Cichlid Room Companion

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Group forming Apistogrammas

By , 1996. printer
Ted Judy, 2004

Classification: Captive maintenance, South America.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1996-Jul-03 "

Apistogramma shuffles his copious notes.....

JuanMi shouts: Cichlid meeting third call, we are beginning!!!

JuanMi has muted audible commands.

Apistogramma exclaims: Hello everybody!!

Juanmi says: Good evening ladies and gentleman, for the 21 edition of our cichlid meeting

Apistogramma says: This evening I am going to try and make up for the missed meeting of a few weeks ago. The topic is Apistogrammas (one of my favorite groups) and specifically setting them up to be productive in groups..

Apistogramma says: A little background on the fish first. Apistogramma species are all dwarf cichlids from South America. As far as cichlids from that continent go, they are PROBABLY the most abundant as far as number of species go, but pike cichlids are catching up fast. At last count there are about 50 identified varieties of Apistogramma (this includes subspecies).

Apistogramma says: Being dwarves, they are small. Some species are smaller than others, but the average is three inches on a large male and two inches on a large female. Most species are sexually mature at half that size though. In most species the males are more colorful than the females, and also have elongates fins and/or tails. The female compensate out desire for pretty fish also, in that they have beautiful black on yellow breeding colors.

Apistogramma says: Apistogrammas are found all over the South American continent, and in a variety of water conditions. Most are fond of soft acid water, but they are actually tolerant of a wide range of hardnesses. When water chemistry is the issue, pH is more important than hardness. I keep all my Apistos at a pH of 5.8-6.2. My tap hardness is high (350-400ppm), so I mix half RO water to get it down to 175-200. This is still high. Many pros will insist that the fish need it lower. I may not get the best results, but my fish do spawn.

Apistogramma says: optimum is probably less than 75 ppm hardness, with a Ph between 5 and 6.

Apistogramma says: The tanks for a single pair of fish do not need to be large . A 10 gallon is adequate and a fifteen in perfect. Use a dark substrate to show colors better, and supply a few flower pots or coconut shells as caves and spawning sites. Live plants are a major plus....but if you are like me, and do not have the lighting needed for a lush growth, use java fern, java moss and DARK GREEN YARN SPAWNING MOPS suspended from empty film canisters. They are ugly but the fish like them.

Apistogramma says: I filter with sponge filters and box filters. I do not like UG with Apistos to breed because the fry get lost under it . Over the back or other power filters suck up fry. Gravel should be of small size..... 30 or 40 (1/4 inch gravel is a size 20). If you are not growing plants keep it a very thin layer, like 1/4 inch. If plants are being grown, keep it deep enough for them to live. Another reason to use java fern and java moss.... they do not need gravel. If you have a bright light over the tank it needs to be diffused.

Apistogramma says: I use salvia 'duck weed' or regular duck weed works too. If you hate duck wed, use smoked glass as a cover.

Apistogramma says: Keep the temperature in the low 80's (F). Feed them a variety of foods. I use flake, frozen bloodworm, brine, and glassworm. I also feed live daphnia, baby brine, gringal worms, and white worms... OCCASIONALLY they get live tubifex, but not as a staple. do not believe that live foods are necessary to breed some of the more common species....but they help.

Apistogramma says: OK.. the tank is set up. Now just feed, change about 20% of the water weekly and you should be set to go. But what is you are fortunate to have a larger tank? Kind of a waste to have a single pair of LITTLE fish in it. One of the most rewarding ways to raise Apistos is to keep them in groups. that is the way I try to do it. Here are the basic rules:

Apistogramma says: male Apistos are territorial on a normal basis, but it is the females that call the shots when breeding time occurs.

Apistogramma says: females need to have a breeding territory. A male will 'service' as many territories as he can. In my experience, if a tank has a lot of cover like mops or plants, a female will make due with a 10 inch by 10 inch section of tank floor, so long as there is a buffer zone between two female's territories. A ten gallon (20 inches) is not enough for 2 females. A fifteen gallon (24 inches) will house two females and a male. A 36 inch long tank will hold three, MAYBE four females. A forty eight inch tank wills hold four female easily. I will put in one male for every 15 inches of tank space (length). One will be a dominant, and the other will hide a lot. I have found that a male without competition in a group setting will settle down for one female and they will begin to pick on the other females. Pretty soon you are down to a pair. Use multiple males.

Apistogramma says: Not all Apisto species work well in groups. I have had the best success with the A. borreli types, A. macmasteri types, and the A. agazizzi types. The A. Cockatoides (cockatoo) DO NOT GROUP WELL.

Apistogramma says: One draw back to group spawning is raising the fry,

Apistogramma says: Apistos will eat baby Apistos that are not their own brood. I use spawning pots that are easily removed from the tank with the fry in them. As soon as I see that the fry are free swimming, I remove the fry to a rearing tank. The rearing tank is bare bottom, same chems and temps as parents, and I use a 'ripe' sponge filter which acts as first infusoria food for the brood. I also put in a few plastic plants to make them feel more comfortable. One of the biggest mistakes people make raising any fry separate from their parents is NOT giving them a place to hide. Baby fish hide....

Apistogramma says: My spawning pots are round with a small opening on one end that I can put my finger over to trap fry inside of.

Apistogramma says: OK.. getting the fish. Apistos from breeders are getting costly. The recent interest in them is paying good dividends to the big time breeders, so few people ever get more than a pair. that is ok.... spawn that pair, and add a few of the fry back into the group as juveniles. OR buy a bag of twelve fry and raise them to spawning size as a group. The cheapest and most exciting way, however, is to talk your local store into buying the 25 fish lot size of South American dwarf cichlids from their wholesaler. This is like pot never know what you are going to get.

Apistogramma says: If you do that you will be getting wild apistos. Acclimate them carefully. Make sure the water is low pH and soft....also, have live foods on hand. Sometimes wild apistos need to be weaned over to prepared foods...even frozen.

Apistogramma says: that is about it....questions.

Juanmi says: Thanks Ted

Juanmi raises his hand.

Apistogramma says: Juan

Juanmi asks: Ted, water should be over 80F you mentioned, the plants can survive there?

Apistogramma says: Java fern and java moss no problem....many other plants can take that as well.

Juanmi nods his head in understanding.

Juanmi says: Thanks Ted

Kar raises her hand

Kar asks: when you said spawning mops with film canisters, did you mean it is floating or in the gravel?

Apistogramma says: the yarn will sink straight down. I snap a piece of the mop into an empty 35mm film canister which will float.

Kar says: thank you.

Richardb raises his hand.

Apistogramma says: Richard

Richardb asks: Thanks for the informative talk Ted. You also use bare bottomed tanks for rearing fry. Is that mainly for hygienic purposes and ease of cleaning?

Apistogramma says: both....I feed fry very heavily, so need to clean thoroughly as well. Apisto fry are small, so they are hard to see. A gravel bottom will HIDE a lot of fry.

Richardb says: Thanks.

Apistogramma asks: any other questions?

Guest3 asks: why has the cost increased regarding purchasing apistos?

Apistogramma says: Supply and demand. Good breeders are producing a lot of oddball Apistos, but not enough to meet the demand. Right now a pair of juvenile Apistos are between $5 and $25 depending upon species.

Kar raises hand

Apistogramma asks: kar?

Kar asks: when you remove the spawn to raise in a tank alone, how many fry are there average and what size tank do you raise them in till selling size?

Apistogramma says: An average spawn in between 50 and 100 fry. I raise them in 10 or 15 gallon tanks until they are 1/4 inch then I cull about a 1/4 to a 1/3.

Kar says: as in a pair of juveniles, are you speaking a male and female/

Apistogramma says: yes boy/girl pair/ Apistos are very easy to sex at an early age. Very sexually dimorphic.

Kar says: after culling, do you raise them further? how many per 15 gallons then/

Apistogramma says: with a lot of water changes (10%) every 2 - 3 days, 25 - 40 will grow to 1/2 inch in a fifteen in about three to four months.

Kar asks: how do you sex them?

Apistogramma says: the males have a lot more color and elongated finnage...

Apistogramma says: just ask folks:)

JOM says: lotta rivalry in population a few like fights among female & or males

Apistogramma says: Jom, that depends upon tank size. The best rule of thumb is one female to every foot of tank length, and at least two males for every three females.

Kar raises hand

Kar asks: what size do they get to?

Apistogramma says: that depends upon most males are twice the size of females. Most males to three inches standard length.

Juanmi raises your hand.

Apistogramma asks: juanmi?

Juanmi asks: Ted, how long does it take for apistos to get to breeding size, also how often do they spawn when the have reach that size, and finally, what number of eggs the females deposit (Three in one)?

Gustavo grins. JOM grins.

Kar says: juan has good questions

Dev watches beads of sweat roll down Ted's forehead.

Juanmi says: >:)

Gustavo says: hehe

Gustavo says: females deposit 50 to 100 eggs :)

Apistogramma says: I have bred second generation macmasteri and borelli at seven months post hatch, a large female (2in) will lay over 100 eggs about ten to twenty days after losing the previous spawn.

JOM exclaims: wow!

Juanmi says: Thanks Ted

Kar asks: will they get along with discus.. like a pair and breed with them in the tank?

Apistogramma says: apistos can go with discus, but they do not breed well in community tanks.

Guest3 asks: are there any apistos more attractive then the Ram....?

Apistogramma says: many that look nicer than rams IMO....try agazzizi, borelli, njeisenni, trifasciata, cockatoides.

Dev says: njisenni is a knock-out in full color

Guest3 says: ok, thanks Ted

Kar didn't know there was so many kinds.. only cockatoos around here in stores

Dev asks: have you kept wild apistos Ted?

Apistogramma says: I try to get wild whenever possible.......the only group I have that is not from wild origin are my borelli.

Guest3 asks: how much are wild pairs usually Ted?

Apistogramma says: wild fish are cheap if you can get your local store to get the grab bag box $6 a pair or less. I have a 1/4 box of wild dwarfs coming in next week for 75 cents each (50 fish)..but I do not know the species...:)

Dev asks: do you find any behavioral/hardiness differences between the wilds and your borelli? do you find the wilds more territorial/aggressive?

Apistogramma says: not really Dev...just fragile.

Dev asks: why do you prefer purchasing wilds?

Apistogramma says: Cost, that's about it.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Dev says: wilds cost more here. Actually, tank-raised are hard to come across, rarely make it to the stores.

JOM says: wads da difference in prices roughly

Apistogramma says: wild of specific species can cost a lot. The stores I associate with do charge a lot for wilds if they can ID them......

Dev says: apisto pairs (Wild supposedly) run $40-60 pair here

JOM nods his head in understanding.

Guest3 asks: what's the like...likelihood of mix species in a lot?

Apistogramma says: Actually the grab bag is not usually multi species....but the species may be different from week to week. Not always Apistos either.. often Leatacara or Nanacara.

Kar exclaims: dev, get into the apisto business!

Kar smiles. Dev grins.

Dev says: I'm trying Karen :)

Dev has to keep his fish *alive* before he can breed them.

Juanmi asks: Ted, how much does apistos live, a guess?

Apistogramma says: I have had a cockatoo male last (breeding) for 18 month after first spawn. A non breeding borelli lived over two years for me.

Juanmi says: Thanks a lot Ted, short lived I see

Dev says: similar to rams I guess Juan

Kar says: wow, short lived for cichlids

JOM nods his head in understanding.

Kar asks: when you said low 80's like what specifics is that? what temp in the 80's do they like?

Apistogramma says: low 80's

Kar says: what is low 80's? like that for me is 83 to 80, what specifics/

Apistogramma says: 80 - 85

Kar says: so they can be kept with discus then

Apistogramma says: yes

Sydney says: I know rams are ok to keep with discus

Juanmi asks: Ted, do you use any dither fish in large tanks with Apistos groups?, if so, what kind of fish?

Apistogramma says: I do not use dithers, because is the tanks have a lot of cover the fish are not really shy at all...if I did I would use cardinal tetras or neons.

Juanmi nods your head in understanding.

Juanmi says: Thanks again Ted

Kar says: thank you very much apisto.. I appreciate ya answering all my million questions :)

Apistogramma says: you are all welcome.

Apistogramma asks: any more questions?

Guest3 says: Ted

Guest3 asks: yeah what's your pH in Arizona?

Apistogramma says: 7.6

Guest3 asks: do you use RO?

Apistogramma says: yes on the ro/di

Guest3 nods his head in understanding.

Dev says: I have one last question

Dev says: since these fish (among others) like soft, acidic water...

Dev asks: how do you keep pH from swinging with soft water?

Apistogramma says: I use a product called Discus Buffer....hold pH in soft water at about 6.0.

Kar says: good product

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Dev asks: will baking soda necessarily increase pH along with hardness?

Apistogramma says: baking soda increased Carbonate Hardness with ph.

Dev asks: but pH *will* go up right?

Apistogramma says: yes, but usually crashes as the carbonate goes to gas and get used up in the ecosystem of the tank.

Dev says: for those of you who think soft water could never possibly come from the tap, I get 35ppm straight from the faucet :)

Apistogramma exclaims: New England puke!!!!

Dev grins.

Dev says: I tell you, it's a curse :)

Dev asks: so are there any stable buffers that can be used?

Apistogramma says: I like Discus Buffer...filtering with peat moss works well too.

Apistogramma says: easier to increase and hold hardness than it is to lower it man.

Dev says: peat drops my water to undetectable carbonate hardness Ted, I just look at the tank and the pH changes.

Guest3 grins.

Kar exclaims: rub it in dev!

Dev grins.

Apistogramma says: Dev, you should be spawning discus and cardinal tetras. Dev grins.

Dev says: if someone could tell me how to keep my pH stable, I certainly would...

Dev says: then again, we're moving to a farm with well water, Oh well, it was good while it lasted :)

Guest3 says: Ted thanks for your wonderful talk and sharing all your info with us. Lets do it again sometime soon :)

Apistogramma says: no problem

Kar cheers enthusiastically.

Gustavo says: Thanks Ted.

Richardb says: Yes, thanks Ted :-)

Richardb cheers enthusiastically.

Kar says: thank you apisto

Apistogramma asks: I am going to have to take off.. any last questions?

Juanmi says: Thanks a lot for such an informative talk Ted


Judy, Ted. (May 27, 1996). "Group forming Apistogrammas". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on April 01, 2020, from: