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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Geophaginae

Common Name: Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid

Origin and Habitat: South America, western Amazon basin: Widely distributed in clearwater and whitewater tributaries of the Rio Ucayali and Amazon in western Brazil, Peru and Colombia. Inhabits still waters (lagoons, lakes and ponds) and slow-moving forest streams having a substrate of leaf litter.

Compatibility/Temperament: Males form harems and should always be maintained in numbers of 2-3 females for each male. Other dwarf cichlids should not be included unless the tank is 48 inches or longer. Peaceful characins, catfish, rasbora make suitable tankmates.

Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid Diet

In its habit it feeds on insects, insect larvae and small crustaceans. Imported fish may require live and frozen foods (daphnia, worms, bloodworms, shrimp) while tank-raised fish usually accept prepared (dried) foods but should be offered live/frozen as well.


Males attain 3.5 inches, females are smaller at around 2.5 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

24 inches in length for one male and 2-3 females; 48 inches for 2 males and 4-6 females.

Water parameters for Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid

Wild caught fish require water that is very soft (hardness < 5 dGH), acidic (pH 5-6.6), temperature 24-27C/75-81F. Tank-raised fish will usually manage in medium hard (< 10 dGH) and slightly basic (pH up to 7.6) water.


A beautiful dwarf cichlid, and one admirably suited to those unfamiliar with the genus, as it is hardy and easy to spawn. There are blue, yellow and red colour forms occurring naturally in the wild, and several more-intense colour varieties have been developed from these through selective breeding.

Like all species in the genus, they do not appreciate bright overhead light. A well-planted tank with floating plants makes a good environment, with caves manufactured from rockwork or clay flowerpots. Although one of the hardiest of Apistogramma species, this one still requires good stable water conditions or its colours may pale. Regular weekly partial water changes of 50% of the tank volume are recommended by many writers as essential to keep the fish in good health and condition.

This species is strongly sexually dimorphic, which means there are clear external differences between male and female. The male is larger, and possesses very long rays in the dorsal and bright colouration compared to the females smaller finnage and drabber brownish/yellowish background colour. A female is pictured in the second photo below. During spawning and rearing of the fry, females lose the black lateral band and develop a black side spot in its place, and the yellow intensifies considerably.

Males establish relatively large territories, up to 2 feet, and can be aggressive with other males of this and other Apistogramma species; some will harass females as well, especially with insufficient space. A 24-inch tank is recommended for one male and 2-3 females, and a 48-inch or longer tank if a second male is included. This aggressive and territorial nature of the dominant male leads to an interesting behaviour in other males; "submissive" males will not develop the full finnage or coloration, but will "appear" as females. If the dominant male then dies or is removed from the aquarium, one of the submissive males will then develop the full finnage and colour of a dominant male.

Easy to spawn, this species like all Apistogramma is primarily a cave spawner, depositing eggs on the underside of the roof of a "cave" made from rock or a clay flowerpot; they will sometimes spawn on bogwood, and the underside of leaves on the substrate. Polygamous harems, where the dominant male will spawn with several females, is employed by this species. Parental care of the eggs and fry is highly developed. The sex of the fry is affected by water conditions, males being more frequent in warmer, soft and acidic water.

They prefer the Bottom to Middle regions of a tank.

The genus Apistogramma was erected by the great British ichthyologist Charles Tate Regan in 1913. The name is Regan's latinized form derived from the Greek apistos (= unreliable) and grammh (= line or stripe) and is believed by Kullander to be Regan's attempt at finding something approximating the initial intended genus name that he had to discard since it had previously been used for a species of beetle; the name refers to the lateral line being closer to the dorsal ridge on fish in this genus; a reasonable translation might therefore be "unreliable lateral line."

There are presently some 70 described species (Staeck & Schindler 2008), with many undescribed species recognized (Kullander, 2003); new species are being discovered each year. The described species are arranged into groups within several complexes or lineages; A. cacatuoides belongs in the cacatuoides group in the Cacatuoides Lineage.

The species was described by J.J. Hoedeman in 1951; the type locality was given as Suriname, but this was corrected by Kullander in 1980. They first appeared in the hobby under the acronym Apistogramma U2, and subsequently were mis-identified as Apistogramma borelli until this was resolved in 1980.


Kullander, Sven O. (1980), "A Taxonomical Study of the Genus Apistogramma Regan: With a revision of Brazilian and Peruvian Species (Teleostei: Percoidei: Cichlidae)," Bonner Zoologische Monographien 14.

Kullander, Sven O. (2003), "Family Cichlidae," in R.E. Reis, S.O. Kullander & C.J. Ferraris Jr., ed., Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America.

Wise, Mike (2008), A List of Apistogramma Species As of June 2008. Included at Welcome to Martin and Toms Homepage

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron, Tazman


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