Skip to Content

Parrot Fish Turning White: All Reasons & Solutions

Disclosure: When you purchase something through my affiliate links, I earn a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

It can be frustrating when a member of your tank, like a parrot fish, suddenly loses its colors and turns white. When I had this trouble in my tank, I immediately started investigating. As months passed by, I learned what might cause this issue and how to overcome it.

Parrot fish typically turn white due to inappropriate water conditions, including temperature, pH, ammonia, and hardness. This induces stress in parrot fish, forcing them to pale and lose color. However, in some cases, the fish carries a disease, such as Ich or fungal infection.

As we proceed, I will take you step-by-step through what you can do to make your parrot fish regain its colors and return to normal. I will also address the genes that contribute to the fish turning white. To your surprise, there is nothing you should do in some cases.

Why Is My Parrot Fish Turning White?

People buy parrot fish because of their beautiful orange color. Naturally, if yours are turning white, you should worry. Fish have been known to change color. In some cases, these changes are natural. In others, they are caused by external stimuli.

You cannot respond to this sort of discoloration without first finding the cause. Some of the factors you should consider investigating include:

1. It’s Part Of The Parrot Fish’s Genes

Even though parrot fish have been around for a long time, the parents of this hybrid are still the subject of significant speculation.[1] Because their origins are still unclear, you cannot predict the colors these creatures will develop down the line.

Your parrot fish may develop white spots, lines, patches, and blotches as it matures because of genetic reasons. You shouldn’t worry if the fish isn’t losing its appetite, becoming listless, or lying still at the bottom.

2. Your Parrot Fish Was Originally Dyed

Fish stores dye their fish all the time. The goal is to enhance their appearance, giving the fish exciting hues they have failed to develop naturally.

Their methods will vary depending on the resources these retailers have on hand, not to mention the results they want to achieve. For instance:[2]

  • Food – You can temporarily alter the color of a fish by feeding it colored foods. But you have to keep feeding the fish the colored food to maintain the new color. Otherwise, it will regain its original hue.
  • Injection – Here, you inject the dye into the skin. Because this method can only affect a small area, you have to inject the fish numerous times to change the color across the creature’s entire body. Some people have gone so far as to draw tattoos on their fish.
  • Dip – Dipping is unpleasant because you have to remove the fish’s slime coating by submerging it in a caustic solution. Then you dip it in dye. The final stage involves dipping the fish in another chemical solution. This solution rejuvenates the slime coat by irritating the skin.

Some people use the caustic solution before injecting the fish with dye. Dyeing sounds like a fun practice, a way to produce exciting colors in fish. But dyeing is harmful. If the stress doesn’t kill the fish, it will lower their immunity, leaving them vulnerable to diseases.

Additionally, the results of dyeing usually fade.[3] Because many aquarists have never heard of this practice, they think the fish they bought are changing color when, in truth, the creatures are simply reverting to their original color.

Suppose your parrot fish is turning white, and your local retailer has a reputation for dyeing their fish. In that case, you have to consider the possibility that the parrot fish was white to begin with.

3. The Parrot Fish Is Stressed

Parrot fish are cichlids, and cichlids can change color due to stress. Stress can emerge from a variety of sources in an aquarium. For instance, if your parrot fish is new to the tank, the new environment will make the fish anxious. 

The parrot fish will go into hiding until it grows accustomed to its surroundings and neighbors. Check the parameters if the parrot fish has been in the aquarium for a while. Fish respond negatively to poor water chemistry.

If you have the wrong temperature, pH, or hardness, the discomfort will induce stress in the parrot fish, which, in turn, may result in a color change. Other potential causes of stress include high ammonia concentrations, overcrowding, bullies, etc.

4. Your Parrot Fish Is Spawning

Parrot fish have an interesting life cycle. Most species of parrot fish are female at the start. Later on, they become male. In most scenarios, when the gender changes, the color also changes. However, this doesn’t always happen simultaneously.[4] 

The females are responsible for laying eggs. Female parrot fish can lay up to a thousand eggs at a time, which are fertilized by the males. It is not that uncommon for parrot fish to develop pale colors during spawning. But eventually, they will regain their original color. 

Pregnant parrot fish are not that difficult to spot. First of all, the creatures will gain weight because they are carrying eggs. Secondly, they tend to frequent a specific tank section.[5] 

5. The Parrot Fish Establish A Hierarchy

Parrot fish communities are hierarchical. If you have multiple fish, they will create a pecking order. The most dominant fish will manifest the brightest and most vivid colors. 

Because they don’t intend to challenge the stronger fish, the weaker, non-dominant creatures will develop paler shades.[6] For parrot fish; their colors are tools for communication. You can identify the strongest fish by looking at their colors. 

6. Your Parrot Fish Is Carrying A Disease

Are your parrot fish turning white, or have they simply contracted Ich? Ich is a disease that people blame on Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, a parasite.[7] You can introduce the parasite to your tank through infected plants, decorations, equipment, and water.

If you allow an infected fish to remain in the aquarium, it will spread the disease to the other parrot fish. A fish with Ich develops white spots all over its body. It will scratch itself against the objects in the tank, causing bruising. If your parrot fish is covered in white spots, it has Ich.

If the parrot fish has white growths on its skin that look like cotton wool instead of white spots, the cichlid has a fungal infection. A healthy fish can repel fungal infections. If your parrot fish suffer from this illness, their immunity has been weakened by stress or poor water conditions.

How Can I Improve My Parrot Fish Color?

If your parrot fish is losing its color, you have to resolve the issues responsible for the discoloration. Once the fish is happy and healthy, you can take steps to enhance its color naturally. Your options include:

1. Setting The Right Aquarium Conditions

These are the ideal water parameters for parrot fish:

  • Temperature: 76 to 86 degrees F
  • Water pH: 6.0 to 8.5
  • Water hardness: 6 to 18dGH
  • Ammonia & Nitrites: 0 ppm
  • Nitrates: <20 ppm

To measure the pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, I use the API Water Test Kit (link to Amazon). This bundle comes with a comprehensive chart and measures the parameters accurately. It also lasts for eight hundred measures, making it highly cost-effective.

Also, parrot fish have an average size of 8 inches, which means that they need at least 30 gallons of water. Do not keep them in crowded conditions. You can keep one or two parrot fish in 30 gallons. If you want to keep more fish, get a bigger tank.

2. Maintaining A Clean Environment 

Parrot fish are not only large but messy. You cannot afford to neglect their tank. They produce too much waste, which is why an efficient filtration system is essential. The strength of the filter should match the size of the tank.

But a filtration system cannot keep the tank clean. You must change the water (15 to 25 percent) every week to prevent toxins from spiking. Don’t forget to vacuum the substrate. Leftovers and waste that have fallen in the substrate will rot, causing the ammonia concentration to rise. 

If you think the toxins in the water are already too high, add water conditioners. I personally use the Seachem Prime Fresh and Saltwater Conditioner (link to Amazon). This product will neutralize toxins and prevent them from accumulating in the future. 

If you are new to water conditioners, here is an article where I discussed how to use them. Besides explaining the different kinds, I listed how much you should put from each one, depending on your tank size and needs.

3. Introducing Plants And Decorations

You can minimize the stress by adding driftwood, pots, plants, rocks, caves, and other objects that the parrot fish can use as hiding places. The absence of hiding places can exacerbate the stress.

I personally got the JIH Aquarium Decor Set (link to Amazon), which comes with a cave and seven pieces of artificial aquarium plants. Besides an appealing appearance, this set allows my fish to feel safe and secure.

4. Feeding Your Parrot Fish Properly

Some people think that dye dips and injections are the only way to enhance color in fish, but that is not true. You can improve the color of your parrot fish by giving them color-enhancing foods.

You have various options to choose from, including omega one flakes, blood worms, brine shrimp, spirulina, vitamin supplements, etc. From what I’ve heard, many people go with the Omega One Super Color Flakes (link to Amazon).

If you don’t want to change your parrot fish’s diet, alter the environment. Experiment with different LED lighting until you find a color that improves the look of your fish.[8] You can do the same for the aquarium’s background.

5. Treating Ich And Fungal Infections

What disease is ailing your fish? Is it Ich or a fungal infection? As I mentioned above, each condition is characterized by specific symptoms. You have to tailor the solution to the condition:

  • Ich – You can treat Ich with commercial products. The exact dosage will depend on the product. For instance, with Ich-X (link to Amazon), you must add 5ml for every 10 gallons.[9] Some aquarists will enhance the recovery rate by raising the temperature (by 4 degrees F) and adding aquarium salt.[10]
  • Fungal infection – You can treat cotton-wool fungal infections with commercial products such as API PIMAFIX (link to Amazon). Add five m/L per ten gallons of water. Repeat that daily dose for seven days. I also suggest quarantining the fish to prevent the disease from spreading.

6. Choosing The Right Source

Pay close attention to the retailers you use to acquire parrot fish. I highly suggest avoiding stores that have a reputation for selling dyed fish. Stick to retailers that have a long list of satisfied customers.

Can Parrot Fish Change Colors?

Parrot fish can change their colors. They can change their colors in response to a change in gender. They can also change their color because of dietary issues, stress, water conditions, disease, and more.

Sometimes, the creatures change color for no apparent reason. They won’t do this once or twice but over and over again. As an aquarist, your only role in this situation is to monitor their health.

If they’ve manifested troubling signs such as loss of appetite, weight loss, and lethargy, you should interpret the color change as a problem. But if the fish are happy and healthy, you can ignore the color change:

In case you found this article helpful, these may also interest you:


Parrot fish usually turn white when they are stressed. That can be secondary to environmental factors, such as temperature changes, ammonia spikes, and pH levels. They can also be due to the stress that they’ve undergone during the transport process.

These fish are typically larger than their amazonian relatives. Therefore, they require larger tanks. It is also important that they have plenty of hiding places. You must also change their water regularly to prevent toxins from building up in the system.

If everything seems okay with the water chemistry and your fish seems healthy, it might have turned white due to its age. Some parrot fish lose their colors as they mature. However, I suggest that you first rule out factors that can harm the fish.