Apistogramma macmasteri (Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid) Care Guide & Species Profile

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There’s no denying that choosing a fish for your aquarium isn’t as simple as it may sound. If you are searching for an intriguing and beautiful dwarf cichlid who requires less maintenance time, then think no more and opt for the beautiful Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid.

Not only that, but they’re pretty robust and get along well with their tank mates, making them a go-to fish option for a peaceful South American community setup or a heavily planted aquarium.

While they are hardy and easy to care for, it doesn’t mean you should get one without the right base of knowledge.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid, including their appearance, diet, habitat, and tank mates.

Species Summary

The Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma macmasteri) is, without a doubt, one of the members of the Cichlidae family. Native to the Meta River System, part of the Orinoco basin located in Columbia, where they inhabit the slow-flowing creeks and tributaries.

This cichlid was first discovered in 1973 by aquarist Mark McMaster. Its scientific name “A. macmasteri” is mainly given to honor this cichlid fishkeeper. This beauty has been kept by aquarists for many years. Nowadays, aquarists address this fish by common names, including Red Neck Apisto or Red Shoulder dwarf cichlid. 

These fish belong to the Apistogramma genus, which currently has 93 described species. All species in the genus Apistogramma are dwarf cichlids, exclusively endemic to South America. Their size ranges from 0.8 to 3.1 inches (2 – 8 cm), depending on the species.

Scientific Name:Apistogramma Macmasteri
Common Name:Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid
Origin:South America
Lifespan:3 – 5years
Size:2.8 inches (7cm)
pH:5.5 to 7.0
Temperature:72° – 82° F (22° – 28° C)
KH: 2 – 15 dGH
Minimum tank size:20 gallons


Apistogramma Macmasteri

A. macmasteri is a colorful cichlid, making them an ideal choice for those looking to add some sparkling colors to their tank. The bright red and blue facial coloration makes it look unique and appealing. 

These cichlids are sexually dimorphic, so you can easily identify the gender by watching the color patterns and size. Males are generally more colorful and boast different patterns than females. Furthermore, they may develop more extended fins, creating a clear difference. 

This species is known for its beautiful big eyes and long, flowy fins, covered with bright red spots and a black horizontal stripe. Their dorsal fin extends to the fish’s length and features sharp spikes. 

Due to their popularity, A. macmasteri has been used for selective breeding to create different brilliant red morphs for years. For this reason, many color morphs of A. macmasteri(Red Neck Apisto) enter the aquarium trade and are often mislabelled with the name A. viejita (Red Edge Apisto).

In fact, the A. viejita is a very rare fish that is not commercially captive-bred and is normally bred by a professional breeder.

A. viejita Vs. A. macmasteri

This misidentification has been a continuous source of confusion for many aquarists. Therefore, many stores often use the common name Red Neck Apisto and Red Edge Apisto to distinguish these two species.

As their common names suggest, the best way to identify these two species is by looking at the edge of each fish’s dorsal fin. The male A. viejita has a dark top edge on its dorsal fin, while it’s absent in male A. macmasteri.

Additionally, the body of A. macmasteri is relatively deep, and a “D” shaped spot adorns the caudal fin, whilst A. viejita sometimes shows a distinct spot in rectangular, trapezoid, or crescent.

Furthermore, A. viejita tends to be polychromatic with a wide range of color morphs.

Both species are peaceful fish and settle well into a calm SA community aquarium.

Apistogramma macmasteri Size

Being a dwarf cichlid, the Apistogramma macmasteri can only grow up to 2.8 inches (7cm) in length. Males tend to be larger than females. 

The average purchase size is about 1.5 inches (3.8cm).

Since they are small, you don’t need a huge tank to place them. A small, compact aquarium should be sufficient; however, remember that, like other cichlids, they require plenty of hideouts and a decent swimming space to enjoy. 


The average lifespan of dwarf cichlid ranges from 3 to 5 years with optimal care. However, they might survive for a long if exceptional care is given to them. 

The lifespan of these species is not something you can control, so just do the best you can by offering them the best tank conditions and a well-balanced diet to reach the upper end of that range. 

Apistogramma macmasteri Care

Apistogramma macmasteri Care

In their natural habit, Apistogramma macmasteri inhabits slow-moving shallow streams where the bottom is composed of leaf litter.

Like A. agassizii, this species is adaptable and relatively undemanding, making them beginner-friendly.

However, it requires a decent amount of care to sustain for a long while. There are certain bare minimum things you have to offer them to make them feel comfortable in their new habitat. 

Here, we’ve mentioned the basic care guidelines you should consider before adding these colorful species to your tank. 

Tank Size

The tank size depends on the number of dwarf cichlids you want to keep. For example, a minimum of 20 gallons long (30″ x 12″ x 12″) is enough for a pair; you need a larger tank for a group. 

Despite their small adult size, they need more room to establish territories. Moreover, they are pretty active and playful, so a larger tank is always better.

Water Parameters

As always, it’s best to mimic the water conditions of their natural environment as much as possible. The good thing is that it’s not much of a hassle for this species as they are quite adaptable and can thrive in tropical aquariums.

  • pH: 5.5 to 7.0
  • Temperature: 72° – 82° F (22° – 28° C)
  • Hardness: 2 – 15 KH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: <20 ppm

Since they inhabit the slow-moving creeks, keep the water movement gentle so they can easily swim at their own pace.

Perform water changes of 15 – 20% weekly, more or less depending on bio load. For an overstocked aquarium, get yourself a reliable test kit to help you make sure the water parameters are in the ideal range.

Do not forget to install the filters, as efficient filtration is needed to keep them healthy and fit. Also, make sure your tank has a tight-fitting cover, as these species can jump. 

Decor (Plants and Substrate)

These dwarf cichlids are often found in the regions where the substrate comprises leaf litter. Hence, you should add dense plantings and ample hiding spaces, like beech, oak, driftwood, cave, and rocks with a soft, sandy substrate to replicate their natural habit. 

Dim lighting is preferred. You can also add natural tropical plants. Species from Microsorum, Cryptocoryne, Microsorum, and more are all great options.


They are natural carnivores. In the wild, most feed on invertebrates at the bottom of the creek.

In the aquarium, you can replicate that diet by providing your fish with a varied diet of bloodworms, brine shrimp, Daphnia, and tubifex. We recommend using high-quality flakes as their staple diet, but first, you need to get them used to eat flakes.

It’s recommended to offer them multiple small portions rather than one large one to avoid any digestive problems. 

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Apistogramma macmasteri tank mates

Red shoulder dwarf cichlids are widely known for their peaceful nature, but they can become extremely territorial when breeding.

For wild-caught specimens, it’s best to keep them in a group that includes one male and 5- 6 females in species-only aquariums. If you plan to add more than one male, then you need a larger tank. 

Captive-bred specimens can easily keep them with other species of the same nature and identical size, but it’s best not to mix with other Apistogramma species to avoid hybrids.

The good tank mates include: 

Or you can keep a pair in a heavily planted aquarium.


The Apistogramma macmasteri has been known to breed but can be tricky.

To start the breeding process, it’s recommended to place a male with several females or a bonded pair in a separate breeding tank. 

The water should be soft and acidic, and you can also raise the water temperature to 80 degrees Fahrenheit to stimulate spawning. You should add plenty of caves in the tank as the male may service more than one female in his secret spawning site, and each female still needs a spawning site.

A female can produce 60-120 eggs attached to the ceiling of caves. The female will guard the eggs while the male defends the harem territory.

The eggs will hatch in 2-5 days, and the fry will be free swimming in 7-10 days. You can start feeding them with newly hatched brine shrimp.

Sometimes, the spawning occurs secretively until you find fry in the tank. The male may need to be removed as the female can become very aggressive.

Final Thoughts 

That’s all about Apistogramma macmasteri care guidelines. We hope our in-depth research will help you learn more about these colorful dwarf cichlids. Although they are peaceful cichlids, keeping them can sometimes be challenging, especially when they are breeding. 

These species may become a bit territorial and demand extra attention when spawning, so take the best care of them in their hour of need. These look fabulous when kept in a tank with other species and add a unique spark to your SA cichild aquarium. Moreover, they are fun to observe and offer a truly rewarding experience. 

If you have any questions about keeping these cichlids or want to share your experience with us, feel free to leave a comment below. 

Apistogramma macmasteri is a beautiful and popular freshwater dwarf cichlid that is perfect for the home aquarium. These fish are relatively peaceful but can become territorial when breeding. 

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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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