The members of the genus Apistogramma are charming dwarf cichlids native to the South American continent. You can find them from the northern parts of the continent to down to northern Argentina. A majority of the species belongs in soft water, but there are exceptions to this rule, e.g. the Apistogrammas that live in the Andes Mountains. If you want to keep Apistogrammas, it is therefore important to research to particular species that you are interested in.

The aquarium

Apistogrammas are small and can be housed in small aquariums, but only if you are skilled enough to keep the water quality up. Since keeping a good and stable water quality can be tricky in small aquarium, it is advisable to house your Apistogramma cichlids in a medium sized aquarium unless you really know what you’re doing. If keeping the water quality up is no problem for you, a group of 6-8 Apistogramma cichlids can be housed in a 10 gallon aquarium. In addition to adequate filtration and regular water changes, a few scavengers, e.g. small Cory catfish, will help you with the water quality.

Apistogramma cichlids will not feel safe in a barren aquarium and the breeding aquarium should therefore contain caves/crevices and overhanging plants. Floating plants are also appreciated. Add a sinking or floating mop that will serve as spawning mop. There should also one or several small (roughly 3 inches) up-side-down flowerpots in the aquarium. Each Apistogramma must be given their own flowerpot, so the number of flowerpots will depend on how many specimens you keep together.


The easiest method is to buy a group of juvenile Apistogramma cichlids and let them grow up together. Make sure that each specimen has its own hiding spot in the aquarium, since the may squabble a bit as they grow older. Outright violence is uncommon in Apistogramma cichlids, especially when each fish has a safe place to stay hidden in.

Water conditions

 It is possible to spawn Apistogramma cichlids in ordinary tap water, but using RO water is getting increasingly popular. You can read more about how to use RO water further down in this article. The recommended water temperature is 76-78 degrees F. Regular water changes (once a week is considered a minimum) is necessary to keep the water quality up.   

Feeding Apistogramma

If you want to breed Apistogramma cichlids, ideally provide them with plenty of live food. Small brine shrimp is an excellent choice. You can combine this with high-quality flake food to ensure varied nutrition.

Spawning Apistogramma

The actual spawning is easy to miss, but in some species you can suspect that eggs have been laid somewhere in the aquarium if one of the females suddenly becomes really vividly colored and displays dramatic black markings. Watch her carefully to see which flowerpot she seems to be most interested in. Gently lift the flower pot somewhat without disturbing the area more than necessary. If you can see eggs, remove all the other adult fish from the breeding aquarium since they may otherwise eat the eggs or fry.

The mother can be left in the aquarium, since she will not eat her own eggs. If she does eat her own eggs, it is because they were not fertilized and/or badly infested with fungi. Fertilized Apistogramma eggs are colorful (usually red), while unfertilized eggs tend to stay white or opaque. If the mother eats her own eggs, she will probably spawn again soon and the second or third batch is normally more successful than the first one. Apistogramma eggs normally need about 10 days of incubation before the fry emerge.  

Using RO water

As mentioned above, RO water can be used to coax Apistogrammas into breeding. Using RO water is also a good idea if you have experience several failed spawnings in tap water. RO stands for reversed osmosis and is a way of purifying the water. RO water should not be confused with bottled water intended for human consumption, because they are two different things. Being bacteria and pollutant free is not the same thing as being RO water. 

Introduce RO water to your aquarium by siphoning out approximately two inches of water and replacing it with RO water. The RO water should ideally be somewhat colder than the aquarium water, because the sudden drop in temperature, pH-value and water hardiness will mimic the onset of the rainy season. The water hardiness should be brought down to 20 ppm and the pH-value should be no higher than 6.0.

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