Cockatoo Cichlid

Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid, Crested Dwarf Cichlid

Family: CichlidaeCockatoo Cichlid, Apistogramma cacatuoides female, Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid, Crested Dwarf CichlidApistogramma cacatuoidesPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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Hi, I want to get some cockatoo cichlids to breed in my 39"x18"x16" tank, how many could I raise up in there to breed, and what sort of layout and... (more)  william mayer

The Cockatoo Cichlid is quite attractive and one of the most readily available Apisto cichlids!

The Cockatoo Cichlid Apistogramma cacatuoides is one of the most colorful of all the dwarf cichlids. It is also known as the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid or Crested Dwarf Cichlid. These common names are derived from the male having its first several rays of the dorsal fin extending higher than the rest, giving it a 'cockatoo' or 'crested' look.

These fish are some of the easier dwarf cichlids to keep. They do not have the acidic water needs of other dwarfs and can be kept in up to a 7.8 pH. Their eggs will not hatch at that pH level, but the Cockatoo Cichlids themselves can be happy and thrive. They are also easy to breed when their tank parameters are met.

The Cockatoo Cichlid is considered a community fish that can be kept with other non cichlids. Fish that are not large and aggressive will make the best tank mates. Tetras are a great choice. Provide a substrate of fine dark sand along with rocks and pots to create plenty of caves, one for each female's territory.

They do enjoy densely planted aquariums and floating plants will help to diffuse the lighting. Make areas for them to "defend" by having natural divisions in the aquascaping. They can be easy to care for if water changes are performed frequently. If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur. Just a little dedication will reap pleasurable results from this little fish.

Though the wild caught fish are less dramatic, with today's selective breeding a variety of attractive color forms are readily available. Some of the specifically bred out colorings are called Sunset, Red, Double Red, Triple Red, and Sun Spot. Some of the triple red couples can produce 3 different color variations. This interbreeding for color has contributed to spinal malformations in the Cockatoo Cichlid. This defect should be watched for and all such fish humanely destroyed. Breeding a wild caught with a captive bred helps to keep the lines healthier.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care


Geographic Distribution
Apistogramma cacatuoides
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Apistogramma
  • Species: cacatuoides
Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlids

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Beautiful male/female pair of Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlids! [HD] Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid /Kakadu-Zwergbuntbarsh @ Zierfishce & Aquarium 2010 [39/53]

The video begins with a panned out view of the male inside a well planted and maintained aquarium. It then zooms in to a close up shot of the vibrantly colored and healthy male, while the female can be seen swimming off to the side close to the male. High quality video with some nice views showing off the color and patterning of these fish!

Cockatoo Cichlid - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 81.0° F (23.9 to 27.2° C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.8
  • Hardness Range: 5 - 19 dGH
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Cockatoo Cichlid Apistogramma cacatuoides was described by Hoedeman in 1951. They are primarily found in Brazil and Bolivia inhabiting tributaries of the Amazon River basin. In addition, they can be found in tributaries of the Solimoes, Ucayali, and Amazon rivers from the Pacheta River to Tabatinga. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names they are known by are Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid and Crested Dwarf Cichlid.

Various natural color morphs can be found. They were mistaken by H. Meinken, in 1961, as the Umbrella Cichlid or Borelli's Cichlid Apistogramma borellii. So in in the early 1960's they were sold to the hobby under that name.

They prefer to dwell in shallow, slow-moving to almost still, clear and white water areas of the Amazon River. These include tributaries, backwaters and creeks that are often strewn with leaf litter, apparently feeding mostly on benthic invertebrates. Both the litter and time of year can affect the type of water. These cichlids are polygamous and form harems of a dominant male and multiple females.

  • Scientific Name: Apistogramma cacatuoides
  • Social Grouping: Harems
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed

Description

The Cockatoo Cichlid is a small colorful fish. The males are larger, growing up to 4 inches (10 cm) in length while females only reach about 2 inches (5 cm). They can live up to about 5 years.

The body has a silvery gray base and a long black horizontal line that runs through the middle. The male's first several rays of the dorsal fin are extended higher than the rest, giving the "cockatoo" look. The top and bottom rays of the tail fin are longer as well, and brightly colored on the male. The male's belly and bottom fins are golden brown. Females will be a drab yellow with the front of the ventral fins becoming solid black as she matures. Her tail fin will be more rounded as well. Once she lays her eggs, her yellow coloring becomes more intense.

Though the wild caught fish are less dramatic, with today's selective breeding a variety of pretty color forms are readily available. Some of the specifically bred out colorings are called Sunset, Red, Double Red, Triple Red, and Sun Spot. Some of the triple red couples can produce 3 different color variations.

This interbreeding for color has contributed to spinal malformations in the Cockatoo Cichlid. This defect should be watched for and all such fish humanely destroyed. Breeding a wild caught with a captive bred helps to keep the lines healthier.

All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish - inches: 4.0 inches (10.16 cm)
  • Lifespan: 5 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

In a mature aquarium these fish are a great choice for beginners. They can adapt to many different enivonments and will readily eat most foods offered. They do great in a community tank of other peaceful fish.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner

Foods and Feeding

The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid is a carnivore that can be fed newly hatched baby brine, frozen brine shrimp, crustaceans, insects, insect larvae, and some may eat flakes and pelleted foods. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts rather than a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore - Captive specimens may display omnivorous tendencies, but are mostly carnivorous.
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

Do water changes of 10% to 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers. If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur. Before each water change make sure to scrape all viewing panes with a sponge or algae magnet. Once the algae settles to the bottom make sure to completely vacuum the substrate to remove all waste and excess food. When refilling the tank make sure the water is treated and has a similar temperature to the water already in the tank.

  • Water Changes: Weekly - 10-20%

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 20 gallon tank is suggested. They prefer slow to moderate moving water along with good efficient filtration. A mature tank with soft water and a pH of acidic to neutral is best. Keep track of nitrates. Also, oxygen levels must be maintained for best color and health. The aquarium should have a cover and low to moderate lighting.

Provide a substrate of fine dark sand along with rocks and pots to create plenty of caves, one for each female's territory. Caves formed from rockwork, or with synthetics like coconuts or clay pots, will provide a refuge for the fish as well as a place for breeding. Though the Cockatoo Cichlid can tolerate neutral water better than other dwarf cichlids, do not allow the pH to go above 7.8. When using substrate or rocks, be sure they do not leach into the water and affect the pH. Substrates such as limestone can increase the pH level, you would not use sand that is for marine tanks. Driftwood is a big help in keeping pH low and contributes to the "tea stained" coloring of the Amazon River.

They enjoy densely planted aquariums. Floating plants help to diffuse lighting. If using live plants, dense plantings that will provide shade for your fish will need time to grow out. Rosette plants like the Amazon Sword, Vallisneria, and other acidic tolerating plants work great, as can stem plants like Wisteria. Make areas for them to "defend" by having natural divisions in the aquascaping.

The Cockatoo Cichlid is a rewarding specimen for the aquarist but they are sensitive to water parameters and medication. They can be easy to care for if water changes are performed frequently to keep the nitrate levels low.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Low - subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 75.0 to 81.0° F (23.9 to 27.2° C)
  • Breeding Temperature: - 78° to 84° F (26° to 29° C)
  • Range ph: 6.0-7.8
  • Hardness Range: 5 - 19 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Weak
  • Water Region: Middle

Social Behaviors

The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid is a community fish. They can be kept with other fish that are not large and aggressive. They are also tolerant of their own kind. They can be kept alone, in pairs, or in harems of one male with 5 - 6 females. More than one male may be kept if the aquarium is large.

South American cichlids tend to be less aggressive than their African cousins, but space is very important. Some acceptable tank mates are; characin species like the Cardinal Tetras and the Three-Line Pencilfish, Otocinclus Catfish and Corydoras like the Julii Cory, Glowlight Rasbora (Hengel's), Dwarf Gourami, Kuhli Loach, and Dwarf (Neon) Rainbowfish.

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes - Males will fight each other unless kept in a large enough aquarium.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are larger with the first several rays of the dorsal fin being extended and having an overall bright coloring. The females are yellow with dark markings when breeding and caring for their brood.

Cockatoo Cichlid (female brooding colors)
Female in brooding color Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

Breeding / Reproduction

The Cockatoo Cichlids are polygamous with a patriarch/matriarch arrangement. Harems of multiple females will each defend a small territory from all except a dominant male. They are cave breeders and generally spawn up to 80 eggs. The eggs are deposited on the ceiling a cave, where they attach and are cared for by the female while the male guards the territory. Once free swimming, the school of fry is lead about by the female. The fry will also often change mothers.

To breed in the aquarium they appreciate upturned flowerpots, fake "coconut caves", bogwood, and broad leafed plants for cover and as spawning sites. They do need to have a pH under 7.5 for the eggs to hatch. Ideal water conditions are a pH of 6.8 to 7.2 or less, hardness of 10 or less and temperature of 78° to 84° F (26° to 29° C). Basically the more acidic and soft, the more prolific they are.

Get 6 juveniles and let them grow up together. Spinal problems have arisen since there has been so much interbreeding for color. That being said, be sure their spines and physical health is optimal. From the 6 juveniles at least one pair, if not a harem, will form. You may or may not decide to remove the others, depending on your tank size. Condition them with live foods.

The female will approach the male, curve her body, and display to catch his attention. When he sees her, he will then "dance" by flashing his fins. The female will lay up to 80 oval red eggs on the surface of her cave. The male will fertilize them and promptly leave the cave to patrol on the outside, leaving the female to care for them. In a harem situation, the male will visit the "cave" of each female and breed with her. She will have an area that she guards within the male's territory. When several females are brooding, they will actually kidnap each others fry to add to their school!

The eggs will hatch in 3 to 4 days, depending on water temperature. The fry will be swimming freely a few days after hatching. Interestingly, if the water temperature is low (68° F or 20° C) most of the fry will be females, while with higher temperatures (86° F or 30° C) the fry will mostly be male. pH also plays a role in the sex of the fry, but to a much less extent. The conditions must also be kept constant for the first 3 weeks to be effective. The fry grow fairly quick and they can be fed rotifers and in a week or two then fed nauplii 3 times a day. They can also be fed live freshly hatched baby brine shrimp 3 times a day. Sexing is pretty easy since males have longer fins and are larger than the females.

The female can become quite nasty after the fry are hatched. Some aquarists will removed the "cave" with the female inside by using bowl large enough to keep the water, the eggs, and the female in while preventing them them from hitting the air. Once in a 10 gallon bare tank, you may or may not choose to remove the female as well. If in a species specific tank, you may leave the female and babies in the tank and watch the interesting behavior of fry herding that the mother does. The female may actually allow the male to help her guard the fry for the next month, but this all depends on your tank stock and the personality of your Cockatoo Cichlids. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Easy

Fish Diseases

The Cockatoo Cichlids are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. Be aware of the following diseases that are found in the Amazon (per fishbase.org): Parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.) including White spot Disease known as Ich (Ichthyobodo Infection), Costia Disease, Flatworms (Metacercaria Infection), Cestoda infestation (Tapeworms), Metacercaria Infection (Flatworms), Bacterial Infections (general), Bacterial diseases, and Turbidity of the Skin (Freshwater fish). One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days.

As with most fish the Crested Dwarf Cichlids are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Many diseases are very preventable with proper tank maintenance and taking caution on introducing anything to the tank.  A good practice is to quaranteen new tankmates if possible and to disinfect any decor that is going into the tank.

Availability

The Cockatoo Cichlids are readily available online and can range in price from moderate to moderately expensive. They are a rare find in fish stores, but can usually be special ordered if you are willing to wait. Spinal problems have arisen since there has been so much interbreeding for color. Make sure you examine them for spinal defects before purchasing.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CFS, Jeremy Roche
Lastest Animal Stories on Cockatoo Cichlid

william mayer - 2011-07-09
Hi, I want to get some cockatoo cichlids to breed in my 39"x18"x16" tank, how many could I raise up in there to breed, and what sort of layout and accessories should I use in my tank for them to breed? Also can I add any other fish to the tank, write back asap, thanks will.

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2011-07-10
    Start by purchasing 6 juvenile cockatoo cichlids (Apistogramma cacatuoides), and raising them together. Make sure they look like they are healthy and have good looking spines. At least one pair should arise from these. Cockatoo Cichlids like caves while breeding, so providing them with places to hide, just as flowerpots, logs, or plants with large leaves would be best. You will want to check the conditions of your tank - optimal would be a pH from 6.8 to 7.2 and a temperature of 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

    These cichlids are more of a community fish, so if the aquarium is large enough, some good tankmates would include Cardinal Tetras (though during breeding, the Cockatoo Cichlid can chase them right out of the tank if there is not adequate space), Otocinclus Catfish, Julii Cory, Three-Line Pencilfish, Glowlight Rasbora (Hengel's), Dwarf Gourami, Kuhli Loach, and Dwarf Rainbowfish (Neon).

Reply
suckonmelefone - 2008-10-28
Hello people. I currently have a pair of apistogramma cacatuoides, aka cockatoo dwarf cichlids, in a 40 ltr aquarium with lots of silk plants and caves made from bogwood and fake logs. They live with 5 tiger barbs, 1 bristle nose catfish, and 1 whiptail catfish. They are a peaceful species who never bother the catfish but don't tolerate the barbs getting to close to the gravel, otherwise they never bother them. Mostly it's the male chasing the barbs but doesn't nibble them. I feed them-flakes, frozen bloodworms, and 5mm sinklng pellets from new life brand called spectrum grow, it's not cheap. I've had them for 2 months now and their colours have changed since I got them, especially the male. No signs of breeding yet. Just the male chasing the female from time to time when he finds her. Like I said, lots of plants. My tank is slightly acidy and temps. around 26c. I highly recommend them for anyone who doesn't have a big aquarium but wants some personality in their tank. Best of luck and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Reply
zane - 2011-07-03
I have had a couple of double reds for a while, and mine tend to like breeding in pvc... I just cut a heap of 20mm-25mm pvc into lengths of about 100mm..
I covered mine with java moss to make them more presentable in the tank, as it's a community tank..
she just loves it as a cave.. a must try for breeders.

  • zane - 2011-07-03
    Add
    My water temp is rather warm, around the 28 deg mark, there are a few tetras and platys, is heavily planted and heavily driftwood'd. Have bio filter and co2.. I do twice weekly water changes, and keep nirtates nil....

    All my fish are beautiful in color, and breed constantly.

    I also feed a range of things, flake food, pellets, frozen and fresh brine shrimp, black worms, cucumber, and lettuce...
    a variety is the best :)
Reply
suckonmelefone - 2008-11-30
Hello again people, I was about to do my forthnightly water change on my dwarf cichlids tank and behold I see this intense yellow female swiming around with about 2 dozen babies around her. She gobbles them up if they go too far and spits them out next to the cave again, lol. PS..temp is still 26c and water parameters haven't changed. Still living with the barbs and whiptail, brislenose passed away, got really fat and died. Upset me since he was growing bristles. Thanks for reading and hope u all have success.

Reply

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