Peacock bass

Peacock bass is the common name in English for several species of tropical, freshwater fish native to the Amazon River basin of South America. They also exist as non-native species in the following parts of the world: The Dominican Republic, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Peninsular Malaysia, Panama, Puerto Rico, Singapore and the Virgin Islands.

Ichthyologists and expert peacock bass fishermen are quick to point out, however, that the peacock bass is not a true bass, but is a cichlid fish of the genus Cichla.

Five species

There are five 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), and Cichla monoculus (no English name).

Although science knows of only five species, some ichthyologists believe there may be as many as 12 in the freshwater lakes and rivers of South America. None of the above species is on the IUCN red list.

Physical traits

The speckled peacock bass is the largest of the species and can grow up to 3.25 ft (99 cm) in length. The royal peacock bass is the smallest and grows to a maximum length of 1.8 ft (55 cm). Also, most display three 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. 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 techniques for catching them are similar to those for catching largemouth bass with the notable exception that peacock bass will not strike artificial worms — a widely popular lure among largemouth bass fisherman. Despite these coveted qualities, some naturalists have identified peacock bass as potential pests for causing ecological imbalances in some of their introduced areas.

Eating quality

Their eating quality is 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.

Florida introduction

In 1984 Florida officials deliberately introduced butterfly peacock bass and speckled peacock bass to southern Florida. There they prey on other non-native and invasive species such as the Oscar and the spotted tilapia. Also, their introduction now provides additional sports fishing opportunities for local anglers along with the common snook, largemouth bass and bluegill. While the butterfly peacock bass has flourished, 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 and Broward counties within the state of Florida.

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 grow much larger than most other aquarium fish. To accommodate their size, adults need tanks that hold at least 240 gallons. However, larger tanks are better.