Apistogramma: Care, Size, Lifespan, Diet & More

Apistogramma cichlids are a popular species of freshwater fish that make great pet fish. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, making them an attractive addition to any aquarium. 

Not only do they look beautiful, but Apistogramma also has interesting behaviors that can be fascinating to watch. These little fish are also categorized as a type of dwarf cichlid because of their small size. 

These fish have some of the typical cichlid behaviors including actively defending their territory against intruders. But they also enjoy swimming around plants and rocks, which makes for an exciting display in the home aquarium!

In this article, we will go through all the basics and advanced care requirements of these unique-looking species. We’ve also included many other tips and tricks to make this fish a perfect member of a community tank. 

You can also use the table of content below to jump to the section you need the most. 

Species Profile & Overview

Apistogramma fish are native to South America, primarily in the West Amazon and Orinoco river basins. The vast majority of these fish are found exclusively in tropical and subtropical areas in the lowlands east of the Andes Mountains.

They live in shallow streams, ponds, swamps, and other slow-moving waters with plenty of vegetation for cover. The water flow is usually slow or stagnant with very little current.

In the wild, Apistogramma fish tend to be shy and timid by nature but can become quite territorial when breeding. Males display a variety of colors during courtship displays that range from bright yellow to deep blue depending on the species. Females are typically drabber than males but still have attractive patterns on their bodies.

Being a dwarf cichlid, these fish behave more like a large cichlid when they are in the breeding season. But when they are not in the breeding season they will be calm and peaceful towards other tankmates.

These fish gained popularity among aquarists for their color morphs and small size which make them interesting additions to any tank setup. They are also very easy to care for and can live in a community tank with similar types of fish without being aggressive toward them.


Female Apistogramma
Female Apistogramma

The Apistogramma are stunningly beautiful and unique species of cichlid. With their bright colors, intricate patterns, and graceful body shape, they are sure to be the star of any aquarium.

These fish are coming in different varieties that are defined by their body colors and patterns. Generally, male specimens are more colorful and vibrant while females stay slightly less colorful. 

Their body is typically oval-shaped with an elongated snout that can vary in length depending on the species. Their fins come in a variety of shapes and sizes ranging from long flowing fins to short pointed ones. 

These fins add even more beauty to this already gorgeous creature as they flutter around gracefully in the water.

Many species of Apistogramma will display interesting pattern variations such as stripes or spots which further enhance their visual appeal. Here are some of the most famous types of Apistogramma. 

8 Famous Types of Apistogramma

These fish come in many different types and are sold under different names. Until now about 90 species of Apistogramma have been identified in the wild. Some of these species look very similar so DNA testing might be necessary to classify them as a unique species of Apistogramma.

Regardless of many different scientific classifications, the fish available in the aquarium hobby are often one of the following fish we mentioned below. 

These fish come from different parts of the Orinoco river and other parts of the west and east Amazon basin. This is why they have evolved to show different patterns and colors. 

Below are some of the most common types of Apistogramma you can buy in most pet stores in North America:

1. Apistogramma Cacatuoides

Apistogramma cacatuoides or commonly known as Dwarf Cockatoo Cichlids is one of the most beautiful variants of Apistogramma you can own. 

This morph is known for its unique and colorful fins. Their spiky fins are vibrant and look like flames of fire. This makes them one of the most popular fish among aquarium enthusiasts.

The colorful fins are often seen in the male specimens and females lack this vibrancy. The dorsal and tail fins are the most colorful and largest fins on their body. 

Unlike their vibrant fins, their body has a silver hue and only a black stripe runs on the sides of their body. This gives the fish a unique appearance that sets them apart from other fish.

2. Apistogramma Macmasteri

Apistogramma Macmasteri is a colorful freshwater fish cichlid. They are usually yellow or orange on their back and sides, with a bright red coloration on the head area.

The fins of these fish are usually yellow or orange with dark red edging. The caudal fin is fan-shaped and is usually marked with a central patch of yellow.

These fish have a compressed body shape and can reach a maximum size of around 2.8 inches. They also have long and pointed dorsal and anal fins, and the males have an extended dorsal fin. 

But the most unique feature of Macmasteri is the large black dots that run across their body. They usually start from the casual fin and make their way toward the head. 

Unlike the wild species, the captive-bred species of these fish have developed darker red colors on their body that makes them even more desirable.

3. Apistogramma Agassizii

Apistogramma agassizii cichlids are a small fish species, typically reaching only 3 – 3.5 inches in length. 

They are brightly colored, with a base body color of yellow, orange, or red, and a darker stripe along the back. They are more colorful in the rare end of their body and heads usually lack any special colorations.

The fins of the fish are typically bright orange and can also have a hue of black, yellow, or white. 

They have a unique body shape, with a large and rounded head, a long and thin body, and a pointed caudal fin.

The color and pattern variations of these fish can vary greatly depending on the gender of the fish. Females usually have solid yellow base colors, while males have colorful fins and a blue hue on their bodies.

Agassizii Dwarf Cichlids also come in a few other color patterns. The Fire Red Agassizii is one of the most famous and sought-after specimens in the hobby. They have golden bodies with fire-red fins that make them look extremely beautiful.

In terms of body shape, the Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlids have more cylinder body shapes and stay smaller than other Apistos. Despite being very small, they are one of the most aggressive Apisto’’ you can buy.

4. Apistogramma Borellii

In terms of body shape, Apistogramma Borellii looks very similar to Agassizii but they have different colors. Borellii’s come in yellowish-green and blue hues that cover their entire body and fins. 

Their fins are typically golden-yellow or greenish-yellow in color and are often fanned open. The head area and pectoral fins are often yellowish green that slowly transforms into blue. This gives the fish a unique appearance. 

Some varieties can also look completely yellow which is why these fish are also known as Yellow Dwarf Cichlids. Some other hobbyists may call them Umbrella Cichlids for their colors and fins. 

Apistogramma borellii a.k.a Yellow Dwarf Cichlids can also come in a variety of pattern variations. These patterns usually occur in specimens with a more blue hue on their scales. The blue colors can cause the scales to pop and create unique patterns.

Overall, Yellow Dwarf Cichlids are an attractive species with vibrant colors and interesting patterns. They are a popular choice for aquariums and make a great addition to any tank.

5. Apistogramma Viejita

Apistogramma viejita a.k.a Viejita Dwarf Cichlids have an oval body shape that is flattened laterally with pointed snouts and large eyes set near the top of their heads. These fish can grow only up to 2 inches in length.

Their body is painted with colors such as red, yellow, orange, or blue depending on the variety. The fin coloration varies from yellow to blue and red. Different specimens can have different patterns and colors on their fins. 

The Viejitas Cichlid also features unique fin shapes like long dorsal spines and super long anal fin. These two fins give this fish a very unique and beautiful appearance.

Because Apisto Viejitas look very similar to Apisto Macmasteri, some might falsely identify them as another species. However, the Viejitas have a wider anal fin that gets pointy at the end.

6. Apistogramma Hongsloi

Apistogramma hongsloi typically reach a maximum size of 2.5 inches in length and have an oval body shape with pointed heads and longer anal fins.

Their bodies vary in color from shades of yellow, orange, or red along their sides to bright blue on the body and dorsal fin area. They can also feature black spots throughout their bodies that may become more pronounced when the fish is stressed out. 

The males usually display brighter red colors than females due to variations between individual specimens based on genetics or diet.  

This species of Apistos are commonly known as Honglo’s Dwarf Cichlids That can be confusing for some aquarists. But these fish are a type of Apistogramma and share the same behaviors and need similar care.

Honglo’s are shy fish and prefer to stay in their tiny territory. But if the tank setup is right and some dither fish are available then you will see them come out more often.

7. Apistogramma Trifasciata

Apistogramma trifasciata cichlids are a small and colorful type of Apistos that developed a distinct body shape. They have pushed the typical elongated and laterally compressed form of Apistogramma species to the edge.

The coloration can be quite varied but generally includes blue or yellow tones on the sides. Along with three dark stripes running horizontally on the body and the fins (hence their scientific name ‘trifasciata’). 

The fin colorations for these fish vary depending on sex and age. Male specimens often feature long red dorsal fins while females tend to show off more subdued black pelvic fins instead. 

There are many pattern variations within this genus so it’s not uncommon for individuals of different populations/locations to look slightly different. This is mainly due to natural selection pressures such as water conditions or predators present in those areas.

8. Apistogramma Baenschi

These fish are commonly known as Apistogramma Inka or Inca Dwarf Cichlid among aquarium hobbyists. They are relatively new in the hobby but they gained a lot of attention. 

Unfortunately, they are not as readily available as other Apistos. Depending on the area you live in, these fish can be somewhat hard to find. 

Apistogramma baenschi looks very similar to German Blue Rams. However, Baenschi is less colorful and slightly larger than German blue rams.

They also have a larger head that grows bigger than the rest of the body. Their lips are also unique and look more like lips on larger cichlids like Oscar Fish. This gives these Apistogramma species a unique appearance. 

Female Apistogramma
Female Apistogramma

Adult Size

These fish come in different varieties and each can be slightly different in size. But they are all a dwarf type of cichlid and only grow between 2 – 6 inches. Males tend to be slightly larger than females, often having more vivid coloration as well.

Their smaller size makes them ideal for smaller aquariums because they won’t require too much space to thrive. They also look great when grouped together with other fish. But not all individuals may not necessarily get along due to territoriality between males during the spawning season!

These small but colorful cichlids add lots of life and interest to any home aquarium. These fish can be a perfect choice for aquarists who don’t want a large fish yet visually appealing at the same time!


Apistogramma fish can live between 5 – 10 years in captivity. Although their lifespan is usually shorter due to environmental factors and improper care. 

Factors that can affect the lifespan of Apistogramma species include water quality, diet, tank size, and social interaction with other fish. Poor water quality can lead to stress on the fish which can shorten its lifespan significantly. 

Providing them with a perfect environment will help ensure they remain healthy throughout their lifetime. 

Behavior & Temperament

Unlike other species of the Cichlidae family, the Apistogramma fish are typically shy but are still territorial species. They prefer to live in areas of the tank with plenty of hiding places, such as plants or rocks. 

When it comes to other fish in the tank, Apistogramma can be aggressive if the other fish try to come around their territory. They may also become aggressive if they feel threatened by larger or more dominant species in the aquarium.

When enough space is available, the Apistogramma fish can be a great community tank fish. Unlike most cichlids, these fish tend to be peaceful and non-aggressive. They can also live in a wide range of water parameters, making them suitable for many different types of aquariums. 

If the tank setup and tank mates are not in favor of these fish, your Apisto may start displaying aggressive behavior toward other tankmates. These behaviors can be chasing and nipping at their fins. 

It is best to provide plenty of hiding places within the aquarium so that each individual has their own territory and space to retreat if needed. In such an environment, they can live with any fish including other Apistos. 

In the wild, these fish are social and can school in groups. They often live in small groups of two to six individuals, usually one male and multiple females. These groups also live in close proximity to other groups making a large network of fish living in one area. 

Apistogramma fish is an incredibly entertaining species of freshwater fish. With the right care and attention, Apistogramma can provide hours of entertainment for their owners as they watch these fascinating creatures go about their daily lives.

Apistogramma Care

Apistogramma is not the easiest fish to keep as they require a very specific set of care requirements to thrive. This includes warmer water and plenty of hiding places and pristine water conditions. 

While their beautiful colorations can be tempting, we recommend only keeping these fish if you have some experience with sensitive fish. Most beginner aquarists fail to provide pristine water conditions which can be fatal for Apistos. 

However, Apistogramma fish are highly adaptable creatures. They can adjust to a wide range of aquarium waters as long as the change happens gradually. Fluctuating parameters and poor diet can lower the lifespan of these fish. 

In the next few sections, we will cover all the care needs of this Apisto species to make you ready to provide your fish with the best care. 

Tank Size

The minimum tank size for Apistogramma fish is 20 gallons. These species of fish are very territorial and need plenty of space to swim, hide, and establish their territories. 

It’s best to keep only one male per tank, with a ratio of two or three females per male. Keeping more than one male in a 20 gallon tank can lead to aggression between them and should be avoided.

If you want to have a group of Apistogramma fish, then you’ll need a bigger aquarium. If you keep these territorial fish in a small tank there will be disastrous events in the tank. A large aquarium will provide each fish with a small territory to claim. 

What To Put In An Apistogramma Tank

When decorating an aquarium for Apistogramma species, it is important to create a natural-looking environment with plenty of hiding places. Ideally, an aquascape that includes plenty of driftwood, rocks, and live plants

These elements should be arranged in such a way as to create caves and other sheltered spots where the fish can hide when they feel threatened or stressed. These fish need lots of live plants in their tanks. They feel more safe hiding in between the plants. 

Natural decorations can help to create a more natural and beautiful look in an aquarium. They provide shelter for fish, add color and texture, and are often safer than artificial decorations.

Natural decorations such as rocks, driftwood, and live plants also help to maintain water quality by providing surfaces for beneficial bacteria to colonize. This helps keep the tank clean and healthy for its inhabitants. 

Additionally, natural decorations are usually free of toxins that may be present in some artificial products used in aquascaping. They also offer a more aesthetically pleasing look compared to plastic or other man-made items.

These fish are usually staying at the bottom of the tank and near the bottom of the river or the aquarium bed. This is where they find food and shelter so having the right substrate is important. 

The substrate provides a place for the fish to dig, look for food, and claim their territory. Apistos are a type of cichlid and they naturally prefer to dig and move the substrate. This means your tank should have a fine substrate so your fish can grab with their mouth and move them around. 

The best substrate for Apistogramma species is sand. This type of substrate is the easiest and more affordable type of substrate available for aquariums. It closely resembles the natural habitat of these fish which is another plus point. 

As mentioned above, plants are an essential part of an Apisto tank. Having plants will remove toxins and help to maintain balanced water parameters. This is an important aspect of keeping these fish happy and healthy long term. 

Live plants that are compatible with Apistogramma fish include Java Fern, Anubias, Amazon Sword Plant, Water Sprite, Bucephalandra, and Jungle Val. To keep these plants thriving with Apisto fish it is important to provide adequate lighting and fertilize the substrate regularly. 

Light Requirements

Apistogramma fish need to be kept in an aquarium with medium light levels. If you have live plants that can create shade then stronger lighting can work too. This type of lighting mimics their natural environment as closely as possible and will help bring out their beautiful colors. 

The benefits of high-quality light for Apistos and plants are numerous. They include improved growth rates, increased nutrient uptake, better photosynthesis efficiency, more vibrant colors, and enhanced flowering potential in some plants. 

High-quality lights can also help reduce algae growth by providing balanced spectrum lighting. This encourages healthy plant development while discouraging algal blooms from occurring in the tank. This will help your Apistos species to thrive and develop better colorations. 

Water Conditions & Parameters

Apistogramma fish are also quite hardy and can survive in a wide range of water parameters. However, they can not tolerate fluctuations in their tank. Fluctuating water parameters will increase their stress levels and also decrease their immune system. 

Therefore, it is important to keep the tank’s parameters as stable as possible. At the same time, it’s best to match the water parameters of your tank to their natural habitat as closely as possible for optimal health.

Apistogramma fish are found in South American rivers and streams. These waters tend to be on the acidic side and contain plenty of tannins from decaying vegetation, giving them a yellowish tint. 

Matching aquarium water conditions to their natural habitat benefits these fish by providing an environment that is similar to what they would experience in the wild, allowing them to thrive without stress or disease.

Below is the ideal range of parameters for Apistogramma in captivity:

  • Temperature: 72 – 86 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.0
  • TDS: 100 – 200 PPM

Weekly water changes are important for keeping the tank healthy for its inhabitants. It helps to remove any build-up of waste and toxins, as well as replenish oxygen levels. A general rule of thumb is to change 10 – 15% of the tank’s water each week. This amount should be enough to keep your fish healthy without shocking them with a sudden large change in their environment.

Filtration System

Apistogramma fish need a strong filtration system because they are very sensitive to water quality. Poor water quality can lead to stress, illness, and even death in these fish. A good filter will help keep the tank clean by removing debris, uneaten food, and waste products from the aquarium.

When choosing a filter for an Apistogramma aquarium you should consider mechanical and biological filtration as well as flow rate. Having the right balance in these three aspects of a filter will let your fish thrive.

Mechanical filters remove solid particles from the water while biological filters use beneficial bacteria to break down toxic compounds. The flow rate should be adjustable so you can find the right balance between circulation without creating too much current that could disturb your fish.

Any well-established filter will do fine with these fish as long as they don’t produce fast currents. We recommend a canister filter or a sump filter for these fish. But you can also use large sponge filters.

Female Apistogramma
Female Apistogramma

Common Diseases and Prevention

Apistogramma fish are susceptible to all common aquarium diseases. These fish can easily contract diseases like bacterial infections, parasites, and fungal infections.

Bacterial infections can cause ulcers on the skin or fins and may lead to fin rot or dropsy. Parasites such as Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich) can cause white spots on the body and gills of Apistogramma fish, leading to severe stress and death if left untreated. Fungal infections can manifest in cotton-like growths on the skin or mouth area that may spread throughout the tank if not treated quickly. 

The effects of these diseases on an Apistogramma’s health depend largely upon how quickly they are identified and treated. If left untreated for too long, these diseases can cause extreme stress in the affected fish. 

This can lead to decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and discoloration of scales/fins/skin. This can also increase susceptibility to other illnesses due to weakened immune system function.

Poor water quality can cause these diseases in aquariums by letting bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens grow in the tank. Poor water quality is often caused by overfeeding, overcrowding, inadequate filtration or circulation systems, and not performing regular maintenance.

To prevent diseases, it is important to maintain good water quality through regular testing of pH levels and nitrate/nitrite levels. Additionally, it is important to keep up with routine maintenance such as cleaning out filters and gravel vacuuming on a weekly basis.

Diet and Feeding Requirements

Apistogramma fish are primarily omnivores, but they mainly feed on smaller creatures in the water. In the wild, Apistogramma fish feed on small creatures such as worms, insect larvae, and crustaceans. 

The best feeding practices for Apistogramma in captivity include providing a varied diet of live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods. Live food such as brine shrimp, daphnia, blackworms, and bloodworms are especially important for juvenile fish. 

Freeze-dried or frozen foods such as tubifex worms and mosquito larvae can also be fed to adult fish. Try to go with smaller cichlid pellets to add more variety to their diet.

Feeding a mix of dry and frozen foods to Apistogramma fish is beneficial for their health. Dry foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates that the fish need for proper growth and development. 

It is recommended that Apistogramma be fed two to three times per day with small amounts of food each time. This will help prevent overfeeding which can lead to water quality issues. 

Feeding should take place during the daylight hours when the fish are most active. Any uneaten food should be removed from the tank after 15 minutes so it does not pollute the water or foul up filters.

Breeding Apistogramma

Breeding Apistogramma fish in an aquarium is a rewarding experience. To begin, you will need to purchase a breeding pair of the species that you would like to breed. 

You should then set up your tank with plenty of hiding places and plants for them to hide among. The water temperature should be between 79 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit and the pH level should be around 6-7.

Once the tank is ready, add some live or frozen food such as bloodworms or brine shrimp into the tank every other day to ensure they are getting enough nutrition for breeding. A high-protein diet will encourage both males and females to spawn quickly.

When spawning time arrives, make sure there are no aggressive fish in the same tank as your Apistogramma; this can cause stress on them which may prevent successful breeding from occurring. 

Apistogramma fish are known for their excellent parental care. They will protect and guard their eggs until they hatch, and then continue to look after the fry until they become independent. 

To increase the survival of the fry, it is important to provide a safe environment with no other fish in the tank. The filter should have a sponge around it so it doesn’t pull the fry in it. A sponge filter is best for the breeding tank.

Apistogramma typically lay between 50-100 eggs each time they breed, although this number can vary depending on the size of the female. The eggs will hatch in 3 – 4 days after being laid and the fry will be free swimming within 7-10 days. 

Tank Mates

Apistogramma fish are generally calm but are known to get territorial and aggressive towards other tank mates. However, they only become aggressive when defending their territory. If the tank setup is right, these fish can live with the most semi-aggressive species. 

Additionally, larger tanks will allow more space for Apistogramma fish to establish territories without feeling too cramped or crowded which may reduce their aggression levels.

Considering you have a large aquarium, here are our top picks of tank mates for Apistogramma:

Female Apistogramma
Female Apistogramma


Keeping Apistogramma species in an aquarium is a great way to add some unique and colorful personality to your tank. They are easy to care for, hardy and can be kept with other peaceful species of fish. 

What makes them so special is their vibrant colors and bold personalities; they will often come out from hiding places when you approach the tank, making them a delight to watch. With proper care, these fish can live for several years in captivity and make excellent additions to any community aquarium setup.