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Do oscars really thrive in empty tanks?


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So I've heard multiple times that oscars want a tank with nothing in it, or like a single plastic plant and a pot. I think this might originate from keeping oscars in minimum sized tanks and needing to maximize water volume and swim space, perhaps? My young oscar interacts with everything in her tank, and she's got a large wood/rock cave feature plus live plants. She's so engaged with her surroundings and it just doesn't make any sense to me that she would be happier in a big empty box.

I've begun a savings fund to upgrade her to a 6'x2' tank in a year so she can have enough swim room and stuff to interact with. Maybe I'm off the mark, I am new to oscars and large fish... But I've looked at some photos of their natural habitat, too, and it's not big empty bodies of water, it's streams and rivers with rocks and fallen trees and all sorts of stuff in the water. Does anyone have any insight into this?

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I've never kept an oscar, but the reasoning I've heard was because they dig and move stuff around; which I would think would be fun to encourage since it's natural behavior, just build a tank around it. 

Rachel O'Leary on Youtube had an oscar she had to keep in a bare tank because he would bash himself against any hardscape and hurt himself. He also would kill any tank mates she put in there. So I guess a bare tank is something some people just need to do for the safety of their fish. But it's probably a case by case basis sort of thing. 

Yours sounds like he's having a great time in your care!

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Many moons ago I had two Oscars in a 55. Basically ended up with gravel substrate, several large rocks, and a largish piece of driftwood. I had plastic plants, but every morning they would be floating so I eventually removed them. Also had a biggish common pleco in with them. They spent most of their time wrestling with each other and begging us for food. And they would routinely burrow through the gravel and move it around the tank, hence the reason I eventually removed the fake plants. Oh, I also had a couple of Mystery snails that were too big to eat but they would punt them around the tank like a soccer ball. Not sure how the snails survived. But the Oscars seemed perfectly happy with what I had. So much personality! I love Oscars, but IMO you almost have to have a big, mostly empty, Oscar only tank. Keep in mind, this was a 55 with two 6 inch Oscars and a 4 inch pleco. Bigger tanks give you more options. But Oscars are very busy, inquisitive, destructive fish. They just are. It's like a puppy with a new squeaky toy: they have to remove the squeaker and the stuffing guts... it's just what they do. But you will never find a fish with more personality.

Edit: Oh, BTW, I had other fish to start with... once the Oscars got some size... not so much. But the pleco took no crap from the Oscars. Pleco don't care; he has armor plating.

 

Edited by morphy1701
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Would a fish want a bare tank? To a large extent it depends on the fish. Many of our fish come from rivers and don't have crystal clear water. They may avoid plants in the wild. They may be open water fish who like swimming where there's nothing around them to get in their way. They may only venture into the shallow water to hunt for prey then retreat back to the more open area afterward. A beautifully aquascaped, planted tank may be far more foreign and stressful to some fish than a bare tank would be.

I've watched a lot of fish collecting videos on Youtube and the different areas they collect certain fish in is amazing. Sometimes they're casting nets in the middle of a river. Sometimes it's right along a shoreline. Sometimes it's in a still lake. It all depends on what kind of fish they're looking for. I've seen them collect fish in water that was so murky that even in the collection container it's hard to see the fish clearly. We tend to take fish from all over the place and plop them in a crystal clear tank with plants from Africa, South or Central America, and weird stuff like castles, shipwrecks, etc, that they'd never see in the wild. Unless a fish came from Texas they likely never saw Texas Holey rock in the wild. We make these tanks using stuff from all over the world to try and recreate a "natural" habitat for the fish that's often something they'd never experience in the wild. We give plecos caves to breed in. In the wild they'd burrow into the mud banks of a river to make their own cave. Most of us don't have deep mud banks in our tanks.

Most Oscars you buy these days are raised commercially. They were likely bred and raised to sale size in bare tanks or vats of some sort. They likely have never seen gravel or plants until they hit one of our tanks. They likely have never even seen another type of fish until they hit one of our tanks. They probably spend their first few hours in our tanks going "What the heck is that thing?" They don't know what's safe or dangerous. It's a whole new world for them and likely very, very stressful. A bare tank has less stuff for a fish to stress out about. It's a bare tank. It's likely something they're very used to. Smart fish like Oscars and some of the other bigger cichlids may get bored in a bare tank over time and as they do you can introduce stuff for them to play with or interact with, but to start with, a bare tank may be the least stressful environment for a new Oscar. It's what they're used to.

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I'm in the same camp as you. If a fish's natural environment isn't stripped clean of substrate, rocks, driftwood, and whatever, I have a hard time believing that's the best way to keep them in our tanks. When I had oscars years and years ago, They had a gravel substrate in their tank. I had huge rocks siliconed to the tank (or they'd move those around, too, and worry me over the possibility of broken glass). They'd play with anything and everything. Filter intake tubes were toys as far as they were concerned. Heaters were banged around (another source of worry - I just knew they were going to break one - thankfully, never happened). The common pleco who was bigger than them got picked up and carried around the tank. He didn't seem to care much, so I didn't worry over that. They always reminded me of toddlers - had to mess with EVERYTHING. I can't imagine how unstimulated they would've been in a bare tank.

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