Apistogramma hongsloi Care Guide & Species Profile

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The Apistogramma hongsloi, or Redline Apisto, is one of the most commonly sold species in the aquarium trade. Small in size, bright in coloration, these fish are sure to add a splash of color to your home.

However, this species is not considered to be a good starter fish for beginner Apistogramma enthusiasts, given its dietary requirements and specific water conditions needed to enhance its “super red” coloration.

Keep reading to find out more about what you should keep in mind if you are planning to house this robust and beautiful dwarf cichlid.

Species Summary

redline apisto
Photo: Alex Bell

The genus Apistogramma encompasses at least 500 different species, including 100 scientifically described species and over 400 still awaiting scientific recognition. It’s the most widely distributed cichlid in tropical South America east of the Andes.

Rich in diverse colors and markings are a good thing, but identifying Apistogramma species can be challenging due to the presence of similar-looking relatives, particularly in domestic color strains that are often the result of crossbreeding among two or more species of A. macmasteri, A. hongsloi, and A. agassizii.

For years, authors and zoologists of Apistogramma have made a concerted effort to break down these dwarf cichlids into various species-groupings so that individual species can be identified easily.

Mike Wise, one of the most knowledgeable experts on Apistogramma cichlids, has recently expanded the groupings of Koslowski (2002) and Stawikowski (2005) to comprise 16 species-groups, 24 species-complexes in four distinct Lineages with two Sublineages [1].

A group comprising Apistogramma hongsloi and six closely related species, collectively known as the Apistogramma hongsloi complex, is classified under the macmasteri Group in the Apistogramma regani Lineage.

The Apistogramma hongsloi complex is native to Colombia and Venezuela, where it can be found in:

  • The lower Vichada River (Río Vichada), a blackwater river in Colombia.
  • The middle Meta River (Río Meta), a left tributary of the Orinoco River in Colombia.
  • The Capanaparo River (Rio Capanaparo) in Venezuela and Colombia.
  • The Rio Cataniapo in Venezuela
  • The lower Rio Caura (Río Caura), a tributary of the middle Orinoco River in Venezuela.
  • The Río Claro in Colombia

The Apistogramma hongsloi was formally described by Dr. Sven Kullander in 1979. Most specimens currently sold in the trade are commercially raised on fish farms rather than wild-caught though they are not considered endangered or even vulnerable. Those colorful domestic strains are usually the result of line breeding.

Several forms of wild specimens imported from European breeders are occasionally available, but they carry a high price tag.

Scientific Name:Apistogramma hongsloi
Common Name:Redline Apisto, Hongslo’s Dwarf Cichlid
Origin:Colombia, Venezuela
Max Size:Male: 2.4″ (6 cm), Females: 1.8″ (4.5 cm)
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:5.5 ~7.5 (5.5 to 6 is ideal for breeding)
Temperature:73.4 °F to 86 °F (23°C – 30°C)
KH: up to 10 dGH
Tank Size:20 gallons


Apistogramma regani

Apistogramma regani Lineage species can be recognized by the presence of a complete of 4 infraorbital and 5 dental pores, as well as the absence of a lateral spot on vertical Bar 3.

However, these pores are usually not visible without magnification; they are reliable but can be difficult to use as a diagnostic feature on live specimens. 

Body shape, markings, and the shape of caudal and dorsal fins are the common characteristics to look for when trying to identify Apistogramma species.

A. macmasteri-group species are relatively large and have robust bodiesAs they mature, males will become more vibrantly colored and possess more pointed dorsal fins, accompanied by dark spots on the base. Their rounded caudal fins also boast such spines.

Male Hongslois can be identified by a horizontal, ladder-like band. As they mature, they develop a darker or red lower band above the anal fin and a spot near the base of the caudal fin that is concealed by a vibrant red patch.

Apistogramma hongsloi Form II

A. hongsloi Form II, as you would guess, is a trading name given to a domestic strain with a bright red coloration. These specimens are selectively bred from several forms of A. cf. hongsloi.

Apistogramma hongsloi Size

Apistogramma hongsloi are medium to moderately large Apistos, with males growing up to 2.2″ (5.5 cm) and 2.4″ (6 cm) in size and females reaching a maximum of 1.8″ (4.5 cm).

Care & Tank Setup

Apistogramma hongsloi is not the easiest Apistos to start out with, especially the populations from the lower Vichada River (Río Vichada). They tend to be demanding, as their natural habitat is a blackwater river in Colombia. Setting up and maintaining a blackwater aquarium can be a daunting task for novice aquarists.

Domesticated strains are more readily adapted to their surroundings and will thrive in a well-planted community tank. However, if you want them to breed and enhance their colors, you may need to lower the pH to around 6

Tank Size

Despite the fact that species of the A. hongsloi Complex stay small, these bottom-dwelling fish do require enough space to claim their own territories. A tank size of about 20 gallons or larger is recommended for a pair or a small group.

For amazing reproductive rates in a small group, females must have their own space away from the male and other females. I recommend at least a territory of approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter for each female, as conflict-aggressive females may chase each other if they are crowded into a smaller territory. 

Furthermore, each territory should be clearly delineated by items such as driftwood and caves.

Water Parameters

Apistogramma dwarf cichlids have gained popularity due to their reputation for being hardy and easy to care for. Generally, they are known as those bred in captivity.

When recreating the optimal habitat for your A. hongsloi or other Apistos, it is important to know whether they were wild-caught or domestic. Caring for and breeding wild populations are quite another story.

As mentioned, wild-caught A. hongsloi complex species are rare and relished by specialty breeders. 

Commercially bred A. hongsloi can tolerate a wide range of water parameters in the following levels:

  • Water temperature: 73.4 °F to 86 °F (23°C – 30°C)
  • pH: 5.5 ~7.5 (5.5 to 6 is ideal for breeding)
  • Hardness: up to 10 dGH

Luckily, the target pH level and hardness for A. species can be achieved without adding strong acids. Peat moss will do the job if your tap water is not very hard, or else you should use reverse osmosis (RO) water.

Reverse Osmosis Deionized (RO/DI) Systems are a sustainable way to purify your tap water, but they are more expensive than other alternatives.

Substrate & Plants

Having decent decorative structures and tank arrangements that provide each fish with plenty of places to hide, as well as open areas for defending their territories, is essential. It does not have to be intricate, but it should be effective.

Regarding the substrate, Apistos are known to sift through the gravel for food, like their larger Geophagus cousins. It is best to use very fine, white quartz sand covered by a thick layer of decaying leaves (leaf litter) and submerged branches.

Larger decorative items such as coconut shells, rocks, and driftwood, which are used to break up the bottom space, are often appreciated. If you are looking to breed you will need some pieces with a “roof” or cave-like structure for the females to lay their eggs in. 

When it comes to plants, my preferred setup is practical in nature. My favorite plants are Ceratopteris thalictroides, Cryptocoryne spp., Echinodorus tenellus, Java Fern, Bolbitis heudelotii, Microsorum pteropus, and Hydrocotyle spp.

Diet & Feeding

The domestic color strains of A. hongsloi, especially the Apistogramma hongsloi Form II, are possibly among the most vibrant dwarf cichlids. However, it has been reported that the commercially imported strains’ vivid super red color is attributed to a living food source of cyclops, a tiny crustacean that is rich in color-enhancing pigments.

In the aquarium, to maintain their color and health, hongslois should be fed a variety of high-quality live foods such as brine shrimp, small white worms, black worms(chopped into pieces), or mosquito larvae. You are welcome to feed your fish marine microplankton to produce the same intense color.

Some specimens may struggle with prepared foods, but this can often be resolved by grinding flakes or pellets into a powder and mixing it with small frozen foods or other things like vitamin supplements. Add hot water and let the mixture solidify into a jello-like consistency for easier consumption.

Apistogramma hongsloi Social & Tankmates

Apistogramma hongsloi is not too aggressive. Species of A. regani-lineage appear to practice an ‘opportunistic polygamy’ mating strategy, meaning a male will mate opportunistically with several females rather than forming a bonded pair with a single mate. As a result, they have a higher reproduction rate.

Hongslois can usually be kept in pairs, or a harem consisting of a single male and several females, depending on your tank size.

Since Apistogramma hongsloi are peaceful by nature and stay small, they can be kept with other dwarf cichlids or smaller fish of similar temperament in South American freshwater community aquariums.  

Here are a few suitable tank mates:

  • Ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi)
  • Small Tetras
  • Pencilfish
  • Otocinclus catfish

Gender Differences

It can be difficult to tell apart A. hongsloi males and females when they are young. As they mature (anywhere from 4 to 8 months), males develop elongated dorsal fins and become more vibrantly colored, with a vivid red patch near the anal fin and at the base of the caudal fin. 

Females, on the other hand, usually remain smaller and mostly exhibit gray and yellow hues. Red is rarely seen in females, even in high-quality A. hongsloi Form II from Germany.


Breeding the Apistogramma hongsloi is relatively easy for most intermediate fish keepers, but those with no prior experience in breeding fish may find it somewhat challenging due to their need for very specific water conditions.

Unless you have a large tank, I strongly recommend using a breeding tank.

Here are several common reasons why Apistos fail to reproduce in captivity:

Very soft and acidic water: Not only does the pH affect the color of Apistogramma hongsloi, but it also has a remarkable impact on their reproductive success. To breed them successfully, the recommended pH level should range from 5.5 to 6.0.

How to fix: Peat moss, oak leaves, or RO water can be used to lower the pH of your aquarium.

Water temperature: Hongsloi is a tropical fish, so it is essential to maintain the water temperature at the high end of the range.

How to fix: Install a heater and increase the temperature above 78°F (26 °C).

Aggressive females: The females become very aggressive when defending caves. They will chase away a male or even kill him. 

How to fix: Try to add lots of driftwood and caves to break up the line of sight.

Tank mates: Other bottom-dwelling fish like corys and plecos may eat the eggs at night. 

How to fix: Set up a breeding tank. A community tank is unsuitable for breeding Apistos. 


The Apistogramma hongsloi is a vibrant and hardy dwarf cichlid that makes an outstanding addition to many peaceful community tanks containing small South American fish.

However, as discussed, there are a few factors to consider to ensure you have a welcoming aquarium to raise them in. 

Tank size and creating a biotope where the fish are able to be in a place that is close to their natural habitat can help ensure that your A. hongsloi will have a great space to grow and live. 

Good luck!

Article Sources:

  1. A description of Apistogramma species-groups by mike wise
  2. Apistogramma hongsloi” in FishBase.
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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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