Bio Facts: Bass, Peacock
South America: Marowijne drainage in Suriname and French Guiana to the Essequibo drainage in Guyana.
Freshwater lakes, waterways and wetlands
Adult length: up to 29 in (74 cm); maximum published weight: 14.99 lbs. (6.8 kg); appearance: sloping forehead and an elongated body. Coloration: back is silver-gray and marked with three, broad transverse stripes; lower parts are yellow to gold, with a region marked with black splotches; just below the yellow area is an orange-red region, which also parallels the white belly. The mouth is very large and faces towards the surface. The pelvic, anal, and caudal fins are orange-red, and the dorsal fin is black. An obvious, black eye-spot can be found on the caudal fin near the caudal penuncle.
In the wild, they eat small fish (threadfin shad, mosquito fish, tilapia and bluegill); in the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available fish food and mosquito fish.
IUCN – Not Listed
The butterfly peacock bass occurs in groups (schools) and inhabits rapid and quiet waters with medium depth and rocky substrates. Reproduction occurs year-round, with a peak at the start of the rainy season. About 9,000 to 15,000 eggs are released during spawning. Spawning takes place every two months on a flat stone in shallow water. The sticky eggs, measuring 0.06 in (1.4 mm) in diameter, take 78 hours to hatch at 82.4° (28°C). Once the eggs have hatched, the parents transport the larvae in their mouths to one of the depression nests. Breeding pairs guard their clutch for approximately nine weeks, at which time the fry move from open waters to areas rich vegetation along banks. As is the case with most cichlids, breeding pairs are highly territorial and aggressive.
Cichla ocellaris are piscivorus and feed during the day while remaining inactive at night. Prey is caught typically through high-speed pursuit. Fish consumed include atherinids, poecilids, characids, eleotrids and other cichlids. Spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae), Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) and bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) also constitute major prey items.
The eye-spot on the caudal fin is believed to confuse piscivorous piranhas which try to nip at the tail fin.
Despite their name, these fish are cichlids, not basses. Cichlids share a single key trait: the fusion of the lower pharyngeal bones into a single tooth-bearing structure. A complex set of muscles allows the upper and lower pharyngeal bones to be used as a second set of jaws for processing food, allowing a division of labor between the “true jaws” (mandibles) and the “pharyngeal jaws”. Cichlids are efficient feeders that capture and process a very wide variety of food items. This is assumed to be one reason why they are so diverse.
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.
The most common techniques for catching these cichlids are similar to those for catching largemouth bass, with the notable exception that peacock bass usually will not 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 them.
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 to protect their numbers in the United States. To help ensure this, Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission officers strictly enforce bag limits for these fish.
In Miami, there is an estimated $15.5 million dollar market attributed to sportfishing, of which most is contributed by anglers fishing for C. ocellaris and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). The C. ocellaris received 56% more fishing effort than largemouth bass, and their estimated annual asset value was $6.6 million (Shaflanda and Stanforda, 1999). The State of Florida record is 9.08 lbs. A big catch is 18 inches or 3.75 lbs.
Despite their popularity among anglers, some naturalists have identified peacock bass as potential pests for causing ecological imbalances in some of their introduced areas. Peacock bass introduction in the Rosana Reservoir and upper Paraná River, both in Brazil, resulted in a 95% decline in native fish density and 80% decline in richness in only two years.
Few measures can protect native fish once peacock bass have been introduced; reduction in native species richness in lakes with introduced peacock bass was observed in all areas of each lake, regardless of the presence of macrophyte refugia.
In 1984, after 10 years of study, Florida officials deliberately introduced butterfly peacock bass and speckled peacock bass (Cichla temensis) to the southern region of the state to prey on other non-native species, including the Oscar (Astronotus ocellatus), Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus), and the spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae). Their introduction also provided additional sport fishing opportunities for anglers. While the butterfly peacock bass has flourished in Florida, the speckled peacock bass has not. Therefore, it is now illegal to kill or possess speckled peacock bass in Florida. The butterfly peacock bass tend to flourish in the canals and fresh waterways throughout south Florida.
Because of their tropical origins, peacock bass cannot tolerate low water temperatures. This has prevented them from becoming abundant in Florida outside of Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
This species first arrived in 2004 for the opening of the “Range of the Jaguar” exhibit area.