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Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid

(Apistogramma cacatuoides)

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 Quick Care Facts

• Care Level: Moderate   • Temperament: Semi-aggressive   • Maximum Size: 3"
• Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons   • Water Conditions: 64-78° F, KH 2-15, pH 5.0-7.0
• Diet: Carnivore   • Origin: Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Asian Farm Raised   • Family: Cichlidae
• Species: Apistogramma   • Aquarium Type: New World Cichlid Aquarium

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Species Information

Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid native habitat, distribution, behavior & aquarium compatibility.

Originally collected from clear water streams throughout Peru, Colombia and Brazil, the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma cacatuoides) is now due to its popularity with the aquarium hobby mostly raised in Asian fish farms. Unlike many South American Cichlid species that originate from blackwater, low pH habitats, the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid originates from small white water and clear water streams and shallow lakes that form during the rainy season.

Their natural habitat consists of shallow waters that are much more susceptible to both pH and water temperature fluctuations, than the larger rivers and flood plains that many Cichlids come from. This tolerance for a range of pH and water temperature parameters helps to make Apistogramma cacatuoides excellent candidates for aquarium life. However, as with most all tropical fish species, changes in water parameters should occur gradually and not subject the fish to extreme shifts in water conditions.

While Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlids are popular within the hobby due to their ease of care and willingness to adapt to aquarium life, most hobbyists choose to keep them for their unique engaging personalities and brilliant finnage coloration. The popularity of the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid has led to them being primarily raised in fish farms as opposed to being collected in the wild.

This was done primarily to supply the demand for the species, but has also led to line-breeding of the fish in order to accentuate the bright red and orange of their dorsal fins. The end result of this is that the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlids now found within the hobby have much more brightly colored finnage (especially the dorsal fin) than their wild cousins. A displaying male specimen will undoubtedly catch the eye of even the most selective of hobbyist.

Aquarium Care

How to successfully keep Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid in the home aquarium.

Ideally, hobbyists should keep Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlids in environments that are similar to their native habitats and provide the fish with a sense of security. In the case of Apistogramma Cichlids, who live primarily in the lower regions of the aquarium, they will appreciate an aquarium that has a larger footprint or breeder style tank.

Suitable substrates include sand, gravel or a mix of the two, with areas of rocky caves or crevices, driftwood or wood root and a mix of plants that include some mid-ground to foreground plants like Anubias or Java Fern. Despite most Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid specimens now being farm raised these days, they do come from waters that have dense vegetation and constant flow which keep nutrient levels and nitrate at a minimum. Thus it is best to provide good nutrient export either via live plants, partial water changes or ideally both.

It is this constant water flow and dense vegetation of their native habitat that has shaped the social structure of this species, with dense populations of fish living in a relatively small area. Apistogramma cacatuoides kept in larger groups will coexist well with one other; however, large groups of fish, even 3 inch long fish, require a fairly large aquarium (75 gallons or more) to do well and thrive.

The benefit to keeping large groups of Dwarf Cichlids is that they will exhibit little to no aggression towards each other, as no single individual will be able to establish its own territory. However, they are more commonly kept in small groups along with other fish species in planted or community aquariums. In this case it is best to keep a single male and a group of females in order to not have aggression problems between a dominant male and the sub-dominant males specimens. This aggression with sub-dominant Apistogramma is similar to the aggression that other Cichlid species exhibit towards one another when kept in small groups.

Water flow and dissolved oxygen are also important factors when keeping Apistogramma Cichlids, as their native river habitats have good amounts of water flow and high levels of dissolved oxygen. Hobbyists will want to have a good amount of water flow within the aquarium, either via a canister filter return, spray bar or a dedicated powerhead positioned to agitate the surface of the water and create higher levels of dissolved oxygen.

Feeding & Nutrition

How to properly feed Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid and provide a healthy diet.

The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid like other Apistogramma Cichlids is carnivore that feed primarily on insects, insect larvae, small crustaceans and small worms in their native environment. They are not picky eaters and will accept a wide variety of foods, but they do best in the aquarium environment when fed a variety of frozen and freeze-dried commercial foods like blood worms, brine shrimp, krill, tubifex worms and other similar meaty items.

They can also be offered high quality carnivore flakes and mini pellets intended for freshwater carnivores. It is not recommended to feed only flake or pellet foods as this will typically lead to more a more faded coloration and will often lack all the nutrients and minerals required to maintain a healthy immune system. It is best to feed smaller meals 2 to 3 times per day. Apistogramma cacatuoides will also readily consume live foods like small worms, brine shrimp, daphnia and other similar items.

Breeding Information

How to successfully breed Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid in the aquarium environment.

Apistogramma cacatuoides are egg layers, with the female typically finding a suitable rocky cave or crevice in which to deposit her eggs. However, specimens in the aquarium environment will also utilize clay pots and even PVC tubes as a place to deposit their eggs.

Hobbyists wanting to breed the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid should either pair up a male specimen with a small group of females or keep a group of males and females together and wait for one of the males to establish dominance over the others, then removing the sub-dominant males in order to avoid them being beaten up or killed.

The aquarium housing the dominant male and his harem of females should contain enough caves or cave like structures so that each female has her own. The cave openings should not face one another, and should be staggered around the aquarium enough to break up the line of sight and give each female some privacy from the others. Ideally other aquarium decor like driftwood and/or plants should be used as well to prevent infighting within the harem.

The male will court the females though a dance like motion during which he will display brilliant coloration and erect, brightly colored finnage. After successfully catching the attention of one of the females, the male will follow the female to her chosen cave where she will lay her eggs on the cave wall or ceiling and the male will fertilize the eggs. In larger aquariums, 40 to 75 gallons males will breed with multiple females; however, in smaller 15 to 20 gallon aquariums it is usually best to remove the other specimens.

The female will guard the fry constantly until they are free swimming juveniles and for several weeks thereafter. She will generally move them about the tank in an effort to sheppard them towards potential food sources like tiny crustaceans and insect larvae. Hobbyists will want to provide meaty items like newly hatched baby brine shrimp, finely crushed flake food or similar items. Java moss, sponge material or similar aquarium decor is an ideal place for young Apistogramma to pick at and graze on tiny foodstuffs.

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