • karina

    March 24, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I got a 55 tank with a jack and 3 other fish also a suckerfish is that to much at first it was just the jack and the suckerfish then I got 3 other fish now she acting very wired please help she gettin pale

    • rita

      September 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      okay I have two suckers,one tiger oscar and two jacks.

      everytime I get a new fish my jack always acts like that it could
      be possible he’s getting pickd on.
      I first startd off with four oscars nd one jack and one sucker.
      they all had touble getting along so I sold two of my meanist oscars
      (obvioulsy) than he startd acting fine after sold them I decided to get the
      another sucker well the sucker I had and one of my oscars witch was an albino
      white were fighting so I got rid of the albino.
      I have read that jacks and even tiger oscars like a bit of merky water so
      I got more airstones my tanks clean but not as clean as most ppl would like but my fish loves it..I hope this info helps you in sum way.

  • Jessica

    April 5, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Hi, I just got a young JD only about 2-3 inches long now and an a young oscer they seem okay now like they have a respect for one another. when they get big will they still be okay together? and as far as feeding my JD, only like a pinch of pellets even for both of them at this point is enough right? and i have 4 goldfish in there too they nibble on a bit and i feed them the flakes so i dont know whos eating what really but i do a pinch of flakes and a pinch of pellets what do ya think?

    • jackarthur46

      April 5, 2011 at 7:32 am

      Hello Jessica…

      You didn’t tell me how large your aquarium is and that’s an important factor in answering your questions. I would say that your JD and Oscar will do fine together if they have enough room in the tank as they grow. A pinch of food for your JD and Oscar is not enough unless you are giving that to them often during the day. I assume the gold fish are also very small at this point and as they grow, they will put a strain on your filtration system. Goldfish are messy fish with a lot of waste and it’s best to separate goldfish from tropicals as their requirements are different. Give me more information Jessica and I can answer your questions more accurately. Many thanks for viewing my website.


  • James

    May 7, 2011 at 1:27 am

    I have a pair of jacks the female is about 7in the male is about 3.5 4in thought they were the same sex till they laid eggs I have been feeding them frozen and live brine shrimp pellets and flake the babies are now 2 weeks old and theres like 300 alive i have been feeding them the same foods broken down + daphnia and frozen baby brine shrimp and micro worms mix do u think the pair will be ok with the babies or even just together with the female being 2x the males there both really colorful and any idea what i can maybe expect the survivability on the fry to be i haven’t seen or found any dead and there seems to be as many as the day they hatched this is there first batch?

    • John

      June 10, 2011 at 8:36 am


      You Jacks will be more than fine with the babies in the tank with the parents; Jack’s make great parents and will chew up and spit out for the fry to eat. I have a mating pair and they have spawned me hundreds of babies. Also they are serious protectors of their fry and will run of anything that comes near them; in fact that is how I knew thsey had fry the first time the spawned togther; that had all the other fish plastered up against the glass on the other side of my 150Gal tank…. 1 Oscer, 5 Convicts and 3 Choco’s! Funny as hell as the Oscar and Choco’s are huge compared to my Jacks. Relocated other firsh to my 135Gal and they raised them with no issues in the tank, fed them and everything.. Now the babies are in my 70Gal with my Convict babies; they get along well too! The parents are back in the big tank!

  • cold or worm

    May 21, 2011 at 2:07 am

    dose tha jack dampsey like cold or worm water so what im asking is should i buy my lil jack a heater

    • Techtonyc

      January 22, 2012 at 8:09 am

      Jack Dempseys need a water temp of 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit. So you definitely need a heater.

  • Susan

    August 11, 2011 at 2:22 am

    I have a Jack Dempsey that’s a little over a year old. He’s pale in color, pretty much always has been, but half of his face has suddenly turned black. He is hanging out at the top of the tank a little more than usual but other than that seems to be ok. It’s a 90 gal tank with only 2 Jacks and 2 Plecos. The Plecos are almost 10 and are very large, the other Jack is almost 10 as well and is extremely colorful and perfectly normal. I’m worried about the youngster, I recently lost the other 10 yr old, this is an offspring of my original pair. If anyone has any suggestions, I haven’t been able to find anything with black face as a symptom.

  • devin

    August 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve got 6 jack dempseys in a 35 gallon tank 3 of them I have had for a few months the other 3 I got just recently I’ve only got 2 large jacks both around 5″ I’ve got 2 that are.only about an inch and the other 2 are about 3.5″ they seem to like golden mollys a lot I feed them like 20 a week and I run out because they eat so much so.I have to feed them glfish flakes would it be okay to feed them that or should I buy different.foods for them. thanks

  • devin

    August 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    also I forgot to mention that I’ve only got one that is strongly collored and I’m kinda worried any suggestions. thanks

  • devin

    August 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    what kind of fish the other fish may.be bullying her.or they look like a tasty treat to her

  • mr fishprob

    October 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    ive had my jd about 3wks hes is a baby that ws light tan, healthy eater & scrapper now he just hides and has turned adeep grayish wont eat and let my jewei push him around.. whatz wrong

  • randy

    December 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    i have a pair of jd the seem to be very healthy ive try breeding them but have not had any luck i was told to add another pair of them maybe to get the male in the mood an the pair iam talking about wont eat pelletes but only bloodworns whats wron

  • Johnathan

    December 13, 2011 at 12:43 am

    I have had my jd’s for 4 months now and I bought them together. They have played rough from the beginning but the last 2-3 days my big Jack(5inches) has beat up my lil Jd (2.5 inches) and now he has just decided to get vicious and is taking bites out of her. Messed up her right fin, and bites under her chin & on belly. She lost her color and has just decided to lay at the top of 30 gal tank. But my big guy thinks that she is a target. I have put my Girl in a 20 gal by herself and she has re-colored and seems happy. Do I ever put them back together???

    • Sonia

      December 14, 2011 at 1:46 am

      I just got my fish from a friend he couldn’t care fo it anymore he’s like blackish purpule I do see the yellow golden spots does that seem like a healthy fish

    • Pete

      December 24, 2011 at 1:16 am

      I have the same problem. When I first got the pair they were interacting constantly. But recently the male chasses and the female tends to hide and has lost her colors. They only cuddle at nignt or when the light is dim. If you know the solution please forward as I will do the same.

  • Jacob

    January 20, 2012 at 2:42 am

    hi there,
    i have purchased 2 JD’s about 5 months ago so guessing they are around 6-8 months old but they seem to be really dark in colour almost black is this normal? the only real bit of colour is a red pin stripe across the top of the dorsal fin, they are in a very large tank with a mixture of other cichlids and tropical fish but i have not noticed any bullying atall (touch wood) , and they are only an inch and a half in size any tips or answers would be great, they are really healthy just starting to wonder what should be happening and want to be sure they are happy!,
    cheers jake

  • Dawn

    January 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    About 5 months ago I purchused a JD. Along with other chiclids. One a Bumble bee and not quite sure about the other one. I know that it is a African chiclid. Also have a Tiger barb. The Tiger barb was in the tank frist and is full grown. Everyday they are fed pellets and flakes. So far they are getting along. The Bumble bee has gotten huge. All of the other are growing at the same rate. Question: Do you think that they will keep getting along? So far no color change. Could it be that as long they are well fed that they will keep getting along? They were also the same size when I got them.
    Thank you

  • mike

    February 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    dear jackarthur46
    i have 2 jds and the have seemed to lose color and i have 4 feeder fish in my 55 gallon tank with then and they havent touched them. what do i do about that? when i got them they didnt have much color anyways i also wanted to no if there was a treatment that i could give them so they can get better

  • Aj

    February 24, 2012 at 2:15 am

    I’ve had my jd for almost a month now.. It’s the only fish in my 20 gal tank and it just stays towards the bottom and the only time it’s active is to move all the gravel to one side of the tank.. It’s always been full in color. Wats wrong or is it normal for them to be so inactive I just want to make sure it’s alright

  • Aj

    February 24, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Oops I meant dull in color

    • jackarthur46

      February 24, 2012 at 3:28 am

      AJ, your Jack Dempsey needs a friend or at least another fish in the tank. Think about another cichlid about his same size.

  • mike

    February 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    by chance do u think there is another way for me to get there color back

  • Joeallev972

    March 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I have a fairly young JD and he’s been laying on bottom of the tank hardly moving his fins with his mouth open. I got him to take a pellet but his jaws don’t close to chew it up. He’s pretty much been this way for a day now. I did a water change and vacuumed gravel(40% water change) Nay help will be greatly appreciated. He’s in a 46 gallon tank with an Oscar and 2 yellow Mbunas all young fish at this point. Nitrites,Nitrates<ammonia levels are all on par. Nothing new has been introduced in the tank,Cichlid Gold pellets are what i feed theem with occasional Beef Hearts and Blood worms,thawed from frozen. Thanks again for any info.

    • Lane

      May 28, 2012 at 2:42 am

      How long have you had your tank?

      Is this a grow tank?

      Mbunas and South Americans will only survive together as juveniles.

      How much, what kind of filtration do you have? You would need an HOB Penguin 350 for just the Oscar, probably 2 of em’ for your current stock, or a sump tank with mechanical filtration if your tank doesn’t have room.

      For an Oscar fish alone, your tank is too small.

      Do you have plans to upgrade your tank very soon? Oscars have a very fast growth rate & can reach 8″-13″ within one year.

  • Brenda

    April 8, 2012 at 6:04 am

    i bought 2 jd 2 months ago. the guy who sold them to me told me they were 2 yrs old. i love these fishes, they are fun to watch and nice to take care of. I been reading, and buying various things because i want them to look pretty and colorful like i know they can look. I feed them different foods from frozen. live and dry. the water temp is at 77 (in the middle) because i noticed when i had it at 80 one of them got somewhat aggressive. they get along tho. the tank is 60 gallon but they are always together. anyway. my question is what tank background would make them feel more at ease (color wise).. and does noise make them stressful like the tv, music, voices etc?

  • Lane

    May 28, 2012 at 2:11 am

    I know that I’m way too late on many of these posts, but maybe a potential JD owner will find their way to this forum before owning a JD.

    Please do some initial, basic research before deciding to be a JD owner. These are very hardy fish, and could almost live in battery acid, but you don’t want to torture your pets…do you?

    One JD needs at least a 50 gallon tank with a lot of filtration. You can get away with 2 JD’s in a 55 as long as you aqua-scape appropriately (as you might have 2 males), and up the filtration to at least 10x the water-volume per hour.

    You need plenty of oxygen, but not a powerhead system unless you have a very, very large tank. You need to feed them a variety of foods, including vegetables – never put frozen foods in your tank…thaw them first.

    You can get some cucumber, squash, zucchini, peas, edamame, etc. Slice it up, put in in a baggy with a spoonful of pre-diced garlic and then freeze it. To feed, get a 1/2 a cup of aquarium water, put your frozen veggie slice in the water and microwave it to thaw. Then clip the veggie (they sell veggie clips at your local pet store) and let it stick to the wall or sit on the bottom.

    If your JD will only eat one thing (pellets or flakes), that’s because you’ve only fed him this. Let him fast for a day or two (it’s ok), then feed the veggie.

    Also feed cow-heart (thawed), blood worms and a high quality sinking pellet (Hikari Gold is a good one, not too expensive).

    Before you do any of this, however, please do some basic research on owning a JD…like what you need BEFORE you get one.

    Also, there’s an Aquariums for Dummy’s book that I haven’t read, but is highly recommended by many experienced aquarists.

    Remember, you’re not just taking care of a fish, you’re taking care of a micro-ecosystem – including bacteria, nitrates, possibly plants, etc.

  • Tyler

    September 20, 2012 at 3:43 am


    I recently purchased two JD’s and i put them in a 55 gallon tank together. Everything was doing fine until i noticed that one of them was laying on the bottom of the tank (still alive). Its color completely changed to a dull whitish color. I was wondering why this is happening and is there anything i could do for him.

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