Cockatoo Cichlid (Apistogramma Cacatuoides) – Full Details Inside!

Originating from the cichlid family, the Cockatoo Cichlid (scientifically known as Apistogramma cacatuoides) is a delight for any fish hobbyist – beginner or advanced.

Known for their color palette resonating with the hues of a cockatoo bird, these Cichlids add a vibrant spark to your aquarium. Though mainly peaceful, these bottom-dwellers can become territorial during their breeding period, showing a unique side to their temperament.

Originating from the cichlid family, the Cockatoo Cichlid (scientifically known as Apistogramma cacatuoides) is a delight for any fish hobbyist – beginner or advanced.

Known for their color palette resonating with the hues of a cockatoo bird, these Cichlids add a vibrant spark to your aquarium.

Though mainly peaceful, these bottom-dwellers can become territorial during their breeding period, showing a unique side to their temperament.

In the vast world of aquatic life, the cockatoo cichlid is a captivating marvel. A fish that stands out for its mesmerizing colors and distinctive patterns, it’s a favorite among both beginners and advanced aquarists.

This guide delves deeper into understanding the cockatoo cichlid, with detailed insights into their appearance, natural habitat, origin, distribution, and their growth, size, and lifespan.

Quick Stats About Cockatoo Cichlid

Care Level: Moderate
Temperament: Semi-aggressive (when breeding)
Color Form: Blue, green
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Size: 2-3.5 inches
Diet: Carnivore
Family: Cichlidae
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
Tank Set-Up: Densely planted freshwater
Compatibility: Keep away from larger aggressive fish

Cockatoo Cichlid Appearance

Recognizing the cockatoo cichlid begins with understanding its unique visual traits. With a robust, elongated body adorned with colors that can span from grey, blue, and green, to the most striking hues of orange and red, this fish is truly a sight to behold.

The grey-bodied fish often display dramatic black lines extending from their eyes down the entire length of their body, accentuating their elegant form.

Cockatoo cichlids have a distinctive, large mouth, and their rear dorsal fins exhibit a stunning orange hue, creating a striking contrast against their grey bodies.

Their diverse coloration, especially in captivity, can also include full, double, triple, and super red varieties, providing an array of options for aquarists seeking to add a splash of color to their tanks.

The males of the species, typically ranging from 2 to 3.5 inches, are larger and more vibrantly colored than the females, showcasing pointed anal and dorsal fins and forked tails.

During breeding, males display heightened color vibrancy and perform attention-grabbing dances to woo females, adding another layer to their intriguing appearance.

Natural Habitat of Cockatoo Cichlid

The natural habitat of the cockatoo cichlid speaks volumes about their preferences and requirements in captivity.

These fish originate from slow-moving waters that are soft and mildly acidic, specifically in the backwaters and streams of the mighty Amazon River.

Their native waters are dense with vegetation, providing ample hiding spots that they prefer for protection and breeding.

A comfortable temperature for them ranges from 79 to 84°F (26 to 29°C), indicative of their adaptation to the warm South American Amazon environment.

Cockatoo Cichlid: Origin and Distribution

Scientifically named Apistogramma cacatuoides, the cockatoo cichlid’s native distribution is primarily within the Amazon Basin in South America.

This area is replete with diverse and abundant aquatic life, offering an environment that supports the cockatoo cichlid’s specific needs.

Also known as the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid or Big Mouth Apistogramma, they are primarily found in slow-flowing streams and backwaters, sometimes even in floodplain lakes.

It’s here that they flourish, surrounded by dense plant life and soft, sandy bottoms – elements that should be mimicked in a home aquarium setting for their optimal health and happiness.

Growth, Size & Lifespan of Cockatoo Cichlid

Cockatoo cichlids are not a large species, with males reaching between 2 and 3.5 inches in length, and females being slightly smaller.

Despite their modest size, these fish exhibit a stunning array of colors and display unique behaviors, making them a worthwhile addition to your aquarium.

As for their lifespan, cockatoo cichlids typically live for 3 to 5 years when maintained under optimal conditions.

This lifespan can be maximized through meticulous care, ensuring a healthy diet, and maintaining ideal water parameters and tank conditions.

In captivity, these fish can grow at a steady pace when provided with high-quality foods and a stress-free environment.

Regular monitoring and care can ensure they live a long, healthy, and vibrant life in your aquarium.

Understanding the unique traits and requirements of the cockatoo cichlid is crucial for their successful keeping.

With the right care and understanding of their origin, habitat, and growth patterns, you can create a nurturing environment where they can truly thrive.

The captivating world of the cockatoo cichlid extends beyond its dazzling appearance. Equally fascinating is its behavior, temperament, and specific requirements for tank setup.

Cockatoo Cichlid Behavior and Temperament

Despite their small size, cockatoo cichlids display a range of fascinating behaviors and have a unique temperament that sets them apart.

They are generally peaceful, yet territorial, especially when it comes to securing a spot for spawning. During breeding, male cockatoo cichlids become particularly assertive, showing off vivid colors and performing attention-grabbing dances to attract females.

Cockatoo cichlids are known to hide often, burrowing into the sand or sheltering in the thickets of plants in their surroundings.

As intelligent and curious fish, they enjoy exploring their surroundings, giving them a lively presence in any aquarium setup.

Cockatoo Cichlid Tank Setup

An ideal tank setup for a cockatoo cichlid mimics its natural habitat. It must cater to their unique preferences and help maintain their optimal health and happiness.

Let’s delve into the various components of a perfect tank setup for your cockatoo cichlid:

Tank Size

The first factor to consider when setting up a tank for your cockatoo cichlid is its size. Given their small stature, a tank size of 20 gallons is generally sufficient for a pair.

However, if you plan on keeping a group, consider a larger tank, with an additional 10 gallons per extra fish to allow ample space for each to establish their territory.


Cockatoo cichlids naturally reside in areas with soft, sandy bottoms. Mimicking this, the ideal substrate for your tank is fine, soft sand.

This allows the cichlids to indulge in their instinctive burrowing behavior without risking injury.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Adding vegetation and hiding spots to your aquarium will help recreate the cockatoo cichlid’s natural habitat. Consider adding aquatic plants, driftwood, rocks, and cave-like decorations to provide ample hiding spots.

Such a setup will make your cichlids feel secure and promote their natural behaviors.

Water Parameters

Cockatoo cichlids thrive in soft and mildly acidic water. Aim for a pH between 6.0 and 7.5, with water hardness between 2-15 dGH.

As tropical fish, they prefer a warmer temperature, ideally between 79 and 84°F (26 to 29°C).

Filtration and Aeration

A quality filtration system is vital for maintaining clean water, reducing toxins, and promoting beneficial bacteria growth.

While cockatoo cichlids don’t need strong currents, an air stone or sponge filter can help provide the moderate aeration they prefer.


These fish don’t have specific lighting requirements, but a moderate level of light that mimics their natural environment is beneficial.

Keeping a balance between areas of shadow and light in the tank would mimic their native habitat’s conditions, contributing to their comfort.

Tank Mates

Cockatoo cichlids are generally peaceful, but can become territorial, especially during breeding. Choose tank mates wisely – other small, peaceful fish species work well. Avoid aggressive or much larger species that could pose a threat.


Cockatoo cichlids are omnivores, so a balanced diet of high-quality flake or pellet food, supplemented with live or frozen foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms, is ideal. Ensure to feed them in small quantities several times a day to mimic their natural feeding patterns.

Understanding and respecting the unique requirements of the cockatoo cichlid can ensure their happiness and longevity in your tank.

The more closely their environment matches their natural habitat, the more vibrant and engaging they will be.

Cockatoo Cichlid Tank Maintainance

Creating the perfect tank setup for your cockatoo cichlid is just the first step. Maintaining it in excellent condition is crucial for your fish’s overall health and happiness.

In this section, we’ll cover the key areas of tank maintenance: regular water changes, cleaning the tank and decorations, filter maintenance, and monitoring the health of your fish.

Regular Water Changes

One of the first rules of aquarium maintenance is performing regular water changes. For your cockatoo cichlid tank, consider changing about 20-25% of the water weekly.

This helps to dilute waste products, reduce nitrate build-up, and maintain optimal water conditions, making it a healthier environment for your fish.

Remember to treat the new water with a suitable dechlorinator before adding it to the tank.

Also, ensure the new water matches the temperature and pH of the existing water to avoid stressing your fish.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Keeping the tank and decorations clean is crucial to prevent the build-up of algae and other potentially harmful substances. However, avoid complete cleaning as it may disrupt the beneficial bacteria that aid in the nitrogen cycle.

For cleaning, use an aquarium vacuum to clean the substrate and remove waste. Clean the sides of the tank with an algae scraper or pad.

When it comes to decorations, if they are covered in algae, remove and clean them with a soft brush under hot running water.

Do not use soap or detergents as they can be harmful to fish.

Filter Maintenance

The filter plays a vital role in maintaining water quality, so regular maintenance is essential. Monitor the flow rate of your filter, and if it seems reduced, it may be time for a clean.

How often you need to clean your filter will depend on the type and model. However, a good rule of thumb is once a month.

Rinse the filter media with the tank water you remove during the water change to preserve the beneficial bacteria.

In case of replacement, change only one part at a time to avoid a significant loss of beneficial bacteria.

Monitor Fish Health

Lastly, but most importantly, keep a close eye on your cockatoo cichlids. Regular monitoring can help you detect signs of illness or stress early. Look out for changes in appearance, behavior, or eating habits.

Healthy cockatoo cichlids should display vibrant colors, be active, and have a good appetite. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, it could indicate a problem. In such cases, consult with an aquatic veterinarian or expert for advice.

In conclusion, maintaining your cockatoo cichlid tank involves regular water changes, keeping the tank and decorations clean, ensuring filter function, and continually monitoring fish health.

By paying attention to these aspects, you can provide your fish with a thriving environment in which they can flourish

Acclimating Your Cockatoo Cichlid

Acclimation is a critical process when introducing your new cockatoo cichlid to its tank. It reduces stress and ensures a smooth transition to the new environment.

Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide to acclimate your cichlid.

  1. Keep the Lights Off: Upon arrival, keep the aquarium lights off. Bright lights can stress your new fish.

  2. Float the Bag: Place the unopened bag with the fish in your aquarium to float. This balances the water temperature inside and outside the bag.

  3. Slowly Introduce Tank Water: After about 15 minutes, open the bag and add a cup of tank water. Repeat this every 5 minutes for about half an hour.

  4. Gently Release Your Fish: After the fish has had time to adjust, use a net to gently transfer the fish into the tank. Avoid pouring the bag’s water into your tank as it may contain unwanted contaminants.

Remember to monitor your cichlid closely during the first few days and look for any signs of stress or ill-health.

Feeding Your Cockatoo Cichlid

A proper diet is crucial for your cockatoo cichlid’s health and vibrant coloration. These fish are omnivores and thrive on a varied diet that includes both plant-based and protein-rich foods.

Protein-Rich Foods

  • Live or Frozen Foods: These are an excellent source of protein. You can feed your cichlids brine shrimp, bloodworms, or daphnia. Remember, frozen foods should be thawed before feeding.

  • Pellets and Flakes: High-quality, protein-rich pellets or flakes are suitable for daily feeding. Ensure the food is small enough for your cichlid to eat easily.

Plant-Based Foods

  • Vegetable Flakes or Pellets: These provide essential vitamins and minerals. Look for products with spirulina, which aids in digestion and boosts immune health.

  • Fresh Veggies: Occasionally, you can offer blanched peas, spinach, or zucchini. They are rich in fiber and help with digestion.

Feeding Guidelines

  • Frequency: Feed your cockatoo cichlid 2-3 times a day. Give only as much food as they can consume within 2-3 minutes.

  • Monitor: Watch your fish during feeding times. It can help you detect changes in their appetite, which might be a sign of health issues.

  • Variety: Mix up the types of food to ensure a balanced diet.

Remember, while this guide provides general advice, each fish is unique. Pay attention to your cockatoo cichlid’s preferences and adjust the diet as necessary.

A proper diet will help keep your fish healthy and display its most vibrant colors.

Cockatoo Cichlid Tank Mates

In the world of fish keeping, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to tank mates. Here’s an in-depth guide on the best and worst tank mates for your cockatoo cichlid.

Consider these friendly fish when looking for tank mates for your cockatoo cichlid:

  1. Dwarf Gouramis: Their peaceful nature and similar size make them an excellent choice.

  2. Emperor Tetras: These small, colorful fish are peaceful and generally keep to themselves.

  3. Bristlenose Plecos: These hardy fish are excellent tank cleaners, and their calm demeanor won’t disturb your cichlid.

  4. Dwarf Rainbowfish: Their lively yet peaceful nature can add dynamic movement to your tank without causing stress.

  5. Corydoras Catfish: These bottom-dwelling fish are perfect tank mates due to their peaceful temperament and different feeding zones.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Choosing tank mates is not just about who to include, but also who to exclude.

Here are a few species to avoid:

  1. Oscar Fish: Their aggressive behavior and large size make them a threat to your cichlid.

  2. Red Tail Sharks: Known for their territorial behavior, they can stress your cichlid.

  3. Betta Fish: These beautiful fish can be quite aggressive and may compete with your cichlid for territory.

  4. Large Cichlids: Fish like the Jack Dempsey Fish or the Texas Cichlid are likely to bully your smaller cockatoo cichlid.

  5. Goldfish: With different water temperature requirements and feeding habits, they are not compatible with cockatoo cichlids.

Breeding Cockatoo Cichlids

Breeding cockatoo cichlids can be a rewarding experience, but it requires preparation and care.

Here’s a detailed guide to help you through the process:

The Breeding Process

  1. Setting the Stage: Create a comfortable environment with plenty of hiding spots and a sandy substrate for the cichlids to dig in.

  2. Choosing the Pair: Look for a healthy male and female. The male is usually larger and more colorful.

  3. Courtship and Spawning: The male will display an impressive color show to attract the female. Once she’s interested, she’ll lay her eggs in a cave or pit, and he’ll fertilize them.

Fry Care Tips

After the eggs are laid, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Leave the Parents: Unlike some fish, cockatoo cichlids are excellent parents. They will guard the eggs and later the fry, so it’s best to leave them in the tank.

  2. Prepare First Food: Once the fry are free swimming, usually after a week, you can feed them infusoria or finely crushed fish flakes.

  3. Monitor Closely: Keep an eye on the fry and their parents. If the parents start to show signs of stress, consider moving the fry to a separate tank.

  4. Gradual Diet Change: As they grow, gradually change their diet to include larger foods like brine shrimp.

Breeding cockatoo cichlids can be an exciting endeavor. With the right care, you’ll soon see your aquarium filled with the vibrant colors of the next generation.

Signs of Stress in Cockatoo Cichlids

Being alert to the signs of stress in your Cockatoo Cichlids is key to maintaining their health.

Some stress indicators include:

  • Loss of color: Cichlids may lose their vibrant colors when stressed, appearing dull or pale.

  • Lethargy: Stress can also make them less active or playful than usual.

  • Changes in eating habits: They might eat less or even refuse food.

  • Erratic swimming: Darting around the tank or hiding more than usual are other signs.

Reducing stress often involves adjusting the water conditions, reducing overcrowding, or isolating aggressive fish.

Common Health Issues and Treatments for Cockatoo Cichlids

Cockatoo Cichlids, like all fish, can experience various health issues.

Some common ones include:

  • Ich: This parasitic disease causes white spots on the fish. Treatment typically involves raising the tank temperature gradually and adding a commercially available Ich treatment.

  • Fin Rot: Poor water conditions can cause this disease, which results in frayed or decaying fins. Regular water changes and antibacterial treatments can help.

  • Bloat: Overfeeding or improper diet can lead to this condition. Feed your fish a balanced diet and avoid overfeeding.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

To maintain a thriving aquarium:

  • Monitor water parameters regularly: Keeping the water parameters in check is essential for your fish’s wellbeing.

  • Ensure a varied diet: Feed your fish a balanced diet to keep them healthy and colorful.

  • Provide ample space: Overcrowding can cause stress and spread diseases.

Should You Get a Cockatoo Cichlid for Your Aquarium?

Cockatoo Cichlids are beautiful, active, and relatively easy to care for, making them a fantastic addition to many home aquariums.

They are suitable for aquarists ready to meet their specific needs, including appropriate tank mates, balanced diet, and an environment that mimics their natural habitat.

Remember, owning any fish is a responsibility.

Proper care and attention to their needs will ensure your Cockatoo Cichlid leads a healthy and happy life in your aquarium.

Cockatoo Cichlid: Conservation Status

As of the latest updates, the Cockatoo Cichlid is not currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, indicating that they are not under significant threat in their natural habitats.

However, this doesn’t mean that the conservation of their natural habitats in South America isn’t critical. Responsible breeding and buying practices are essential for ensuring the future of this species.

Availability & Pricing

Due to their popularity among aquarists, Cockatoo Cichlids are readily available both in physical pet stores and online. As of this writing, the price for a Cockatoo Cichlid can vary.

However, they’re typically an affordable option, making them a popular choice for those new to cichlid care.

Remember, while the initial cost of the fish may seem minimal, the associated costs for a suitable tank, ongoing food supply, and potential health treatments should be considered in the overall expense.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cockatoo Cichlid

Before we conclude, let’s cover some common questions about Cockatoo Cichlids:

Q – How long do Cockatoo Cichlids live?

Ans – Typically, Cockatoo Cichlids live up to 10 years in captivity, given optimal care and conditions.

Q – Are Cockatoo Cichlids aggressive?

Ans – While these fish can be territorial, especially during breeding, they’re generally more peaceful than many other types of cichlids.

Q – What do Cockatoo Cichlids eat?

Ans – They thrive on a diet of high-quality pellets or flakes, supplemented with occasional live or frozen foods for added nutrition.


Cockatoo Cichlids are an enchanting addition to any freshwater aquarium. With their vibrant hues and dynamic personalities, they bring life and color to your tank.

Their care, while requiring attention to detail, is manageable, making them a favored choice for beginners and experienced aquarists alike.

As with any pet, ensure that you’re ready for the responsibility before bringing them home. With proper care, your Cockatoo Cichlid will reward you with years of aquatic enjoyment.