Apistogramma elizabethae (A208): Species Profile & Care Guide

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The Apistogramma elizabethae is one of the most sought-after Apistos due to its unique appearance, vibrant coloring, and rarity in the hobby.

The scientific name was given in honor of Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz (1822-1907), an American naturalist, educator, and the second wife of Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, who led the Thayer expedition (1865-1866) to Brazil.

The scientific name was given in honor of Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz
Elizabeth Cary Agassiz: A Biography by Lucy Allen Paton;

However, these pretty and vibrant dwarf cichlids are known for their blackwater conditions, meaning that caring for them is not a walk in the park; beginners often struggle with them.

Below you will find out the secret to care and successful breeding.

Species Summary

The Apistogramma elizabethae is native to two tributaries of the Rio Negro near Trovão: the lower Uaupés River and the Içana River, located in the extreme northwestern portion of Brazil and Colombia.

As a result, two well-known color morphs of A. elizabethae are available in the trade: “Red belly” (or “Super Red”) and “Blue,” depending on its locality.

Apistogramma elizabethae “Red Belly” (or “Super Red”)

Apistogramma elizabethae "Red Belly" (or "Super Red") from the Içana River

Popular within the Apisto hobby, males A. elizabethae “Red Belly” have a shiny, metallic blue body with a bright red belly and head. These fish can either be wild-caught specimens collected from the Içana River or tank-raised individuals that may have been color-enhanced with certain foods or, even worse, hormones.

Although wild specimens are spectacular, they are rarely found in pet shops. “Red Bellies” raised in captivity can be more vivid, but without proper diet and water conditions, they may lose their red color and appear more yellow.

Apistogramma elizabethae “Blue”

Apistogramma elizabethae "Blue" from the Uaupés River

On the other hand, male A. elizabethae “Blue” are distinguished by their muted bluish-gray bodies with bright blue markings on their dorsal fins. They sport a bright orange-yellow belly. During the spawning season, the yellow coloration on both males and females becomes more intense.

The wild Apistogramma elizabethae “Blue” is known to originate from the Uaupés River, and it is rarer than its “Red Belly” counterpart. This color form has not been commercially bred because it is less vibrant than its cousin, the most popular Apistogramma agassizii “Blue.”

In the wild, they mostly inhabit the banks of small, slow-moving blackwater streams and rivers and prefer areas with a thick layer of loose leaf litter and submerged wood. Such habitats are usually very shaded and characterized by soft, acidic water.

Resulting of its colorings, markings, and distributions, the debate on the phylogenetic relationship of A. elizabethae has been going on since it was first introduced to the German aquarium hobby;

Apistogramma elizabethae phylogenetic relationship

For now, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. That’s why most authors suggest that Apistogramma elizabethae should be considered a species group of its own in the agassizii sublineage until more molecular analyses are conducted.

That’s all you need to know about this wonderful fish before you get your hands on them! Whether it’s a “Blue” or “Red Belly” variation, these fish will definitely add an eye-catching touch to your aquarium.

Scientific Name:Apistogramma elizabethae
Common Name:Elizabeth’s Apisto
Origin:Brazil, Colombia
Group: elizabethae
Max Size:Males: 2.4 inches (6 cm); Females: 1.5 inches (3.8 cm)
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:4.0 – 6.0
Temperature:75-79° F (24-26 °C)
TDS: < 50
Tank Size:20 gallons for a pair

How to Identify an A. elizabethae?

Given the sheer number of different Apistogramma species there are, it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. Luckily, A. elizabethae is one of the most recognizable Apistos due to its characteristic appearance.

Here are many identifying characteristics of A. elizabethae.:

  • The dorsal fins in the male are elongated and more pointed with no black markings, particularly the anterior part.
  • Two well-developed round spots are present on the lateral line that runs from the eye down to the caudal peduncle; The first spot is located behind the gill, and the other is located at the length of bars three.
  • The caudal fin can also be used to determine the age of the A. elizabethae, as it changes from being rounded when they are juvenile fish, to lyre-shaped, then finally becoming the shape of a lance head when they are adults.

While it might not help differentiate the Apistogramma elizabethae from others in the agassizii sublineage, a common trait of this sublineage is that their bodies are less laterally compressed compared to other Apistogramma species. This means that the males’ bodies will appear slimmer in comparison to other fish. 

Apistogramma elizabethae Size

The Apistogramma elizabethae is a medium-sized Apisto, with the males reaching a total length of 2.4 inches (6 cm) and the females being slightly smaller at around an inch and a half in length.

Care & Tank Setup

If you are new to keeping water conditions in a specific way and maintaining fairly strict parameters, then the Apistogramma elizabethae may pose a challenge to you. 

While those that are born into captivity are less likely to suffer ill effects if the water is slightly off, those that are fresh from the wild certainly will. So, if you are new to the hobby, it isn’t advisable for you to begin with this species.

The closer to these parameters that you are and the more suitable the environment means, the bolder and brighter their color is likely to be. So, if you are looking to maintain the stunning coloring on these fish, it is important to match the below conditions.

Tank Size

As with most fish, the size of the tank is very important, as they will need a certain amount of space to grow and thrive.

As such, the minimum size of your tank should be 20-gallon long (30″ x 12″ x 12″) for a breeding pair. If you are looking to house more than a couple, you will need a larger tank to provide them with enough space to grow and flourish.

Water Parameters

While the water parameters outlined below are important for all Apistogramma elizabethae, they are particularly important for those that are wild caught and have not been living in captivity.

A. elizabethae is a blackwater species, and its native habitat has very low mineral content and is usually tannin-stained a dark brown color by organic materials. As a result, the water should be extremely soft and have a very low pH.

For the best results, here are the water parameters you should aim for:

  • Temperature: 75-79° F (24-26 °C)
  • pH: 4.0 – 6.0
  • TDS: < 50 (or Conductivity: < 100 µS/cm)

If you want to breed A. elizabethae, the conductivity (or TDS) and pH level must be carefully adhered to. The low conductivity environments can be archived by using a RO/DI System combined with API pH DOWN to lower the pH.

Décor (Plants and substrate)

The white sand is the substrate of choice for Apistogramma elizabethae because it is how the fish “clean their teeth” in the wild to find food.

Try to include dry leaf litter as well, which will provide them with cover and areas called “spawning spots” if you are hoping to breed the Apistogramma elizabethae in your collection.

Also, add plenty of floating plants similar to what you would expect to find in their natural habitat to provide the fish with cover and darker areas of the tank, even if you are keeping the lightning low for them.

Make sure to place plenty of caves in the tank as well; A half coconut shell, clay plant pots, bog-woods, or PVC pipe placed on their sides can all be used to create suitable hiding spots.

Diet and Feeding

Most Apistogramma dwarf cichlids are carnivorous and mainly consume small invertebrates and mosquito larvae in nature.

In the aquarium, they will eat a variety of food, including live foods, frozen foods, and prepared flake and pellet diets. To maintain good health and coloration, provide live foods such as artemia, black mosquito larvae, or daphnia when possible.

They are bottom dwellers, so provide some small, carnivorous foods that will sink.

Apistogramma elizabethae Behavior and Tank Mates

Like other blackwater species in the agassizii lineage, such as A. panduro or A. baenschi, males of Apistogramma elizabethae are polygamous, meaning a male will hold his territory and spawn with multiple females.

It is best to keep them in small groupings of two males and four or more females, however, this can depend on tank size. A harem of one male and at least two females is recommended in small tanks.

In their natural habitat, Apistogramma elizabethae live with various characids, catfishes, and other Apistos at and around the banks of rivers. You can also add these fish for a more colorful and interesting display, including pencilfish, tetras, and corydoras.

Gender Differences

The male Apistogramma elizabethae has longer fins, particularly on the anterior dorsal fins, compared to females. You can also tell the females from the males by their rounder, dotted caudal fins, and black pelvic fins.

As they mature, female fish will exhibit a yellowish-orange coloration covering the anterior part of their bodies, making their black lateral spots perfectly straight.

As is normal when talking about gender differences between Apistos, the males are also the more colorful and generally larger fish.

Breeding the Apistogramma elizabethae 

Apistogramma elizabethae can be challenging to breed; however, successful spawning may be achieved if you provide special water quality parameters.

Maintaining a low TDS (<50) and pH level (around 5) found in the fish’s native waters is crucial for egg hatching and fry survival. 

Breeding should only be attempted in a separate breeding tank, never in a community tank. A community tank can never serve as a breeding tank. Only house

The breeding tank should have the same parameters as the main tank, and make sure to provide plenty of good-sized caves as Apistogramma elizabethae are cave spawners. Coconut shells and flower pots are most commonly used. It will be difficult for them to do so without this feature in their habitat.

Cover the sides of the tank with black aquarium background to reduce light, make them feel more secure, and assist in egg fertilization.

Since males are polygamous, breeders can house a large group of at least two males and 4-6 females in a 40-gallon breeding tank to increase success rates.

When a female is ready to spawn, she starts courting the male near her spawning site. This process often takes 1 to 3 days, depending on the fish’s age.

When the male chooses to accept the female, he will approach her, embracing her body with his fins that look like tail-beating.

The spawning takes place secretively in the cave, with up to 30 eggs being deposited on the ceiling of the cave. In 1 to 3 days, the fry will hatch at 77° F (25°C), and the fry become free-swimming after three days.

Fry must be fed very small foods, such as newly hatched brine shrimp. During this time, ensure the tanks are well aerated and that the water is kept very clean. Young fry are quite delicate, and many don’t survive if their environment is not carefully managed.

Final Thoughts

It is easy to see why the Apistogramma elizabethae are so highly sought after. They are beautiful freshwater fish that would make a great addition to any aquarium or home tank. Just make sure you have the right blackwater biotope setup.

Good luck and happy Apistogramming!


  1. Kullander, Sven. 1980. “A taxonomical study of the genus Apistogramma Regan, with a revision of Brazilian and Peruvian species (Teleostei: Percoidei: Cichlidae)”. Bonner Zoologische Monographien. 1-152
  2. Wise, Mike. 2011. “A description of Apistogramma species groups”. The home page of Martin and TomC (www.tomc.no). Retrieved on April 17, 2017
  3. Tougard C, García Dávila CR, Römer U, Duponchelle F, Cerqueira F, Paradis E, Guinand B, Angulo Chávez C, Salas V, Quérouil S, Sirvas S, Renno JF. Tempo and rates of diversification in the South American cichlid genus Apistogramma (Teleostei: Perciformes: Cichlidae). PLoS One. 2017 Sep 5;12(9):e0182618. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182618. PMID: 28873089; PMCID: PMC5584756.
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Ivan Yeoh
Ivan Yeoh

I’ve been working with fish for the past 12 years, and I can honestly say that it has never been a dull day. In my time, I’ve worked at the largest fish farm in Singapore – so you could say I know a thing or two about keeping things running smoothly in watery environments.

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