When it comes to devotion in parenthood, few species surpass the aggressive and pugnacious nature of the African cichlid known as the jewel fish. In the aquarium cichlid hobby, two different species are known as jewel fish, the one discussed in this article is the Hemichromis bimaculatus.
The other is the larger Hemichromis fasciatus that is totally undesirable for the home aquarium. The jewelfish will not hesitate to attack a human hand and bite hard to discourage any threat to its young. This fish is definitely not recommended for a community aquarium.
COMMON NAMES: Jewel fish, African jewelfish, two-spotted jewelfish, green jewel, blue jewel
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Hemichromis bimaculatus
ADULT SIZE: 4 to 6 inches
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5+ years
Origins and Distribution
Native to West and Central Africa, Hemichromis species are found in creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes. These various environments have a variety of water qualities including brackish lagoons. The jewelfish is very tolerant of many extremes in water quality.
Origin West Africa
Tank Level: Inhabits lower aquarium; comes off bottom only to feed and during breeding aggressions
Minimum Tank Size 40 gallon
Breeding: Cave breeder
Care Moderate, noting social aggression
pH 7.0 to 7.5
Hardness 4 to 18 dGH
Temperature 70 F to 74 F (21 C to 23 C)
Colors and Markings
The jewelfish attains a maximum length of 12 inches but usually averages only four to five inches when full-grown in captivity. They are very brightly colored and their colors become even more intense during breeding. With a cherry-red body, these fish are covered with reflective light blue small blotches over the entire body. Two large black "eye spots" are present on the lateral line. One black spot is located behind the gill, and the other is located mid-body.
Other than other juvenile members of their own species, no tank mates are acceptable for this defensive fish. They are not suited for a community tank.
Habitat and Care
Water conditions are not critical in this species. However, these fish must be provided an efficient filter system, to ensure clear and clean water at all times. Use a sandy substrate as this cichlid likes to root around and dig at the bottom of the tank. Anything rougher could cause them injury from this behavior.
Similar to many other species, these fish also tend to dig into the substrate which ends up disturbing the live plants. However, plants such as the Amazon sword plants and the cryptocoryne plant species which do well. Other plants may also be fine as long as you attach them with driftwood or protect their roots with stones.
Large rocks mounds will help mimic their natural habitat in rivers, streams, and lakes. Fish will seek their own territories in the tank. Many different options for territories on the bottom will help prevent territorial spats. Use sunken logs and overturned flowerpots to mimic small caves in rocks.
Diet and Feeding
Live foods are preferred. Frozen foods are accepted and should be given at least once per week; good high-quality flake food is also accepted. A diet of all live or frozen proteins should be fed heavily for a week to condition the fish for breeding.
There are no known observable differences between the sexes in this species.
Probably the most remarkable fact about the jewelfish is the relationship in the mated couple. This species comes as close to a “married life” in the full sense of the word as can be found among all captive species of tropical aquarium fish.
At breeding time, both genders are combatants. If they are not fully matched in size and strength, the mating battles may lead to injury or death of the smaller and weaker individual. Always make sure that when a balanced pair is introduced into a tank there is plenty of refuge among built-up rocks and plant thickets. A half-round flowerpot placed in a dark corner will usually be the preferred site for spawning.
Pairing begins with a ritual “fight” which is presumably designed to determine the strength and stamina of a mating partner. Once they come to a truce, members of this species mate for life. The male will eventually become larger and will give his life to protecting his mate.
The parents do everything together from preparing the nesting site to caring for the eggs and protecting the young. They share faithfully in all these tasks and spend a large part of each day during the breeding season in activities designed to give their offspring the best possible start in life. Their “family sense” and the way in which the couple sticks together and shares the work is as remarkable as the fact that the mated pair later remains together far beyond the time needed to rear the new generation.
This has led some observers to wonder whether these fish, as well as closely related species that behave in a similar fashion, may become attached to their mates as individuals. Scientists have studied whether these fish can recognize their partners, and react to the substitution of different males or females.
Although observations so far have not been conclusive, there seems to be some evidence that individual attachment among mated couples of certain cichlids appears possible. If for some reason the male or female should die, it is very likely that if another mate is introduced, the remaining fish will kill or badly damage the new arrival.
Unlike with tetras or other shoaling fish, cichlids and especially the jewelfish should always be purchased as a pair. Get assistance in the store to pick a male and a female of the same size. In order to observe the entire sequence of breeding behavior without any disturbance, it is best never to have more than one male and one female of the species in your aquarium.
More Pet Fish Species and Further Research
Other than juvenile members of their own species, no tank mates are acceptable for this defensive fish. They are not suited for a community tank.
Check out additional fish species profiles for more information on other freshwater fish.