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apistogramma cacatuoides

Apistogramma cacatuoides – the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid

Apistogramma cacatuoides, or the cockatoo dwarf cichlid, is one of many small cichlids within the genus Apistogramma. This particular species gets its common name from its dorsal fins which resemble the striking plumage found on cockatoos.

History And Environment

The cockatoo dwarf cichlid first entered the world of hobbyists during the early 1950s. They were first formally described and given their names in 1951. This fish is naturally found by the drainage areas of the Rio Solimoes and Rio Ucayali in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. This area of the Amazon has water parameters that fluctuate but tend to be harder and with a higher pH than those typically associated with the Amazon River. In some cases, the pH will get as high as 8.0 with hardness ranging from very soft to very hard.


As mentioned, the cockatoo dwarf cichlid has highly distinctive dorsal fins which draw the eye and give this species their name. In males, the first rays of the fin are elongated and carried erect to emphasize this distinction. You won’t find the same range of colours in wild fish of this species, but they still have spectacular fins. Those bred for hobbyists will have vibrant colours such as solid orange or red dorsal fins. It is not difficult to find Apistogramma cacatuoides for sale and you may also be able to find some colour variations such as the double red.

When male Apistogramma cacatuoides reach their sexual maturity, their head is enlarged and will seem disproportionate to the rest of their body. They also have large mouths which they use for yawning and other threat displays. Males tend to have golden brown bottom fins and bellies. Females are a drab yellow and their ventral fins become solid black as they reach maturity. Females will also have more rounded tail fins and the yellow colouring apistogramma cacatuoidesintensifies after laying eggs.

Tank Care

The Cockatoo dwarf cichlid should be kept in a tank no smaller than 10 gallons in volume. Set up the bottom of the tank with a thin layer of sand or fine gravel. The fish will also enjoy the addition of driftwood, epiphytic plants like Java fern, some makeshift or store-bought caves, and some Java moss.

As far as water conditions are concerned, aim for a temperature between 22 and 29°C.  Tank bred Apistogramma cacatuoides tend to be relatively unfussy when it comes to pH although wild caught fish can prefer slightly acidic conditions.

Diet And Feeding

This species is not known for being a picky eater. They will eat live foods, frozen foods, pellets, and feed flakes as well as a range of other options. Consider giving them live worms a few times a week when you are getting ready to breed them. Some ideas for worms include chopped earthworms, blackworms, white worms, and Grindal worms. You can also feed them newly hatched or live adult brine shrimp, small cherry shrimp, and daphnia. Males, in particular, are also eartheaters, spending time digging in the sand and looking for food. When fry are present, try to give the fish newly hatched brine shrimp or microworms, but they will also graze on plant surfaces.

Breeding Apistogramma cacatuoides

You can distinguish males and females apart by size and color. Males tend to be larger as well as more colorful. Their fins are also more extended compared to their female counterparts.

As the Apistogramma cacatuoides is considered a cave spawner, you want to make sure there is a cave for every female in the tank with a few extras. Make sure the caves are staggered throughout the tank with the openings facing away from each other. Expect the male fish to fight amongst themselves and the winner will become the dominant male who will likely be the only one to breed. This male will be obvious as he will be courting the females in the open in full color and won’t typically have torn fins. The other males will become paler and keep their dorsal fins clamped. To keep these males safe, you should remove them from the tank if possible. This may not be necessary if the tank is at least 75 gallons and has plenty of plants.

The cockatoo dwarf cichlid has a brief courting period when the male makes beautiful displays. They then return to a cave of the female’s choice, where she will display her black and lemon-yellow coloration. The female will lay her eggs on the cave’s walls or ceiling and then the male will fertilize them. The average spawn contains 100 to 125 eggs. Females will guard their fry all day long until they have been swimming free for a few weeks. Fry start showing coloring as young as eight or ten weeks of age.

Behavior And Temperament

If you have a cockatoo dwarf cichlid that was raised in the wild, it will do best by itself in an aquarium. Those who are captive-bred will be fine in larger groups such as a community aquarium. You can keep this fish with other fish as long as they are not large or aggressive or with other Apistogramma cacatuoides. In the case of a large aquarium, you can keep several males. Otherwise, you should keep them either by themselves, in pairs, or in a harem with a single male and five or six females. Some ideal species to share a tank with include characins like the three-line pencilfish or cardinal tetra or corydoras like dwarf gourami or dwarf (neon) rainbowfish.

Further Data

Please see the fishbase entry here http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=12282&AT=Cockatoo+Dwarf+Cichlid 

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