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Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma barlowi


Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid - Apistogramma barlowi - Male

Is the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid suitable for a community aquarium?

The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) should most certainly be considered to be a good choice for a community fish. It will fit in well into a community tank. It is a small, shy fish but, like many Cichlids, can be very territorial when breeding. The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) may grow up to around 3.5 inches (male) and around 2 inch (female) and is omnivorous. It is too small to uproot plants, so a well-planted aquarium will be ideal.

What is the history of Cichlids?

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.

What are the key facts about the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid
Scientific nameApistogramma barlowi
FamilyCichlidae
Originate fromRío Ampiyacu drainage in northeastern Peru in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid community fish
Colour & FormTorpedo-shaped body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 10 years
Adult size3.5 inches (male) – 2 inches (female)
DietOmnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms, flake and pellet food in the aquarium.
Aquarium size36 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. Also avoid known fin-nippers.
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp75 – 84 Fahrenheit
Water pH4.8 to 7.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)1 to 5 dGH

From where does the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) originate?

Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) originates from the Río Ampiyacu drainage in northeastern Peru in South America. It has been introduced elsewhere but, as always, I advise against introducing non-native species into local waters, as to do so can destabilize that established, natural habitat.

The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is usually found in nature in narrow streams and the amount of water flow will determine how this species will breed.

What are the basic characteristics of the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

  • The average lifespan of Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is around five to ten years but this can vary depending on tank conditions and general health.
  • Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) prefers fairly acidic to almost neutral water, with a pH of 4.8 to 7.0 and a temperature range between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit and from 1 to 5 dGH. All of that said, captive-bred specimens have, over many generations, become more accustomed to your local water conditions so these technical details are a guide and not a rule. That said, Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) will thrive well in mature, soft, tannin-rich water and may suffer if water conditions are not maintained.
  • Regular water changes are recommended, changing around half of the water each week. Bear in mind that the natural habitat of the species is narrow streams. Water changes are beneficial because they reduce or remove any toxins from the existing water.
  • Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) will grow up to around 3.5 inches in length (males) and up to 2 inches in length (females).
  • The female is more colorful than the male, despite being smaller. In contrast, the finnage of the male is far more spectacular than that of the female.
  • Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) will generally dwell near the bottom of the water column and will enjoy a fine substrate, as it is something of a “sifter” when feeding in that it will take in a mouthful of the substrate and sift out any food, expelling the remaining substrate. The term for this is, “geophagous,” which translates (from its Greek origin) to “earth-eater”.
  • In nature, the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) will, if threatened, hide in small crevices or may burrow into the substrate.
  • Although the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) enjoys sifting the substrate, there is no problem with aquascaping by planting in the substrate, provided that the plants are appropriately weighted. Including dense wood and smooth rocks or slate and adding floating plants such as Java Moss and Cabomba as well as floating almond leaves to provide shade will create an ideal living environment for this timid little fish.
  • Including smooth rocks, caves, crevices and/or slate on the aquarium floor will encourage the female to lay her eggs.

What is the physical appearance of the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) has a relatively slim, body in profile and is also quite slim when viewed from above or from the front. The body of the adult male has a pale bronze color with a horizontal grey – black stripe running along the line of the spine from behind the eye to the end of the caudal peduncle. The coloring of the female tends to brighter than that of the male. She does not have that horizontal stripe but tends to have a yellowish body, especially at spawning times. It would be easy to assume that the two fish are different species because they look so different.

A few more characteristics may be described as follows:

  • In young fish, it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes, so if you are purchasing young fish then buy half-a-dozen and you should have a mix of the sexes. 
  • The head of the female is fairly unremarkable, being a silver-grey in color but there is usually a black “flash”, angled back towards the ventral fins, under the eyes.
  • The head of the male is disproportionately large compared with the rest of his body. He has a large mouth that he uses to create piles of the substrate to impress a potential mate. His black “flash” under the eye is less distinct than his female counterpart.
  • The females have a false eye in the middle of the body and this spot is always located on the line of the spine.
  • The dorsal fin of both is serrated due to it having extended rays. The leading edge of the female’s dorsal fin is black and the rest is clear (hyaline). The male’s dorsal fin is much more exaggerated and elongated and much more elongates and pointed at the rear. 
  • The pectoral and ventral fins of the male are generally clear (hyaline) whereas the ventral fins of the female are black.
  • The anal fin of the male is, like the dorsal fin, somewhat exaggerated and elongated to the rear, whereas that of the female is generally clear (hyaline) but may have some of the yellow tinge at spawning times.
  • The caudal fin of the male is also exaggerated and with the very extended top and bottom rays is a “lyretail”, whereas that of the female is unremarkable in shape but has a distinct yellow tinge close to the caudal peduncle that fades gradually towards the trailing edge.

The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is a dwarf Cichlid. It is generally felt to be very timid but those who keep them suggest that if they are kept as a small shoal, they are really quite gregarious. This is not uncommon amongst small, community fishes. Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) can be territorial when they are spawning but not so aggressive as to make it essential to move them out of the community tank; they merely protect the area where they lay their eggs and tend to their fry.

What is the living environment for Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

  • Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is a great little community fish so it can be kept with other relatively placid species, avoiding the more aggressive species.
  • Don’t keep them with larger species that may wish to treat them as food.
  • The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) loves shade 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 safe to say that the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is a “blackwater” species, preferring, as it does, soft, acidic water
  • Note that the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) will generally mate for life and they will make good parents for the brood that they are rearing – the female will tend to care for the brood whilst the male will protect the territory.
  • It is recommended that Megamouth Dwarf Cichlids are kept as a small shoal until two of them form a breeding pair, after which, the remainder could be moved to a different tank. The male, in particular, is territorial during spawning but setting up the tank so that sightlines are broken up will mitigate the risks of territorial behavior in general.
  • If the tank is large enough (36 inches or larger) and has well-broken sightlines then it is usually safe for a breeding pair to remain in the community unless your intention is to breed the species for distribution,
  • When purchasing Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) it is generally recommended to buy around six fish. It may be impossible to sex the fish when purchasing them as immature specimens but, in due course, they will find their own mate and are, from that point, both monogamous and biparental.
  • Having a clear, broad area of a fine substrate will be ideal for your Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) because, in nature, they tend to burrow if they feel threatened.
  • Your tank should include rocks, caves and/or slate with a smooth surface on which the female will lay her eggs. Since the eggs are adhesive, large, smooth rocks, or, perhaps, some slate on the floor of the tank will be ideal for the laying of eggs. The female Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) may even lay her eggs on the glass on the bottom of the aquarium.
  • Overall, the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is a most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

What is the diet of Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) is primarily omnivorous and has a preference for live food, feeding on a range of invertebrates in nature. In the aquarium a diet of live or frozen Artemia, Bloodworm and Daphnia are recommended and Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)  will readily eat pelleted food and flake food. That said, they prefer to stay close to the bottom of the water column and sift through the substrate for their food. For this reason, a fine substrate is recommended. You could also make a “cake” of crushed vegetables and fruit in natural gelatin, as this is a reputed favorite of the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (and many other species). Cichlid pellets are also a favorite.

What are the sexual differences in Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

It is relatively easy to distinguish the sex of the adult Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) because the adult male (top of article) will be significantly larger and less colorful than the female. 

Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid - Apistogramma barlowi - Female
Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma barlowi – Female

The rear of the male’s dorsal. anal fins and caudal fins is more extended than that of the female and is also pointed (extended) at the rear tips whilst that of the female is more rounded. The female is much smaller than the male and, at breeding times, is much more colorful.

Sexual maturity will occur when the young adults are between two to three inches in length, so they are more-or-less full-grown when they become sexually mature.

What is a good aquarium size for Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for a school of around six adult Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) should be one of around 36 inches in length or more due to the size of the adults, particularly the male. This is especially true if you intend to keep other, similar-sized species with them but please be aware of the territorial behavior at breeding times.

In a community tank, including some floating Java Moss and other floating plants, together with large rock formations will give other fish and any fry a safe haven from larger or more vigorous species and it certainly helps to break up the sightlines in the aquarium.

Floating and sunken leaves help to create the tannin levels, as does sunken driftwood.

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 piscine prison cell. Please don’t keep any Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) in a nano tank – it is unnatural. The only exception is if you intend to breed a pair of them in isolation and a 10-gallon tank, properly prepared will suffice.

Useful videos about the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)

General care video of Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) 

Spawning video of Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) 

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.

If the species is large and/or if the species has a large number of young during a spawning then you need to have a well-established plan as to how you intend to manage what could be several hundred young fish at every spawning. Even your local pet store may not have the capacity to take them off your hands, even if they wanted to. This aspect of keeping fish is the most often overlooked but should be high on the agenda of all responsible aquarists.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.

How do you breed the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

In total, the female Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) could lay between 50 and 100 eggs in a single spawning. 

The eggs will hatch in around two days and the fry will become free-swimming after around five days more. When the eggs are laid and fertilized, the parent may move them to a preprepared pit in the substrate until they hatch. If a spawning cave is used then the eggs will not need to be moved, as the female (in general) will tend to the eggs whilst the male (in general) will protect the site.

It is generally true that the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) make really good parents and will not prey on their own young. In general, the male will protect the territory whilst the female will tend to care for the eggs and fry.

The female Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) will generally lay her eggs in a line along a slate, rock, sometimes on a broad leaf or on the glass at the bottom of the aquarium. The male will then swim over that line of eggs and fertilize them. This process will then be repeated until the female has laid all of her eggs and the male has fertilized then and the result will be several rows of fertilized eggs.

Once the spawning is completed and until the fry become free-swimming, provided that the parents remain with the brood, they will protect the eggs with some zeal, warning off other fishes that get too close.

Warmer water and/or more acidic water (lower pH) generally tend to produce a higher percentage of males.

The adult pair may spawn again around one month later.

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

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.

How to set up a breeding tank for Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)

You should prepare a tank of around 10-gallons in size with mature, soft, tannin-rich water with motion produced by an air-powered filter. The water should have a low level of light and broad-leaved plants together with some well-cleaned slate (or other smooth rock) on the floor of the tank upon which the female will lay her adhesive eggs as well as sunken driftwood. It is recommended that the substrate (if any) consists of a fine substrate (sand) without sharp edges. The Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) may also lay eggs on broad leaves or in rows in the substrate or even on the glass bottom of the tank.

Cichlids prefer to spawn in a cave so a spawning cave is recommended.

Feed up your Cichlids on brine shrimp and 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. This will also tend to divert the attention of the Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi) from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is certainly not characteristic of Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi).

Reduce the water movement by turning down the pump once the eggs are laid – 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 five days more. 

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 pearls.

The newly hatched fry will feed firstly on their yolk sac (for around 24 hours) and remain static 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. 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.

The young fish should be left in the care of the parents for around two to three weeks before removing them and distributing them based on your pre-planned solution. Remember that you may have up to 100 young fish to distribute every month from a breeding pair. It is not the best idea to breed fish simply because you can, you need to have in place the logistics to distribute young fishes to genuine distributors.

Unless you are breeding commercially, you may wish to consider moving the fry into the community tank sooner rather than later or simply not put the adults in a dedicated breeding tank. 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.

Is there a special diet for breeding Megamouth Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma barlowi)?

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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