Keeping and breeding Apistogramma cichlids

Keeping and breeding Apistogramma cichlids

Apistogramma Introduction

Apistogramma is the name of a genus in the family Cichlidae and all Apistogrammas are small cichlids native to the South American continent. Earlier, their native range was believed to be quite limited, but they have now been found in the northwestern regions of the continent, in the Amazon territory, in the Rio Paraguay basins, and in the Parana.

The aquarium

Apistogrammas are small and can be kept in small aquariums, provided that you know how to keep the water quality up in a small aquarium. Apistogrammas are sensitive to poor water conditions and will die if you do not keep the water quality up at all times. If you have no previous experience in keeping the water quality at optimal levels in a small aquarium, use a mid-sized aquarium instead. The recommended aquarium size will naturally also depend on how many specimens you wish to keep. A majority of the Apistogramma species is harem spawners and the aquarium must be big enough to allow each female to claim her own breeding territory. A well decorated aquarium will make it easier for each female to claim a smaller territory. You can for instance use driftwood, plants, and rocks. Floating plants that dims the light a bit will be greatly appreciated. If you want your Apistogrammas to breed, you should also include flowerpots or other forms of caves in the set up. Flowerpots will also function as great hiding spots.   

Female Apistogrammas look quite similar to each other. Housing different species together can therefore result in hybridization.


As mentioned above, supreme water quality with really low levels of organic waste is necessary when keeping Apistogrammas. Ideally combine vigorous mechanical and biological filtration with regular water changes. Changing 30-40% of the water each week is recommended. 

Apistogrammas prefer soft and acidic waters. It is always a good idea to research the species you are interested in and find out more about its particular preferences. Generally speaking, captive bred Apistogrammas can be acclimatized to a pH-value close to neutral (pH 6.5-7.0), while wild caught specimens tend to be more sensitive. If you want to induce breeding, really soft and acidic water is definitely recommended, but captive bred specimens can be capable of spawning in water close to neutral as well. In order to lower the pH-value, you can for instance use rain water, RO water or peat moss.

The recommended water temperature is 78-80 degrees F for most Apistogramma species. 


A varied diet is recommended if you want to keep your Apistogramma cichlids happy and healthy in the aquarium. You can for instance combine high quality prepared foods (such as flake food or cichlid pellets) with frozen brine shrimp, daphnia and bloodworms. Live food is known to induce breeding in Apistogramma cichlids and feeding your fish live brine shrimp, blackworms or similar is therefore a good idea if you want them to breed. 

Breeding Apistogramma

As mentioned above, combining soft and acidic water with plenty of live food is a good way of coaxing your Apistogramma cichlids into breeding. You should also make sure that there are suitable spawning sites in the aquarium, e.g. caves and flowerpots.

Breeding behavior
During the breeding period, both sexes will change into their bright breeding colors, and even females that do not have any eggs of their own can exhibit their breeding dress. Court ship will consist of a couple swimming parallel to each other with their fins erect while shaking their heads. Apistogramma couples have also been seen flapping their tails at each other. They will then select a breeding site and the eggs will be deposited and fertilized.

Apistogramma cichlids have adhesive eggs that will stick to the ceiling of the cave. The female is responsible for guarding the cave, while the male is responsible for guarding the surrounding territory.

Egg and fry development
Depending on water temperature, they eggs will need 2-3 days of incubation before they hatch. Newly emerged fry will feed from their egg sacs and require 4-5 days of additional development before they are free swimming. During these 4-5 days, they will be kept inside the cave or moved around among pits dug out by the adult fish. 

When the fry have consumed their yolk sacs you can start feeding them microworms and newly hatched brine shrimp. Ideally give your fish several small servings of food throughout the day instead of just one or two big ones. As the fry grows, you can gradually increase the size of their food, e.g. by feeding them adult brine shrimp.  

Any left over food must be removed from the water as soon as possible and regular water changes are very important to keep the water quality up.

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