Parrots In the Water: Apistogramma cacatuoides
By Zack Wilson

With the increased popularity of the African cichlids, principally of the Rift Lakes, there sometimes seems to be precious little interest being paid to the beautiful South American gems in our hobby. The Apistogramma genus comprises the largest group of the South American dwarf cichlids, with well over 60 species being thus far described, and many more than I care to try to keep track of being newly discovered. I'd like to use this article to take a look at what has been a long-time favorite among the Dwarf Cichlid sect, Apistogramma cacatuoides. This Apisto, aptly named the Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid, was my first Apisto, and it has remained one of my favorites.

From the first time I saw a picture of a wild male cacatuoides in a Barron's book, I knew that I would have to have that fish. What I didn't know is that it would begin my fascination with this genus. A. cacatuoides has many attributes which make it a perfect cichlid for someone looking for a less pugnacious cichlid-type fish, and just an all-around great fish.

Keeping in common with its other Apisto relatives, A. cacatuoides is relatively small compared to its Central American "Tank Buster" relatives. The male Cockatoo Dwarfs rarely reach over 3 inches, with the females being a bit smaller. Their smaller size, in combination with their more peaceful, delicate nature, makes them perfect residents for many more community -oriented aquaria. Since most dwarf cichlids are largely bottom-oriented, the surface area is the main concern. Comparatively peaceful or not, they are still cichlids, and they need space for their territories. An aquarium of 36" by 12" (a standard 30 gallon, for example), will comfortably house a male and a few females. It is not recommended that more than one male be kept per tank, unless the tank is fairly large. I have, for example, somewhat successfully kept two males in a 90 gallon (48" x 18").

One very important point cacatuoides has going for it, and the one that really should be considered first when deciding on any fish, is its required water parameters. Breaking from the traditionally super soft, acidic water that most Apistos inhabit, A. cacatuoides originates from an area of more alkaline waters. A pH of 7.6, and hardness of 10-12dKH is just about perfect for both the maintenance and breeding of A. cacatuoides. Though it hardly seems necessary with conditions like that, cacatuoides is fairly flexible in this respect. I have maintained and bred the Cockatoo Dwarf in a variety of conditions ranging from acidic (pH 6.0, KH/GH 2-3) to hard and alkaline (pH 8.3+, KH/GH 14). I have noticed little difference in productivity or health of my fish in these varying conditions. One thing that seems to remain constant amongst Apistos is their preference for warmer temperatures, and this does not change for cacatuoides. 75-80F seems a tolerable range, with the upper range being preferred, especially for breeding.

One minor drawback, which may ultimately make the Cockatoo undesirable to some, is its feeding preferences. While they can occasionally be coaxed to take flake and other prepared foods, it has been my experience that the majority of the time they will at best eat it reluctantly. They much prefer a diet of frozen or live, and possibly freeze-dried foods. However, there is an ever-increasing variety of foods available in these forms, and their quality has also been greatly improved. Among my favorites (and their's) to feed them are Hikari's line of Bio-Pure frozen foods, including their bloodworms and brine shrimp, and San Francisco Bay Brand Discus Delight, Emerald Entree, and Spirulina Enriched Brine Shrimp. Live foods such as blackworms and mosquito larvae (a personal summertime favorite here in Minnesota) are great for conditioning them to breed, as well as encouraging good growth and development in larger juveniles.

As long as you're willing to make a little extra effort in the feeding department, cacatuoides can be a great choice for a more unusual and exotic aquarium resident, and very often you will be rewarded with a proud mother leading her school of fry through the tank. I never get tired of seeing that. Cacatuoides is a great starting point for someone interested in getting into Apistos. Put a little extra effort into finding some and give them a try, you won't be disappointed.


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