Peacock bass are among the world’s hardest-fighting freshwater fish. They willingly take lures, strike hard, and provide a strong and exciting battle. The term “peacock bass” is a misnomer, but it is a name that has good marketing value and one that has stuck in the English-speaking world. Species that are called peacock bass in English are formally known as pavón in Spanish-speaking countries and as tucunaré in Brazil. Like many other fish that are called bass, peacock bass are not true bass but are members of the Cichlidae family. Their body shape is generally basslike, however. All known species of peacock bass have a prominent black eyespot, surrounded by a gold ring (ocellus), on their tail fin.
Butterfly peacock bass (Cichla ocellaris)
The butterfly peacock bass is also known as peacock cichlid, tucunare, tuc; in Spanish as pavón mariposa, pavón amarillo, pavón tres estrellas, marichapa; in Portuguese as tucunaré-acu; and in Hawaiian as lukanani. It was introduced in Hawaii (where it is primarily known as tucunare) from British Guyana in 1957, and in Florida in 1984 and 1986; it has also been stocked in Puerto Rico, Panama, Guam, and the Dominican Republic. Butterfly peacock bass possess great variation in color.
They are generally yellowish green overall, with three dark, yellow-tinged blotches along the lateral midsection; these blotches intersect with faint bars, which typically fade in fish weighing more than 3 to 4 pounds. The iris of the eye is frequently deep red. A conspicuous hump exists on top of the head in breeding males, and spawning fish have an intensified yellow coloration. They are distinguished by the absence of black markings on the opercula and are believed to attain a maximum size of 11 to 12 pounds; the all-tackle world record is a 12-pound, 9-ounce individual from Venezuela.
Speckled peacock bass (Cichla temensis)
The speckled peacock bass is also known as speckled pavon, painted pavon, striped tucunare; in Spanish as pavón cinchado, pavón pintado, pavón trucha, and pavón venado; in Portuguese as tucunaré-pacu. It was introduced to Florida in 1985. Speckled peacock bass have dark blotches on the opercula and three distinctive vertical black bars on their bodies; these may become more pronounced with age, although this does not appear to be absolute.
There are light or faint spots on the dorsal and caudal fins, and a conspicuous hump exists on top of the head in a breeding male. Some individuals (described as another color phase) may have four to six horizontal rows of light-colored dashes or spots along the sides and speckling over the rest of their bodies and fins; these fish are called “spotted peacock bass” by many anglers and were previously thought to be a distinct species.
The speckled peacock bass is the only peacock bass that has broken longitudinal lines and spots on the head, opercula, and caudal and dorsal fin regions, resulting in a speckled appearance. Many speckled peacock bass, however, especially the largest specimens, do not exhibit this speckling along their flanks. Speckled peacock bass exhibit many color variations, the adults being lighter than the juveniles. Generally, they are dark green to black along the back, golden to yellow or light green along the flanks, and lighter on the belly.
The pelvic, the anal, and the lower half of the caudal fins are often reddish in color, sometimes yellowish green. These colors are general conformities, however, and significant variations exist, especially in intensity (some have an orange or a bronze tinge), which may or may not be due to season or habitat. This species attains the greatest size of all the peacock bass. The current all-tackle world record is a 27-pound speckled peacock bass from Brazil.
Though native to South American jungle or rain forest rivers and reservoirs, peacock bass have been introduced in appropriate North American waters through stocking efforts, most notably in small lakes and canal systems in southern Florida and warmwater reservoirs in Texas.