Apistogramma baenschi (Inca cichlid) Fish Species Profile & Care

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Apistogramma baenschi has been prized in the Apistogramma aquarium hobby in the USA and Japan for a long time and is one of the most commonly kept members of this family.

This is a beautiful, interesting, and undemanding dwarf cichlid. It is not, however, the easiest Apisto for beginners to start with, as it prefers blackwater environments and can be aggressive and territorial when breeding.

If you plan to set up an Apistogramma baenschi tank, understanding the fish’s characteristics and needs is essential.

This guide will teach you the care guidelines and species profile for this fish.

Species Profile

Apistogramma Baenschi male

The Apistogramma baenschi was first discovered in 2002 by a Japanese aquarist Karatsu during a small group tour exploring the Rio Mayo in Peru [1].

Karatsu brought the fish to Japan, where it quickly became an instant hit in the global dwarf cichlid community. At that time, he gave it the common name of the Inca cichlid.

In early 2003, wild-caught and tank-raised specimens began appearing in the U.S. and Europe due to their popularity. The following year, Dr. Uwe Romer [2] scientifically described Apistogramma baenschi in a German aquarium magazine in honor of his friend Hans A. Baensch.

Since then, the Inca cichlid is often sold under many other common names, including Apistogramma baenschi “Inca,” Apistogramma Inka, Apistogramma Inka 50, Apistogramma “High Finned Nijsseni,” or the assigned A-number: A188.

Apistogramma baenschi is endemic to the small tributaries of the Rio Shanushi and the Rio Paranapura, located in the lower Rio Huallaga system. The Rio Huallaga is the major tributary of the Rio Marañón, a part of the Amazon Basin in northern Peru. It is worth noting that this species cannot be found in the Rio Shanushi itself and is only present in its tributaries.

In their native habitat, these fish inhabit small, shallow blackwater forest streams with a substrate of leaf litter and decaying wood.

Given these conditions, as well as the information from Uwe Romer’s bookApistogramma baenschi is actually a blackwater species that should be kept by intermediate fish keepers who are able to provide the special care this species requires.

Author notes: A. borellii is the easiest Apisto to start out for beginners.

Scientific Name:Apistogramma baenschi
Common Name:Inca cichlid, Apistogramma baenschi “Inca,” Apistogramma Inka, Apistogramma Inka 50, Apistogramma “High Finned Nijsseni,” A188
Group: nijessni
Max Size:Males: 3 inches (8 cm); Females: 2.3 inches (6 cm)
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:4.0 to 6.5 (optimal range 5.5-6.5)
Temperature:75.2 to 78.8 °F (24 to 26 °C)
Hardness: up to 8 degrees
Conductivity:< 100 µS/cm
Tank Size:20 gallons Long

How to ID an A. baenschi?

When there are almost 100 described species of Apistogramma and over 400 undescribed species, how is it possible for Apisto enthusiasts to differentiate Apistogramma baenschi from other species? After all, the care routine will vary depending on the species.

The answer lies in the taxonomic group. For years Apistogramma enthusiasts and ichthyologists have tried to develop a system to better differentiate and classify this genus into many morphological groups.

Nowadays, the most widely accepted list of species-groups is the one created by Mike Wise [3], an expert on Apistogramma cichlid, in which he breaks the genus into 16 species-groups, 24 species-complexes across four distinct lineages with two sublineages based on the books of Koslowski (2002) and Stawikowski (2005), as well as recent genetic studies.

Apistogramma baenschi taxonomy

According to his groupings, A. baenschi is a member of the nijsseni group in the trifasciata Sublineage.

Most members belonging to trifasciata Lineage, like A. cacatuoidesA. trifasciata, and A. agassiziiare considered evolutionary species with more elongated and compressed bodies. 

These fish tend to have highly polygynous mating systems, resulting in the exhibition of sexual dimorphism. Adult males usually have bright colors and longer, more pointed fins.

Compared to other described Apistogramma species, A. baenschi may be distinguished by the following clear characteristics.

  • It has five striking black vertical stripes, which are more prominent in females.
  • A narrow horizontal line along the body.
  • A deeper body with a shorter lower jaw, a larger mouth
  • Dark blotches on the back.
  • The caudal fin is small and rounded, with red edges in males.
  • In males, the forward part of the dorsal fin grows long extensions.
  • A dark spot is usually clearly visible at the base of the tail during breeding.

Sometimes, they may be mistaken for other species in the nijsseni group, but can be distinguished by:

A. baenschiA. rositaeA. payaminonisA. panduro 
Striking black vertical stripes in femalesAbsent red edges on the caudal fin in malesHas a lyre-shaped caudal fin.Shorter body, a relatively large head with a large mouth

Apistogramma Baenschi Size

The total length (TL) of A. baenschi varies between females and males. Males can reach a total length of 3 inches (8 cm), while females stay smaller, growing to a maximum of 2.3 inches (6 cm).

Care & Tank Setup

As mentioned, the region from which the Apistogramma baenschi (Inca cichlid) originates is known for its blackwater conditions. They prefer soft and acidic water, with a pH between 4.0 and 6.5 and a hardness of up to 8 dGHAdditionally, these waters are cooler than other tropical areas.

Luckily, this species is relatively less demanding than many blackwater species from the area and can tolerate slightly wider water conditions.

Still, A. baenschi is a semi-aggressive species that appreciates larger aquariums with a big footprint, so there is room for territories.

Apistogramma baenschi Tank size

When considering tank size, you should aim for a minimum of 20 gallons or larger, either for a single pair or a harem of one male with at least two females. Each female should be given a minimum territory of approximately 12 inches (30 cm).

The tank should be as long as possible; the size differences between the 20-gallon High (24″ x 12″ x 16″) and 20-gallon Long (30″ x 12″ x 12″) have a much greater impact on the well-being of your fish.

Water Conditions

As long as you cycle your tank and avoid extremes, captive-raised individuals can adapt to a wide range of conditions. However, if you’re interested in breeding A. baenschi, the water should closely mimic the rivers from which they originate.

Popular within the Apisto hobby, specimens sold in the trade are sometimes wild-caught, which are much more delicate and sensitive to different water parameters than captive-bred counterparts.

Either way, here are a few water parameters to get you started.

  • Water temperature: 75.2 to 78.8 °F (24 to 26 °C)
  • pH levels: 4.0 to 6.5 (optimal range 5.5-6.5)
  • Water hardness: up to 8 dGH
  • Conductivity: < 100 µS/cm

To achieve the desired pH level, peat moss, strong acids, and reverse osmosis deionized (RO/DI) systems are commonly used. Additionally, driftwood and aquarium-safe substrates rich in tannins/humic acids can also be beneficial.

More than anything, they require good filtration and regular maintenance. Do not overstock the aquarium and do bi-weekly water changes of 20-30%.

Tank Setup

Similar to their larger Geophagus cousins, most Apistos enjoy sifting through the substrate. To keep them happy, use either fine gravel or sand, along with the addition of Indian Almond Leaves (IAL) and Oak Leaf Litter.

Inca cichlids are very territorial when breeding and need to have plenty of hiding places. Rock caves, bogwoods, coconut shells, or flower pots can provide the necessary cover.

Females will require cave structures in which to place their eggs. It is a good idea to make sure there are multiple breeding spots for each female in your tank to give them options for both hiding themselves and their fry. 

Live plants are not an absolute requirement, but adding a few floating species that can withstand acidic conditions will help to diffuse the lighting and make them feel more at home. Ceratopteris thalictroides, one of the most popular Amazonian species, is an excellent choice.

Diet & Feeding

Apistos are bottom-dwelling fish, not scavengers. In fact, these fish are carnivores and micropredator in nature, feeding on small insects, larvae, and small crustaceans.

In captivity, they are generally easy to feed and will accept most dwarf cichlid foods.

Wild-caught specimens can be trained to eat pellets for small carnivorous fishes, like Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets. Just be patient and consistent.

To maintain good health and color, supplement their diet with frozen foods such as black mosquito larvae, daphnia, or artemia.

Behavior & Tank Mates

Species of the nijsseni group have a tendency for aggressive behavior than other apistos when it comes to breeding.

Female fish are very protective of their fry and fiercely defend them from males or any perceived intruders, especially in small aquariums lacking hiding spots.

Keeping the tank stocked with several females is a good idea, as failed breeding attempts may lead the two fish to seek out other partners. Additionally, this may bring about a fascinating behavior where females steal fry from each other.

Regarding tank mates, Apistogramma baenschi should be kept with smaller, peaceful fish that can coexist in similar water parameters, such as pencilfish, dwarf cories, and otocinclus catfish.

Gender Differences

Thankfully, it is pretty easy to tell the females and males of this species apart. 

Males have dorsal fins that stretch out further, and their bodies are larger than the females. Also quite noticeable in the male is the iridescent blue color that appears along the body.

Females, on the other hand, tend to be smaller and have shorter dorsal fins. Five bolder black vertical bands on an orange-yellow body make them quite distinguishable.

Apistogramma baenschi Breeding

For breeding, females will require their own spawning site to hide under, as the eggs will be laid on the “ceiling” of the cave or hiding spot. On occasion, A. baenschi males may “pair bond,” meaning that they bond and mate with only one select female, or they may be polygamous with several females, creating a harem. 

It can also happen that you may get a single pair that will not bond at all. In this case, it is important to check that your tank conditions are right, particularly that the pH and hardness are in the right range. 

After that, if you still have not had any luck, it might be that they will not bond through no fault of yours. To counteract this, you may have more success introducing several males and more females if you are looking to breed them. You can buy a pair from specialized dealers here: The 12 Best Places to Buy Apistogramma of 2023

Males may display aggressive and territorial behavior towards other males when sexually mature. Once spawned, females may let the male participants in the rearing of their offspring, but females may also react by chasing the male away and taking care of the brood themselves. The female may also move her newborn fry from one place to another while still looking after them.

The female will lay up to 100 eggs (average is 50-70) on the roof of their chosen spot and will guard them until they hatch after 36 to 72 hours. Larvae start swimming after 6 to 7 days, depending on the water temperature.

You are welcome to feed fry with newly-hatched brine shrimp. They reach maturity after four months, measuring as little as one inch (2.5 cm) in total length (TL).


Apistogramma baenschi or Inca cichlids are a wonderful addition to a South American biotope setup, but they would be best for intermediate keepers or those who are experienced with dwarf cichlids.

As long as you provide them with a suitable environment and diet, they will thrive! These fish are also interesting to observe, as they produce fascinating behaviors regarding breeding and raising fry. 

If you are looking for an enjoyable challenge that will provide you with a beautiful display, Apistogramma baenschi is a perfect choice! 


  1. Sydamerikansk dvärgciklid från Peru – Apistogramma baenschi känd som Inca Apistogramma.
  2. Römer, U., 2006 Baensch Cichlid Atlas, Vol. 2 (v. 2)
  3. A description of Apistogramma species-groups. Mike Wise, October, 2021.
  4. Tempo and rates of diversification in the South American cichlid genus Apistogramma (Teleostei: Perciformes: Cichlidae). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182618. PMID: 28873089; PMCID: PMC5584756.

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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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