dwarf cichlids - Apistogramma

Everything You Need To Know About dwarf cichlid (Apistogramma)

The Apistogramma, also known as the Dwarf Cichlids are not a single species of fish, but a huge genus of freshwater fish native to South America. It was given its name back in 1913 by the ichthyologist Charles Tate Regan.

The Apistogramma genus consists of 93 different species, some of which we will discuss below. They have all been recorded and this huge number makes it a genus with the most species on the American continent. This means that the Apistogramma is the most varied and colorful genus out there.

Read on for further details on how to care for these beautiful, friendly fish.

Scientific NameApistogramma 
OriginSouth America
Size2-8 cm
Aquarium Size10-30 gallon (2 per 10 gallons)
Lifespan5-10 years
Ease of CareModerate
TemperamentPlayful but Territorial

Types of Apistogramma

The 93 different types of Apistogramma all require a similar type of care and environment but they all vary significantly when it comes to appearance and color. There are still new species being discovered and studied by scientists, but some of the most common Apistogramma in the aquarium trade are:

Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid:

A very popular species in the aquarium trade, Apistogramma cacatuoides, is often referred to as the Cockatoo Cichlid. It got this name because of how the male has a tall, silky dorsal fin that looks like a cockatoo’s feather. The other fins also have a feather-like shape.

These are the most colorful type of Apistogramma, males having bright red spots on fins and large silky fins, whereas the females have a dull yellow shade.

They also have a very prominent black stripe that goes from head to tail.

Apistogramma Agassizii:

Agassiz’s dwarf has a sleek and small fin, unlike the cockatoo cichlid. Males feature a vibrant gold color and sometimes can have bright red fins, females like all cichlids are smaller and duller in color. They have a prominent black stripe that runs from head to tail.

Some of them feature a deep blue color on the upper portion of their body, the bottom still has that bright gold touch.

This species is known to be territorial so it needs a large tank to live in peace without disturbing other fish.

Apistogramma Agassizii
Image Credit: Rio Meta

Apistogramma Borellii:

Compared to other cichlids, this species is considered to be peaceful and friendly, making it an ideal community tank fish. They feature a dull shade of yellow, giving them the nickname “Umbrella Cichlids”. Yellow covers their entire body but shades of light and deep blue can also be found. Their head often features a beautiful color pattern but on some species, it has an iridescent touch to it.

The Umbrella Cichlids are community-friendly and resilient fish, so they will not suffer any harm when water conditions change.

Apistogramma Borellii
Image Credit: Rio Meta

Apistogramma Macmasteri:

This species of the Apistogramma features sharp aspects, large dorsal and pelvic fins with prominent spikes, and a very stand-out squared-off tail fin. The dorsal fin runs the entire length of its body.

This species has dull coloration in the wild but breeders through selective breeding have added vibrant colors. Red spots at the end of dorsal fins are common, sometimes the spots are large and prominent. The spots often have black stripes accompanying them.

Apistogramma Macmasteri
Image Credit: Jordanella

Apistogramma Hongsloi:

This species sticks to the bottom of the tank, overlooking its captured territory. They are generally peaceful as long as they are not threatened.

A very colorful Apistogramma, with males having different shades of pink, red and yellow. The dorsal fin and tail end have a pink coloration that sprouts into a light red and the face often has a yellow shade. Those kept in captivity often have a brighter red, which makes them stand out even more.

Apistogramma Hongsloi
Image Credit: best4pets

Apistogramma Viejita:

Very much like the Macmasteri species, Viejita fish are also quite colorful and share similar patterns. They also develop red spots on their fins when bred in captivity.

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Many aquarists might confuse these two species, but there are a few distinguishing features to tell them apart. Like how the Viejita has a flow-like dorsal fin and quite visible markings on both the top and bottom ends of the tail.

Let us not forget the prominent black stripe, which is so common in the Apistogramma genus.

Apistogramma Viejita
Image Credit: Rio Meta

Apistogramma Baenschi:

The Apistogramma Baenschi is also known as the “Inca Dwarf Cichlid” or the “Apistogramma Inka” is a very popular cichlid among aquarium enthusiasts.

Recently discovered in 2002, this fish has quite a few remarkable features. It has a head that is bigger in size with a protruding lip compared to other cichlids, not only the head but this species features a vast variety of colors and a colorful tail that resembles a hand fan.

It can mostly be observed having a dark color scheme, shades of yellow and blue are common with a thick black stripe. Along with that, it has prominent dots and a very noticeable shade of orange by its tale.

Apistogramma Baenschi
Image Credit: americanfish.de

Apistogramma Elizabethae:

Known in the aquarium market as “Fisherman’s Dwarf”, this Apistogramma displays quite elegant features that make it stand out in an aquarium. Females have a plump body compared to males who are slim, but males have large dorsal and anal fins that make them look twice their size. The fins run the length of their body and their tail has a very different spade-like shape.

The Apistogramma Elizabethae feature different colors on their body. Colors like gold, red, or blue but the red is solely found on the face and fin.

Apistogramma Elizabethae
Image Credit: Jordanella

Apistogramma Trifasciata:

The “Three Stripped Apistogramma”, named so after their color, as they have three stripes of black running across their body from head to tail, two from either side of the body and one on the belly. Just like any other Apistogramma, the Trifasciata features tall, beautiful dorsal fins

Mostly, the bodies of these fish feature beautiful color pallets which include the colors of blue and yellow, with red marks as an exception in many cases because of breeding in captivity.

pistogramma Trifasciata


Having 93 different species in the Apistogramma genus makes this the most vibrant and varied fish across the aquarium trade. Having any of them in your aquarium will definitely make it stand out.



They do not grow up to be very large. They fall in the small, nano fish category.


Featuring colors such as red, blue, pink, and gold. The Apistogramma is a genus is a colorful bunch. One that is sure to turn your aquarium into a colorful spectacle, if you plan on keeping a few different species of them at the same time.

Difference between Male and Female Apistogramma:

Having sexual dimorphism, the males are very vibrant and bright in color compared to females who are dull. Males in this genus feature large, pointy fins and bright shades of red, pink, and blue while females are plumper and only appear to show bright colors during mating season.

Life Span

5-10 years is the average life of the Apistogramma genus. The exact figures depend on the specific species, but what owners can do on their part is to prevent frequent changes in water conditions and to provide a life without stress for these fish. This will allow a maximum life span.


An omnivore and carnivore that prefers a protein-based diet but feeds on plant-based food when it does not have a choice.

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The Apistogramma often chip on plant leaves when they are hungry, but when it comes to the green stuff, they prefer algae above all else. They crave protein but in the wild that is usually difficult for them owing to their small size, so they must rely on invertebrates and fish fry. In the fish tank, you can cater to their needs to help them grow up healthy. Worms and heavy pellets that drop down to the bottom are usually full of protein and will help your Apistogramma a great deal.

Behavior and Temperament

The Apistogramma, unlike the aggressive nature of many cichlids, are rather peaceful fish. They will only ever fight for territorial reasons or if there is not enough food for them in the tank.

To keep an Apistogramma species in your tank, you will need to strategize a bit because of the delicate nature of the social life these fish lead. A large tank with enough space to hide in and enough food will ensure that they mind their own business down at the bottom of the tank.

Apart from this, these are very animated fish that display a vast variety of actions and even react to you while you observe them from behind the glass.

Aquarium and Water Parameters

Not the easiest fish to keep, but if you are skilled and determined, then it should not be such a hard task. Read on to learn the water and tank parameters required to keep these fish alive, healthy and happy.

Tank Size:

10-30 gallons is the usual size of Apistogramma tanks. The ideal size, however, is 30 gallons because these fish, albeit being small, are still territorial and will fight if the space gets too small. To prevent unwanted confrontations and enough room for every fish you plan on keeping in your tank, big size of 30 gallons is recommended for the cichlids.


Every species native to South America requires live plants and a soft base. The Amazon basin has a soft base which the native fish like to dig in. A sand substrate can fulfill that requirement in your aquarium by providing something soft and safe, not something that will injure the Apistogramma when they start digging.

When it comes to plants in aquariums, it is always recommended to keep live plants because they not only act as food and a source of protein (hiding plankton and fry), but they also act as safe hiding spots. The more hiding spots like caves, rocks, and other structures your aquarium has, the more chance there will be for the Apistogramma to successfully breed. Recommended plants that go well with Apistogramma tanks are Java Moss, Java Fern, and Cryptocoryne along with driftwood.


Apistogramma requires a high-quality filter with a carbon filtration medium. Even though they are small in size, they produce a significant amount of waste, which can quickly damage water quality if action is not taken.

The Apistogramma prefer a very low flow of water, so there is no need for any equipment that increases water flow. Experts say that the Apistogramma only starts breeding once the water is at a standstill.

Water Parameters:

Temperature72-86 F
Water Hardness2-15 dKH

The Apistogramma are very sensitive to water and pH changes, so it is highly recommended to keep very accurate water testing equipment. It is recommended to keep aquarium conditions similar to their native habitat. The South American and especially the Amazon region are warm and the rivers and basins there has a relatively neutral pH, which your tank should mimic.

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These fish should not be thrown straight into tap water, which contains all sorts of minerals that can be harmful to them, like ammonia and nitrates. The ideal thing to do would be to introduce new water to the tank before introducing them, water that fits their requirement. Along with this, weekly water changes are recommended.

dwarf cichlid fact sheet

Tank Mates

Being a small, playful fish, the Apistogramma will gladly co-exist with others as long as they do not interfere with its business down at the bottom of the tank. Unlike the aggressive reputation of cichlids, the Apistogramma are anything but aggressive. They only get aggressive when they sense an invasion of their territory.

Best Tank Mates:

Some of the best tank mates for the Apistogramma are those peaceful fish that occupy the upper portions of the tank, this will not engage them in conflict at any period. Some of the most ideal tank mates are:

Worst Tank Mates:

The worst tank mates are aggressive or large fish. The Apistogramma are small in size, which makes them easy food for any large fish in your tank. Aggressive fish will try to take over the entire tank, so territorial fights will result in a lot of casualties if these fish start fighting each other.

How to Breed Apsitogramma?

  1. The Apistogramma take the safety of their eggs and fry very seriously.

  2. They lay eggs at a secured spot or in most cases, the female keeps them in her mouth.

  3. It is recommended to shift a pair into a 10-gallon tank so that they can mate and breed in peace, without fear of intruders.
    Block the filter with sponges to decrease water flow and prevent fry from being sucked inside the filter.

  4. Stagnant water and a water temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit will initiate the breeding process.

  5. Feeding live baby brine shrimp to the pair also helps some aquarists achieve successful breeding.

  6. The female will find a nice hiding spot among the plants and rocks, it will invite the male.

  7. After the mating process is complete, the female will lay around 80 eggs in the hiding spot, while the male stands guard outside.

  8. After 2-5 days the fry will have hatched, the female will guide it to food sources and protect them until they are able to fend for itself. It helps to feed them baby brine shrimp.

  9. Apistogramma fry achieves full maturity in 5 months.

Common Problems

There are no problems exclusive to this genus, but any irregularities in water conditions can result in common issues like ich and parasite infections.

The top priority should be high-quality water parameters to keep the Apistogramma healthy.


Q: How to breed Apistogramma?

Stagnant water conditions and a temperature of 80 F.

Q: Where to buy an Apistogramma?

On any online fish store for a price of $11-15 per fish.

Q: Are Apistogramma aggressive?

No, they are not aggressive unlike other cichlids, but they are highly territorial.


Whatever type of Apistogramma you want to add to your aquarium, we are confident that you would enjoy having a tiny brightly colored, curious, and marvelous fish. These fish did lose the attraction in the aquarium trade for a little while, but their color pallets and beauty are once again attracting many.

This was all there was to know about this wonderful genus of fish called the Apistogramma. We hope this article answered all the questions you had and covered every bit of useful information you will ever need to care for this colorful new member of your aquarium.

Stay connected with us for more info on other types of fish.

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