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Oscars are large, powerful fish with masses of personality. They have long been popular in the aquarium hobby. Oscars do just fine living alone, but we as fish keepers often want to keep more than one fish in a tank, especially a large tank. Oscars do very well in a community, providing you select the right tank mates for them. One rule never to forget, if a fish can fit in the Oscars mouth, one day it will end up there!
I first started keeping Oscars around 30 years ago. Since then a number of Oscars have passed through my fish room. Currently, I have a 180 gallon (680 liters) aquarium with a trio of Lemon Oscars in. It is a tank full of color, movement, and character!
Below are some great examples of suitable tanks mates. Just bear in mind, a single oscar really needs a 75 gallon or larger. The more fish you add to the mix, the larger the tank needs to be.
Which Fish Make Good Tank Mates?
The classic combination is an oscar and a common Plecostomus. The wisdom being the pleco is a ‘cleaner fish’ that will clean up after the oscar. The reality is, firstly plecos aren’t really cleaner fish, they need to be fed a correct diet, and secondly, they grow to around 2 feet long.
They need a massive tank. Young Oscars can live with bristlenose plecos, but an adult oscar will need to be housed with a full-grown bristlenose if the bristlenose isn’t going to end up as lunch.
I have had good success keeping Oscars with Pimelodus catfish (Pimelodus pictus). Just bear in mind a full-grown Pimelodus may see a very small oscar as a snack. Where the Pimelodus work over the pleco, is that Pimelodus WILL eat food dropped by the oscar.
Although they too need to be fed correctly, they skim across the bottom of the tank greedily scoffing any food they come across. Pimelodus are constantly on the move, traveling from one side of the tank to the other and back again. Their effect against the slow-moving Oscars is mesmerizing.
Silver Dollars And Tinfoil Barbs
Silver Dollars and Tinfoil Barbs make great companions for Oscars, providing the tank is large enough. Both species like to school and swim in the mid-water, right where the Oscar wants to be. This isn’t a problem if there is enough swimming space for everyone, but a 125 gallon with 2 Oscars and 6 Tinfoil Barbs in (we’ve seen it before!) is just not going to work.
Another classic combination is Oscars with Silver Arowana. Providing the tank is large enough, the Oscars will happily swim in the mid-water and in the lower regions whilst the silver Arowana glides back and forth skimming the underside of the water’s surface. You’ll need a tank that is around 7 to 8 feet long, or longer if possible, to give the Arowana enough space. Be aware, Arowana are jumpers. Without a tight-fitting lid, the Arowana will at some point leap out of the tank and onto your floor.
Severums offer striking coloration and contrast beautifully against the dark body of an oscar. They come from similar locations as Oscars and have similar care requirements. The downside of Severums is they have small mouths, so they need small food. Getting that food past the Oscars can be an issue. In the past, I have had good luck feeding the Oscars something large, like freeze-dried krill, which as they chomp on, breaks up small enough for the Severums to eat.
Blood parrots are bright orange and go fantastically with the orange colors on the Oscars. Blood parrots are a man-made hybrid fish and they make a bold statement when kept in a group. They are super placid and won’t give your oscar any grief.
Clown loaches are really colorful and a group of them make a great addition to any tank. No matter how big your clown loaches get, they won’t bother the oscar at all. A tank with a dozen 12” clown loaches is something I’ll never get bored of looking at. Do however be careful when adding small clown loaches to an adult oscar tank. They would be an expensive snack for the oscar!
Jack Dempseys are another South American cichlid that has very similar care requirements to your Oscars. They grow to around 10” and aren’t too aggressive, although you should keep an eye on your tank for aggressive behavior. If you end up with a breeding pair of Jack Dempseys they will rule your tank with an iron fist and have everyone else pinned in a corner!
Stingrays are fascinating fish which is like no other fish you will keep. They glide across the bottom of the tank looking for food and quickly devouring anything they come across. Stingrays stick almost exclusively to the bottom of the tank, although they may glide up the sides from time to time. Your oscar will ignore them for the most part. As with so many combinations, you’ll need a large tank if you are going to keep stingrays, but the investment will be worth it.
Oscars are happy enough living with other Oscars or even alone. They don’t really crave company. If you do decide you want to add tank mates, aquarium size and filtration must be given some serious thought.
When we go into the fish store and we see a tank full of cute 2” Oscars with their big beady eyes, we can all too often get carried away and come home with a bag of fish which will quickly outgrow our tank. The long-term well-being of the fish needs to be weighed up.
Don’t fall into the trap of ‘I’ll put them in my 40-breeder now, and then get a bigger tank in a few months. The chances are another expense will crop up before you get round to buying that bigger tank.
I have had great success keeping Oscars with other fish, but I’ve also had my share of failures. There is nothing worse than looking into a tank that yesterday had 4 fish and today just has one, fat oscar!