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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.