Native to Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and French Guiana, Oscars were illegally or accidentally established nonnative fish in Southern Florida. They are abundant in canals and occur throughout south Florida. Their distribution is limited due to intolerance water temperatures below 55 degrees. Oscars show a preference for slow moving waters with adequate cover such as sunken branches and logs. They spend a great deal of time holding in areas of cover.
Oscars are large, somewhat stocky cichlids with pan fish shaped body, sporting a large head, eyes, and mouth. The first dorsal fin and anal fin have spines. The tail fin is rounded. Coloration is olive-green to gray to chocolate brown with mottling. A large black spot surrounded by an orange ring is near the tail is distinctive feature. These cichlids can grow to 18 inches and over three pounds, but most specimens are much smaller. Oscars are known to live ten years or more.
Spawning fish build nests on flat, solid surfaces where a female may lay up to 3,000 eggs. Parents guard the young. However, most knowledge of spawning is from aquarium specimens, and little is known of behaviors in the wild.
These slow moving fish feed on a variety of food items. But as a predator, smaller fishes, crustaceans, gastropods, and aquatic insects or insect larvae comprise the bulk of their diet. Wild fruits are also on the menu.
Oscar in Florida
Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Appearance: Adults are olive blue-green with mustard colors, and a bright red eyespot on the tail fin.
Habitat: Oscars are illegally/ accidentally established nonnative fish. They are abundant in Water Conservation Area canals and occur throughout south Florida. Native to South America.
Behavior: Spawning takes place on flat, solid surfaces where a female lays about 3,000 eggs. Parents guard the young. They feed primarily on small fish, insects and crustaceans.
Fishing Tips and Facts: In Water Conservation Areas, this hard-fighting escapee from the aquarium industry ranks just behind largemouth bass in popularity. Oscar take cut fish or shrimp, crickets and worms, and will hit small jigs tipped with cut bait or small spinnerbaits. Flyfishing is also popular. This is a boom-or-bust fishery that may experience winterkills, but when abundant, angler catch rates are exceptional. Good eating fish; take as many as you like, but do not live release them.