Home· Freshwater Aquarium Blog·Apistogramma the Dwarf Cichlid

Apistogramma the Dwarf Cichlid

How would you like to have a small, brightly colored, inquisitive, and wonderful new type of fish to add to your tank as a showstopper or within a community tank? Then we think you’ll really enjoy the entire Apistogramma family. Also known as Dwarf Cichlids, these great fish did fall out of favor for a little while, but they’re making a comeback – and with good reason. There are quite a few color varieties to choose from, too. We’ll talk about that later in the article.

Apistogramma, or Apistos as they’re affectionately nicknamed, have a semi-aggressive temperament. One of the first things you’ll notice about these species is how curious they are! They have tons of personality and will come right up to the tank walls as you look in. They definitely notice you and have a great reputation for interacting with their owners. If you’ve not been happy with fish swimming the second you look at them, this species is the exact opposite. They’ll spot you immediately.


Apistos are a wonderful choice for a community tank. They’ll live on the bottom of the tank, so they’ll do well with any species that doesn’t take up the valuable ‘floor space’ down there. These Apistos appreciate having that territory to claim all their own. We’d recommend probably putting them with tetras, pencil fish, or another species that likes to swim in the middle or towards the top of the tank.

Facts About the Apistogramma

These fish grow to be about 3” and 3.5” maximum in size. They originate from South America and the Amazon rainforest. They do require a tank of about 20 gallons or larger. They’re best for a neutral pH water and don’t really require a low pH. The water should be between 72 and 86 degrees. They do prefer planted groupings in the tank, too.

These fish are not expensive and usually run for about $12 for more common color varieties all the way up to hundreds of dollars for a wild caught version. They’re best with live food, like BBS (baby brine shrimp), glass worms, larvae, other kinds of worms, and similar foods of that nature.


Apistos are also fun and easy to breed. They are an egg layer. In the tank, you should probably put a small cave in there for the females to spawn in.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of fish ownership is looking at all the color variations to see which one you like best before purchasing. With this species, there’s a distinct color difference between the sexes. Males have lots of color, while females don’t. You can easily tell them apart.

Most Common Color Variations

Apistogramma cacatuoides


The cacatuoides are the most popular color version, so you’ll find those in many aquarium stores and pet shops. Commonly found in an Orange Flash variation, these fish have a distinct horizontal stripe along the body, with bright orange top and tail fins. You can also find this same species in a bright red version known as the ‘Super Red.’ They look like little race cars with their striped bodies and cherry red fins.

Apistogramma borellii


These are also known as the Umbrella Cichlid. They’re a pale light blue with some darker speckling along the body and lemon yellow top fins and tail fins. The color is delicate and pretty.

Apistogramma trifasciata


The “tri” in trifasciata stands for “three,” and in this case, it’s the three striped Apisto variation. They do have dark, striking horizontal stripes along the body and vibrant blue fins. These would be a good choice for a centerpiece or showstopper fish in a tank.

Happy Apistogramma Care

Whichever color variety that you choose, we’re confident you’ll enjoy having this smart, personable, and beautiful cichlid for many years to come.

Recent blog posts