Parrot Cichlid Breeding Information
Breeding in an aquarium is considered by most to be the ultimate goal in fish keeping. If your fish are breeding, then you must be doing something correctly. For most species of fish, the proper environment must be provided for the pair to produce offspring. A combination of the correct foods, temperatures, and water chemistry are essential. On this page I'll attempt to provide you with what I have learned in respect to breeding the parrot cichlid.
Can Parrot Cichlids Produce Offspring?
Until recently, it has been though that Parrot Cichlids
could not breed because the male was sterile. The pair go
through the normal courtship but the eggs would never hatch.
There has been rumors lately, that the fish farms are now
introducing males that ARE able to fertilize the eggs. They
are doing this by injecting them with a hormone that makes
If you are the owner of a Bubblegum or Jellybean parrot I would refer to the breeding habits of convicts also. Although they will breed in a similar manner to the true parrot cichlids, they are half convict so a little investigation on your part is in order. There has been many reported cases of these types raising fry. These are easy fish to breed if the right conditions are present. Since this page is dedicated mostly to the true parrot cichlid, I am not going to go into any further detail on the the jellybeans and the bubblegums.
As with some other species, it's difficult to tell the
difference between males and the females unless they are about
to spawn. Because there is so many variations in the types of
parrots, it's almost impossible to distinguish the sexes by
finnage or coloration.
When I first got my parrots, I thought I could sex them by the the anal and dorsal fins being pointed on males and rounded on the females. I have found this to be untrue. I assumed that our largest fish was a male, since the female he had paired up with had rounded fins and he had pointed. However, the male has since left this female and paired up with a new one and they have dug a hole and are guarding it. The female he's with now has pointed, not rounded anal and dorsal fins. Rounded fins can indicate a female, but pointed fins do not necessarily indicate male. Confusing huh? I thought so.
One way to identify the male is when he pairs up and is ready to breed, he will get pinkish coloration on his throat and behind his gill cover. This the best indication of male I have found thus far. In general, males are also larger than females. Identifying the females is almost impossible until her egg tube is showing during pre-spawn.
Propagating Spawing in the Aquarium
Conditions must be right in the aquarium for you parrot
cichlids to spawn, and even then, it's not guaranteed that
after the female lays eggs they will hatch. I've heard of
several ways to encourage Spawning. They are as
Raise the temperature in the tank 2-3º (do not exceed 84º)
Do a 10-15% water change using R/O or distilled water
Feed Live brine shrimp a couple times a week
PH for spawning should be no higher than 7.2. Optimally you should shoot for a 6.6-6.8 PH. Anything higher than 7.2 the birth rate will be low to nonexistent, because the covering on the egg will become to "tough" due to excess calcium in the water and the sperm will not be able to penetrate the egg to fertilize it. At an excessively low PH, the acidic water will damage the sperm and suffer the same fertilization problems. PH should me monitored closely and never changed more than .2 in a 24 hour period or you risk stressing your fish.
It is pretty easy to recognize spawning behavior. Two fish
will pair up and spend alot of time together. You will notice
the male doing what I call "The Sex Dance". He will move up to
the female, turn his body sideways and shimmy his body making
rapid tail and fin movements. This behavior can go on for
days. Eventually they will build some sort of nest, usually a
pit in the substrate under a rock or driftwood. They will then
defend the area from other fish in the tank. In my case, the
male seems to do most of the digging while the female defends
the area. I'm thinking roles will reverse once the female lays
eggs. I'll keep you posted.
UPDATE: My female laid eggs and the roles did indeed reverse. The female is guarding the eggs in the cave and doesn't come out unless she wants to eat. The male has been guarding the area around their cave. (Which he thinks is 3/4 of the 65 gallon tank.) He will occassionally join the female in the cave, but she will nudge him out after a few minutes.
Parrot Cichlids are substrate-spawners, meaning that they lay their eggs on the ground or on a hard surface like the leaf of a plant or on driftwood. Eggs that are not fertilized will turn white with fungus. It's the job of the parents to eat the fungused eggs so it does not spread to the fertilized eggs. It's a common occurrence for all the eggs to be eaten because most males are sterile and the eggs are never fertilized.
Parental care then consists of guarding the eggs, fanning them to provide oxygenated water, then caring for the hatchlings (called wrigglers) which eventually become free swimming fry. Parrot cichlids are often devoted parents and the length of parental care may extend for weeks or even months. They are biparental, meaning both parents take care of the fry, though their exact roles may vary. In some South American species, there is a mixture of substrate spawning and mouthbrooding. We call these delayed mouthbrooders: they lay the eggs on the substrate, guard them for a while, and then pick up the young and mouthbrood them. This is exactly what Parrot Cichlids do.
Caring for the Fry
Once the fry have hatched, you should leave them with the parents. If possible, removing the tankmates will reduce stress on the parents and allow more of the fry to develop. The fry will feed on their attached yolk sacks for about two days, then you will needs to provide them newly hatched brine shrimp. These can be purchased at most fish stores. After you notice the parents are no longer tending to the fry, you should remove the fry from the tank and put them in a 10 gallon aquarium to finish raising them. If you do not remove the fry, most of them will get eaten when parents are ready to spawn again.
Hatching the Eggs and Raising the Fry Yourself
This article was posted by Christine on the message forum,
it was so informative I felt I had to include it on this
An easy an safe way to transfer eggs is with a regular turkey baster. So now you won't have to worry about where they lay them:) For the entire process I have three different sized droppers. One baster, one med size (a childrens medicine dropper) and one that is very small and narrow (drug store find) to where only one or two eggs can pass through at a time. After the fist 24 hours any unfertilized eggs will turn white which are very noticeable. You'll want to remove these immediatley to prevent the fungus from spreading. This is where the med sized dropper helps. After the first 24-36 hours you'll notice some tissues surrounding a few of the eggs. This is what keeps the eggs stuck together and to the surface of an object. You'll want to remove this or the eggs will clump together making it hard for them to survive hatching, and bad egg removal. I used the turkey baster sucked the clumped eggs out and gently released the in a small clear cup. Then I would carefully clean them under a bright light using the small dropper and very sharp narrow tweezers to grab the tissue. Since I have never seen parrot fry I don't know what size their yolk sac is. At first the fry might look like a little worm with a yellow bubbble on their stomach. The yellow bubble will be their primary food source for the first 3-5 days. You will see it shrink as it's being used.
If there isn't one you will have to start feeding right away. You will need to feed them freshly hatched brine shrimp for as long as possible. At the very least two weeks. The worst part is the brine shrimp lose all of their nutrients after 6 hours. So you will need to buy a hatchery or set up several aerated jars. The temp will determine how fast they hatch. 80degrees=25-30 hours, 75degrees=36hrs+ San francisco bay brand seems to have the smallest eggs. Which may be best considering the parrots mouths. I sucked the free swimming shrimp out with the turkey baster and sprayed it over a net with a black nylon stocking over it, then rinsed it with tank water to remove the salt. I've been told the fry may be reluctant to eat if the salt isn't rinsed off. After two weeks you can try feeding Nutrafin fry food. I had excellent results using this.
Ok, once your fry are all free swimming in the jar after about a week they can be released into the grow out tank. I've found the longer you wait the better, even two weeks is fine. If you release them too soon the won't be strong enough to withstand the bigger tank, or get enough food and many will die.
Water changes are very important. This will insure your fish are developing correctly. Change 25-50% of the water in the jar every day. It's recommended 25-50% of the tank water also. I think this might be a little harsh for the grow out tank, I feel changes should be regulated to the amount of fry and how much your feeding. Some may disagree but I've found too many large water changes cause undue stress and a higher losses. Always siphon out any left over food immediately with an air hose. Literally use your hand and wipe the inside of glass clean to rid any bacteria accumulating on the sides. (you'll feel slimy build up) There should be nothing in the tank but an airstone and sponge filter. I've always kept the tank at 80 degrees to keep their metabolism running high for faster growth rates. You should place an extra sponge in your main tank and set up a fry tank now to avoid any cycling problems. A friend told me his parrots will lay eggs every two weeks if the eggs are removed and five or more weeks if they a left with the parents. He has successfully been raising fry from true parrots for three years. His fry were chubby and pink and their size and shape varied.
The following is a post by Sue titled: New Blood Red Parrot Mom!!!! Of course I was excited about this news and asked her to elobrate. Here is excerpts of her story taken from the message board:
Fry was noticed in the tank. The parents came from an lfs.
They are the result of her 2 blood parrots breeding at the
shop. The parents have perfectly formed-bodies, mouths, and
I bought these fish 2 weeks ago(tomorrow). When I saw
them(3 pair), I ask if they were Blood parrots because they
look like parrots, but they are perfectly formed. The owner of
the lfs said they were Blood parrots and the offspring of her
two that mated. I was immediately taken by them and bought the
largest pair. Both are light pink. The male is about 3"
including tail;the female is about 2". The female has light
orange mottled markings on her abdoman and the base of her
tail. Both have a light tourquise coloring at the edge of
their fins-kind of irredescent. Both have light blue eyes with
large black pupils. I think they are between 4 and 6 months
old. Their parents are about 1 year old and are still a creamy
pink color(I'm waiting for the shop owner to call back with
more info).I went to several cichlid sights last week trying
to identify them(color aside) and didn't come up with a match.
On the site you sent me to, the closest Red parrot
would be #02270"Blood parrot king kong", but still mine have
no beaks or lumps on the head. The closest picture as far as
body form was #02500 "Cichlasmoa maculicauda".
They are American citizens. I am trying to get more info on
their lineage, but I havn't heard from the lfs. The 75G tank I
set up on Feb. 13th. Did a fishless cycyle. Cycle was finished
on March 1. I did a 100% water change on 3/2 and added 1/2 cup
salt.I added 3 pair of long fin rosey barbs(about 3")and 1
pair black marble angels(about 21/2->3")on 3/3. I added the
pair of blood parrots on 3/4. They immediately made a nest
under a big piece of driftwood right by the Fluval 404
intake(I keep a sponge on the intake).I never saw the eggs-of
course I really wasn't looking for any. On 3/11 I vaccumed the
tank with a HOT Magnum, but decided not to move their
driftwood since they were new and didn't need any more stress.
On the night of 3/15 I realized they had fry!Thank God I
didn't vaccum under there!!The temp of the tank I keep at 82F
and the PH at 6.8.In the week before the fry, they had 1 meal
of live brine shrimp, 1 meal of frozen blood worms,and a
combination of Hikari Cichlid staple pellets,Nutrafin Max
complete pellet food,Wardley total tropical,TetraMin Pro
tropical crisps, and Nutrafin spirulina flakes. I never really
saw them eat much, since one of them usually stayed in the
cave and the other was guarding it.I think this was "just let
nature take its course". The only plants were a couple of fake
ones(Plants+)-since I'm still waiting on delivery from
ThatPetPlace. The sustrate is black gravel with a little dark
blue mixed in(1/4" size). For filtration I am using a Fluval
404 and a Penguin 1140 powerhead(mechanical).I shut off the
power head because there was so much current. I turn it on for
about an hour a day. I am feeding them 1 cube of frozen baby
brine shrimp 3 times a day. Nitrates are 5-10ppm. I'm going to
order Omega One fish food from B.J. soon.
They have been eating since the first night I saw them.
They evidently get "stuff" off the driftwood and gravel,
because they are always grazing. And, of course, I'm giving
them the frozen baby brine shrimp. I think I should vacuum
some of the gravel, but I'm a little hesitant.
Boy, do they eat and grow! They are beginning to resemble
real fish. The are getting wider now(not just longer). They
are about a 1/4" long.I can see their little guts pretty well
now. I think a couple of them have been hogging the food.
Still no casualties.
They actually have fins and tails today. All have two
eyes,one head and one tail. Some are still small compared to
the others-maybe females-but no deformities that I can see
yet. I still think 50 is a closer number. I started feeding
Hikari Tropical Micro Pellets(soaked in tank water) along with
the frozen BBS.
Thanks and Congrats Sue! Keep us posted.