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Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma agassizii

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma agassizii

Cichlids are a very ancient and extensive classification of fishes dating back millions of years before, for example, dinosaurs. Cichlids probably originated around 550 million years ago (give or take a month or two 😀) and there are somewhere in the region of 2,000 to 3,000 different species, of which around 1,700 have been classified (at the time of writing).

Cichlids can make excellent community fish but you should take care because not all Cichlids are good community fish and may devastate an established aquarium, treating their tankmates as food, so before choosing a Cichlid, please ensure that you know whether or not your choice will be appropriate to your needs.

Is Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) a good community fish? Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) should be considered to be an excellent community fish assuming that the community is one of non-aggressive, non-predatory species. Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is suitable for all community aquariums although it can be territorial, particularly during breeding. 

Key Facts about Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid
Scientific nameApistogramma agassizii
Originate fromAmazon River basin, along Amazon-Solimões River from Peru through Brazil to the Capim River basin, in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid shoaling fish
Colour & FormTorpedo-shaped body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 5 years
Adult size3 inches – Male larger than female
DietCarnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms and pellet food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size24 inches in length or greater
Compatible withMost other Tetras, Barbs, Danios, Guppies and other livebearers, dwarf cichlids, smaller Gouramis, catfish and loaches that live in fairly neutral, soft water
Avoid keeping withLarge and/or aggressive species in too small an aquarium
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp72 – 86 Fahrenheit
Water pH5.0 to 7.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)2 to 10 dGH

Origins of Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is found in the Amazon River basin, along Amazon-Solimões River from Peru through Brazil to the Capim River basin, in South America.

It is usually found in nature in slow-flowing streams, on the margins of larger rivers, in marshland, in ponds and also in lakes but seldom, if ever, in stagnant water.

Basic Characteristics of Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) will grow up to around 3 inches in the aquarium – the males will generally grow to be larger than the female.

The lifespan of Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is around five years but this can vary enormously depending on tank conditions and general health.

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) prefers fairly soft, neutral water with a pH of 5.0 to 7.0  and a temperature range between 72 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 2 to 10 dGH.

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) can tolerate brackish water but, in the main part, you will be keeping it is a freshwater community aquarium.

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) enjoys soft to medium, slightly acidic or neutral water conditions so it will be comfortable with other species of similar size that prefer this type of water chemistry.

Appearance of Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) has a torpedo-shaped body, starting with a protruding lower jaw. The head at the top is a marbled grey color but you will see bright, metallic blue from the back of the mouth, under the eyes and into the gill plates. Also, from the rear half of the eye, the body gains an orange color which extends back to around one-third of the way along the body.

Behind the eye, along the spinal line, a very deep blue stripe begins and runs all the way along the body, bleeding into the center of the caudal fin. The scales are very clearly defined with the bright, metallic blue color, though this does tend to become increasingly silver-grey, the closer the scales are to the dorsal fin.

The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is a small Cichlid. It has an extended dorsal fin which takes on the light blue and very dark blue body color at the base before becoming a vivid orange color. The fin is very extended to the rear, particularly in the male.

The anal and caudal fins also show the vivid, flame-orange color and the deep blue of the body color bleeds into the fan-shaped caudal fin at the center and for around half of the length of the fin.

The remaining fins are clear (hyaline) and note that there is no adipose fin.

The living environment for Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) really enjoys being in the shade so a well-planted tank is beneficial to it.

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) will appreciate floating leaves and pretty well any broadleaf will assist the condition of the tank, as not only do such leaves provide shade but also, as they decompose, they provide infusoria for any fry in the tank. This also helps adults to determine that breeding conditions are good because they will appreciate the fact that there is a ready source of food for newly-hatched fry.

It is recommended that Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is kept as a small shoal comprising one male to several females. The male, in particular, can be territorial but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general.

Having a clear, broad area of a fine substrate will protect the elegant finnage of your Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii).

Overall, Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is the most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

The diet of Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) is primarily carnivorous, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia is recommended and Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)  prefers pelleted food to flake food.

Sexual differences in Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

It is fairly easy to distinguish the sex of adult Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) because the adult male is often larger and has more distinct coloring. The female is also fuller-bodied when viewed from above, especially when carrying eggs (gravid). 

Aquarium size for Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) 

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)  should be one of at least 24 inches in length or more due to the fact that a shoal of around six per species should be maintained (with a ratio of one male to up to five females). This will enable your small shoal to move around freely. A smaller tank might be too restrictive and the fish will suffer as a result whilst a larger tank is always to be recommended.

There is a predominance of so-called “Nano tanks” available but, being old-fashioned, I prefer my fishes to live in an environment which, at least, attempts to mimic nature, rather than living in what I would liken to a prison cell. The tank should be well-planted but with clear areas where the fish can swim freely. The water should have a certain amount of movement, as Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)  enjoys a flow of water.

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) – Videos

Are you keeping tropical fish as a hobbyist or as a breeder?

This is a question too often ignored in my humble opinion. If you are a breeder (either commercially or as a hobbyist who gives away young fish to other hobbyists) then you will need the resources to move fish into breeding tanks in order to maximize the yield of fry that will grow up either for sale or to give them away.

If you are keeping fish for the joy of observing them in something resembling a natural habitat then you may feel that it is appropriate to allow nature to take its course and, as and when different species breed, then many of the eggs (and surviving fry) will be eaten either by their parents or by other fish in your aquarium. This is the natural order of things because this is what will happen in nature. The fittest may well survive to reach adulthood.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How does Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) breed?

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) lays up to 150 eggs (but maybe as few as 20 eggs) underneath a group of rocks or on the roof of, say, a strategically positioned terracotta plant pot.

In total, the female Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) could lay around up to 150 eggs during a single spawning. 

At around 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the eggs will hatch in around two days and the fry will become free-swimming after around seven days.

Thereafter, the male will take no further part in rearing the offspring and may eat the eggs, given the chance so it’s best to return him to the community tank.

The female Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) takes responsibility for post-spawning care and may become extremely aggressive if she feels that her brood is threatened. For this reason, if possible, a breeding tank is recommended.

It takes around two to three days for the eggs to hatch, depending on the water conditions and temperature and around a further five days or so for the yolk sacs to be depleted and the fry to become free-swimming.

In a well-planted aquarium, the Cichlid will often spawn in the community tank and at least some of the fittest fry will survive to adulthood.

In a breeding tank, it is always a good idea to include a few aquatic shrimp, as they will consume any unfertilized or dead eggs but won’t tend to predate on viable eggs.

Breeding tank for Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

You should prepare a tank of around ten to twenty gallons in size with mature, soft, flowing water. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with some halved (or half-buried) terracotta pots or terracotta pipes laid on the substrate on their side under which the female will lay her eggs. It is recommended that the substrate consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges.

Arrange your tank heating so that you can slowly remove up to half of the tank water and then replace it with collected rainwater and repeat this daily until the Cichlids spawn. This water and temperature change will encourage spawning, as it mimics nature. The rainwater is most important.

Cichlids prefer to spawn where the water is flowing so a decent pump is required to synthesize that flow.

Feed up your Cichlids on bloodworm, which will sink to the bottom and burrow into the substrate. Your Cichlid will love rooting out the bloodworm and it can help to trigger spawning.

You may also wish to introduce baby brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or tubifex worms as an inducement to reproduction and live food will be very much appreciated.

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump – only regular aeration is now required. Keep the lights off (or very low) and the tank dark (of fairly dark)  because eggs and fry can be particularly sensitive to the light.

The eggs will hatch typically in two days depending on tank temperature and conditions and the fry will become free-swimming after around seven days after hatching. Keep the tank more-or-less unlit for the first week or so then gradually increase the lighting. Bear in mind that the eggs and fry of a fish as small as the Cichlid will be tiny indeed so you may need to use a magnifier “app” on your smartphone or a macro lens to see anything at all. A collection of eggs is generally easy to spot, as they look like a collection of tiny, tiny pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac but, once free-swimming, can be fed infusoria and will also thrive on egg yolk during the first two to four weeks. 

Once the fry are free-swimming and their yolk sacs are depleted, then add baby brine shrimp and/or white worms. Once the fry are sufficient in size not to be treated as a snack then they can be introduced into the community tank where they will join the existing shoal. Before moving the adolescent fish into the community tank ensure that you have balanced the water temperatures to mitigate the risk of White Spot or other diseases being triggered.

Unless you are breeding commercially, you may wish to consider moving the fry into the community tank sooner rather than later. It may seem harsh but the adult fish in the tank will deal with any fry that are unlikely to survive to adulthood in the wild and you are synthesizing, to the best of your ability, a wild environment. The fittest fry will probably survive whilst the rest will be dealt with by the community.

Should your Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii) have a special diet for breeding?

Adult Cichlids don’t need any particular inducement to breed. That said, it has been suggested that adding tubifex, bloodworm, or mosquito larva may encourage them, presumably because the addition of a new food may “fool” the fish into thinking that it is breeding time. From my own experience, I would always recommend keeping all of your fish in the best possible condition at all times, as this is good for the wellbeing of your fish.

Mike Wheeler

I started keeping freshwater tropical fish in 1972 and it has been something of a passion ever since. In this website, my aim is to build up an everyman's guide to help the everyday aquarist get the best from this inspiring and entertaining hobby.

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