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What's the meanest freshwater hobby fish?


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I'd say Jack Dempsey for pure angst. Although if you like keeping wrecking balls, you can't beat an Oscar.

I've had both, and I'd have to say the Oscar was a better pet. He recognized me and I could hand feed him, he just destroyed everything in the tank. The Dempsey was just pure hatred, he was mad at the world and everything in it. Pretty fish though...

Edited by Griznatch
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It kind of depends on what you mean by meanest. Female guppies will eat their own fry and do so happily. That's kind of mean. Some cichlids are known to stake out a territory that's six feet in diameter and attack anything that enters, whether it's something big and aggressive like a caiman or a tiny tetra. Wolf fish, gars, snakeheads, and lots of other fish tend to be a bit vicious. Piranhas are killing machines. I had a silver arowana that I had to keep a net between him and my hand or he'd attack me everytime I went into the tank. In my experience, Oscars and Jack Dempseys have been okay fish to keep. They're aggressive, but not crazy aggressive. At least the ones I've kept. There's the Eye Biter from Lake Malawi that's been known to attack a fish by eating its eye, then crippling the fish and either eating what it wants or leaving it to die. That's kind of mean.

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If you've got space and budget for a minimum 300 gallon tank, and about $400 to invest on the fish you could be shopping for an up to 8 foot electric eel, maybe not the scariest looking,maybe not the most vicious in terms of biting but it could definitely help you get a buzz on during tank maintenance.😄

I've always seen that the novelty of keeping the fish capable of the most violence, or the scariest looking, and the like wears of fairly quickly. I know someone who raises Piranhas in Germany and has supplied them to zoos besides private customers, and he once told me that he can't count the phone calls he received from customers later on that stated that they were disappointed that their tanks didn't turn into a swirling mess of food and blood at feeding times; and they were now looking for an aquarium, or zoo to take them off their hands. Of course none of them jumped at the chance to have to immediately build another display at the drop of the hat.

I believe if you are interested in a particular fish because you find it interesting after having read about it and studied about it is one thing but the sheer fact that it is the "meanest" fish around is a motivation that won't hold its fascination for long. My oldest brother once ended up with a dwarf caiman that one of his friends got to pawn off on him, he fell for the "dwarf" portion which still means up to 5 feet; the whole family ended up helping him find that reptile farm that agreed to make an exception and take it to add to their collection of crocodilians because they didn't yet have a Cuvier's dwarf caiman.

I'm with @sudofisheven the "monster fish" with the worst publicity generally ends up by itself in a tank looking boring; a tank with colorful fish, or fish with interesting behavior has more to offer in my book (i.e mudskippers, archer fish, if you want some unusual looking, or unusual behaving fish).

Edited by Jungle Fan
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On 8/7/2021 at 10:47 AM, sudofish said:

Depending on your state you could get Piranhas. Not sure if they would qualify as "mean" or if they're just voracious eaters. I don't advocate for keeping them personally. I've seen them here locally and they look kind of boring in their own tank.

I've also heard that they aren't much to look at unless they are feeding. They just kind of sit still.

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On 8/7/2021 at 2:16 PM, Jungle Fan said:

If you've got space and budget for a minimum 300 gallon tank, and about $400 to invest on the fish you could be shopping for an up to 8 foot electric eel, maybe not the scariest looking,maybe not the most vicious in terms of biting but it could definitely help you get a buzz on during tank maintenance.😄

I've always seen that the novelty of keeping the fish capable of the most violence, or the scariest looking, and the like wears of fairly quickly. I know someone who raises Piranhas in Germany and has supplied them to zoos besides private customers, and he once told me that he can't count the phone calls he received from customers later on that stated that they were disappointed that their tanks didn't turn into a swirling mess of food and blood at feeding times; and they were now looking for an aquarium, or zoo to take them off their hands. Of course none of them jumped at the chance to have to immediately build another display at the drop of the hat.

I believe if you are interested in a particular fish because you find it interesting after having read about it and studied about it is one thing but the sheer fact that it is the "meanest" fish around is a motivation that won't hold its fascination for long. My oldest brother once ended up with a dwarf caiman that one of his friends got to pawn off on him, he fell for the "dwarf" portion which still means up to 5 feet; the whole family ended up helping him find that reptile farm that agreed to make an exception and take it to add to their collection of crocodilians because they didn't yet have a Cuvier's dwarf caiman.

I'm with @sudofisheven the "monster fish" with the worst publicity generally ends up by itself in a tank looking boring; a tank with colorful fish, or fish with interesting behavior has more to offer in my book (i.e mudskippers, archer fish, if you want some unusual looking, or unusual behaving fish).

i can certainly see this aspect of it. in my own case with the gar, particularily the long nose gar, that was a fascinating fish to watch. you could see him think and solve problems of how to get baitfish out of cracks etc. that one also had reverse, ive never seen any other fish that could hook its tail around and use it to back straight up. very tame most of the time, when tank cleaning you could grab it and move it out of the way and it could care less. just dont pick it up out of the water. only do that once to learn you have an instant fight on your hands, and everything is getting wet. feeding time was always cool too, when the gar's nailed a minnow, it was like a glitter ball exploded in the tank.

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On 8/6/2021 at 4:36 PM, Gestaltgal said:

I've heard that wolf cichlids will bite their owners. Is this anything anybody has seen??

I so wanted one and my LFS had one, he talked me out of it cause he said the fish I had in my tank would be killed once the wolf got a little older and my 150 gallon just was not big enough for a fish that could reach 28 inches, at least I didn't think so

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My vote is a two way tie between speices i have or do keep: 

The bucktooth tetra are a fun "mean" mid sized schooling tetra especially in a larger school. A Bucktooth feeding frenzy is awesome and mean looking beefheart cubs are quite the show. They are primarily a scale eater in the wild so will pack hunt scales off larger fish, piranah, etc by darting along side and ripping off scales one by one. They will also eat smaller prey whole and pretty much obliterate anything they deem edible. The school will turn on weaker members and consume them. Pretty nice looking in a planted tank. The bigger the better tank footprint wise but i did them in a 40 breeder and it was awesome.

Orinoco dwarf pike are ridiculously mean as well. They have consumed fish almost 3/4 their size whole and attacked larger fish by launching fullspeed broadside attacks and removing mouthfulls of whatever they hit. Thats about as mean as it gets. 

Mekong Puffers are a distant third for me. They primarily fight eachother, which is rare once the territory is established, no damage noted but it is pretty brutally mean to see when an argument occurs. Does seem to lead to breeding and fry though so 🤷‍♂️ 

Edited by mountaintoppufferkeeper
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