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Apistogramma cacatuoides The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid

Apistogramma cacatuoides pair, Male in foreground. Photo by Sam Borstein.


Apistogramma cacatuoides is one of the most colorful of the Dwarf Cichlids. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most popular. It was first described by Hoedemann in 1951 and exported shortly thereafter. Apistogramma cacatuoides is still imported from Peru on a regular basis but bears little resemblance to the varieties available today. This fish has been bred extensively for color and there are several strains available. Double reds, triple reds, red flash and blue, just to name a few. Double reds have red in their dorsal and caudal fins. Triple reds have red in their anal fins, also. These fish don't breed true and extra care must be taken to use the most colorful males and females for breeding. As with most fish, they are sexually dimorphic. The males are brightly colored and attain a size of 3 to 3-1/2 inches. The female are neutral in color, may contain some red, and get approximately 2 inches in size. Females get a yellow hue when ready to spawn.


Apistogramma cacatuoides is found in Peru along the Rio Ucayali river. Unusual for dwarf cichlids, the cacatuoides is found along most of this river. Rio Ucayali is about 600 km long and converges with Rio Maranon to form the Rio Amazonas. The Rio Ucayali has a pH of about 7.5. Apistogramma cacatuoides is usually found hiding in the shallows among the decaying leaves and mud that comprise the shore of this river. This tends to have a more acidic ph, so A. cacatuoides is very tolerant of ph. They can also be found hiding in nutshells that have fallen from trees. To collect them, gather up a bunch of leaves, hand sift and then figure out what species of Dwarf Cichlid(s) you have.


Apistogramma cacatuoides likes soft water around 80 degrees, although they will tolerate up to about 90 degrees (F). As stated, Apistogramma cacatuoides likes a muddy bottomed shallow habitat. This doesn't make for the prettiest of aquariums so you'll have to meet it halfway. A well planted sandy-bottomed tank is best. Minimum tank size for a pair is 10 gallons. Males are very territorial and will fight vigorously. See Breeding.


Apistogramma cacatuoides fry are small and can't eat anything but minute foods, start them out with infusoria. Some breeders put a piece of javamoss with the young because it will provide the infusoria. After a few days start adding microworms and/or newly hatched brine shrimp. Adults will readily eat newly hatched brine shrimp as well as flake food, adult brine shrimp and bloodworms... their favorite.


Apistogramma cacatuoides can be bred in several different ways. If bred in pairs, I recommend no smaller then a 20 long with tons of plants and caves. If you want, you can harem breed them. Put 4 or 5 females in with 1 male. A larger tank is needed for this, but it's really spectacular to have several females in different parts of the same tank tending to their fry. A 30 breeder or a forty long is recommeded for this method. Fry can be siphoned out about a week after hatching.

Note PH has been found to greatly effect the sex of Apistogramma cacatuoides offspring. Low pH causes mostly females offspring while high pH causes mostly male offspring.

Retail Price

Fry $10 -$20 Adults $20 to $40. Fry $. Adults $$.

If you plan on obtaining Apistogramma cacatuoides fry know what color variety you are purchasing, the price can vary greatly. When purchasing fry, if at all possible, see the parents first. If not, buy from a reputable dealer. When buying adults, the difference is obvious. Pet stores are more likely to have "wild caught" varieties unless they buy from a local breeder. Some are imported from the Far East.

Report June 1999 by Jim Stigliano