The cichlid family is distinguished by a large variety of species. In it, you can find both real giants and very small fish. Dwarf cichlids belong to the second group and, of course, are one of the most beautiful aquarium fish. But, in addition to beauty, they are also distinguished by a calm disposition and interesting forms of behavior: for their size, the fish have high intelligence.

Genusfreshwater fish
Common namesApistogramma, ram cichlid, butterfly cichlid
Natural range
water bodies of South America
Sizeno more than 7-10 cm or 2.7 to 4 inch
Tank size40 liters per couple of fish
Life span3 - 5 years
25-30 ° С or 77-86°F
pH 6.5-7.5
GH 2-15
Coloryellow, orange, and red tones
Foodinsects, their larvae, worms, fry of other fish
Breedingaverage / multiplies year-round / male protects the boundaries of the masonry, and the female takes care of the eggs
about 4 months
Eggs70 to 400 eggs / incubation of eggs lasts 2-4 days

General information

Apistogramma – a group of ray-finned fish from the family Cichlid, living in the water bodies of South America. A distinctive feature of these fish is their small size – usually no more than 7 cm – and a bright iridescent coloration of the body, most pronounced in adult males. Females and juveniles are much more modestly colored.

The Latin name for the group comes from the Greek words apisto (inconstant) and gramme (line). This is due to the fact that their lateral line (an organ that catches water vibrations), horizontally stretching from head to tail, for each species has its own characteristics: it can be barely noticeable, in the form of a dashed line or other pattern.

The systematics of fish has been repeatedly changed and supplemented; individual species have been replaced by more than one name.

The systematics of fish has been repeatedly changed and supplemented; individual species have been replaced by more than one name.

Under natural conditions, Apistogramma prefers small rivers with a weak current, a sandy bottom, and a large amount of aquatic vegetation. They live in shallow water near the coast. There, fish hide from predators. Despite their tiny size, Apistogrammas are territorial fish, like most cichlids. Having occupied a small area, they zealously guard it against relatives and drive away uninvited guests with lightning attacks, which, however, carry one goal – to scare them, and do no harm to other fish.

Apistogramma is a small predator. They feed mainly on insects, plankton and detritus.

Due to their size and color, they are one of the most popular aquarium fish. But they are quite sensitive to the conditions of detention, so before you get such a pet, it is better to gain some experience in the aquarium.

Apistogramma cacatuoides and ramirezi in 50l planted tank


Apistogramma has a moderately elongated and laterally compressed body. The head is pointed, with large eyes. The size of these dwarf cichlids varies from 3 to 12 cm. Males are larger than females.

The dorsal fin has 14-18 rays, their tips can be pointed, and the rear ones are often elongated. The pectoral fins are almost invisible, have a rounded shape. The abdominal fin is usually elongated. The anal fin includes 3 to 6 rays and is also usually elongated. The tail may have a triangular or rounded shape. Since the extreme rays are often longer than the rest, the fin can take the form of a lancet or lyre. The scales on the body are contrasting, clearly visible. The lateral line is shifted to the back, its shape depends on the specific view.

The most important feature of Apistogramma is their color. It is bright, juicy, and multifaceted, which makes these small fish noticeable, despite their size. The torso often contrasts with the fins. The latter are characterized by a bright border or black rays. Breeders obtained forms with veil fins.

Almost all colors can be present: yellow, blue, red, turquoise, etc. Numerous breeding forms have been developed. For example, the Mikrogeophagus ramirezi Electric Blue has a plain “neon” color.

The color intensity of Apistogramma directly depends on their mood. Males, ready for spawning, show themselves in all their glory, showing all possible shades. In a state of aggression, the sides and abdomen darken in the fish.

Sexual dimorphism in this group of species is usually pronounced: males are larger, brighter, and possess long pointed fins.

In comfortable conditions, life expectancy is 3-5 years.


The birthplace of all types of Apistogramma is South America. Various fish species are distributed over a wide area from Venezuela to Bolivia and southern Brazil.

Fish live on the so-called Llanos – wide tropical plains with a pronounced seasonal moisture. Such territories are characterized by high temperatures throughout the year, so the water in the reservoirs often warms up to 30 ° C, so Apistogramma is a thermophilic pet.

Fish prefers to live in shallow water along the coastline among the dense thickets of aquatic plants. The usual depth at which Apistogramma can be found varies from 10 to 50 cm.

Types of Apistograms

Apistogramma Ramirezi (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi)

The most popular species in aquariums. It is found in nature in Venezuela and Colombia. The maximum size is about 5 cm.

The main body color is yellowish red, turning into blue closer to the tail. Dark spots are located behind the gills closer to the back. The iris is red; a dark vertical strip passes through them on both sides. The fins are golden or reddish with blue dots. There are several breeding varieties (balloon, veil, electric blue).

For maintenance, an aquarium of 40 liters is required. They love soft, slightly acidic water, without pollution. Get along well with the most peaceful fish species.

Apistogramma Ramirezi electric blue (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi var “Electric Blue”)


This artificial variety of Ramirezi Apistogramma was obtained as a result of the long and careful work of breeders. Its distinguishing feature is the bright blue color of most of the body. Only the head has a brownish-orange tint, the iris is red. A flock of these fish looks very impressive in the aquarium. The maximum body length is 6 cm. Females are not inferior in color to males. For maintenance, you need an aquarium from 40 liters. Water is best used soft and sour. Get along well with calm fish species.

Apistogramma veil

Another selection form of Ramirezi Apistogramma with well developed and elongated fins. Their presence imposes small restrictions in the conditions of detention. For example, it is impossible to use decorations with sharp edges when decorating. Fishes are not suitable for living together – lovers of plucking fins, for example, Sumatran barbs.

Apistogramma agassizi


It lives in the central part of Amazonia. The maximum size is 8 cm. Coloring is quite variable. The main body color can be greenish, blue, or brown. The abdomen is colored yellow or pink.

The central ray of the caudal fin is very elongated, so the tail resembles a rhombus in shape. A horizontal dark stripe stretches along the whole body; there are numerous turquoise spots on the head.

For maintenance, you need an aquarium from 40 liters. It is considered the hardiest species among apistogrammas. Water is necessarily soft and sour. Peace-loving fish, however, during the spawning period they will actively drive away uninvited guests from the masonry.

It should be born in mind that males are aggressive towards females that are not ready for spawning. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce fish only after full confidence that they are ready for spawning.

Apistogramma Borellii


Found in southern Brazil, Paraguay, northern Argentina. The maximum size is 7 cm. It is a polychrome species, that is, the color of the fish depends on the region of residence. Usually dominated by blue and yellow tones with turquoise spots on the head. The bases of the rays of the fins are usually blue, and the fins themselves are yellow. During spawning, the color of males and females becomes almost the same, differing only in intensity.

The Borelli Apistogramma is a polygamous species that needs a large area, so it is best to stop at aquariums from 50 liters. Like other Apistogrammas, this species requires soft, sour, and warm water.

Cockatoo Apistogramma (Apistogramma cacatuoides)


It is found in Brazil and Bolivia. This species is easily distinguished from its relatives. First of all, cockatoo apistogrammas are larger than other species and have an elongated body. Males grow up to 8 cm, females – up to 6. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced. The males are not only larger and brighter colored, but they are also distinguished by long and sharp rays of the dorsal fin, giving them a resemblance to the crest of a cockatoo parrot. The color of the fish is variable. The main body color is gray, sometimes with a greenish tint. On the side passes a wide dark stripe. Fins can be from fiery orange to red with black dots. Anal and ventral fins blue-yellow.

For maintenance, you need an aquarium of at least 70 liters. It is necessary to ensure high-quality filtration and aeration. Numerous shelters will be useful. Water is suitable from slightly acidic to neutral. Hardness should not exceed 19 dGH.

Bolivian butterfly (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus)


In nature, the fish lives in Bolivia and Brazil. Outwardly, it very much resembles the popular Ramirezi Apistogramma, but the color of the fish is not so bright. The size of an adult is up to 8 cm.

The main body color is pale yellow, the head and chest are bright orange. In the middle of the body, there is a black spot, a dark strip stretches through the eye. On the back of the body, vertical gray stripes are seen extending to the tail.

Sexual dimorphism is not expressed. An interesting fact: the formed couples are faithful to each other all their lives. And the pairs formed by the aquarist are often unstable and can eat their eggs.

They have a calm disposition. To maintain a pair of fish you will need an aquarium of 40 liters. Sandy soil and a large number of living plants are needed.

Care and maintenance

For the comfortable maintenance of most types of small apistogramma, you need an aquarium of at least 40 liters per couple of fish. For larger species – at least 70 liters.

Fish look best in an aquarium decorated with a natural biotope. As the soil, sand, or pebbles of a small fraction are used. Dense bushes of aquatic vegetation should be planted along the walls. To divide the territories between several groups of fish, put a variety of shelters in the aquarium – driftwood, pots. A pair of flat stones will not be superfluous, they will be a great place for spawning. To enhance the color, you can put fallen leaves at the bottom. And to create the effect of “dark” tropical water, use the Tetra ToruMin air conditioner.

Apistogramma is very sensitive to the content of nitrogen compounds in the water, so the aquarium should be equipped with a powerful filter (preferably external) and a compressor. Once a week, water changes are necessary – up to 30% of the volume of the aquarium. Apistograms are thermophilic fish, their temperature will be 25-30 ° С, so a temperature regulator will be needed. In cool water, fish are very susceptible to disease. They do not like apistogrammas and bright lighting, so it is better to launch floating plants on the surface of the water.

The optimal parameters of water for the content: T = 25-30 ° C, pH = 6.0-7.5, GH <15.


Apistogramma can easily be kept in a common aquarium. By themselves, these bright crumbs will not be able to offend anyone, but the larger inhabitants can attack them, so ideally the neighbors should be proportionate. Good companions will be guppies, Xiphophorus, Mollies, Common molly, Paracheirodon, Rummy-nose tetra, Seluang fish. It can be kept with small barbs, Dwarf gourami, glass catfish, and Angelfish.

Shrimp compatibility is not so straightforward. If adult individuals are not touched by the Apistogramma, then juveniles may well become a living food.

Fish can be kept in pairs or in groups. But it is necessary to take into account that Apistogramma is territorial fish, therefore it is necessary to zone the space in the aquarium.

Different types of Apistogramma also work well together. This is one of the few fish that perfectly coexists with discus because it easily tolerates high water temperatures.

Feeding apistogramma

All apistogrammas are small, but predators. In nature, their diet consists of insects, their larvae, worms, fry of other fish.

The ideal choice for feeding apistogramma in the aquarium is high-quality dry food. The use of live and frozen food carries the risk of infection of the aquarium with dangerous infections and parasites, in addition, they are not balanced and do not contain the full range of nutrients needed by fish.

Apistogramma is a very bright fish, the color of which is dominated by yellow, orange, and red tones. To make the color of fish even more attractive food high in natural carotenoids such as Tetra Rubin or TetraPro Color are best suited. The result is visible after just a few weeks of regular feeding.

If apistogramma is contained in a general aquarium with more active species, then sometimes the fish may lack food. In this case, you can use Tetra Cichlid Mini Granules – small granules slowly sink to the bottom, where apistogramma can easily bite with them.

To diversify your pets ’diet and support their hunting instincts, periodically treat them to the Tetra FreshDelica healthy treats. They consist of popular feed invertebrates and nutritious jelly, while absolutely safe for the inhabitants of the aquarium.

Apistogramma is prone to overeating, so it is better to feed them more often, but with less feed. Large flakes or chips, preferably chopped in your hands


Apistogramma can reproduce both in common aquariums and in special spawning. Like most cichlids, the fish have developed care for the offspring. Usually, caviar is laid in the caves, grottoes, under stones, and on the underside of broad-leaved plants.

Among the fish, there are both polygamous species, and creating pairs for life. Artificially created by the aquarist couples are not always successful, therefore, ideally, a small group of fish is acquired and they wait until they themselves choose a companion.

Apistogramma multiplies year-round. Spawning incentives are fever, the addition of soft water, and plentiful feeding. The female is able to lay from 70 to 400 eggs. After spawning, the couple shares responsibilities: the male protects the boundaries of the masonry, and the female takes care of the eggs – brandish with fins, removes dead eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes producers eat their caviar. If the couple does not take good care of the offspring, it is recommended to plant the fish, but it is necessary to add antifungal drugs to the water with caviar.

The incubation of eggs lasts 2-4 days. Hatched larvae remain attached to the substrate for a couple of days, then move on to independent swimming. The color of the fish begins to gain by the age of three months. The sex of the fry depends on the conditions in the aquarium: in mild and warm water usually, more males appear.