15 Best Apistogramma Tank Mates (Breeding & Community)

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Apistogramma dwarf cichlids are exceptionally popular in the aquarium hobby because of their astonishing variety of colors and patterns, petite size, and charming personalities.

If you’ve recently acquired Apistos for your aquarium, you may be wondering what other fish and invertebrates can peacefully cohabitate with the species.

Many Apistogramma tend to be a bit more temperamental, even aggressive, so it’s important to select tank mates that are not only compatible with the species, but also aren’t small enough to become a snack.

Can Apistogramma Be Kept with Other Fish?

Yes, Apistogramma can live with other fish, but certain factors must be considered before giving them new neighbors in their tank.

What’s Your Goal?

Breeding Apistogramma, especially those rare wild types, can be a rewarding and challenging experience that takes pet ownership to the next level.

If you aim to breed as many fish as possible or try to breed and sell them for profit, the best course of action is to maintain a dedicated breeding tank with only a few dither fish alongside your Apistogramma.

These small, fast-swimming school fish can make your breeding pairs feel safe and encourage them to explore and exhibit natural breeding behaviors.

You may be interested in housing a few algae eaters in your breed tank. Be careful in choosing the right critters for this important job; the most popular Corydoras and pleco are known to be egg/fry eaters.

If you don’t plan on reproducing but instead are looking for a different variety of fish that get along with Apistogramma in a large mixed-community setting, here are some things to keep in mind.

Preferred Swimming Levels

Consider choosing tank mates that are unlikely to venture to the bottom of the tank, as Apistogramma dwarf cichlids are bottom-dwelling fish and tend to stay relatively close to the substrate.

Unless you have a very large tank, territorial bottom feeders like ramsloaches, or geophagus should be added cautiously, as they will compete for the same space and food.

Similar Waters Requirements

For best results, try to keep fish with similar water requirements as Apistogramma – such as other South American cichlids like Angelfish and Discus.

Certain species, like the Panda Dwarf Cichlid (A. nijsseni) or Apistogramma elizabethae, hail from blackwater creeks and streams where the water is very acidic (pH of 5.5 or lower), and the conductivity is low (<50µS/cm). Although they can slowly acclimate to harder water environments, it can be problematic to introduce other tank mates that prefer widely different water chemistries.

Stay Away from Large Fish

Keep in mind that Apistos are dwarf cichlids. These diminutive fish rarely grow over 3 inches long. Always choose aquarium companions that are roughly similar in size.

Apistogramma are Micropredator

Apistogramma are naturally micro predators that feed on small prey such as aquatic invertebrates, insects, and detritus. Therefore, if something is small enough to fit into their mouth, there is a high chance it will become their prey. 

That is why small snails or shrimp should not be kept with Apistogramma, as these animals are typically part of their diet in the wild. In fact, A. macmasteri and several species of Apistogramma are very adept at consuming the snails.

The Aggression Levels of Your Apistogramma

Another consideration is the aggression level of your Apistogramma. Some species employ a strict polygamous mating strategy, while others tend to be opportunistic monogamist. The latter tend to be less territorial and aggressive with their mates, as well as with their own kind or closely-related species when multiple species are present.

aggression of the apistogramma species

Aquarium Size

Despite their compact size, those polygamous Apistogramma species do need loads of space because they should be kept in a harem situation, one male to two or three females. 

This means for a community setup, more hiding places and swimming spaces must be provided to prevent the potential aggression that can arise in cramped quarters.

10 Best Tank Mates for Apistogramma

With these ground rules in mind, we have compiled a list of potential tank mates for you and your Apistogramma dwarf cichlids to enjoy.

None of these suggestions is 100% guaranteed to be compatible since all fish are different with their own personalities, so it’s always smart to buy an extra aquarium to keep on hand as a backup.

Apistogramma Tank Mates for Breeding Tanks

Probably most Apistogramma enthusiasts will naturally gravitate toward a breeding tank as nothing is more exhilarating than witnessing a small group of fry emerge from a breeding cave.

In this type of setup, the Apistogramma breeding pair or trio should be kept by themselves, and good tank mates will be those that remain low-key and stay only on the top layer of the tank without threatening the Apistogramma’s fry/eggs.

Dwarf pencilfish (Nannostomus marginatus)


No matter which Apistogramma species you have in your spawning tank, dwarf pencilfish make great roommates. They are small, peaceful, fast swimmers that remain at the very top of the tank.

What makes pencilfish a great co-inhabitant is that they are not true schooling fish that should be kept in small groups of at least six individuals. 

In small breeding tanks of 5 to 10 gallons in size, one to two dwarf pencilfish are already enough to prop up the purpose of encouraging Apistogramma to breed.

Scientific Name:Nannostomus marginatus
Common Name:Dwarf Pencilfish
Swimming Level:Surface
Origin:Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname.
Size:1 inch (2.5 cm)
Social:Peaceful schooling fish
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:4.0 – 7.0
Temperature:75–80°F (24–27°C)
Hardness:up to 8 degrees
Tank Size:10 gallons

Brown pencilfish (Nannostomus eques)

brown pencilfish (Nannostomus eques)

A distinctive alternative to dwarf pencilfish, the brown pencilfish is slightly larger, reaching up to 1.5 inches long. Swimming habits are similar to dwarf pencilfish, with these fish preferring the upper layers of your aquarium.

Both Dwarf Pencilfish and Brown Pencilfish originate from soft, acidic waters, so they will thrive in your Apistogramma aquarium with the same water parameters.

Scientific Name:Nannostomus eques
Common Name:Brown pencilfish
Swimming Level:Surface
Origin:Brazil, Peru, and Colombia
Size:1.5 inch (3.8cm)
Social:Peaceful schooling fish
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:4.5 – 7.5
Temperature:72–82°F (22–28°C)
Hardness:up to 8 degrees
Tank Size:10 gallons

Pygmy Cory (Corydoras pygmaeus)

corydoras pygmaeus

This tiny South American catfish is the smallest species of Corydoras, growing up to one inch when fully grown. They like to shoal together in the bottom to middle levels of the tank and would do best in a group of six or more of their own species.

These playful catfish can be helpful as a clean-up crew in large breeding tanks. However, as mentioned, they have the tendency to be egg/fry predators, so they should be removed during the breeding season if you want to increase the survival rate and growth.

Scientific Name:Corydoras pygmaeus
Common Name:Pygmy Cory
Swimming Level:Bottom
Size:1 inch (2.5 cm)
Social:Peaceful schooling fish
Lifespan:3 years
pH:6.0 – 8.0
Temperature:72–79 °F (22–26 °C)
Hardness:2 to 25 degrees
Tank Size:5 gallons

Apistogramma Tank Mates for Community Tanks

Apistos are undoubtedly stunning showstopper fish for aquascapers, as they bring a lot of vibrant colors and contrasting patterns to the tank. In painstakingly decorated display tanks, they are simply kept as pets, with a few surviving offspring being retained.

If you are keeping Apistogramma in a community environment, then it is highly recommended to select tank mates that come from the same geographical origins as your Apistos and are roughly the same size or bigger. They should also prefer different swimming levels.


apistogramma tank mate

Obviously a staple in the aquarium industry, and there’s no doubt that these colorful, peaceful schooling fish will add a dash of color to your tank.

If you are looking for a group of tetras that go well with Apistogramma, there are three beautiful fish making the perfect addition– and with good reason.

Common Name:Neon tetraGreen Neon TetrasBlack Neon Tetras
Max Size:1.5 inches (4 cm)1 inch (2.5 cm)1.5 inches (4 cm)
Tank Level:Middle to TopMiddle to TopMiddle to Top
Lifespan:5 to 10 years2 to 3 years3 to 5 years
pH:6.0– 7.03.0– 6.55.5– 7.5
Temperature:68-79° F (20-26 °C)74 -82° F (23-28°C)73 -81° F (23-27°C)
Hardness:up to 10 degreesup to 10 degreesup to 6 degrees
Tank Size (Min):10 gallons10 gallons10 gallons


Harlequin Rasbora

Apistogramma hobbyists love rasboras – they have a beautiful metallic color, and most species grow to an average size of 2 inches, making them ideal for small to mid-size tanks.

Despite the fact that these little fish are native to Southeast Asia, they are never seen in brackish waters. In their natural habitat, most rasboras are found in lowlands where the water is very soft and acidic due largely to decaying leaves and other organic debris. The pH level can be as low as 4.0 in some areas.

Similar to the native environments of Apistogramma cichlids, these are regions of slow-moving streams beneath dense forest canopies where light is often subdued because of overhanging trees and foliage.

Among the many species of peaceful schooling Rasboras, the following are arguably the most popular of them all.

Kubotai Rasbora (Microdevario kubotai)0.75 inches (2 cm)
Chili Rasbora (Boraras brigittae)0.75 inches (2 cm)
Galaxy rasbora (Danio margaritatus)1 inch (2.5 cm)
Rummy Nose Rasbora (Sawbwa resplendent)1.4 inches (3.5 cm)
Harlequin Rasbora (Rasbora heteromorpha)1.75 inches (4.5 cm)


Marbled Hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata)

The popularity of these nano surface dwellers comes from their peculiar hatchet-shaped bodies. There’s nothing like seeing a large school of hatchetfish swimming back and forth just beneath the water surface.

As typical shoaling fish, they need to be kept in a large group of 10 or more individuals to feel comfortable and exhibit their natural behaviors. Additionally, since they can jump and glide using their “wing-like” fins, it is important to have a tank with a tight-fitting lid or hood.

If you are considering hatchetfish as tank mates for Apistogramma fish, there are several species available at local fish stores that are recommended.

Pygmy hatchetfish (C. myersi)1 inch (2.5 cm)
Blackwing hatchetfish (C. marthae)1.1 inches (2.8 cm)
Marbled hatchetfish (C. strigata)1.4 inches (3.5 cm)
Silver hatchetfish (G. levis)1.5 inches (4 cm)
Common hatchetfish (G. sternicla)1.5 inches (4 cm)
Spotted hatchetfish (G. maculatus)2.5 inches (6.5 cm)
Spotfin hatchetfish (T. stellatus)2.5 inches (6.5 cm)

Keyhole Cichlid (Cleithracara maronii)

keyhole cichlid

The peaceful, medium-sized keyhole cichlid can be a good tank buddy for Apistogramma fish. Although they are considered bottom dwellers, they really enjoy a planted tank with tall plants in the middle area where they can hang out.

Scientific Name:Cleithracara Maronii
Common Name:Keyhole cichlid
Origin:Orinoco River basin, Barima River, Ouanary River
Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:7-10 Years
Size:4.3 inches
Temperature:72 – 81°F (22 – 27°C)
PH:6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness:12 – 20
Minimum Tank Size:55 gallons

The Rams (Mikrogeophagus spp.)


The Ram, or Mikrogeophagus genus, is a small group of South American dwarf cichlids consisting of only three described species. Despite their limited diversity, they remain a long-time favorite among hobbyists due to their vibrant coloration and peaceful temperament in community aquariums.

Given that Mikrogeophagus species are exclusively monogamous, they can be housed alone or in bonded pairs.

Scientific Name:Mikrogeophagus ramireziMikrogeophagus altispinosus
Common Name:German Blue Ram, Ram Chiclid, German BlueBolivian butterfly, Bolivian ram cichlid, and ruby crown cichlid
Origin:Orinoco River basin in both Venezuela and Colombia.Rio Madeira basin in Bolivia and Brazil.
Swimming Level:Mid, bottom-dwellerMid, bottom-dweller
Care Level:Advanced Advanced 
Lifespan:2 to 3 years2 to 3 years
Size:2 to 3 inches2 to 3 inches
Temperature:74 – 82°F (23 – 28°C)72 to 79 °F (22–26 °C)
PH:5.0 to 7.06.5 to 7.2
Water hardness:0 to 10 dKH0 to 10 dKH
Minimum Tank Size:20 gallons20 gallons

Angelfish (Pterophyllum spp.)

Possibly the most recognized South American Cichlid in the freshwater hobby. They are well-known for their long, pointed fins and graceful swimming behavior. As one of the few mid-dwelling Cichlids, they make perfect additions to large show aquariums.

Origin:the Amazon Basin and Orinoco Basin
Care Level:Advanced
Lifespan:8 to 12 years
Size:6 to 8 inches
Temperature:78 – 84°F (25.5 – 29°C)
PH:6.0 – 7.8
Water hardness:3 to 8 dKH
Minimum Tank Size:29 gallons

Discus Fish

Apistogramma and discus

No list of the most beautiful South American freshwater fish would be complete without the discus fish, often regarded as the ‘King of the Aquarium.’

Discus fish like to swim in the middle of the aquarium and thrive in soft acidic waters, and prefer clean, well-oxygenated environments with plenty of tall plants serving as hiding places.

However, a potential issue with keeping Discus cichlids alongside Apistogramma is that they require higher water temperatures, which can accelerate Apistos’ metabolism and shorten their lifespan.

Origin:The main waterway of the Amazon basin
Care Level:Advanced
Lifespan:10 -15 years
Size:5 to 7 inches
Temperature:78 – 86°F (25.5 – 30°C)
PH:6.5 – 7.5
Water hardness:1 to 4 dKH
Minimum Tank Size:75 gallons


Of course, there is no way to list all aquatic creatures you can keep with Apistogramma. Even though certain fishes, like bettas or Kribs, can be housed in conjunction with your Apistogramma fish, we would advise against them. 

It is important to thoroughly research the needs and temperament of any fish or other creatures you plan to introduce to your Apistogramma tank to ensure they coexist harmoniously with the existing inhabitants.

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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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