Apistogramma agassizii: Fish Species Profile & Care Guide

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Apistogramma agassizii has long been the backbone of the Apistogramma trade, owing in large part to the variety of vibrant colors these little fish come in. 

In this article, we’ll provide all the information you need to understand and care for these beautiful creatures that have captivated aquarists for over a century.

Species Summary

Also known as Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid, Apistogramma agassizii was first described in 1875 from fish collected by Professor J.L.R. Agassiz, for whom the species is named. 

In 1909, the first fish were imported into Germany, and they have remained popular ever since. The A. Agassizii is one of the most easily recognizable species by hobbyists.

In the wild, A. agassizii prefers shallow, slow-moving waters throughout the western Amazon basin, ranging from the tributary Río Tigre (Tigre River) in the Río Marañón system (Marañón River) and the Río Ucayali (Ucayali River) in Peru, to the lower Río Solimões (Solimões River) in Brazil. 

Their largest distributions also include the Amazon tributaries below ManausRio Tocantins (Tocantins River), and the coastal rivers alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

Author notes: As with other Apistos, the locality can be key information that will help you identify which Apistogramma species you have.

Due to its distinct geographical distributions, some authors and researchers speculate that A. agassizii is a “super-species” composed of several closely related ‘sibling species’ rather than a single species. As a result, Mike Wise [1], a well-respected Apistogramma expert, has proposed separating these species into a Sublineage, named A. agassizii Sublineage, as a part of the A. trifasciata Lineage.

Scientific Name:Apistogramma agassizii
Common Name:Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid
Origin:Peru, Brazil
Size:1.65 inches (4.2 cm)
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:6.0 to 7.5
Temperature:73 to 81° F (22.8 to 27.2° C)
KH: 2 – 15 dGH
Tank Size:20 gallons

Apistogramma agassizii Identification

With almost a hundred scientifically described Apistogramma species and new species being discovered each year, Apistogramma identification can be a daunting task.

As mentioned, A. agassizii is one of the few Apistos that can be easily identified. Compared to other Apistogramma, agassizii have an elongated, laterally flattened body with a pronounced spade-shaped caudal tail. 

Their dorsal fins also tend to be a bit lower than other species. Males may also possess a small metallic blue patch on the corners of their mouths.

Apistogramma agassizii Types (Varieties)

When looking for an agassizii at your local pet store, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the options. With so many varieties to choose from, how will you know which fish will work best in your home aquarium?

Thankfully, most of the differences between the various types of Apistogramma agassizii are purely aesthetic, though recent research [2] has sparked some debate over this.

Apistogramma agassizii “Fire Red”

Apistogramma agassizii “Fire Red”

Originating through captive breeding programs, the Fire Red is one of the more popular agassizii varieties. As you can probably imagine from the name, bright, warm colors define this particular variant.

While the belly is often paler, ranging from a creamy yellow to a shimmering blue-gray, this transitions to a darker shade of pink or even magenta just below the dorsal fin. The fins themselves range in color from a bright goldfish orange to a crimson red.

Apistogramma agassizii “Double Red”

Apistogramma agassizii “Double Red”

Another captive-bred variant, the Double Red can be most easily distinguished by the bright red coloration of its caudal and dorsal fins. 

The bodies of these fish usually have a tan or yellow base with a dark strip running down the body that extends to the base of the caudal fin, sometimes speckled with bright blue. 

Apistogramma agassizii “Alenquer”

While not as common as some other variants, the Alenquer is a truly stunning creature originating from the northern tributaries of the Amazon. The multihued scales running along their bodies create a pine cone-like pattern, the dark edges of the scales only serving to highlight the bright blue at their center.

The fins can become extended compared to other variants and tend to be some combination of blue, black, and yellow, though markings will vary by the individual fish.

Apistogramma agassizii “Blue”

Otherwise known as the Tefe blue due to its origins in the Rio Tefe, this variant is one of my personal favorites. These fish are easily spotted by their markings, with shimmering bright blue on a field of black being the dominant pattern.

The fins are pointed and semi-translucent. Fins may have the same black-and-blue coloring as the rest of the fish, though yellow or golden highlights may also be present.

Be aware when researching this variant that there are a few others- namely the Blue Flame and the Neon Blue- which are often confused with the Tefe Blue.

Apistogramma agassizii “Gold”

Sometimes referred to as the Gold Fire variety due to their visual similarity to the Fire Reds, these fish are much lighter in color, most distinctive for their bright yellow bodies and rounded translucent yellow fins.

Golds tend to have orange, pink, or purple highlights along their gills and dorsal fins, along with a pale pink strip running horizontally down the length of their bodies.

Apistogramma agassizii “Santarem”

Originating from the area near Santarém, Brazil, the Santarem variety can be distinguished by the dark stripe running down its body, as well as the bright orange splotch that runs from the eyes to the mid-back. The base color is a metallic blue that takes on a translucent quality as it extends to the fins.  

The fins are thin and pointed, with the exception of the caudal fin, which has more of a fan shape. 

Santarem may be a genetic contributor to other varieties, such as the double red, though there is some debate over this.

Apistogramma agassizii “White Seam”

A relatively new face to agassizi enthusiasts, the captive-bred White Seam is a stunning addition to any home aquarium. Though their base color tends to vary from golden to tan, these fish get their name for the bright white reflective scales that run along their sides.

The white is broken up by a black horizontal band running from the head to the caudal fin. The caudal fin itself is banded, often displaying white and black in addition to the base fin color. Fins may even have orange or yellow highlights-adding a pop of color to the already alluring variant.

Apistogramma agassizii Size

Size is important to take into consideration whenever you’re thinking about adding a new fish to your home aquarium. 

A. agassizii reach a maximum standard length- that is, the length of the fish excluding the caudal fin- of about 1.65 inches (4.2 cm). Their total length, meanwhile, should not exceed 1.97 inches (5 cm).

Though they may be small, their vibrant coloration and peaceful demeanor make them an attractive choice for any fishkeeping hobbyist.


The lifespan of Apistogramma Agassizii is typically 2 to 5 years, although with proper care, they can live up to 6 years.

It’s important to note that factors such as water quality, diet, and tank conditions can greatly impact the lifespan of this species of fish, so providing optimal living conditions is key to ensuring their longevity.

Care & Tank Setup

apistogramma agassizii fire red
Photo: jw_planted

Now that you’ve got some background on the species, you may be curious about agassizii’s care requirements. These fish are generally considered best for aquarists who already have some experience, as mimicking their native Amazon environment can be a bit of a challenge for entry-level aquarists.

Keeping the light level low is important- these rainforest dwellers do best in shady, placid waters after all.

Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid Tank Size

The minimum accepted tank size for a single pair of A. agassizii is 20 gallons or 76 liters. Though they do well as community fish, the males of the species can be highly territorial against other males of their own kind, so a larger tank is highly recommended if you’re planning to house more than one male agassizii at once. 

For optimal reproductive success, each female requires a territory of approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. Conflicts between females can even be fatal.

Water Parameters

Water quality is of utmost importance when caring for your Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid. A water change of 10 to 20 percent should be performed biweekly.

As for the PH and temperature requirements, we’ve included a handy table below that includes all the necessary information you’ll need to keep your fish comfortable.

  • Temperature: 73.0° to 81.0° F (22.8° to 27.2° C)
  • pH Range: 5.0-7.0
  • Hardness: 2-10 dGH (36-179 ppm)


As mentioned, Agassiz’s dwarf cichlids are big shade lovers, so planning decor accordingly is a must. They aren’t too picky, with ceramic flower pots and plastic piping being perfectly acceptable hiding spots.

If you’re looking for a more natural aesthetic, sticks and tree roots will also work for this purpose. As for substrate, any fine sandy material will work just fine.

Plants are another important element to consider, as they provide a level of natural filtration to the water. Below we’ve listed a few plants reported to do well in tanks with agassizii.

  • Microsorum
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Anubias
  • Elodea
  • Ceratophyllum
  • Hydrocotyle
  • Nymphea
  • Limnobium

Diet & Feeding

When it comes to feeding, it’s best to provide smaller meals throughout the day in order to prevent the water quality from dropping. 

A. agassizii are primarily carnivorous in the wild and feed on insect larvae, worms, and other benthic invertebrates. In captivity, it’s important to provide a varied live and frozen meat-based diet for the best color and health, such as newly hatched brine shrimp, daphnia, black or white mosquito larvae, tubifex, or other microworms from time to time. 

If you have a pair of wild specimens, try to mix crushed dry foods or frozen foods with live foods to convince them to eat commercial foods. Some picky individuals only accept gel food, in that case, Bug Bites and Hikari Micro Pellets with jello-like consistency should be your go-to.

You may need to add liquid vitamins once or twice a week to condition them for breeding. 

As always, be sure to observe them as they feed in order to make sure that no food remains uneaten and has the chance to foul the water.

Apistogramma agassizii Social & Tankmates

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlids are a hardy community fish, they are well suited to with a wide variety of other small to medium-sized, non-aggressive fish that prefer similar water conditions.

Always keep them in harems of one dominant male with several females, preferably four or more. More than one male should only be kept in larger tanks. 

While some owners suggest keeping a pair or trio, the agassizii-Sublineage species are highly polygamous, with the males constantly urging a single female to breed even if she is not ready. The males can be demanding, but it is not as intense as that of the trifasciata-Sublineage species.

Here are some compatible Apistogramma Agassizii tank mates in a spacious tank:

  • Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)
  • Three Line Pencilfish (Nannostomus trifasciatus)
  • Otocinclus Catfish
  • Honey Gourami (Trichogaster chuna)
  • Small Rainbowfish
  • Small Tetras
  • Glowlight Rasbora (Trigonostigma hengeli)
  • Julii Cory (Corydoras julii)

Gender Differences

Males of the species tend to be larger and more brightly colored than females, with longer fins and a more pointed dorsal fin. Females of most varieties tend to be smaller, tan, or yellow in color, with more rounded fins.


Like those of A. macmasteri, A. agassizii are secretive cave spawners, meaning they require a good hiding spot in which to lay their eggs.

In their natural habitat, females typically lay eggs in crevices of submerged wood or on the layer of leaf litter. In the aquarium, caves made of rocks, plastic tubes, and coconut shells should be provided to give them a proper spawning site.

To introduce them to spawning, they require excellent quality water that is moderately acidic (~pH 6.5) and moderately soft (~ 5º dGH). For certain species, the softer and more acidic conditions of their natural biotope are needed for successful breeding.

Unlike other regani-lineage species considered ‘opportunistic polygamous,’ these fish are highly polygamous. Males continuously try to mate with a single in the breeding seasons, often leading to her death. For this reason, it is crucial to keep them in a group of 4 or more females to spread out the attention.

The females lay between 40-60 eggs at a time on the ceilings of their caves. The eggs will brood for only 3-4 days before hatching. The female will then raise her babies in a pit in the substrate until they are old enough to explore the tank on their own, about 4 to 6 days later. Fry can be fed newly hatched brine shrimp as a starter meal.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve found our detailed guide on Apistogramma agassizii helpful. 

While the species’ rather stringent requirements may not make it the best option for beginners, with its’ small size and so many beautiful color variations available, it’s no wonder they’re so popular with enthusiasts the world over. 

From blue to red to even golden, there’s a variant of these South American swimmers to match nearly any aesthetic. 

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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