True Parrot Cichlid (Hoplarchus Psittacus) Care Guide & Species Profile

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True Parrot Cichlid is one of the beautifully marked South American Cichlids. They are pretty famous among the aquarists for their unique coloration and eye-catching markings, making them worthy of display in a large aquarium. 

First and foremost, this is the “true” Parrot Cichlid, do not be confused with the various hybrid “parrot” cichlids that may be selective breeding of the Gold Severum cichlid (H. severus) and the Midas cichlid (A. citrinellus), the controversy exists.

This guide will help you understand everything you need to know about True Parrot Cichlids, their habitat, diet, breeding, and tank mates. So let’s get started! 

Species Summary

Hoplarchus Psittacus, commonly known as True Parrot Cichlid, is native to the backwaters of Negro, Urubu, Jamari, and Preto da Eva rivers in Brazil. They can also be found in the upper Orinoco basin in Venezuela. 

In the wild, they usually inhabit the slow-moving and shallow rivers, swamps, and lakes as one of the important food fish to local indigenous peoples.

This is the only species in its genus Hoplarchus. It is a rather uncommon species to many of the other cichlid species found in the same Amazonian inhabits. If you’re considering purchasing a True Parrot Cichlid, be sure to look at specialist breeders or Amazonian exporters.

Scientific Name:Hoplarchus Psittacus
Common Name:True Parrot Cichlid
Care Level:Advanced
Lifespan:8 – 10 years
Max Size:10 to 14 inches (25.4 – 35.6 cm)
Temperature:79° – 86° F (26° – 30° C)
PH:5.5 to 6.5
Water hardness:2 to 12KH
Minimum Tank Size:100 gallons


True Parrot Cichlids are widely applauded for their stunning appearance.

The body of the True Parrot Cichlid is stocky and laterally compressed with a curved head. This matured fish gains metallic green, blue, olive, and turquoise coloration with dark stripes that run vertically along its sides.

However, as its common name suggests, the most defining feature is the distinct vibrant markings around its face, which resemble the native macaws in local area.

H. Psittacus has no noticeable sexual dimorphism, but generally, males grow larger and have a more rounded body shape.

True Parrot Cichlid Size

The average Parrot Cichlid size is around 10 to 14 inches (25.4 – 35.6 cm). Some specimens can reach up to 18 inches (45 cm) in rare instances. 

Generally, large fish has a relatively fast growth rate, this fish no different. Parrot Cichlids can reach their adult size and are ready to spawn in under 2 years, but this will be mainly determined by the frequency of water changes, tank size, and diet.

Since they are large fish compared to many other South American cichlids, you should place them in a large aquarium with ideal conditions to protect them from further health concerns. 


The average lifespan of a True Parrot Cichlid is 8 – 10 years. This is quite a long period of time for a freshwater fish and is definitely something to consider before bringing one to your home aquarium.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. In some cases, these fish have been known to live up to 15 years.

Like any other animals, their lifespan can shift significantly depending on the quality of care you provide and how suitable the tank conditions are. 

If you provide them with an optimal environment and diet, they can potentially live much longer than the average lifespan. 

True Parrot Cichlid (Hoplarchus Psittacus) Care

If you’re one of the lucky ones to have this unique cichlid in your aquarium, then congratulations! True Parrot Cichlids are not only beautiful fish but also interesting to watch.

Now that you have your new pet, it’s essential to know how to properly take care of it and provide the best environment possible. The best trick is to recreate their natural habitat as much as possible.

Due to their large size and growing territorial nature, these delicate fish are only suitable for intermediate and experienced aquarists, not beginner-friendly fish.

In this section, we will go over the basic care guidelines for a true parrot cichlid. Follow them strictly and make these species your companion for a long while. 

Tank Size

The minimum recommended tank size for one mature true parrot cichlid is 100 gallons (72″ x 18″ x 20″). If you are planning to add a pair, then a larger tank of at least 150 gallons (72″ x 18″ x 28″) is required. 

They can grow quite fast, and as they get older, their aggression will grow, so it’s always best to provide them with more space. If possible, go for an 225 gallon (72″ x 27.5″ x 27.5″) even larger tank size.

Water Parameters

In their natural habits, Parrot cichlids are quite adaptable to a wide range of water conditions. However, they prefer to live in warm, acidic waters.

If you want your fish to show their best coloration in the aquarium, the same water conditions are recommended.

Follow the water parameters mentioned below to ensure the safety of these cichlids.

  • pH: 5.5 to 6.5
  • Water Temperature: 79° – 86° F (26° – 30° C)
  • Hardness: 2 to 12KH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <30 ppm

In addition, these fish are highly susceptible to the HITH (hole in the head), so you must provide a quality environment to prevent any potential health concerns. A 30-50% bi-weekly water change should do the trick in keeping the water quality high and help with the growth rate.

Author notes: If you have a larger tank (200+ gallons), try to perform 50% - 70% bi-weekly water changes.

Since they grow fast and produce a lot of waste, a powerful filtration system is a must. We recommend using a Sump filter or a high-performance canister filter, like Fluval FX4. Moreover, the water should be well oxygenated, particularly at higher temperatures. 

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Decor (Plant & Substrate)

Replicating the look and feel of the natural habitat of the fish is essential to keep the species happy in your tank space.

In the wild, the Parrot Cichlid is known to come from shady areas with lots of leaf coverage. Therefore they will definitely enjoy a soft and sandy substrate with plenty of refuges created by plants or driftwood.

These cichlids prefer dimly lit areas among the fallen trees and vegetation in the wild. Plenty of robust plants to shade out bright lighting will be appreciated. Some good options are Anubias spp, Microsorum pteropus, etc.

Be aware any live plants in a planted aquarium should be attached to driftwood or rocks as these large and powerful fish might uproot them.


Parrot Cichlids are carnivores and feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, and small fish in the wild.

Feeding them is a little unfussy in captivity. But, they have more inclination toward high-quality, live, dry, and frozen food items, such as chopped krill, ghost shrimp, brine shrimp, earthworms, crickets, and bloodworms. Of course, like any other freshwater fish, you can teach them to eat nutritional Cichlid pellets. 

Don’t forget to supplement with vegetable matter, such as blanched spinach, peas, and zucchini.

Feed them a varied diet full of essential nutrients to keep them healthy and fit. Also, offer them food at least three times a day to satiate their appetite. 

Avoid feeding them fancy guppies or goldfish as they might introduce diseases to your tank.

True Parrot Cichlid (Hoplarchus Psittacus) Tank Mates

Because of their aggressive nature, powerful bite, and fast growth, True Parrot Cichlids are challenging to find roommates for.

This specie often schools in loose groups as a juvenile. It is best to keep juveniles in a species-only aquarium and let them form a breeding pair naturally.

As an adult, these fish become territorial and will not hesitate to eat any ornamental invertebrates that can fit in their mouth.

Depending on your tank size and fish’s personality, you can keep them with other non-aggressive South American cichlids. Fiercely territorial individuals should be kept in their own aquariums.

Some potential tank mates for relatively peaceful True Parrot cichlids include:

It’s a worthing note that this fish is more peaceful with tankmates if you grow them up together from juvenile age.


Although Parrot Cichlids have been bred in captivity, it is not a common practice as they are considered one of the more difficult cichlids to breed. 

The best way to ensure you have a breeding pair is to buy a group of juvenile fish and let them form pairs naturally.

Like most cichlids, Parrot Cichlids are bi-parental spawners. Once a pair has been formed, the male will clean a flat surface on a rock or piece of driftwood and start to court the female.

The courting ritual usually lasts for several days, during which time the female will lay anywhere from 100 – 300 eggs. Once she lays the eggs, the male will fertilize them, and both parents will look after the eggs and fry.

Only a handful of breeders have successfully managed to get the True Parrot Cichlid to breed in captivity. This may be due to the fact that these fish require quite a long time to reach full maturity, and it can be hard to find a compatible pair.

Final Thoughts

We hope that now you have fully understood the True Parrot Cichlid care. While these species add beautiful coloration to your tank, they are difficult to care for. These highly delicate cichlids can survive only if tank conditions are met appropriately. 

Undoubtedly, these cichlids are fun to observe but as long as you successfully replicate their natural habitat. Avoid sudden changes in the water chemistry and place them in big tanks so they can thrive better. 

If you are lucky enough to obtain a True Parrot cichlid, don’t hesitate to share your stories and care tips with us. We would love to hear from you. 

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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