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Parrot Cichlid Tank Setup

Parrot Cichlid Tank Setup

The following article discusses the tank setup needs for parrot cichlids. It is broken up into several sections including Tank Size, Filtration, Decorations, Water Parameters, Lighting and Suitable Tankmates.


Tank Size

Blood Parrot's can sometimes reach sizes up to 10 inches, so an adequate sized aquarium is a must. I recommend no less than 42 gallons (36Lx18Hx15xW) for 2-3 parrots. Anything smaller just will not do for an adult Parrot Cichlid. These fish need plenty of room to establish territories. Taller tanks don't really benefit Parrots because they tend to hide among the rocks and driftwood on the bottom. The bigger the tank the better. Once you get over a 55 gallon tank, one fish per 10 gallons should be sufficient room for each.



Canister FilterPenguin WET/DRY Power FilterAdult Parrots can be a heavy strain on filtration. They enjoy digging in the substrate, often stirring up a lot of mess. It's essential that you have good filtration, both biological and mechanical. A canister (picture on the left) or a hang on the back style of filter (picture on the right) is preferred over a undergravel filter since Parrots have a tendency to dig and disturb the biological filter bed of an undergravel filter. I chose a wet/dry filteration system for my tank and a canister filter. My water stays crystal clear and water parameters stay at correct levels


Tank Decorations

A tank with many hiding places and a soft substrate is highly recommended. I prefer to use a sand substrate. I made the mistake of using play sand. (The kind commonly found at hardware stores.) Because parrots are happiest when digging in the substrate, the play sand is much too fine and is constantly swirling around the tank covering my plants and rocks. A larger grain size is recommended. I have heard many people having success with sand-blasting sand and the sand used in pool filtration systems. For more info on using sand as your substrate, you can read this excellent Understanding Sand Article on the aquarium life website.

Rocks and driftwood make excellent additionsRocks and driftwood are excellent additions to a Parrot Cichlid's tank. They appreciate places to hide, so stack the rocks and wood accordingly. When gathering rocks for your aquarium, keep in mind that some rocks will leach calcium into your water, raising your water hardness and increasing PH. If you are unsure of which rocks are safe to use, you can test them by pouring vinegar over them. If the vinegar bubbles then the rock will leach calcium into the water. Don't use it! The picture to the right is my tank with a parrot peeking out of one of the many hiding places I have created in the tank. I used pink granite for the rocks and some driftwood I collected at a local park.

Unless anchored securely, live plants are a waste of space and will be floating around the tank in no time. Parrots can be quite mischievous and will rip your plants right out of the substrate unless they are anchored well. Covering the base of of artificial plants with large rocks is a good preventative measure.

Water Parameters

A good test kit is essential in maintaining your fish's healthPH should be maintained between 6.5 and 7.4, and kept at he lower end of the range if attempting to breed. Although they can be kept at a PH as high as 7.8, their colors are best at a lower PH. I know of a Parrot Cichlid owner who keeps his with discus, in very soft acidic water, and the fish look great. I keep my Parrot Cichlid's at a PH of 6.8 with a GH of 5 degrees and a KH of 2 degrees. Temperature should be between 76F and 84F degrees. I have had reports that a even lower temperatures will darken the colors of the fish, but this is not advisable. 10-20% water changes every 2 weeks are welcomed, as these fish produce plenty of waste and don't do well in toxic water.


Too much light will wash out the color of your Parrots. So minimal lighting is best. Somewhere between .5 and 1 watt per gallon is acceptable as long as there is no plants in the tank that require more light. Bulbs on the red end of the color spectrum tend to display the fishes color better than blue. A blue spectrum tends to take away from the Parrot Cichlid's brilliant orange color.

Suitable Tankmates

I have found that the parrots do well if there is some "busy" fish are present in their tank. These fish are called "dither" fish and serve several purposes. First, the dither fish will create movement in the tank, this seems to make the parrots more relaxed when out in open water. The second function of dither fish is to divert aggression. Dither fish should be tough and fast. They will be the target of aggression of the parrots, but because they are fast, are rarely even nipped by the parrots. This will help keep aggression down between multiple parrots in the same tank. Good dither fish that do well with parrots are:

Silver Dollars
Black Skirt Tetras (Black Widow)
Giant Danios
Congo Tetras

There are many other suitable dither fish, these are just a few that came to mind.

Other good tankmates may include, but are not limited to:
Cory Cats
Any variety of Pleco
Twig Catfish
(can be aggressive and there is possibility of cross breeding)
Large Angels

Make sure when choosing tankmates, not to put parrots with fish that are overly aggressive. Parrots could have a hard time defending their territories against the likes of large aggressive fish.

For more information about setting up fish tanks, please visit the aquarium setup guide at

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