Apistogramma (Dwarf Cichlids) – Profile, Care & Facts

If you are a fan of cichlids but do not have the space for massive tanks around your home, some dwarf species may present the ideal solution for you. Moreover, they make an excellent pet even for those who do not have much fish-keeping experience, although at least some would be highly recommended.

Apistogramma or dwarf cichlid fish are beautiful creatures with funny temperaments and mesmerizing body colorations, so it should come as no surprise knowing that they make one of the first pet choices among many aquarists nowadays. If you are looking to join the enthusiasts club, here comes the full profile, along with care requirements and other facts.

Apistogramma Appearance

What makes dwarf cichlids such special creatures are both their size and colors. Indeed, they are really small when compared to other cichlids, and their size ranges usually from 2 to 3 inches in body length. The particular size of a certain fish will vary according to their sub-type.

And when it comes to colors, these can be of infinite combinations. From golden and yellows variations to multi-colored and shimmering bodies, these cichlids have it all.

Also, some of them will have uniquely shaped fins and tails, while others will feature more classic looks. And their body shape can also vary from type to type, so some of them may be laterally compressed while others may have elongated bodies. A bit to suit everyone’s wishes!

There are more than 150 different sub-types of dwarf cichlids around our planet, and most of them have been captively bred for years now.

Apistogramma Behavior

As opposed to most cichlid species, Apistogramma fish are not that aggressive at all. In fact, they can become quite docile and peaceful once those ideal environmental factors are met. Moreover, dwarf cichlids can present a great addition to some peaceful community tanks. How amazing is that?

Most of the types are bottom dwellers, meaning that they enjoy spending most of their time towards the tank substrate. They will require sandy or fine gravel ones in order to keep their fins and skin intact.

Male specimens can often develop a territorial temperament during breeding times. Most of the pet types of dwarf cichlids reproduce by spawning, so you can certainly expect the males becoming a bit more aggressive and harsher during such periods. Also, most of the females like scattering their eggs among caves, so please ensure to provide them with plenty of those.

Apistogramma Lifespan

Again, the life expectancy of an individual fish depends a lot on the type but also on their living conditions. However, a general observation says that dwarf cichlids live anywhere from 2 to 5 years, mostly.

Some fish will survive just for a few days if they are adopted from an unreliable source or have bad living conditions, but others can survive for even 7 or 10 years when great care is provided.

Apistogramma Tank Requirements

What are the tank requirements for dwarf cichlids? In this section, you can learn about tank size, substrate and lighting requirements for Apistogramma.

– Size

As their name implies itself, these are a dwarf type of cichlids, so they consequentially require no massive living space. Depending on the particular type you are looking to adopt, you can setup either a 20- or a 30-gallon tank for these beauties. Also, they are schooling fish, so please plan on adopting a group of at least 6 specimens to keep them happy and safe, although a few types can live simply fine as couples.

Some of them would even function well in a 10-gallon home, but these are not really recommendable as they are harder to keep stable. Dwarf cichlids are extremely sensitive to any water parameter spikes and oscillations, so maintaining an unchanged environment is vitally important.

To conclude, your dwarf cichlid tank does not have to be a huge one, but it does have to allow enough space for them to thrive and swim freely. To enhance that, you may want to consider choosing such tanks which are longer rather than higher, as they love spending time at the very bottoms.

– Substrate

Being bottom dwellers, they require either a sandy or a fine gravel substrate, with sandy being greatly more suitable. These creatures love digging their food among the substrate, so this is a huge factor in keeping them happy. With some types, you may even add some leaves over the substrate, as this would greatly help in re-creating their natural habitats.

Furthermore, they can be very shy beings, so great hiding places over the substrate are a great way to reduce their amounts of stress during captivity life. Make sure to provide enough caves, tunnels, or similar safe spots. And plants, as they really love having these around for protection.

And finally, some keepers prefer leaving their dwarf cichlid tank bottom with no substrate at all, but as you may have guessed this is not much similar to their natural environment.

– Lighting

Most cichlids inhabit slow-moving streams and brackish waters, so they are used to having low or even no light at all. Therefore, plan on setting up a dim solution for their tank. Floating plants may be amazing helpers in obtaining lower light levels, but also in adding additional safe feelings to your precious pets.

Apistogramma Water Parameters

When it comes to water parameters, the most important thing is to keep them stable and unchanged at all times.

They prefer warmer temperatures, so ideally between 78- and 84-degrees Fahrenheit, although these can further vary depending on the particular type you wish to adopt. The pH values should be slightly acidic or neutral, so you can plan on keeping them between 6,0 and 7,5.

The water hardness should be ranging from 180 to 240 ppm. And finally, the water flow should be very minimal. They obviously require some aeration and movement, but this should be really kept at the very minimum levels possible.

Also, if your filter is a powerful one, you may even want to consider of placing some sponge pre-filter on the top, to avoid any damage to their delicate fins or skin. Or their fry getting absorbed by the filter.

Apistogramma Food & Diet

Dwarf cichlids are omnivores creatures. Those that are captive bred should have a staple diet consisting out of high-quality and appositely designed flakes or pellets. Pellets are much more convenient, as they easily sink to the bottom of the tank, where these fish prefer eating.

You can also include some live or frozen foods to their diet, which will certainly keep them interested and their nutritive choices more open. And be extremely careful to never overfeed your pets. Food leftovers can quickly develop into hazardous health situations by causing ammonia levels rising.

Breeding Apistogramma

Breeding these unique fish may be a quite difficult task sometimes, but it is not a mission impossible. As already mentioned, dwarf cichlids reproduce by spawning. If you allow enough caves or similar decorations across their tanks, the females may decide to scatter their eggs there, for the males to later fertilize them.

Some types should be kept in schools, with usually allowing a harem of females per each male specimen. This is a great way of reducing aggressive behavior to the minimum levels possible. Alternatively, some dwarf cichlid types may be housed as pairs, which is even more ideal for those keepers who wish to breed their pets.

If you manage to successfully breed them, you will probably want to isolate their fry for a while. Parents can often decide to eat their babies once that they are ready for their next spawning to happen, so such behavior can often leave to just a few fries surviving if there is no human intervention.

Apistogramma Tank Mates

Not all dwarf cichlids are friendly tank companions to other fish species, but most of them are. The cockatoo is by far the most docile and peaceful variation nowadays, but community tanks can function pretty well even with other types, as long as their mates are chosen wisely.

You need to avoid aggressive or semi-aggressive fish species, but rather focus on those which are known for being friendly. Large fish, even if peaceful, can start eating your dwarf cichlids, so it is safer to always choose smaller or similarly sized species.

Small schooling fish are greatly suitable choices, as they are mostly interacting with their group only and ignoring all the others. However, some individual fish that spend most of their time towards the middle and top levels of their tanks can also be a good solution.

Here are a few examples of suitable tank mate choices:

  • Neon tetras
  • Cardinal tetras
  • Small rasboras
  • Gouramis
  • Corydoras catfish.

Wrapping Up

Cichlids are truly special creatures, and they present one of the most ornamental fish species, especially thanks to their funny body shapes and striking color combinations. And at the same time, they are also quite a challenge to keep in captivity.

They mostly require massive tank setups as well as extra care and attention. Therefore, dwarf cichlids may be a great alternative for all those who wish to have cichlids but are not that experienced.

Apistogramma Cichlids   Updated: September 27, 2021
avatar Hey, I'm Fabian, chief editor at Aquarium Nexus. I really enjoy the aquarium hobby and love sharing my experience with others. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

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