I purchased about a dozen young individuals of Apistogramma cacatuoides in the summer of 1994. They were just so beautiful! I think the A. cacatuoides is actually the fish that got me interested in dwarf cichlids. I was so impressed with their striking coloration. Even the females were so colorful that I had never seen before in a small cichlid. The best part about these cichlids was that they, like true dwarfs remain smaller, the males reaching about three inches and the females about two inch in size.
Because of their known temperament, I was not interested in larger, more aggressive cichlids. I had hoped that the A. cacatuoides would not be as vicious as that of their larger and fearsome cousins. Dwarfs, I was to find out, were a way to still keep colorful and interesting cichlids, but at a much smaller and manageable size. After having these pint-sized cichlids in my home for a month, I soon fell in love with these tiny, precious jewels from Peru.
I decided to set the pair up in a 20-gallon tank with a half inch layer of fine sand and a two inch clay flower pot that I placed on its side. The pH was 7.2 and the hardness was 50 ppm. I fed the pair newly hatched brine shrimp, live adult brine, and sometimes ground flakes.
I really enjoyed watching this pair. The male would 'flash' and spread his fins in front of the female while shaking his body. To my dismay, I never actually witnessed a spawning. It seems they would spawn in the very early hours of the day. The female would turn a bright shade of yellow and develop three to fpir lateral stripes along her side just below the mid body black stripe. These stripes are a way of identifying the A. cacatuoides female.
My original male had a small amount of red coloration in his tail. Even though he had little red coloration on his fins, I still found his actions to be quite enticing. After subsequent spawning, I started getting males with more and more red coloration in their fins. By my understanding, this male is a "Triple Red" and this means he is showing red in his dorsal, caudal, and anal fins. However, some of the other male's were showing red color in only their caudal and dorsal regions and was known as a "Double Red". There seems to be so much color variation in the cacatuoides species that it is interesting to grow out the fry to see just what the males are going to look like. No two males have the exact markings.
Normally, I take every other spawn from the pair and artificially hatch them myself. Doing this, I usually get over 150 fry per spawn. Whereas, if I left the clutch with the parents I would get about 50 sellable fry. Leaving the fry in with the parents, I would soon notice the male (father) attacking the young males when they were about one month in age. Looking carefully, I did in fact notice small markings on the young males. Obviously, the male wanted no competition in 'his' tank. I also noticed that the female (mother) aggressively attacked her young females when they were close to sexual maturity - sometimes as young as a few months old! This experience taught me to remove the fry from the parents at about one month old or younger.
In December 1995, Sacramento, CA. experienced a terrible storm that left us without electric power for 63 hours. I did what water changes I could to prevent fouling the water, and fed very sparingly since there was no active filtration being run by my three quarter horse power Gast air pump. After a couple of days I had a great idea! Fish can handle being shipped for up to two to four days in bags. I decided to bag all my fish including young fry and eggs. This was a very strenuous job since I had ten 55-gallon tanks, forty 10-gallon tanks, twelve 20-gallon tanks, four 30-gallon tanks, one 15-gallon tank, and one 30-gallon tall tank! It took me most of the day to bag everyone and float them in their respective aquariums to keep them the same temperature as the tank water. (We still had the use of our gas and I didn't heat the individual tanks, just the room so this helped a lot.) I was fortunate that the electricity was restored on the third day, as I lost 50% of my fry and all of my eggs. However, my breeders and other adult fish all survived.
I moved in July of 1996 and still had four A. cacatuoides breeding pairs. For awhile nothing happened, then one day in a 55-gallon grow out tank I found babies! There was only a #5 Hydro SpongeŽ in the bare-bottomed aquarium which provided limited breeding sites. "Where had they spawned?", I asked myself. After some intense observations, my question was soon answered. I noticed the dominant male swimming out of the bulkhead near the surface of the tank. I guess that this was as close to a cave as they could find. The water parameters were pH 7.2, hardness 7.8, and a temperature of 76° F. I thought I would have to keep them in very soft water in order to get them to spawn. They proved me wrong!
Later, I sold my adults and was getting ready to sell the fry, who were now mature enough to spawn, when I decided to keep tow pairs for myself. It seems I was not ready to say "goodbye" to my little jewels just yet. The two pairs, unfortunately, did not have the same personalities that the original parents had. The original pair were fantastic parents and got along well with each other. In hopes of recreating this attitude, I had placed the two pairs in separate ten gallon tanks and patiently waited for them to spawn. I was shocked to discover one of the females had killed her selected mate while at the same time, the male of the second pair his female.
I decided to place the "killers" together to see if their personalities would 'cross each others out'. No. The female quickly made fast work in destroying the male as well. I was so disappointed that I sold the female at an upcoming fish club auction. That was the last of my A. cacatuoides; but one day I will keep them again. I have learned since then to place several young individuals together and let them naturally pair off by themselves. I would recommend this fish to anyone that has only room for a small aquarium but still want something that will reproduce and take care of their own eggs and fry. They also have such nifty personalities!