Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter - The Mouthbrooding Apistogramma

Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter - The Mouthbrooding Apistogramma

Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüteris a fairly new introduction to the hobby and few aquarists have had any chance to keep them. As far as I know, they were imported to Europe for the first time in 2000 and marketed under the name Apistogramma sp. Red Face. Since then, this fish has appeared under several different names, including Apistogramma sp. Brustband, which means breast-band in German. Today, the most commonly used name is Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter which means mouth-brooder. Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter is a so called delayed maternal mouthbrooder, which means that the female fish will brood the fry inside her mouth, not the eggs.

Description and sexing

Normal coloration
Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter is very beautiful even outside the breeding season and displays a rich profusion of different colors and markings. The male is especially striking. The base coloration of the body is a pale grey shade which goes nicely with the sparkling blue color that decorates the edge of each scale. The second to sixth dorsal ray are very long with yellow tips, and the same yellow can be seen at the tips of the ventral fins, and in the lower half of the crescent caudal fin. Throat, lips and lower cheeks (the part of the cheek located under the suborbital stripe) are also of a strong yellow color. The anal fin is decorated with vivid blue streaks, and there is also some speckling close to the body. Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter sports a distinct suborbital stripe, a medium-broad lateral band, and five dorsal blotches. The lateral band grows increasingly thicker as its proceeds away from the eye.        

The coloration of the female fish is not as vivid and multihued as that of the male, but her markings are very similar to his. In addition to these markings, she will also display a distinct lateral spot and broad bands that proceed vertically from her ventral fin to the lateral band (they end right in front of her lateral spot). It is because of this banding that this fish is sometimes referred to as Apistogramma sp. Brustband (breast-band).

Breeding coloration
During the breeding period, both sexes will change their look quite dramatically. The female fish will display a breeding coloration very similar to most other female Apistogramma species. If you have breed Apistogramma cichlids before, you will certainly recognize it. Sometimes her colors will be quite intense, sometimes they will be a drab yellow. The male will change his base color from pale grey to pure white and all the other colors will become much stronger than normally. He will also lose all of his body markings, except for the suborbital stripe.

Body shape
Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter is a moderately high backed fish and the females normally have plumper bodies than the males. One of the most striking features is the amazingly big head exhibited by this species. Over 1/3 of the body can consist of the area located between the snout and the rear edge of the operculum. The big head is probably a way of facilitating brooding since it makes it possible for the female fish to guard even large fry. Unlike most other mouthbrooding species, Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter does not have any well developed buccal pouch.     


A 20 gallon aquarium is big enough to house a pair. If you try to combine several pairs in the same aquarium, it can result in a lot of fighting. We still now very little about this species and aquarists will hopefully figure out a way of hampering this aggression as more and more Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter specimens become available in the aquarium trade. Housing the fish with other fish species in a community aquarium might be one way of preventing aggressiveness.

If the couple fights a lot, it may be necessary to separate them for a while in order to make them calm down. Use a breeder net or similar to keep the most aggressive part at bay and wait for the other one to stake out the aquarium. It is also important to include a lot of suitable hiding spots in the aquarium, e.g. by using rocks, caves, driftwood and densely grown plants in the set up.

If you want to succeed in breeding Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter, you must understand its peculiar breeding behavior. Unlike many other maternal mouth-brooding species, Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter will not brood the eggs, only the fry. A sandy substrate must be used since the female wants to dig out a safe place to deposit her eggs in, and sand is the natural substrate found in the native environment of this fish. Only use sturdy plant species since she may expose the roots of the plants during her digging activities.  You should also include one or several pots since they are appreciate spawning sites.

When the eggs has been deposited and fertilized, the female will become highly protective of the spawning site. She might even try to banish the male from the aquarium altogether so you should have an exit aquarium ready for him. The female should always be allowed to stay with the offspring because she is a devoted mother and will eventually pick up the newly emerged fry and brood them inside her mouth. 

Water parameters 

As of now, breeding of Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter in captivity is not very common and a majority of the specimens within the hobby are therefore wild caught. This must be taken into consideration when you set up the aquarium for them. Try to mimic the soft, acidic water from which they hail by using rain water, RO water, peat moss filtered water or similar. It is possible to acclimatize them to harder and less acidic conditions, but only if the change is slow and gradual.

If you want to coax your Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter into breeding, you can slowly let the pH-value increase and then perform a large water change using really acidic water.


Keep your Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter on a varied diet that contains plenty of meaty food. You can for instance combine a high-quality flake food or cichlid pellets with chopped shrimps, frozen bloodworms and live brine shrimp and blackworms. You may have to spend some time training them to accept flake food or pellets since they do not recognize prepared food types from the wild.

Breeding Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter

An especially interesting feature of Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter breeding behavior is the fact that the female will display her self in front of the male; not the other way around. In captivity, Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter females have been seen wiggling their bodies, flapping their tails and shaking their heads in front of males. If she becomes too intense, an uninterested male can retort to violence and forcefully chase her away. You should therefore keep en eye on your fish, be ready for emergency rescue missions, and make sure that the breeding aquarium is equipped with a lot of hiding spots. 

As mentioned above, the female will become highly protective of the spawning site when the eggs have been deposited and fertilized. You may have to move the male to another aquarium since she can be quite violent towards him.

When the eggs hatch, the mother will pick up the fry and protect them inside her mouth, a behavior known as delayed mouthbrooding. The brooding will only go on for a few days and the mother will regularly release the fry so that she can eat. While she eats, the fry will stay hidden inside pits in the sand. When the fry grow older, the mother will herd them around in the aquarium and keep them safe from danger. If she perceives any threat, she will rapidly pick up the fry and make them stay inside her mouth until the coast is clear.

Fry raising

Newly hatched brine shrimp is a suitable first food for Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter fry. When provided with a nutritious diet, they will grow rapidly during the initial weeks of their life, and when they are around six weeks of age they will be big enough to eat chopped shrimp and bloodworms. Ideally feed your Apistogramma sp. Maulbrüter fry several small portions throughout the day instead of one or two big ones.

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