David wrote the following article for 'Cichlidae' magazine,
the quarterly Journal of the British Cichlid Association. Given
the subject matter - which revolves around a hybrid cichlid
specie - both David and Cichlidae Editor Mary Bailey 'courted
controversy' when this article first appeared in the September
2005 (Vol. 26, No 5) edition.
To obtain further details about the British Cichlid Association
readers are welcome to visit the official web-site at:-
ASIAN PARROT CICHLIDS
Text by David Marshall
Cichlidae Editors Notes (EN) by Mary Bailey
David thanks Jackie Goulder, who retains the copyright, for
permission to use the photograph of a female Red parrot cichlid
guarding her eggs.
All other photographs by David Marshall
Asian parrot cichlids, which first made their way into the
U.K. via Taiwanese fish exporters during the latter part of
the 1980's, have no scientific name as they were not created
through evolution's hand but through the cichlid crossing expertise
of Far Eastern aquarium-fish breeders. For this reason they
have caused more controversy in our hobby than any other cichlid
that I can remember in 30 years of fishkeeping On a basic level
you either love, loathe or feel obliged to show a 'fish purist'
dislike towards these hybridised fish.
|The smiling face of a Red parrot cichlid
It was the mystery that surrounds their make-up - as the original
Asian producers have always refused to clarify their crossing
techniques - which first drew me into keeping Asian parrots.
When these fish first appeared hobbyists thoughts went as far
as suggesting a goldfish x cichlid cross had created the Asian
parrots but now it is generally accepted that much of their
'blood', in particular that of Red parrots, comes to us through
a severum x red devil (see EN 1) line that is then further manipulated
and crossed, with unknown South American cichlid species, to
create ever increasing 'hellebruni' (see EN 2) patterns onto
the bodies of newer varieties. Convicts (Cryptoheros nigrofasciatus)
appear to have played a part also helping to create the Fire
Pink varieties (probably why they produce the most viable fry).
To describe an Asian parrot is not an easy thing to attempt
so we will say that the non-pink varieties are rounded in appearance,
have dorsal and ventral fins which swing back towards the caudal
peduncle, a fanned caudal and beautiful bright eyes crowned
by a dark black pupil. The mouth, which cannot close, is shaped
like a beak and this is where the Parrot tag originates from.
The pink varieties have more of a natural appearance.
When the first Asian parrot cichlids appeared in U.K. retail
outlets it was not uncommon to see these fish suffering from
swimbladder problems but, thankfully, this seems to be an area
that continued production has actually strengthened. So too
has the availability of the colour variants so along with the
Red and Fire Pinks we now see Forest Green, Sky Blue and Tangerine
parrots among a host of others - but beware as a number of these
variants are colour fed thus only retain their brightness for
several weeks/months after purchase (see EN 3).
Over the past 15 years I have seen Asian parrots kept in a
variety of aquaria and with a variety of companions. I have
heard of individuals who will tolerate the company of fish as
small as the neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) and others who
have devoured every tiny fish in sight so, as with we humans,
character appears to vary greatly amongst individuals of all
The 5 adult Red parrots in my care have now been with me for
over 4 years,
and I have a tangerine coloured youngster growing along with
some young Tilapia (who thinks he is a Tilapia himself) waiting
to join them, and they live in a 60x10x10" aquarium in
the company of various Synodontis and Botinae species. Although
there are 'squabbles' between the 5 Parrots they have never
vented their anger on either each other or their companions
This beautiful Botia histronica
lives with David's Red parrots.
Although a number of ceramic caves are provided the Parrots
prefer to be out in the open - as they are frightened that they
miss what is going on in their own home and the surrounding
aquaria. As I was told to maintain these fish at a high temperature
the heating is set at 78 F. Filtration is not excessive and
backed-up by regular water changes. My parrots are 'food machines'
taking flaked food, catfish pellets, floating pellets, prawns
and pieces of Thai crabstick with great gusto.
Although all cichlid keepers say 'My fish are so intelligent
when compared to the average guppy or barb' I have, personally,
never come across any cichlids with the level of intelligence
that these parrots have. They know when the fish house door
is opening and are soon 'begging' to be fed. When a 'stranger'
approaches their aquarium they literally dive for cover. Every
new ornament is inspected. 'Over the road' they can see a tank
which houses a selection of lively barbs and the 5 Parrots go
face-on to watch the activity of these fish and as the barbs
move the Parrots, in unison, move their heads like a human watching
a tennis ball go from one end of the court to the other never
taking their eyes away from the action.
If the parrots are 'not themselves' then I know that something
is wrong in their aquarium. On two occasions they refused to
eat for several days and just 'sulked'. I thought that something
was wrong with the water etc. in their aquarium but what they
knew, and I did not suspect, was that two extremely old catfish
were 'on their last legs' and as soon as these fish, to my dismay,
passed away the parrots returned to normality as though nothing
So what has the variety of available parrots, their ease of
keeping and their loveable ways led to? A situation where, like
it or not, they are one of the biggest selling cichlids in the
U.K. aquarium fish hobby.
| A pair of Red parrots prepare to spawn
The ovipositor of the female is clearly visible
|A female Red parrot cichlid
guards a clutch of eggs.
The first time I came across Red parrots spawning was in the
Tropical House at Twycross Zoo, where a pair had dug a huge
spawning pit in the gravel. The pair at Flamingo Land Zoo spawn
directly onto rock or pieces of slate and usually hide their
activities from human sight. Jackie, the Flamingo Land aquarist,
has found that the pair spawn on a regular basis but have yet
to produce viable fry.
As with the traditional method of pairing cichlids most success
comes through obtaining several youngsters, allowing these to
mature and then picking-out pairs as they form. Males tend to
have thicker areas of growth around their shoulders and, when
courting, will show increased black markings upon their bodies.
Females (as seen in the photographs) have a distinct ovipositor
when spawning time approaches.
As mentioned earlier the Pink Fire varieties are the most easily
spawned Asian parrots. Parents will guard their young. The pink
fry are easily fed upon brine shrimps and crumbled flake food.
On several occasions I have been shown the fry of Red Parrots
but these are usually very distinct from their parents (who,
in most cases, will maintain their red-orange colouration without
the need for specialist colour foods) reverting back to wild
colours of dull green and grey.
Finally, as I think you will have guessed, I have a great love
for Asian parrot cichlids and am never afraid to voice my opinion
that these particular fish deserve a place in our hobby.
FOOTNOTE - In the autumn of 2005 several U.K. aquatic retailers
were offered 'Bleeding heart parrots' in which the white body
has a deep red heart mark upon it (identical to Bleeding heart
Platies). According to 'reliable sources' these fish have no
caudal fin (tail) but are still able to retain full balance.
Heros efasciatus x Amphilophus labiatus, though the overall
shape suggests that maybe A. citrinellus, which also occurs
in red-orange forms, may actually be the species involved.
'Chocolate cichlids'. The former Cichlasoma hellabrunni is now
regarded as a synonym of Hypselecara temporalis.
These are thought to be created not by genetic or dietary means,
but using dyes or other biochemical methods. Naturally orange
fishes can be colour-enhanced using carotenoids, but I am not
aware of any food that can actually create orange/red let alone
green, blue and purple.