The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Astronotus ocellatus
Astronotus ocellatus

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Astronotus ocellatus (Agassiz in Spix and Agassiz, 1831)

Common name: Oscar

Synonyms and Other Names: velvet cichlid, red oscar, marble cichlid

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: In general, cichlids (Cichlidae) are superficially similar to North American native sunfishes and black basses (Lepomis and Micropterus; family Centrarchidae). Cichlids can be distinguished from centrarchids by a single nostril opening on each side of the head (vs. two openings in centrarchids) and the presence of a discontinuous or two-part lateral line (continuous in centrarchids). For distinguishing characteristics see Kullander (1986) and Page and Burr (1991). The genus is in need of systematic review and future study may reveal that the species in the aquarium trade and in U.S. open waters is another species of Astronotus, not A. ocellatus. Photographs were provided by Kullander (1986) and Axelrod (1993).

Size: 40 cm.

Native Range: Astronotus is native to South America including Orinoco and Amazon basins; also to French Guiana, and to northern part of Paraguay drainage, Parana basin (Kullander 1986).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Astronotus ocellatus are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AL201320142Lower Tombigbee; Wheeler Lake
AZ199319931Agua Fria
AR200520051Ouachita Headwaters
CA200220142San Diego; Upper Kaweah
FL1960202415Big Cypress Swamp; Caloosahatchee; Cape Canaveral; Everglades; Florida Bay-Florida Keys; Florida Southeast Coast; Kissimmee; Lake Okeechobee; Manatee; Oklawaha; South Atlantic-Gulf Region; Southern Florida; St. Andrew-St. Joseph Bays; Upper St. Johns; Waccasassa
GA1989202010Brier; Etowah; Lower Flint; Middle Chattahoochee-Lake Harding; Middle Chattahoochee-Walter F; Middle Flint; Middle Savannah; South Atlantic-Gulf Region; Upper Flint; Upper Tallapoosa
HI195220152Kauai; Oahu
IN200320114Driftwood; Eel; Kankakee; St. Joseph
MD200320192Monocacy; Patuxent
MA197820093Charles; New England Region; Westfield River
MN199720012Snake; Twin Cities
MS197420021Middle Pearl-Strong
MO202020201Lower Missouri-Crooked
NE199820032Middle Platte-Buffalo; Upper Elkhorn
NV200420041Lake Mead
OH200020173Little Miami; Mohican; Upper Ohio
OK201420141Middle North Canadian
PA198120212Middle Delaware-Mongaup-Brodhead; Schuylkill
PR197120083Cibuco-Guajataca; Eastern Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico
RI197219721Massachusetts-Rhode Island Coastal
SC200420234Edisto River; South Carolina Coastal; Upper Catawba; Waccamaw
TX197920215Chambers; South Laguna Madre; Upper Salt Fork Red; Upper San Antonio; West Galveston Bay
VT200520051Mettawee River
WI200220021Upper St. Croix

Table last updated 4/20/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

* HUCs are not listed for states where the observation(s) cannot be approximated to a HUC (e.g. state centroids or Canadian provinces).

Ecology: Lower lethal limit is 12°C (Shafland and Pestrak 1982). Extremely tolerant to low oxygen conditions (Muusze et al. 1998), and known to perform aquatic surface respiration to help mitigate hypoxia (Kramer and McClure 1982).

Means of Introduction: The first Florida records were the result of deliberate stockings from an aquarium fish farm in southeastern Dade County in the late 1950s (Courtenay et al. 1974; Courtenay and Hensley 1979a; Courtenay and Stauffer 1990; Jackson 1999). During the same period, attempts were made to popularize the species as a sport fish under the name "velvet cichlid." Anglers have aided dispersal in Florida by transporting fish to new locations (Courtenay et al. 1974). It was sighted at the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park in the late 1980s (Loftus and Kushlan 1987). It apparently gained access to the park by way of the South Florida Water Management District's Canal L31W, and it is now considered established (Courtenay 1989). The first introduction of this species into Hawaii was in 1952, for purposes of recreational fishing (Devick 1991a, b); Hawaii's Division of Fish and Game made additional reservoir stockings in 1958; the original source of the Hawaii plants was a small stock obtained from Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco (Brock 1960). Introductions into all other states and in more northern portions of Florida are apparently the result of aquarium releases (Courtenay and Stauffer 1990; Nico, personal communication).

Status: Established in south Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Failed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Impact of Introduction:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...

EcologicalEconomicHuman Health

Largely unknown. In 1993, the state of Florida issued a health advisory warning people about eating freshwater fish contaminated with mercury. For portions of south Florida, the oscar was included in the list of fish for which limited consumption was recommended. Oscars are considered potential competitors with native centrarchids (sunfishes) for food and possibly for spawning areas (Courtenay and Hensley 1979a), and as predators on native fishes and invertebrates.

Remarks: Oscars are very common in the aquarium trade. Because they grow large in aquaria and are piscivorous, individuals are likely to be released into natural waters by aquarists loathe to kill their pets. This likely accounts for the numerous instances of single specimen records from both temperate and subtropical states. Unfortunately, the taxonomy of this group is problematic and future research may determine that some oscars in the aquarium trade, as well as those taken in U.S. waters, are not A. ocellatus but another member of the genus (S. O. Kullander, personal communication). To confound the issue, artificial breeding has produced several color variants (Axelrod 1993), and genetic analyses have suggested the presence of mophologically cryptic species within Astronotus (Colatreli et al. 2012). Based on recent reports of the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, oscars now compose a substantial proportion of the recreational fishery catch in some areas of the Everglades (Fury and Morello 1994), especially when cold temperatures have been absent for several years (Shafland et al. 2008). The distribution and abundance of this species in south Florida fluctuate widely based on the prevalence of cold temperatures (Shafland et al. 2008). The Florida size record was a 1.1 kg, 32 cm TL fish taken from Lake Okeechobee, Palm Beach County, on 16 March 1994 (Ray 1994). Oscars have been established in Miami-Dade County, southeastern Florida, since late 1950s, but began to expand range greatly in late 1970s and early 1980s (Hogg 1976a, b; Courtenay and Stauffer 1990; Fury and Morello 1994).

Voucher specimens: Florida (NCSM 29693; UF 30869, 41396, 44882, 91613, 91898, 91934, 163968, and others); Massachusetts (MCZ 57046).

References: (click for full references)

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 2002. Alaska aquatic nuisance species management plan. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Juneau, AK.

Anonymous. 1993. A new exotic state record. Florida Game and Fish, June 1993:12.

Axelrod, H.R. 1993. The most complete colored lexicon of cichlids. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Cardoza, J.E., G.S. Jones, T.W. French, and D.B. Halliwell. 1993. Exotic and translocated vertebrates of Massachusetts, 2nd edition. Fauna of Massachusetts Series 6. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Publication 17223-110-200-11/93-C.R, Westborough, MA.

Cocking, S. 2003. Rush to heavy-traffic area. Miami Herald. June 12, 2003.

Colatreli, O.P., N.V. Meliciano, D. Toffoli, I.P. Farias, and T. Hrbek. 2012. Deep phylogenetic divergence and lack of taxonomic concordance in species of Astronotus (Cichlidae). International Journal of Evolutionary Biology 2012:article ID 915265. doi:10.1155/2012/915265

Courtenay, W.R., Jr. 1989. Exotic fishes in the National Park System. 237-252 in L.K. Thomas, ed. Proceedings of the 1986 conference on science in the national parks, volume 5. Management of exotic species in natural communities. U.S. National Park Service and George Wright Society, Washington, DC.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and D.A. Hensley. 1979a. Survey of introduced non-native fishes. Phase I Report. Introduced exotic fishes in North America: status 1979. Report Submitted to National Fishery Research Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gainesville, FL.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and D.A. Hensley. 1979b. Range expansion in southern Florida of the introduced spotted tilapia, with comments on environmental impress. Environmental Conservation 6(2):149-151.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. 1990. The introduced fish problem and the aquarium fish industry. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 21(3):145-159.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., D.A. Hensley, J.N. Taylor, and J.A. McCann. 1984. Distribution of exotic fishes in the continental United States. 41-77 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Distribution, biology and management of exotic fishes. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Courtenay, W. R., Jr., D. P. Jennings, and J. D. Williams. 1991. Appendix 2: exotic fishes. 97-107 in Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada, 5th edition. American Fisheries Society Special Publication 20. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Courtenay, W.R., Jr., H.F. Sahlman, W.W. Miley, II, and D.J. Herrema. 1974. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. Biological Conservation 6(4):292-302.

Devick, W.S. 1991a. Disturbances and fluctuations in the Wahiawa Reservoir ecosystem. Project F-14-R-15, Job 4, Study I. Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Devick, W.S. 1991b. Patterns of introductions of aquatic organisms to Hawaiian freshwater habitats. 189-213 in New directions in research, management and conservation of Hawaiian freshwater stream ecosystems. Proceedings of the 1990 symposium on freshwater stream biology and fisheries management, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Erdsman, D.S. 1984. Exotic fishes in Puerto Rico. 162-176 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr. and J.R. Stauffer, Jr. eds. Distribution, biology, and management of exotic fishes. John Hopkins. Baltimore and London.

Fury, J.R., and F.A. Morello. 1994. The contribution of an exotic fish, the Oscar, to the sport fishery of the Everglades Water Conservation Areas. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 48:474-481.

Gennings, R.M. - Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Atlanta, GA. Response to NBS-G nonindigenous questionnaire.

Hartel, K. E. 1992. Non-native fishes known from Massachusetts freshwaters. Occasional Reports of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Fish Department, Cambridge, MA.

Hill, J.E. and C.E. Cichra. 2005. Eradication of a reproducing population of convict cichlids, Cichlasoma nigrofasciatum (Cichlidae), in north-central Florida. Florida Scientist 68: 65-74.

Hogg, R. G. 1976a. Ecology of fishes of the family Cichlidae introduced into the fresh waters of Dade County, Florida. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL.

Hogg, R. G. 1976b. Established exotic cichlid fishes in Dade County, Florida. Florida Scientist 39(2):97-103.

Howells, R.G. - Heart of the Hills Research Station, TX Parks and Wildl. Dept., Ingram, TX. Response to NBS-G non-indigenous questionnaire. 1992.

Howells, R.G. 1992. Annotated list of introduced non-native fishes, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants in Texas waters. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Management Data Series 78, Austin, TX.

Jackson, D.C. 1999. Flathead catfish: biology, fisheries, and management. American Fisheries Society Symposium. 24:23-36.

Jenkins, R.E., and N.M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Kent, R. 2000. This fishy story is true. News Journal, Mansfield, OH. August 1.

Kramer, D.L., and M. McClure. 1982. Aquatic surface respiration, a widespread adaptation to hypoxia in tropical freshwater fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 7(1):47-55.

Kullander, S.O. - Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden.

Kullander, S.O. 1986. Cichlid fishes of the Amazon River drainage of Peru. Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden.

Lee, D.S., S.P. Platania, and G.H. Burgess. 1983. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes - 1983 supplement. North Carolina Biological Survey and the North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, NC.

Loe, K. 2005. Invasive relocation. http://www.aquahobby.com/tales/e_invasive.php. Accessed on 02/10/2010.

Loftus, W.F. G. Ellis, M. Zokan, and J. Lorenz. 2004. Inventory of freshwater fish species within the Big Cypress National Preserve: the basis for a long-term sampling program. U.S. Geological Survey Fact Scheet 2004-3131.

Loftus, W.F., and J.A. Kushlan. 1987. Freshwater fishes of southern Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum of Biological Science 31(4):147-344.

Maciolek, J.A. 1984. Exotic fishes in Hawaii and other islands of Oceania. 131-161 in W.R. Courtenay, Jr., and J.R. Stauffer, Jr., eds. Distribution, biology, and management of exotic fishes. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Morita, C.M. 1981. Freshwater fishing in Hawaii. Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Honolulu, HI.

Muusze, B., J. Marcon, G. van den Thillart, V. Almeida-Val. 1998. Hypoxia tolerance of Amazon fish: respirometry and energy metabolism of the cichlid Astronotus ocellatus. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology 120(1):151-156.

North American Native Fish Association. 1978. Another threat to natives? The Lateral Line (North American Native Fish Association Newsletter, Semmes, AL), June-July, p. 1.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Ray, J. 1994. Record oscar caught in Okeechobee. Florida Wildlife 48(3):47.

Rivas, L.R. 1965. Florida fresh water fishes and conservation. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Science 28(3):255-258.

Schainost, S. - Rivers and Streams Program, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, NE.

Shafland, P.L. and J.M. Pestrak. 1982. Lower lethal temperatures of fourteen non-native fishes in Florida.  Environmental Biology of Fishes 7(2):149-156.

Shima, C.S. 1972. Creel census and fishermen checking station operations, Statewide Dingell-Johns Program. Job Progress Report for Project F-9-2, Job 1 (Study VI). Hawaii Division of Fish and Game, Hawaii.

Southwick, R. - District Fisheries Supervisor, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Richmond, VA. Response to NBS-G non-indigenous questionaire. 1992.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 2001. Fish Records: Water Body - All Tackle. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. April 24, 2001.

Tilyou, G.A. - Inland Fish Division, Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries, Baton Rouge, LA. Response to NBS-G nonindigenous questionaire. 1992.

Wakefield, W. - Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.

Wright, B.R., and J.A. Sorensen. 1995. Feasibility of developing and maintaining a sport fishery in the Salt River Project Canals, Phoenix, Arizona. Technical Report No. 18. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, AZ.

FishBase Summary

Author: Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson

Revision Date: 4/18/2013

Peer Review Date: 4/18/2013

Citation Information:
Leo Nico, Pam Fuller, and Matt Neilson, 2024, Astronotus ocellatus (Agassiz in Spix and Agassiz, 1831): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=436, Revision Date: 4/18/2013, Peer Review Date: 4/18/2013, Access Date: 4/20/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [4/20/2024].

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