Butterfly Peacock – Cichla ocellaris
Description: Body shape similar to that of a largemouth bass; color highly variable, but generally golden with three black vertical bars that tend to fade and are possibly absent in older fish; black spot with a yellow-gold halo on the caudal fin.
Range: Introduced by FWC in large coastal canals of southeast Florida in 1984; low water temperatures and intolerance of saltwater prevent this species from becoming abundant outside of coastal Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Native range lies within the Amazon River basin of South America.
Habitat: Successful in warm, slow flowing canals, ponds, lakes, deep rock pits, and lateral canals; frequently found in shady areas around bridges, culverts, canal intersections, bends, dead ends, and near fallen trees; spawns and often feeds in shallow water adjacent shorelines with overhanging vegetation; cannot tolerate water temperatures below 60oF or salinities greater than 18 ppt.
Spawning Habitats: Typically spawn from April through September with a peak in May and June; both adults prepare a flat, hard surface near shore, then lay between 4,000 and 10,000 eggs; young are guarded by both parents, sometimes for several months; males commonly develop a ‘nucchal’ hump on foreheads when reproductively active.
Feeding Habits: Feed almost exclusively on fish; tend to use great speed to capture prey; typically feeds only during daylight hours; this fish has helped reduce the number of undesirable exotic fishes, especially the spotted tilapia.
Age and Growth: Grow rapidly to 12-14 inches during the first 16-18 months, after which they become much heavier with each inch they add in length. A 17-inch fish will weigh approximately three pounds while a 19-inch fish will weigh up to five pounds. The largest butterfly peacock caught in Florida weighed 12.0 pounds and measured 25.5 inches, but this fish was not submitted for a state record. It is not known how long they live, but preliminary data suggests about six years.
Sporting Quality: Most popular sportfish in southeast Florida coastal canals where it generates millions of hours of fishing pleasure for thousands of anglers who spend more than $8 million a year to catch them; available to both boat and bank anglers using the same basic tackle as largemouth bass anglers; small shiners are the preferred live bait; rarely take plastic worms like largemouth bass do, but top-water lures, minnow imitating crank and jerk baits, and marabou jigs are popular artificial baits; streamers, epoxy minnows and pencil poppers are favorites of fly fishers; daily bag limit of two fish, only one of which can be greater than 17 inches.
Edibility: Good but the real value of this fish is in its use for controlling over-abundant exotic forage fishes and its sporting qualities; therefore FWC encourages anglers to catch and release these fish, especially those longer than 14 inches.
State and World Records: State record is 9.08 pounds, but fish up to 12 pounds have been caught; current IGFA all-tackle world record is 12.6 pounds (caught in Venezuela); 13 of the 16 current IGFA world records caught from Florida waters.
Information courtesy of myfwc.com