Black Spots On Parrot Cichlids? Your Fish May Have Been Dyed!

Oct 4, 2021

Black Spots On Parrot Cichlids

Credits: Retro Lenses under Creative Commons license

Painted intense blood orange color, parrot cichlids look like characters straight out of an underwater fairytale. They’ve always been the centerpiece of my American cichlid tank. To my displeasure, one morning, I woke up to find black spots on parrot cichlids, which definitely weren’t present the previous night. 

Next, I quickly called up my fellow hobbyists and researched online to solve the mystery. And luckily, I was able to take the right steps at the right time and revert the situation. Yay!

So, in today’s edition, I’ll tell you all about the reasons behind the unsightly black spots on parrot cichlids and how you should treat them. 

So, straight away, let’s get on to it. 

What Causes Black Spots On Parrot Cichlids?

There’s a multitude of possible reasons behind black spots on parrot cichlids. It could be due to a foul environment in the tank, injury or infection, stress, developmental change, or the dreaded black spot disease.

Below, I will tell you in detail all about the causes and possible solutions. But if you’re in a hurry, the first thing you should do is check if anything nasty like ammonia and nitrate is brewing in the water. 

For that, we always recommend using the API Freshwater Master Kit that monitors the water’s pH, high range pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels. 

Here’s a link if you’re interested!

Now let’s look at all the reasons one by one, shall we?

Your Fish Tank Is Polluted 

A polluted tank is a foolproof recipe for diseased cichlid. If your parrot cichlid is consistently exposed to foul water parameters, it won’t only develop black spots but will also get discolored and develop white blotches. 

A polluted tank affects fish in several ways. For starters, it downright exposes them to parasites and other harmful pathogens. Second, it severely stresses them. And both these reasons are more than enough for the black spots to make an appearance. 

A parrot cichlid’s tank is more prone to get dirty comparatively. Due to their deformed mouth, they have trouble eating most kinds of food and are slow eaters. Thus, during every feeding session, a good chunk of leftovers will get diluted in the water. 

And given their big size, reaching almost 7-8 inches in length – they also produce a considerable amount of bioload. 

Your Fish Is Stressed 

Stress is another usual suspect behind black spots on parrot cichlids. These ghastly spots can manifest in any part of their body – fin, tail, head, or belly. 

These spots will vanish on their own if you eliminate the stress-causing factor from the tank. 

Most often, the stress is caused by a polluted or overpopulated tank. But, other times, it could be a bully that’s relentlessly tormenting your parrot cichlid. 

Some common signs of stress in cichlids are gasping at the surface, hiding, being reclusive, and losing appetite. 

Stress quite severely compromises a fish’s immune system – making it prone to all kinds of diseases. 

Once you address the stress-causing factor, you’ll notice the black spots gradually fade. Some other signs of a happy cichlid include vibrant color, a good appetite, lots of swimming, and socializing! 

Your Fish Is Ready To Spawn 

A video on YouTube from an avid cichlid-keeper shared that blood parrots also tend to develop some black spots here and there when they’re ready to mate. 

Personally, I have never experienced that – although their original colors do get intense when they’re ready to mate. 

So, make sure the black spots on parrot cichlids are followed by other typical mating behaviors to be on the safe side. These could be the male following or coaxing the female, the pair searching for a suitable place to lay eggs, and so on. 

Your Fish Has The Black Spot Disease 

Black spot disease is widespread in tangs and other surgeonfishes. Still, we cannot rule out the possibility in parrot cichlids as well. It’s also known as black ich since it reveals itself as tiny black dots across the body instead of white spots caused by regular ich.

Black spot disease is caused by the paravortex turbellaria flatworm that embeds into the cichlid’s skin. These tiny flatworms then burrow into the epithelium of the fish’s gills and skins and start feeding on the cell’s fluid. 

The black spots will initially be as big as a grain of salt but will continue to grow as it feeds off the fish. And since they’re mobile, you will notice the spots change position.

Besides these apparent spots, some other signs of a parrot cichlid inflicted with black spot disease are frequent scratching against the substrate to get rid of the itch, loss of appetite and panting. 

Your Fish Is Getting Older 

A leopard may never change its spots, but your parrot cichlid definitely can. These fish sometimes develop black spots as part of their usual color development. But, especially in the formative years of a fish’s life, it will change colors quite drastically.

Thus, black streaks, spots, and blotches as they grow are pretty normal. And so is losing colors and gaining new colors. However, still, make sure the water’s clean and the fish is happy if you see these spots. 

If you have bought an inexpensive blood cichlid, it is more likely to change colors and form spots since its parentage isn’t controlled. But even with expensive purebred cichlids, color stability isn’t always guaranteed. 

Black spots formed due to developmental changes can either be permanent or impermanent. 

Your Parrot Cichlid Was Dyed

There’s immoral and unfortunate malpractice involving dying cichlids to achieve brighter colors and more selling points. 

So, suppose by any chance your fish was dyed to achieve the intense orange coloring. In that case, it will fade over time – sometimes leading to the appearance of black spots due to a chemical reaction. 

If that’s the case, there’s not much you can do. So, it’s crucial to do a background test of the breeder before buying your cichlids. 

If you come across reviews and complaints related to artificial dying and discoloration, you can assume your parrot cichlid has been the victim of the same. 

If you want to read more about dyed parrots, check out this article.

Your Fish Is Injured 

As it is with humans, black spots can form due to skin cell damage in parrot cichlids. Now once again, there could be several reasons behind the injury. 

For starters, it could be poor-quality breeders or shippers. If the fish is knocked against hard surfaces or handled roughly during shipping, the black spots can manifest sooner or later.

In the tank, it could be due to a rough or sharp decor that poked your fish. Alternatively, it could be a bully who’s nipping and biting your parrot cichlid. 

Either way, the black spots mean the injury is beginning to heal. Thus, these bruises should vanish within a few weeks. 

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How Do You Get Rid Of Black Spots On Parrot Cichlids?

Depending on the reason, there is a wide range of solutions available to treat black spots on parrot cichlids. These include cleaning the tank regularly, reducing the ammonia buildup, creating a stress-free environment, and so on. 

Have a quick look at them. 

Parrot cichlid

Clean Your Tank

Poor water parameters stress and irritate your fish and suppress its immune system and lead the way for harmful parasites. 

Since parrot cichlids are messy eaters, they make the water dirty more frequently. Thus, it’s imperative to perform 20-25% water change every week. 

Ammonia and nitrite levels should be maintained at 0 ppm, whereas nitrate levels should be below 10 ppm, and phosphate levels should be below 0.05 ppm. 

We love using the API Freshwater Master Kit to gauge the water quality every week. We recommend getting a master kit instead of regular test strips because it offers more value for money!

Annihilate The Parasite 

The parasite responsible for the black spot disease is less harmful, less life-threatening, and easier to get rid of than regular ich. Nonetheless, you should immediately transfer the sick fish to the quarantine tank and start the treatment right away. 

Like with most bacterial infections, you should give all infested fish a freshwater dip and a formalin bath. 

Always make sure to strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines when using formalin. Excessive or wrong use can effectively kill your fish. And also, don’t forget that it should only be used in the quarantine tank. 

However, even when your fish are in the quarantine tank, the main tank would be a hotspot for these flatworms. On average, when the flatworm completes its life cycle, it will rupture and release a group of around 160 tiny worms!

Thus, it’s super important to clean and cycle your tank before placing your parrot cichlids there. 

Just conducting water changes will not suffice in this condition. Instead, you will need to use a siphon vacuum to suck up all the organic matter accumulated at the bottom. 

Hyposalinity is another excellent option to treat the tank. However, it’s not suitable if your tank also houses invertebrates.

If you’re still confused about how to treat the black spot disease, here’s an informative video that shows how it’s done using Hikari Prazipro. 

Help Your Fish Destress 

Often, stress causes fish to lose their color and develop dark spots in the body. We already established that above. So, if you have ruled out other reasons like foul water and black spot disease, the next most likely cause is stress. 

Parrotfish are semi-aggressive. But in the company of large and aggressive fish, they become timid, reclusive, and stressed. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason behind their stress. But ensure that your parrot is living in the right sized tank and has the right tankmates. And as it goes without saying, ensure proper feeding schedules and water changes. 

And don’t forget to add plenty of hiding spaces so these fish can hide away and chill when stressed. 

Sometimes, the tank’s exact location itself can be the source of undying stress for your fish. For instance, is the tank kept in a place that receives a lot of footfall, or is it easily accessed by children or furry pets?

Consider shifting the tank to a more peaceful location! 

Reduce Ammonia Buildup 

Ammonia is downright toxic for your parrot cichlids. Therefore, you should always strive to have the least possible levels of ammonia in the tank. If it rises to toxic levels, your fish will become increasingly lethargic, fall into a coma and eventually die. 

To prevent venomous ammonia buildup, don’t ever skip on water changes. Other bits of advice you should heed is avoiding overfeeding, performing regular maintenance, using ammonia-removing filter media, preserving beneficial bacteria, and using cycled filters! 

Here’s a conditioner from Seachem that’s been trusted by thousands of fishkeepers to quickly neutralize the ammonia. 

Treat And Prevent Injuries 

There’s no way to prevent injuries and trauma fish experience when being shipped. But in the tank, you need to ensure that everything is safe by the fish’s standards. 

For instance, parrotfish absolutely love digging. So, the choice of the substrate should be sand or fine gravel. Anything rough or bigger than that will inflict injury. 

Also, if you have artificial plants and decors, do they have sharp and jagged edges? Or is there a dominant bully inflicting injuries to your parrot cichlids?

Don’t forget to gauge the reasons and address them accordingly. 

Feed Healthy Diet 

Although a poor diet seldom results in black spots, if you want your fish to have more vibrant colors, you should feed it food rich in b-carotene. For that, you can give your parrot cichlids blanched carrots, broccoli, and lettuce. 

Here’s a comprehensive list of food you can give your parrot cichlids:

  • Pellets 
  • Flakes 
  • Brine shrimp
  • Small crustaceans 
  • Feeder fish 
  • Bloodworms 
  • Thawed peas
  • Blanched vegetables

Conclusion: Black Spots On Parrot Cichlids 

So, we have come to the end of the article on why do black spots on parrot cichlids occur and what could possibly cause them. 

The reasons vary from natural ones like getting ready to spawn and a part of the regular growth phase to environmental factors like a foul tank and stress. Or it could be the black spot disease that should be treated with a formalin bath.

Depending on the cause, these black spots can be temporary or permanent. 

Happy Reading! 🙂

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.