In the aquarium
Adult of Hoplarchus psittacus in normal coloration in the aquarium of Danny Vaughan [England]..Photo by Danny Vaughan.








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Hoplarchus psittacus (Heckel, 1840)

Acara paragaio; Papagai; Parrot cichlid; Vieja.


Original description as Heros psittacus:


  • Heckel, Johann Jakob. 1840. "Johann Natterer's neue Flussfische Brasilien's nach den Beobachtungen und Mittheilungen des Entdeckers beschrieben (Erste Abtheilung, Die Labroiden)". Annalen des Wiener Museums der Naturgeschichte. pp 325-471 (crc00007)

Synonyms (1):

Taxonomic history:

Etymology: psittakos (Greek), psittacinus, (Latin) = 'parrot'. The iridescent green coloration of the fish, the distinctive facial spotting and the bright red ventrum and eye contributed to the naming of this fish, called 'papagai' (portuguese for parrot).

Common names: Acara paragaio (Brazil); Papagai (Brazil); Parrot cichlid (United States); Vieja (Colombia).

Diagnosis: Kullander (1983) originally thought this species closely allied to the chocolate cichlid, Hypselecara temporalis, but in his monograph on Peru (1985) concludes that the resemblance is simply superficial (i.e. body shape, etc.) and they are not closely allied.

Type locality: Rio Negro north of Maribitanos, at foot of Cocui Mountains, Venezuela.

Distribution: Upper Orinoco (Southern Venezuela, Eastern Colombia), Rio Negro (Northern Brazil), also the following rivers in Brazil: Preto da Eva, Urubu, Jamari.

Localities: Igarapé Barirí (Brazil, native), Lundu (Tanzania, native).

Habitat: Found in blackwater rivers, swamps and lakes. Blackwater specialist: moderately acidic (pH 5.5-6) and low dissolved minerals. Water temperature 27-30 C (81 - 86 F). Often amongst submerged wood.

Conservation: Hoplarchus psittacus is not evaluated by the international union for the conservation of nature in the iucn red list of threatened species.

Feeding: Primarily aquatic insects and crustaceans (shrimp, etc). Small fishes during low water.

Breeding: Requires high temperatures (c. 28-30 C, 82-86 F) and 'blackwater conditions' (e.g. RO-prepared water or rainwater, peat extract) to trigger spawnings. Typically biparental substrate brooder. Relatively small egg plaques (c. 100 - 200 eggs) for such a large fish. Not often spawned.

Aquaristics: Since the maximum recorded total length of wild specimens is 35 cm (c. 14 inches), these fish need a large tank. A pair will do well in a 1.20 m x 45 cm (4 foot X 18 inch) 300 liters (c. 80 gallon), but better housed in 470 liters (125 gallon) 1.8 m (6 foot) tank or bigger, with other fish. Parrot cichlids will do fine at moderate water chemistries (pH 7, moderate hardness) but require soft acidic water to spawn. Food includes all pelleted and stick prepared foods, freeze-dried and frozen krill, earthworms etc. Do well as groups in large tanks with other moderately aggressive cichlids.

Comments: This fish was first described by Heckel in 1840 as Heros psittacus, and later Hoplarchus pentacanthus by Kaup 1860. For a long while it was known as Cichlasoma psittacum in the hobby. After Kullander (1983) restricted usage of the name Cichlasoma to 'portalagrense' type cichlids, the correct name became Hoplarchus psittacus (Heckel, 1840). This fish is, unfortunately, relatively uncommon in the cichlid hobby and has become confused in modern days with the hybrid and deformed orange ('bloody') 'Parrot Cichlid' produced by Asian ornamental fishfarmers.

References (12):

  • Eigenmann, Carl H & R.S. Eigenmann. 1891. "A catalogue of the freshwater fishes of South America". Proceeding of the United States National Museum. XIV: 67-69 (crc02508)
  • Heckel, Johann Jakob. 1840. "Johann Natterer's neue Flussfische Brasilien's nach den Beobachtungen und Mittheilungen des Entdeckers beschrieben (Erste Abtheilung, Die Labroiden)". Annalen des Wiener Museums der Naturgeschichte. pp 325-471 (crc00007)
  • IUCN. 2002. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". International Union for the Conservation of Nature (crc01159)
  • Kaup, J. J. 1860. "Hoplarchus, neues Genus der Familie Labridae". Archiv für Naturgeschichte. v. 26 (1); pp 128-133 (crc00076)
  • Kullander, Sven. 2003. "Family Cichlidae (Cichlids)". Check list of the freshwater fishes of South and Central America. pp. 605-654 (crc01092)
  • Kullander, Sven. 1986. "Cichlid Fishes of the Amazon River Drainage of Peru". Swedish Museum of Natural History. Cichlids Amazon. pp. 1-431 (crc00282)
  • Kullander, Sven. 1983. "A revision of the South American cichlid genus Cichlasoma (Teleostei: Cichlidae)". Swedish Museum of Natural History. 296 pp. (crc00309) (abstract)
  • Leibel, Wayne. 1994. "Papagai - the Real Parrot Cichlid, Hoplarchus psittacus Kaup, 1860". Cichlid News Magazine (crc00457)
  • Pellegrin, Jacques. 1904. "Contribution à l'étude anatomique, biologique et taxonomique des poissons de la famille des Cichlidés - Taxinomie". Bulletin de la Société Zoologique de France. pp 121-400 (crc00027) (abstract)
  • Regan, Charles Tate. 1905. "A revision of the fishes of the American cichlid genus Cichlosoma and of the allied genera". Annals and Magazine of Natural History. (Ser. 7) vol. 16; pp 60-77; 225-243; 316-340; 433-445 (crc00042)
  • Schomburgk, R.H. 1843. "Ichthyology- Fishes of British Guiana - Part 2". The Naturalists' Library. v. XL; p. 153-212 (crc00059)
  • Steindachner, Franz. 1875. "Beiträge der Kenntniss der Chromiden des Amazonenstromes". Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Classe. v. 71 (pt. 1); pp. 61-137 (crc00103)


Leibel, Wayne. (March 17, 2006). "Hoplarchus psittacus (Heckel, 1840)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on June 25, 2021, from: (crc10356)