Cockatoos that don’t speak: Apistogramma cacatuoides.
When one thinks of cichlids, many large rough and tumble aggressive fish come to mind for many, but you’d be amiss not to profile those of a smaller scale. The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma cacatuoides), gets its name from its dorsal fins, which have a cockatoo like crest and are brilliantly colored. This diminutive fish grows no larger than 3 to 3.5 inches. Described by Dutch ichthyologist J.J. Hoedeman in 1951; this is a new world cichlid coming from South America, specifically Brazil, Peru, and Columbia. The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid and its co-genitors have been a staple in the aquarium hobby for over six decades, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Due to their natural habitats having large fluctuations in pH, hardness, and alkalinity levels. Due to the demand for this species, they are cultures in large quantities.
In the home aquarium, they make wonderful additions to a planted Amazonian biotope. The ideal Apistogramma sp. tank has enough surface area to split up territories among various individuals. To further this thought, it’s also recommended you include hiding spaces that can be created out of driftwood, rocks and even ceramic such as flowerpots. If the substrate isn’t geared toward a planted aquarium, most will due, even non-inert sand that effects pH. As mentioned above the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid is adaptable to varying degrees of water quality. This not only includes pH, alkalinity, and hardness but also includes temperature, so long as the room doesn’t drop below 60 Fahrenheit or exceed 82 Fahrenheit. One of the few intolerances these fish have is high levels of dissolved organics, as such, you’ll want to have a disciplined frequent water change regimen.
As far as diet goes, they are pretty easy going accepting most prepared fare, including dry and frozen. They are almost like miniature earth eaters and for enrichment, I would include a sinking pellet into their feeding routine, as they’ll sometimes attempt to bury their entire head in the substrate looking for food.
Breeding is possible in the home, Cockatoo cichlids breed in safe caves, so you’ll need to mimic this with rock or ceramic. The concern with mimicking natural habitat for breeding is that females are much smaller than males and may lay eggs in smaller crevices that males cannot access. For this reason some breeders and hobbyists prefer the sterility of ceramic and PVC. Clutches are rather large, usually averaging between 75-150, with some reported near 200. Like many cichlids, Cockatoos have parental instincts and females will guard the clutch day and night until they become free-swimming and will “herd” the juveniles until they reach at least 2 months old. It’s a great candidate for the beginning breeder.
If you’re looking to add a flash of color and personality to your aquarium or are looking for an introduction into breeding cichlids, the Cockatoo cichlid is a wonderful choice.