Recently I have been getting a lot of questions about Parrot cichlids so I thought I would put together this page to answer some of the basic questions and to present my views on this fish and how it affects the hobby of fishkeeping.
What is a Parrot Cichlid?
Cichlids are freshwater fishes and all parrot cichlids are freshwater fishes. There are two kinds of cichlids called parrot cichlids. Hoplarchus psittacus is the original parrot cichlid. It is a large green cichlid coming from the Amazon and Orinoco River drainages of South America. Large males can be well over a foot in length. It got its name because of its large parrot-like mouth. This fish is very rare in the hobby and has only been bred a few times. It is a magnificent fish.
Hoplarchus psittacus Blood parrot cichlid
The other kind of parrot cichlid is increasingly common in pet stores. It is sometimes called the parrot cichlid or blood parrot cichlid or red parrot cichlid or blood red parrot cichlid. When this fish first appeared a few years ago, they were orange. Now, I have seen them in all sorts of colors ranging from orange and red to purple, blue and even green. For the rest of this page, I will call this fish the blood parrot cichlid.
The blood parrot cichlid is a man-made hybrid. The exact origins of the fish are unclear but it appears to be a cross between a South American cichlid, likely the severum (Heros severus) and a Central American cichlid, likely the midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus) or the red devil (Amphilophus labiatus).
In the last few years, there has been a rash of new kinds of parrot cichlids, now called jellybean cichlids or similar things to reflect the many colors they now come in.
There is one other kind of fish which sometimes, albeit rarely, is confused with parrot cichlids, namely the marine parrotfish, family Scaridae. This is a large (about 90 species) and interesting group of fishes often found on coral reefs. Most are tropical and are best known for their bright colors, and interesting behavior. They crunch coral to get at the organisms inside; it is thought that much of the coral sand on tropical beaches has passed through the intestine of a parrotfish. If you watch parrotfish while snorkeling and you listen carefully, you can actually hear them crunch up the coral!
What is the scientific name of the blood parrot cichlid?
Because the blood parrot is a man-made hybrid it doesn't have a scientific name nor will it be given one.
What is the natural environment like for this fish?
Again, because it is a man-made fish, it doesn't have a natural environment. However, considering the parent species, blood parrots should do reasonably well in neutral pH water and don't appear to be too picky. You can feed them flakes or cichlid pellets or trout chow.
How large will they grow?
Parrot cichlids can grow to 8 inches in length or more and can reasonably live for several years.
Will they get along with other cichlids?
That is always a tough question. I have never kept them, but my guess would be that the small mouth and round body shape would put blood parrot cichlids at a severe disadvantage if they encountered a large adult Central American cichlid, such as a midas cichlid. It is the body shape of blood parrots, including the "notched" forehead and mishapened mouth, more than anything else which offends many cichlid enthusiasts. This is not a fish that could survive for any period of time in the wild. They are probably okay with similar sized fish or fish slightly smaller than them, but I would not suggest putting them with delicate species like neon tetras.
As mentioned, they come in a variety of colors. Many people find that their blood parrots change colors as they get older. The orange color may change from a solid color to a blotchy pattern or it may lighten or darken substantially. This is not all that surprising when you consider the parent species, namely the midas or red devil. Both of these species can and do change colors substantially as they mature.
Blood parrots will attempt to breed in an aquarium and some pairs attempt to breed very frequently (every few weeks). What most people find is that a pair will court, clean a nest site and then lay eggs. However, the eggs do not hatch in many cases. The parents will continue to care for the eggs for several days until the eggs turn white with fungus and then the parents will likely eat the eggs.
Interestingly, recently more and more people report that their blood parrot cichlids are successfully breeding.
People tell me that this fish has great appeal to them because of their endearing way of moving about the tank, reminiscent of some of the varieties of goldfish.
The other main attraction of this fish is because they are so responsive to people. But, this responsiveness is not unique to blood parrot cichlids. In fact, many cichlids, and particularly those from Central and South America are highly responsive to people. Cichlids are intelligent fishes and species like convicts, oscars or in fact many of the large Central American cichlids, such as Theraps regani, can easily recognize individual people and will respond to individuals differently.
I have talked to a number of pet store employees about this fish and inevitably they say the same thing: blood parrots sell (and sell at a high price) so the pet store cannot afford not to sell them, regardless of what the pet store owner thinks of the fish. This is a difficult argument to counter and particularly potent as many pet stores struggle to remain open.
I do feel, however, that it is unethical for pet stores to sell this fish without informing a potential buyer that this is not a real cichlid, i.e., that it is a man-made product. Furthermore, while some parrot cichlids do breed successfully, many will not and I receive many emails from people who are deeply saddened to see their fish try again and again but with no success.
Things to Consider (Philosophical part)
Personally, I am against creating man-made hybrids of any cichlid. There are over 2300 species of cichlids in the wild and I think that is more than enough variety for anyone to find something of interest. Fish stores can only keep so many fish in stock, and space devoted to parrot cichlids is space not devoted to other equally or even potentially more interesting fishes.
OB Aulonocara hybrid. This fish was created by hybridizing an Aulonacara which do not naturally carry the OB -- orange blotch -- genes, with one of the mbuna which do carry such genes naturally.
There is more to a fish than just a colorful body swimming in water. Cichlids (and other fish) are the way that they are because of the never-ending process of natural selection operating on them to create truly magnificent creatures, highly adapted to the world in which they live.
The color and form of a wild cichlid exists for many reasons and understanding these reasons and how the fish lives in its natural world heightens the joy of keeping these fish in aquaria. We are very fortunate that it is possible to create an environment in an aquarium that is remarkably similar to the conditions that cichlids encounter in the wild, and because of this, we get to witness much of the regular behavior of cichlids including fighting, courting and breeding.
I am adamantly against selectively breeding cichlids to create "enhanced" colors or new color varieties. If you watch how a cichlid uses its colors to communicate messages of courtship, parenthood, aggression and territoriality, you will realize that to alter its ability to do that through selective breeding is to render the fish mute.
I encourage you to enjoy fish as incredibly complex living organisms that we are able to enjoy, learn from, and be fascinated with because we can keep them happy and healthy in aquaria.
Where will it end?
The latest invention that I am aware of is the lipstick parrot cichlid.
The colors are tattoed onto the body. I believe this one is supposed to look like it has flowers on its sides. Is this what we want to be doing to other animals simply for our own pleasure?
If you were thinking about getting a blood parrot cichlid, but have not yet, I strongly urge you to consider getting a real cichlid instead. For example, try something like the convict cichlid or shell dwellers if you have a small tank, or the midas cichlid if you have a 70 gallon tank or larger. Or any of the rift lake cichlids, or how about pike cichlids? Apistogrammas are intriguing. The cichlids from Madagascar are becoming more available. Some of the West African river cichlids are unbeatable for fascinating behavior..... so many cichlids, so little time.