In the aquarium hobby, Apistogramma agassizii is one of the true gems. This tiny yet incredibly colorful fish has captured the hearts of many aquarium enthusiasts. With its unique beauty and distinctive character, it stands out amidst the diverse inhabitants of aquariums.
Keeping Apistogramma agassizii is quite easy since it is a resilient fish. However, breeding these fish comes with specific requirements that must be met, emphasizing the importance of proper care and attention.
If you are considering adding Apistogramma agassizii to your tank, then you will definitely find this article helpful. In this guide, I gathered everything that is currently known about this species including ideal tank setups, and how to breed and care for them with some practical tips.
Quick Notes about Apistogramma Agassizii
|Amazonian dwarf cichlid
|Tefe dwarf cichlid and Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid
|Tank size (minimum)
|10 gallons (~40 liters)
|2 – 3 inches (5 – 7.5 cm)
|72 – 82°F (22 – 28°C)
|5.5 – 7.0
|1 – 8
|Less than 60
|up to 5 years
|Light brown, gray, or blue
Taxonomy of Apistogramma Agassizii
Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Chordata (Chordates)
Subphylum: Vertebrata (Vertebrates)
Superclass: Osteichthyes (Bony Fishes)
Class: Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Order: Cichliformes (Cichlids)
Family: Cichlidae (Cichlids0
Subfamily: Cichlinae (Cichlids (Subfamily))
Genus: Apistogramma (Dwarf Cichlids)
Etymology of Apistogramma Agassizii
The genus name “Apistogramma” is derived from the Greek words “Apisto”, meaning “Unstable” and “Gramma”, meaning “Line or drawing”. This name may refer to the characteristic lateral line often present in species of this genus.
The species name “Agassizii” is an homage to the Swiss-American biologist and geologist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807–1873) from Harvard University. Louis Agassiz was a highly influential and respected figure in the field of natural sciences during the 19th century.
He conducted his first expedition to Brazil at the age of 58 but managed to leave behind an extensive collection of Amazonian ichthyofauna.
Distribution of Apistogramma Agassizii
The natural distribution of Apistogramma agassizii is in South America, specifically in the Amazon River basin along the Amazon-Solimões River from Peru through Brazil to the Capim River basin. It is found in the Rio Negro, Rio Madeira, Peruvian Amazon, and the Brazilian Amazon as far east as Belem.
Habitat of Apistogramma Agassizii
Apistogramma agassizii inhabits the shorelines of small streams, pools, flooded forests, and floating meadows. In these locations, they are generally found hiding among driftwood, leaf litter, and plants.
They are never found in the open main channel of major rivers.
Although these fish live in all types of water, whether white, clear, or black, the species still prefers areas with little current and dense vegetation.
Description of Apistogramma Agassizii
This is a relatively small freshwater fish. The typical adult size of this species ranges from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) in length.
- Body Shape: The body is slender, elongated, and laterally compressed. The body shape is somewhat oval and streamlined, typical of many dwarf cichlids.
- Size: The size of Apistogramma agassizii varies, with males being significantly larger than females.
- Coloration: The coloration of Apistogramma agassizii is highly variable and can depend on factors such as mood, breeding condition, and environmental cues. Common colorations include shades of yellow, orange, red, blue, and black. Males exhibit more vibrant and intense colors compared to females.
Note: Coloration also depends on their age and social status. Wild color is either light brown, gray, or blue.
- Fins: The dorsal fin is elongated in males and may have filaments or extensions. Pelvic fins are often elongated and may have extensions, especially in males. The anal fin may have coloration and patterns, and its shape can be variable. The outer rays of the dorsal and anal fins are elongated, reaching the middle of the caudal fin. The caudal fin of males is either round or spade/lance-shaped.
- Eyes: The eyes are large and positioned laterally on the head. They are usually dark brown, bordered by shiny bright orange and blue rings.
- Mouth: The mouth is terminal, meaning it is located at the front of the head.
- Dental pores. Apistogramma agassizii exhibits a reduced number of dental pores (4 instead of the normal 5).
It is essential to keep in mind that individual variations exist within the species. Apistogramma agassizii is characterized by phenotypic plasticity for color, patterns, and body proportions. Thanks to selective breeding, over many years, numerous color morphs have been created, and their numbers continue to grow each year. For example:
- Apistogramma agassizii Blue
- Apistogramma agassizii Bluetail
- Apistogramma agassizii Double-Red
- Apistogramma agassizii East Redtail
- Apistogramma agassizii Gold-Red
- Apistogramma agassizii Huser Redtail
- Apistogramma agassizii Iquitos
- Apistogramma agassizii Orange-Tail
- Apistogramma agassizii Red
- Apistogramma agassizii Red-Gold
- Apistogramma agassizii Red-Tail
- Apistogramma agassizii Santarem
- Apistogramma agassizii Tefe
- Apistogramma agassizii Tefe Redtail
- Apistogramma agassizii Whitetail
Lifespan of Apistogramma Agassizii
Currently, there is no data available on the maximum lifespan of Apistogramma agassizii in the wild.
In aquariums, with appropriate conditions, these fish can live for around 3 to 5 years. However, some individuals may exceed this range, and there are reports of individuals living even longer.
Typical Behavior of Apistogramma Agassizii
To create optimal conditions, it is also necessary to understand their behavior. This can be especially important for certain fish species, and Apistogramma agassizii falls into that category.
Apistogramma agassizii can exhibit social behaviors, especially when kept in groups or pairs. However, unlike many other fish species, they can be kept perfectly alone.
The temperament of this fish will largely depend on whether it is kept in a group and, if so, the composition of that group. For instance, if kept alone it will not bother anybody, in most cases.
Territoriality among Males: When kept in small groups, males may exhibit intraspecific aggression, leading to serious consequences. As mentioned, it often results in only one male remaining in the group.
Territoriality of Females: Females, though less aggressive compared to males, become territorial during the breeding season, even towards males. In some cases, they may display aggression, potentially leading to the killing of males in defense of their territory.
Pair: A pair of Apistogramma agassizii will exhibit territorial behavior, especially during the breeding season. Males can be more territorial and aggressive, particularly when guarding a spawning site. Sudden aggression is possible even between pairs.
Group Keeping: In larger groups, especially with at least 10 individuals, aggression tends to decrease, particularly if the aquarium is spacious and provides an ample number of hiding places. This can help establish a more balanced social dynamic.
Even among dwarf cichlids, Apistogramma agassizii can be considered the most pugnacious or aggressive. They can bully even larger fish.
While they can be territorial and may show aggression, it’s not common for Apistogramma agassizii to cause harm through biting. They are not typically considered fin-nippers.
Apistogramma agassizii is generally active, especially when foraging for food. This species is not known for jumping out of the water like some other fish species.
Placement in Tank:
This species spends most of the time checking the bottom of the tank and hovering in midwater.
They enjoy exploring their environment and are particularly fond of areas with dense vegetation or places to hide.
- Social: Yes, but can be kept alone
- Activity: Medium
- Placement: Middle and bottom dwellers
- Peaceful: Conditionally
- Territorial: Yes (during breeding)
- Nippers: No
- Jumpers: Yes
Feeding Apistogramma Agassizii
This species is considered an opportunistic fish with an insectivorous tendency. In the wild, Apistogramma agassizii is a micropredator that feeds on small invertebrates and other types of zooplankton.
Note: The study examined the stomachs of individuals in the forest fragment, from the fragment border, and from the pasture fragment. These fish showed a diet primarily consisting of insect fragments, with larvae being the most consumed item in pasture environments.
In the aquarium, Apistogramma agassizii can be fed with a wide variety of live food such as:
- brine shrimp (artemia salina),
- Artemia nauplii,
- fruit flies,
- detritus worms,
- vinegar eels,
- mosquito larvae,
- cyclops, etc.
Some Feeding Tips:
However, be careful with these types of food since they can cause bloating. Do not give them too often, only as a treat.
Use the «five-minute rule». They are not prone to gluttony and quickly satisfy their appetite.
Feed them at least twice a day.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Food Preference: Meat
- Feeding Frequency: Daily
Are Apistogramma Agassizii Plants Safe?
Yes, Apistogramma agassizii is completely safe to keep in planted tanks. They will not eat any healthy plants in the tank. This species does not eat living plant material.
Keeping and Caring for Apistogramma Agassizii
To keep Apistogramma agassizii healthy and happy, we need to understand their requirements and mimic their natural habitat. Stress will significantly reduce their lifespan.
So, it is still recommended to refrain from introducing them as the first occupants immediately after completing the aquarium cycling process. Wait for at least a couple of weeks until the balance is completely established.
The small size and relatively passive behavior of this fish should not mislead you when choosing a tank size for them.
While this is generally possible to keep Apistogramma agassizii even in small or nano aquariums, it also depends on specific conditions.
For example, if you have only 1 fish, it is possible to keep this fish in as little as 10 gallons (40 liters). For a pair, I would say – a minimum of 15 gallons (60 liters) is necessary. However, if you plan to keep 8-10 of these fish – 40 gallons (160 liters) with densely planted vegetation would be the minimum recommended tank size.
Temperature: Apistogramma agassizii prefers water temperatures ranging between 72 to 82°F (22°C to 28°C). According to the study, this species exhibited high critical thermal maxima of 105°F (40.8°C).
Another interesting experiment showed that high temperatures reduced hierarchy stability, altered aggression patterns, and increased biting. Hypoxia led to reduced aggression in dominant fish and decreased shelter use.
pH: The ideal pH range is 5.5 to 7.0.
Hardness: The recommended general hardness (GH) range for these fish is 1 to 8 dGH. The recommended carbonate hardness (KH) range is 1 to 6 dKH. Although this species can adapt even to harder water, eventually, it will reduce its lifespan.
Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate: It is important to maintain the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels at 0 ppm, 0 ppm, and below 40 ppm, respectively.
Monitor the water parameters regularly and do water changes every week.
|Despite inhabiting environments with “black,” “white,” and “clear” water in the wild, these fish clearly prefer biotopes with very soft water and acidic conditions.
Apistogramma agassizii does not like bright light, it makes them stressed and they start hiding.
These fish enjoy remaining still in areas near the surface with dim lighting.
Still or very slow water currents are recommended for tanks housing this species.
Their natural environment is composed of mud and sand. Apistogramma agassizii shows high digging activity (sieve through sand), possibly reflecting its substrate-oriented ecology.
Avoid coarse gravel. Its sharp edges can injure/scratch the body of the fish as they swim in the lower regions of the tank.
No special requirements.
As long as you have got the filter that works great with the size of the tank you have got you will be fine.
Decorations and Plants:
Apistogramma agassizii requires plenty of hiding places, such as caves, driftwood, twigs, tall plants, leaves, pipes, and floating plants. They may retreat to these hiding places if they feel threatened or stressed. It will simulate their natural habitat.
|I would like to stress again that placing these fish in open aquariums will be a huge mistake! The aquarium’s open layout proves unsettling for these fish.
Breeding Apistogramma Agassizii
Apistogramma agassizii are prolific and show good reproductive rates. Breeding this fish in an aquarium is not particularly challenging, but there are a few crucial considerations.
It is typically very difficult to distinguish their gender until they reach 6 months of age.
- Size. Males can be one and a half to two times larger than females.
- Fins. Males have also larger, more colorful, and more prolonged fins compared to females.
- Belly. Females may have a more rounded belly, especially when carrying eggs.
Sometimes, males adopt a strategy of staying incognito during early stages, resembling females. This allows them to remain on the territory of the dominant male without the risk of being beaten up.
However, when isolated, these males immediately develop the mature male’s long finnage and coloring. This phenomenon is observed in Apistogramma agassizii and some other dwarf cichlid species.
Spawning site (Nest):
She builds the nest by spreading the substrate inside the shelter and reducing the entrance, collecting the substrate with the mouth, and taking it to the opening.
Although they spawn in pairs, this species is considered polygamous.
During spawning, the female of Apistogramma agassizii starts emerging from her nest and swims back, sometimes approaching the male and turning upside down to display her abdomen. She repeats this behavior until the male follows her into her nest. Additionally, in the latter period, the color becomes more intense.
Once inside her nest, she begins attaching the eggs to the surface, after which the male releases milk for fertilizing the eggs.
|Important: It’s worth noting that, unlike most fish species where males may harass females to compel mating, this species doesn’t quite follow that pattern. While standard mating behavior exists, there are instances where the female rejects the male. To express her refusal, she may use her tail fin to strike him, and if that’s not enough, she might even chase and bite him.
After spawning, the female remains longer in the artificial shelters, exhibiting parental care (she constantly aerates the eggs by flapping her fins), and the males display territorial behavior around the shelter. Nonetheless, the female can still attack the male when he approaches the eggs or the fry.
According to the study, females can carry from 20 to 250 eggs with 120-140 on average. The eggs are adhesive and U-shaped/oval.
As the eggs of Apistogramma agassizii develop, they begin to whiten. If the eggs are not fertilized, the female is likely to eat them.
|Important: Eggs will not hatch if pH is more than 7.0. It is crucial to have a pH of at least 6.8. Ideally, it should be 6.2-6.6. It was also noticed that hard water causes deformities in the fry.
The result of experiments shows that the hatchability rate is about 60 % even under optimal conditions.
Depending on the temperature, the larvae hatched 48-72 hours after laying. The fry remain inside the nest under the mother’s care.
On the 3rd day of life, they become free-swimming, making forays around the shelter, closely monitored by the female.
After 2 weeks they become completely independent.
Problems – Females Eat Eggs
Generally, females of Apistogramma agassizii do not eat both eggs and offspring. However, if they do, it usually means that they are stressed. Thus, DO NOT disturb her!
- It is preferable for the breeding tank not to be in a high-traffic area.
- Never change water parameters during this period.
- Refrain from putting your hands into the aquarium.
- Regular feeding is highly recommended, at least three times a day.
- Remove the male after spawning.
- Provide lots of plants with nooks in the spawning site. It will make her feel more secure.
In stressful situations, it is believed that the female may consume the eggs and fry as she perceives their chances of survival to be minimal.
How to Trigger Apistogramma Agassizii to Spawn?
- Temperature: Increase and maintain a stable temperature between 77-82°F (25-28°C).
- pH: Aim for acidic pH, typically between 6.2 and 6.6.
- Water Hardness: Provide soft water with a general hardness of around 1-6 dGH.
- Photoperiod: Maintain a consistent light-dark cycle. A gradual increase in the duration of daylight can mimic seasonal changes and trigger breeding behavior.
- Diet: Offer a varied and nutritious live food diet. It can stimulate their reproductive instincts and condition females better.
- Low stress. Remove all factors that can potentially stress them.
If everything is OK. The female will immediately start coloring up into breeding colors.
Apistogramma Agassizii and Suitable Tankmates
When selecting tankmates for Apistogramma agassizii, it is crucial to consider their relatively peaceful yet territorial nature.
Small or medium-sized fish that share in the same water conditions, such as:
- Neon Tetras,
- Hemigrammus rhodostomus,
- Brilliant Rummynose Tetra,
- Harlequin Rasboras,
- Pygmy Cory, etc.
Keeping these fish with dwarf shrimp is not recommended if you plan to breed shrimp as well. Apistogramma agassizii will prey on shrimplets and young shrimp, and even adult shrimp may be not safe during molting.
Apistogramma agassizii can share the same tank with any type of freshwater snail. However, if you decide to breed them, snails may eat the eggs. Keep in mind that snails do not like soft and acidic water since it can erode snail shells over time.
- Large and/or aggressive, and/or boisterous fishes.
- Keep them away from all types of crayfish and most types of freshwater crabs.
Apistogramma agassizii is one of the most popular representatives of dwarf cichlids. These fish offer not only compact size but also an astonishing array of colors.
This beautiful and memorable fish has captured the hearts of many aquarists with its simplicity in care and vibrant personality, matching its striking coloration.
With the right approach, breeding it in captivity won’t pose significant challenges, even for novice aquarium keepers.
- Kochhann, Daiani, Derek Felipe Campos, and Adalberto Luis Val. “Experimentally increased temperature and hypoxia affect stability of social hierarchy and metabolism of the Amazonian cichlid Apistogramma agassizii.” Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology190 (2015): 54-60.
- Virgilio, Lucena Rocha, CleytonHolanda de Brito, Monik da SilveiraSuçuarana, and Lisandro Juno Soares Vieira. “Forest fragmentation influences the diet of cichlids Apistogramma agassizii (Steindachner, 1875) and Aequidenstetramerus (Heckel, 1840)(Actinopterygii: Cichliformes) in streams of the Western Amazon.” ActaLimnologicaBrasiliensia32 (2020).
- Wise, Mike. “Description, Distribution, and a proposed phylogeny of Apistogramma species-groups revisited.” Apistogramma Study Group web site: http://www. apisto. com/phylo/phylobody. html (Site now closed)(2002).
- da Silva, Hélio Jacobson, Tiago Viana Costa, João Pedro Cidade Almeida, Wendell Glória dos Santos, Noédson de Jesus Beltrão Machado, and Rita Brito Vieira. “Reproductive aspects of the dwarf cichlid Apistogramma agassizii under captive conditions.” Boletim do Instituto de Pesca48 (2022).
- de Oliveira, JomaraCavalcante, and Helder Lima de Queiroz. “Life history traits of two dwarf cichlids species in the white waters of the Amazonian floodplain.” Environmental Biology of Fishes100 (2017): 1497-1505.
- Kochhann, Daiani, Carolina G. Sarmento, Jomara C. de Oliveira, Helder L. Queiroz, Adalberto L. Val, and Lauren J. Chapman. “Take time to look at the fish: Behavioral response to acute thermal challenge in two Amazonian cichlids.” Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology335, no. 9-10 (2021): 735-744.