Butterfly peacock bass

Peacock bass

Peacock bass is the common name in English for several species of tropical, freshwater fish of the genus Cichla native to the Amazon River basin of South America. These tropical fish are not true basses, but are rather cichlids. They also inhabit the waters of Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Panama, Singapore and parts of the USA (Guam, Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the United States Virgin Islands).

Six species

There are six known species of peacock bass. The common names for these cichlids vary somewhat depending on the region and, at times, local anglers. The list that follows matches their taxonomic, binomial names (species names) with the common names most widely used in English speaking countries:

  • Cichla temensis (speckled peacock bass but three-barred peacock bass while spawning)
  • Cichla ocellaris (butterfly peacock bass)
  • Cichla intermedia (royal peacock bass)
  • Cichla orinocensis (no English name)
  • Cichla monoculus (no English name)
  • Cichla pinima (no English name, recently discovered in 2006)

There are many common names for these fish in Brazil (the country of their largest native region) depending on the species and stage of development. The most popular of these is tucunaré (too-coo-nah-REH). In Spanish, the generic common name for these cichlids is pavόn (pah-VON).

Although science knows of only Six species, some ichthyologists believe there may be as many as 12 in the freshwater lakes and rivers of South America.

The IUCN has never investigated the conservation status of any peacock bass species. Therefore they do not appear on the IUCN red list.

Physical traits

The speckled peacock bass is the largest species and can grow up to 99 centimeters (three feet, four inches) in length. The royal peacock bass is the smallest and grows to a maximum length of 55 centimeters (one foot, 10 inches). Also, most display three wide vertical stripes on their bodies and a spot on their tail fins that resembles the eyes on a peacock's tail feathers -- a feature which resulted in their English and Spanish common names. In addition, all adult males have a pronounced hump on their foreheads. 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, impressive shades of bright green, orange, blue and gold. The stripes, however, tend to fade in late adulthood.

Valued as gamefish

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. Also, the most common techniques for catching them are similar to those for catching largemouth bass with the notable exception that peacock bass usually won't 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 these cichlids.

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

Florida introduction

In 1984, Florida officials deliberately introduced butterfly peacock bass and speckled peacock bass to the southern region of that state. There they prey on other non-native and invasive species such as the oscar, Midas cichlid, and the spotted tilapia. Also, their introduction now provides additional sport fishing opportunities for local anglers along with the common snook, largemouth bass and bluegill. While the butterfly peacock bass has flourished there, the speckled peacock bass has not. Therefore, it is now illegal to kill or possess speckled peacock bass in Florida.

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

Panama's Gatun Lake introduction

Cichla monoculus was introduced into Panama via a fresh water creek in the Rio Chagres drainage region by accident some time in the late 1950s (experts aren't 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 an 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, neighboring rivers and creeks were overrun with the cichlids, providing sport fishing opportunities that hadn't existed previously. Since then, C. monoculus has become the dominant sport fish species in the area.

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.

In the aquarium

As aquarium fish they are voracious and predatory, eating any smaller tank mates and fighting with others of equivalent size. They require live food as juveniles but later in their development will accept meaty, dry or frozen foods.

Peacock bass tend to grow much larger than most other aquarium fish. To accommodate their size, adults need tanks that hold at least 240 gallons (908.5 liters). However, larger tanks are better.

See also


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