Dwarf Pike Cichlids

Dwarf Pike Cichlids

Keeping and breeding dwarf pike cichlids

Dwarf pike cichlids have gotten quite a bad reputation and many aquarists believe that these fishes are extremely sensitive and exceptionally aggressive creatures that will devour any other fish in the aquarium while simultaneously being impossible to feed. The truth is that keeping dwarf pike cichlids are not that difficult if you are willing to learn more about them before your bring them home. A lot of the problems ascribed to dwarf pike cichlids can be avoided by the well-informed aquarist.

Just like the big and medium sized Apistogramma cichlids, dwarf pike cichlids are skilled hunters that stick to a carnivore diet. They are beautiful and display a series of fascinating behaviors and it is certainly not hard to understand why quite a few aquarists become die hard pike cichlid devotees after keeping their first dwarf pike cichlids.


Just like all the other pike cichlids, the dwarf pike cichlids belong to the genus Crenicichla in the family Cichlidae. This genus has undergone a lot of changes during the last few decades and using older aquarium literature can therefore be somewhat confusing.

Dwarf pike cichlids in the aquarium

Dwarf pike cichlids can be adapted to hard and alkaline waters, but they prefer soft and acidic water since they have developed in such conditions. Hard and alkaline waters are for instance known to diminish the chances of spawning. As of now, Crenicichla compressiceps is the only species who have spawned in hard and alkaline water.

All dwarf pike cichlids hail from the Amazon basin and will appreciate an aquarium where you try to mimic that type of environment. Ideally include plenty of driftwood and floating plants in the set up. The low pH-value is unsuitable for many plant species, but plants native to the same biotope as the dwarf cichlids will naturally appreciate acidic water. You can also go for species renowned for their remarkable adaptability, e.g. Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana) or some of the sturdy Anubias species.

Dwarf pike cichlids are small and can be housed in small aquariums, but only if you are a skilled aquarist that knows how to keep the water quality up in small aquariums when feeding live food. Dwarf pike cichlids are really sensitive to nitrogenous waste and will die if you fail to keep the water quality up. Also keep in mind that the low pH-value that they need to thrive and breed can reduce the efficiency of biological filtration, making it more difficult to keep the water quality at sufficient levels.

Feeding dwarf pike cichlids

Wild caught dwarf pike cichlids are usually reluctant to accept prepared foods, such as flake food or cichlid pellets. One way of making them realize that it is actually food is to keep them in an aquarium where the other fish happily eat prepared food. Even if you manage to train your dwarf pikes into accepting prepared food, it is however a bad idea to keep them on prepared foods only. Prepared foods should always be combined with live, or at least frozen, foods. Research your particular species to find out more about what they feed on in the wild.

Sexing dwarf pike cichlids

You can sex dwarf pike cichlids by looking at the markings. Exactly what to look for will however vary from species to species; there is unfortunately no general tell that you can look for in all species.

In Crenicichla compressiceps, females can be recognized by the lack of barring in the anal fin. If you keep Crenicichla notophthalmus, Crenicichla regani, Crenicichla wallaci or Crenicichla sp. aff. heckeli, you should instead look for one or several spots (so called ocelli) on the dorsal fin. If you see one or more spots, you are looking at a female fish. The spots are black and can be found on the posterior part of the dorsal fin. In Crenicichla regani, the spots are encircled by white rings, while Crenicichla notophthalmus sports a single spot with a red halo.

If you keep dwarf pike cichlids from the species Crenicichla heckeli or Crenicichla urosema, there will be no dorsal fin spots to look for. The tell for females is instead a white submarginal band on the dorsal fin. This characteristics is also found in females of C. cf. regani, a yet to be described species from the lower Rio Xingu. 

It is important to remember that the markings can vary somewhat between the various specimens, e.g. depending on geographical location and batch. You can for instance stumble upon Crenicichla notophthalmus females that have more than one spot, and there exists a few reports of dwarf pike cichlids from the species mentioned above where a female fish has failed to develop any markings at all.

Crenicichla notophthalmus

If you want to keep a very beautiful pike cichlid, why not try the species known as Crenicichla notophthalmus? If you look at the female Crenicichla notophthalmus, you will see that the posterior part of the dorsal fin is decorated with a single colorful black spot encircled by a vivid red shade. In males, the first few dorsal fin spines are free standing and quite similar to those exhibited by the male Mikrogeophagus ramirezi. Captive Crenicichla notophthalmus can grow significantly bigger than their wild counterparts and the biggest known specimens are 5-6 inches in length.

Crenicichla notophthalmus hails from the lower parts of Rio Negro and its neighboring rivers; it has for instance been captured in Rio Jatapu which is a smaller river located a few hundred miles east of Rio Negro.

A problem with Crenicichla notophthalmus is its aggressive temperament. It is for instance much more violent than the more commonly kept Crenicichla regain. A pair can be kept in a well decorated 55 gallon aquarium, but a bigger aquarium will reduce the risk of fighting and injury. Combining Crenicichla notophthalmus with other fish species is usually okay, as long as those fishes are not small enough to be considered prey. Ideally chose species that look very dissimilar to dwarf pike cichlids.

Crenicichla compressiceps

One example of another interesting dwarf pike cichlid is Crenicichla compressiceps. This dwarf pike is native to the rapids of eastern Brazil and can be found in the lower Tocantins. One of the reasons behind its popularity is its willingness to stay out in the open instead of spending the day lurking somewhere where the aquarist cannot see it. Crenicichla compressiceps is also known to spawn even without acidic water. Avoid keeping several males together since they can be really aggressive towards each other unless the aquarium is really big and cleverly decorated. Wild Crenicichla compressiceps feed on invertebrates and these fishes will therefore appreciate a diet of brine shrimp, daphnia and similar in the aquarium.  

If you want to breed Crenicichla compressiceps, a couple can be placed in a 55 gallon aquarium. You can recognize the female on her lack of tail- and anal fin stripes. Using a smaller aquarium than 55 gallon is not recommended since it will make it harder for the weaker part to seek shelter. The aquarium must be well decorated with plenty of hiding spots. Try to mimic the natural environment for Crenicichla compressiceps, i.e. include rocks and pebbles in the set up. Crenicichla compressiceps is a cave spawner and should ideally be provided with several suitable caves and crevices in the breeding aquarium.    

Crenicichla regani

Crenicichla regani is one of the most popular dwarf pike cichlids in the United States. If you manage to acclimatize them to your aquarium, they will usually become comparatively hardy. They do not handle shipping well and treating them with Naladixic acid and other remedies are normally required to restore them to health when they arrive from South America. The native environment for Crenicichla regani is the Amazon region where they inhabit the shorelines of rivers and lakes. They appreciate areas where they can seek cover under leaf litter and adding floating plants to the aquarium will be much welcomed. Crenicichla regani feeds on small fish and crustaceans and is known to prey on other small Apistogramma species.

The native habitat for Crenicichla regani consists of really soft and highly acidic water; often brownish due to the abundance of tannins. Keep the pH-value under 6.0 in the aquarium and let the water be no harder than 50 microSiemens/cm. The ideal water temperature depends on from which location your specimens have been picked. If you do not know, a temperature around 80 degrees F is a fairly good guess.   

Crenicichla regani seem to be an annual species in the wild because the fish rapidly reaches sexual maturity. In aquarium bred specimens, sexual differences can be clearly seen when they are no older than three months and instances of spawning have actually occurred in specimens no older than 3-4 months. One of the most notable differences between the sexes is the distinct black spots present on the dorsal fin of the female. When kept in aquariums, Crenicichla regani can become much bigger than in the wild. Males can reach a length of 6 inches, a condition that actually makes them more similar to mid-sized Apistogrammas than dwarf cichlids.   

If you want to breed Crenicichla regani, you should start with providing them with ideal conditions are far as water chemistry, temperature, etcetera goes. You should also include one or several caves with really small openings; barely large enough for the fish to squeeze through. Finally, large servings of live food can be used to get the fish into breeding condition. A fully grown female can produce around 150 eggs per spawning. 

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