Cichlid Room Companion
Breeding tanks

Spawning Apistogramma nijsseni

By , 2000. image

Classification: Captive maintenance, South America.

" A breeding account of this beautiful cichlid, describing an interesting behavior and accompanied with beautiful pictures "

Apistogramma nijsseni

A male of Apistogramma nijsseni, in the aquarium of Max Galladé, USA. Photo by Max Galladé.

It all began a few months ago (2000) with one of my weekly lunch break trips to our Local fish store: "2001, A Fish Odyssey" in Timonium, MD. Mike and the owner Kurt had just started unpacking a shipment of new arrivals when I got there. Mike told me he had ordered some mixed Apistos for the store (ah, for himself and me) and they were all in that shipment. Mixed Apistos in this case means you never know what you are going to get, and they are all wild caught. This time, it looked like we got lucky. After peeking in some of the bags I managed to identify some Apistogramma norbertis, A. cacatuoides (Note: I thought at first that these were A. cacatuoides, but I found out much later that they were in fact A. juruensis) and two pairs of A. nijsseni. These fish were caught in sidestreams of the lower Rio Ucajali, Peru (see Linke & Staeck's book South American Cichlids 1 - Dwarf Cichlids for more info on the localities.)

My wife and I were looking for a pair of A. nijsseni for a long time and couldn't find them anywhere. We once kept a very small female, but she didn't last long, and we were unable to find a mate for her. 2001 Fish Odyssey usually quarantines new arrivals for at least a week before selling them. That gave me enough time to go back and check the fish out after they had settled in for a while, and to get my first pick. Unfortunately, only a lonely adult male A. nijsseni survived the trip, but he looked very healthy. The A. norberti looked pretty good, too. The A. cacatuoides turned out to be males only.

I waited til the end of the quarantine and took a trio of Apistogramma norberti, the A. nijsseni male, and a A. cacatuoides male home. I scattered the fish throughout our tanks. The A. nijsseni male went into our ~280 lt (75 g) that already housed two pairs of Apistos. Note: This tank was specifically set up for Apistos only. Densely planted with hiding places, driftwood, clay saucers throughout the tank, a few dither fish like Nannobryconun ifasciatus, Corydoras pigmaeus/hasborus, some common tetras and your necessary algae eating crew.

The A. nijsseni was quite aggressive towards everything that moved and took over the whole tank real fast. We thought it would be easy to find some females for him. Boy, were we wrong. We couldn't find any females locally or per mail-order for weeks. We were ready to give up on him and move him to one of our lonely heart's club tanks (most of our single specimens go into those tanks until we find a partner or new home for them.)

He started to be a real nuisance for all our other Apistos, that lived happily together before he arrived. Then in August of last year, Julio Melgar announced on his website that he collected A. nijsseni on his annual trip to Peru. We just had to wait to the end of his quarantine period before we could order some of them. He was kind enough to sell us two females instead of a pair. We hated to do that to him, but we were in need of females and we didn't need another trouble maker in our large tank.

Julio sent us two beautiful juvenile females in September. They were added to the tank and we were anxious to see how our male would react. We hoped that the presence of females would help calm his aggression towards the other fish.

Apistogramma nijsseni

A female of Apistogramma nijsseni, in the aquarium of Max Galladé, USA. Photo by Max Galladé.

The females settled in nicely and eagerly ate the offerings of live baby brine shrimp and various frozen foods. The male didn't even noticed them at first and went strictly about his business of harassing everybody.

Then, one morning we noticed that our male changed his body color from a muddy brown tone to a light brown bluish with a bronze belly. The bigger of the two females also showed signs of breeding coloration: a bright yellow body color with intense dark black markings. She was swimming around the male, bit him once or twice in the flank, bending her body in a u-shape and turned her belly towards him. This behavior didn't last very long til both disappeared in the thick plant cover in the middle of the tank.

The pair totally disappeared for days, which the other inhabitants didn't mind at all. The only sightings of them was during feedings. They darted out of the plants for a quick bite, and went straight back. We knew something was going on, but we didn't expect too much from this since it would have been the females first spawn.

Then, one Sunday morning I heard my wife yell "I see babies, come look." I ran downstairs to the tank and she pointed to a little peephole in the plants. Yeeha, there were at least twenty fry swimming around the male and female. Our first successful spawn of A. nijssenni.

We quickly squirted some live baby brine shrimp into the area and watched the fry bellies become bright orange, while mom and pop kept a watchful eye on them. The amazing thing, was that the male stayed with the female and her fry the whole time and she didn't made any attempts of chasing him away.

Unfortunately, those cats liked to munch on the fry too!

Only once in a while, the male left the female and her fry and scooted over to the other female which took up quarters in the left corner of the tank. Those visits only lasted a few seconds. This was new male Apisto behavior to us. All the other Apistogramma species that we bred went by the same routine of males guarding outer perimeters of the spawning area, and the females guarding their fry. The A. nijsseni pair even teamed up on intruders. We used to keep a trio of larger Cory cats in that tank but the Cory's quickly found out that most baby brine shrimp was fed in the nijsseni's breeding territory. We saw mom and pop many times attacking the Cory cats side by side when they got to close to the young ones.

Unfortunately, those cats liked to munch on the fry too, and were traded in for pencil fish. We learned that lesson the hard way. A month later another amazing thing happened, the female chased all the fry out of her territory and the male(!) started to take care of the fry. He kept them together in the front of the tank and would not let anybody near them. Any fry that swam back to the female was chased away by her. The males guarding behavior lasted only for a week, and then the juveniles were on their own. We were finally able to count our juveniles, there were 9-males and 4 females that had survived the cory attacks. The male went back into the plants with the female, and it only took another week until we saw a new batch of fry being guarded by mom and pop again.

One morning, to our surprise, the second female was guarding tiny little fry around her corner of the tank as well, which was completely unexpected. Our male didn't help her at all with rearing her babys, and she was completely alone guarding her young ones. We really fell in love with our Apistogramma nijsseni trio and this species will always be kept in one of our tanks.

Did we mention that our male lost his aggressive behavior almost completely towards other Apistogramma in the tank since the introduction of the females? Except for when they get too close to his kids; watch out he packs quite a punch.

Specifications of the tank
  • Size: 280 lt 122x46x50 cm (~75g 48x18x20 inches)
  • Filtration: Aquaclear 500 with sponge and peat filled filter bag. Note: I no longer use chemical filtration in any of my tanks. Water changes do the trick for me: 25% biweekly for my community tank. 50% biweekly for my breeding and growout tanks. I use aged and peat filtered MD tapwater. Emperor 400 w.0.5l siporax ,sponge and two bio wheels.
  • Ph: 6.2~6.4
  • Kh: 1~2
  • Gh: 4
  • CO2: 12~19 mg/l - 1 bubble/sec
  • CO2 injection: 10 lbs CO2 bottle with Dupla regulator, needle valve, timer, controlled solenoid valve. Monster Marine Atomizer J 30 (The highest quality we've seen in CO2 diffusers)
  • Substrate: Seachem flourite 7 bags (we used a second mortgage on thesubstrate,but it's worth it)
  • Lighting: Britelite power compact 110 Watts, 6700K
  • Water changes: biweekly 25% with aged, through peat filtered tapwater


Galladé, Max. (Mar 19, 2006). "Spawning Apistogramma nijsseni". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on May 26, 2024, from: