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Yellow Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma borellii


Yellow Dwarf Cichlid - Apistogramma borellii - Male

Is the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid suitable for a community aquarium?

The Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) may grow up to around 3 inches (male) and around 2 inches (female) and is mainly carnivorous. It is too small significantly 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

CategoryKey Facts
Common name(s)Yellow Dwarf Cichlid – also known as:
Umbrella Cichlid
Umbrella Apisto
Opal Yellow Dwarf Cichlid
Scientific nameApistogramma borellii
FamilyCichlidae
Originate fromCreeks and tributaries of the Rio Paraguay and the lower Rio Paraná in northern Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay in South America
Care requiredEasy to care for and very beautiful
TemperamentRelatively placid harem fish
Colour & FormTorpedo-shaped body with very elegant finnage
LifespanUp to 5 years
Adult size3 inches – male and 2 inches – female
DietCarnivorous – eats Daphnia, Bloodworm, Tubifex worms, flake food 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
BreedingEasy if you put the fish in the right environment.
Water temp75 – 81 Fahrenheit
Water pH5.0 to 7.0
Water hardness (dGH or dH)1 to 10 dGH

From where does the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) originate?

Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) originates in creeks and tributaries of the Rio Paraguay and the lower Rio Paraná in northern Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) is usually found in nature in narrow, blackwater streams and creeks and the amount of water flow will determine how this species will breed.

What are the basic characteristics of the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

  • The average lifespan of Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) is around five years but this can vary depending on tank conditions and general health.
  • Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) prefers fairly acidic to almost neutral water, with a pH of 5.0 to 7.0 and a temperature range between 75 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit and from 1 to 10 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, Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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.
  • The “new” water needs to be matured so that is is very close to the required chemistry of the aquarium in which it will be added.
  • Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) will grow up to around 3.0 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 somewhat more spectacular than that of the female. The featured image, above, shows the male of the species.
  • Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) will, if threatened, hide in small crevices or may burrow into the substrate unless it is threatened by a fish of similar size.
  • Although the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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.
  • A “blackwater” environment is the natural habitat of the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) so including decomposing Indian almond leaves and/or driftwood will help to produce the tannins required to reproduce that habitat.

What is the physical appearance of the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

The Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 silver color with a horizontal grey – black zig-zag stripe running along the line of the spine from behind the gill plates to the end of the caudal peduncle. The head, and as far back as the ventral fins is a golden, metallic yellow color. 

The coloring of the female tends to brighter than that of the male, being a golden yellow in color Throughout, other than for some black markings. She also has a slightly taller, more oval body profile than the male. She has that grey/black zig-zag stripe but it tends to be much paler. It would be easy to assume that the two fish are different species because they look so different.

Yellow Dwarf Cichlid - Apistogramma borellii - Female
Yellow Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma borellii – Female

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, body and fins of the female is a golden yellow in color but there is usually a black “flash”, angled back towards the ventral fins, under the eyes.
  • The head of the male is rather thick-lipped and golden yellow in color. His black “flash” under the eye is much less distinct than his female counterpart and his head is a golden yellow color that continues, running back beyond the ventral fins.
  • The remainder of the body of the male is silver with the zig-zag, grey/black horizontal line along the spine.
  • The fins of both males and females are, essentially golden yellow.
  • 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 golden yellow. 
  • The male’s dorsal fin is much more exaggerated and elongated and much more elongated and pointed at the rear. It is a golden yellow apart from a broken, black band at the base of the dorsal fin.
  • The pectoral fins of the male are generally clear (hyaline). 
  • The ventral fins of the male are a golden yellow whereas the ventral fins of the female are golden yellow with a black leading edge.
  • 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 less extended. Both are a golden yellow but, again, that of the female has a black leading edge.
  • The caudal fin of both males and females is a golden yellow in color close to the caudal peduncle that fades gradually towards the trailing edge.
  • For completeness, I have added below an image of the male “Opal” Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) for comparison
Yellow Dwarf Cichlid - Apistogramma borellii
Yellow Dwarf Cichlid – Apistogramma borellii – “Opal”

The Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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. Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

  • The Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) is a “blackwater” species, preferring, as it does, soft, acidic water
  • Note that the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) tends to be a harem species where one male will have several female mates. 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 Yellow 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 (or other males could be removed. 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) may even lay her eggs on the glass on the bottom of the aquarium.
  • Overall, the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) is a most attractive and most elegant addition to your aquarium.

What is the diet of Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) is primarily carnivorous 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)  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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (and many other species). Cichlid pellets are also a favorite.

What are the sexual differences in Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

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

The rear of the male’s dorsal and anal fins are more extended than that of the female and are 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

It is generally advised that the minimum tank size for a school of around six adult Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) in a nano tank – it is unnatural. The only exception is if you intend to breed a pair of them in isolation and for this a 10-gallon tank, properly prepared will suffice.

Useful videos about the Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)

General behavior video of Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 

Spawning video of Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 

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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

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

The eggs will hatch in around two to three days and the fry will become free-swimming after around five days more. 

It is advised that the male may become very aggressive so it may be wise to remove him after spawning. The female will take good care of the eggs and the fry.

When the eggs are laid and fertilized, the female 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.

It is generally true that the female Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) makes a really good parent and will not prey on her own young.

The female Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 female remains with the brood, she 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.

An adult pair may spawn again around one month later but remember that the male may breed with two or more females so you will need to factor this into your planning and logistics, as you may have many hundreds of young fish.

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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)

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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii) from preying on their own eggs and fry though cannibalism is certainly not characteristic of Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii).

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 to three 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 (per female) to distribute every month from a breeding harem. 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 Yellow Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma borellii)?

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.

Featured Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Creative Commons.

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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