Apistogramma trifasciata: Fish Species Profile, Care Guide, Breeding

A. trifasciata

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Apistogramma trifasciata, affectionately referred to as “three-striped dwarf cichlid,” is one of the most common types of Apistogramma dwarf cichlid due in large part to its widest range of distribution.

Although their native habitats are characterized by soft, acidic water, these medium-sized apistos are quite hardy and can survive in a wide range of water parameters.

Both male and female A. trifasciata are brilliantly colored. Morphological (in form or appearance) and behavioral differences become most obvious when they reach maturity.

A. trifasciata are labeled as “semi-aggressive” because males of A. trifasciata are known to be highly aggressive and territorial towards other males and females that are not ready to spawn.

Learn more about the facts about Apistogramma trifasciata, their care requirements, and reproduction needs. 

What is The Natural Habitat of Apistogramma trifasciata?

The natural habitat for Apistogramma trifasciata is in the Río Paraguay system in northern Argentina and Paraguay to the Pantanal wetland system of southern Brazil and eastern Bolivia.

Several geographic populations can also be found in the subtropical areas of the middle to lower Río Guaporé in Brazil and Bolivia.

Water conditions differ between regions, with the lower Guaporé system having more acidic and softer waters, while the lower Rio Paraguay in Paraguay and Argentina have waters on the more basic (alkaline) and harder side.

In their natural habitat, these fish live in whitewater and clearwater small streams, including sluggish, organically-rich streams with low oxygen concentrations.

What Are The Different Apistogramma trifasciata Colors?

The naturally occurring colors of A. trifasciata are blue and red, but the blue coloration is commonly seen in the aquarium trade. The steel blue variation is particularly striking and one of the most popular Apistos among aquarium enthusiasts.

Specimens currently sold are mostly captive-bred and fed color-enhancing food (color-up food) to increase the intensity of the fish’s coloration in a short period.

How to Tell a Male From a Female Apistogramma trifasciata?

These are some of the key differences between male and female Apistogramma trifasciata.

  • Color: Males are typically more brightly colored than females, with a metallic blue body and yellow face. Females will turn bright yellow during spawning seasons.
  • Dorsal Fin: Males have a more elongated and pointed dorsal fin that extends into a long filament, while the dorsal fin of a female will be shorter and even.
  • Pelvic fin: The pelvic fin of males is adorned with a distinctive array of filaments, which is absent in females.
  • Size: Males are typically larger than females. 

Apistogramma trifasciata is a sexually dimorphic species, meaning that males and females have different physical characteristics. 

However, identifying young fish smaller than 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) can be challenging, as adult females virtually resemble juvenile males. The key to differentiating them lies in the pelvic fin. Young males have a distinctive array of filaments adorning their pelvic fins, while females have much shorter, black pelvic fins.

Apistogramma trifasciata male vs female

How Big do Apistogramma trifasciata Get?

Apistogramma trifasciata grows to a maximum standard length (excluding the length of the caudal fin) of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in the wild, according to the book ‘Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America.’

In captivity, males can reach a total length (including the length of the caudal fin) of around 2.2 inches (5.5 cm), whereas females are smaller, measuring approximately 1.6 inches (4 cm). 

Are Apistogramma trifasciata Aggressive?

Yes, A. trifasciata is a kind of aggressive Apistogramma species. This is because the males have a highly polygynous mating system where a male breeds with multiple female partners during the breeding season. Their social behavior and interactions involve this reproductive strategy.

A. trifasciata males establish territories by claiming a certain area in the tank as their own. They will then aggressively defend this territory by chasing away other males or intruders. A male also tends to be highly aggressive toward a female that is not ready to breed.

To manage their aggression, A. trifasciata are commonly kept in a small group, known as a “harem,” with one male and at least two females. Still, it’s essential to be cautious of female-female aggression, especially in smaller tanks, as fights can become more serious.

What Is The Minimum Tank Size For Apistogramma trifasciata?

A 20-gallon Long (75 liters) is the minimum recommended tank size for a trio of A. trifasciata.

If you intend to keep more than one trio, you should provide each female with a brood territory of about 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter to reduce potential conflicts.

What Is The Lifespan of Apistogramma trifasciata?

The average life expectancy of Apistogramma trifasciata in captivity is around 2 years, according to a statistical study by Dr. Uwe Römer in 1991. However, some owners have reported their Apistogramma trifasciata living up to 5 years and even longer.

The main factors affecting the longevity of A. trifasciata are genetics, water quality, environmental stress, proper care in terms of nutrition and tank setup, as well as general health conditions.

How to Take Care of Apistogramma trifasciata?

Here’s what you’ll need to do to keep A. trifasciata happy and ensure its longevity.

  • Create a well-decorated fish tank
  • Add active dither fish
  • Optimize good water chemical levels
  • Perform regular water changes
  • Choose suitable tank mates
  • Use subdued lighting
  • Provide a natural sand substrate
  • Feed a variety of live food

Create a Well-decorated Fish Tank

A well-decorated aquarium is an aquatic environment that is both aesthetically pleasing and provides a suitable habitat for its inhabitants. For Apistogramma trifasciata, this means the decorations like plants, rocks, and caves should be carefully arranged to break the line of sight and create natural boundaries and hiding spots.

Their preferred hiding spots include overturned flower pots, half-coconut shells, driftwood, and commercial Apistogramma caves. Ensure the cave entrance is small enough for only the female to pass through.

Sometimes, with an overly aggressive male, you may consider separating the sexes with a tank divider.

Add Dither Fish.

A dither fish is a small, active, and outgoing fish that is used in the fishkeeping hobby to help shy or aggressive fish like A. trifasciata feel more comfortable in their environment.

Dither fish are often top-dwelling schooling fish, meaning they swim near the surface and must be kept in groups. This can distract aggressive fish and make them less likely to attack shy ones. Additionally, dither fish can break up the line of sight in an aquarium, helping shy fish to feel more secure.

Optimize Good Water Quality Parameters.

The optimal water quality parameters for A. trifasciata refer to the range of water chemical levels in their native habitats.

The following are some of the key indicators and water quality ranges most suitable for A. trifasciata in aquariums.

  • Temperature: 79 °F to 84 ºF (26º to 29 ºC)
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • GH: < 2 dGH
  • KH: < 4 dKH
  • Conductivity (EC): 10 – 100 µS/cm

Although this species thrives at temperatures from 79 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, it is adaptable to colder water temperatures as low as 50 °F(10 ºC).

You may need to buy a water test kit to make sure these water parameters are in the optimal range. This will help keep your fish stay healthy and live longer.

Perform Regular Water Changes.

As a rule, you should perform a 10-15% water change weekly for Apistogramma trifasciata. Increase the frequency if the water quality test results are outside of the recommended range or if there is a sudden spike in ammonia or nitrite levels.

Choose Suitable Tank Mates.

The best tank mates for Apistogramma trifasciata are those top or middle-dwelling dither fishes, including small tetras, pencilfish, and hatchetfish, as described by Al DeAngelo (1991).

These small fish can put the A. trifasciata male at ease, coax the timid females out of their hiding spots, and thus encourage reproduction.

Small members of the catfish family, especially the Otocinclus Catfish and Pygmy Corydoras, are good companions for A. trifasciata. Not only they’re peaceful and easy to care for, but they can help keep the algae at bay.

Be aware that tetras and catfish will eat any fry or eggs of Apistogramma trifasciata they see around. Pencilfish are the perfect neighbors for Apisto in breeding tanks due to their tiny, upward-facing mouths that make them safe for their babies.

Freshwater Angelfish, keyhole cichlid, and other small, peaceful South American cichlid are some of the potential tankmates that can coexist with Apistogramma trifasciata in large community aquariums.

Use Subdued Lighting.

Low lighting is appreciated by A. trifasciata, and it’s generally recommended to use subdued lighting of no more than 1.5 watts per gallon.

In their natural habitat, the three-striped dwarf cichlid inhabits slow-moving tributaries in heavily forested areas, so they prefer dimmer lighting. Floating plants can help to diffuse the light and ensure the tank remains dark.

Provide a sand substrate.

As with care of all Apistogramma, Fine-grained sand, measuring 0.5-1.7 mm grain size, is the best substrate type for Apistogramma trifasciata because of their natural feeding behavior of sifting through the sand in search of food.

Sand is completely inert and will not change the water chemistry, which is important for A. trifasciata since they prefer acidic waters in nature. Besides, sand is more natural, easier to clean, and looks much better.

Feed a Variety of Live Food

Live food is the perfect meal for Apistogramma trifasciata, and good options include baby brine shrimp (BBS), daphnia, bloodworms, glassworms, and mosquito larvae.

BBS and daphnia provide good roughage with their exoskeletons without harboring diseases, while bloodworms and glassworms are great for providing a protein-rich diet.

Tank-raised specimens can be trained to eat dry food. However, live food should always be the primary diet of Apistogramma trifasciata because it helps them maintain optimal health and coloration.

Apistogramma trifasciata care

How to Breed Apistogramma trifasciata?

These are the steps on how to breed Apistogramma trifasciata in the home aquarium.

Step 1: Prepare a breeding tank.

Set up a separate breeding tank of 20 gallons and well-decorated plenty of hiding places, such as clay flowerpots, plastic piping, and coconut shells, to provide females with a choice of spawning locations. Add a group of pencilfish as dither fish, and maintain dim lighting. 

Unlike most of the other Apistos, Apistogramma trifasciata are not picky about water values as long as they are not too extreme. They can even reproduce successfully in slightly alkaline and moderately hard water (GH between 4-8 dGH).

Step 2: Get a breeding trio.

Although undemanding when it comes to water conditions, the male A. trifasciata are extremely aggressive toward the females that are ready to spawn. Therefore, the bare minimum you should start with is a trio of one male and two females, but you will be more successful with large groups if possible.

Breeding trios are often available online. Another way to obtain them is by buying 9-12 young fish, sexing them out, and letting them pair up into harems. A. trifasciata reach their sexual maturity at around 3-6 months of age. 

Step 3: Condition all spawning fish.

Prior to spawning with either method, feed them for several days with a variety of live foods listed above. You can substitute frozen food if you do not have access to live foods.

Step 4: Watch for their spawning behavior.

Once the fish are conditioned, keep a close eye on signs of spawning. The courtship begins with a series of displays by the female near her chosen spawning site. If everything goes well, spawning will usually occur secretly in the cave. 

You might note the male furiously chasing around a female unready for spawning. In this case, add an additional hiding spot, like a floating PVC pipe, where the female can take refuge.

The female will deposit between 50 to 100 eggs on the ceiling of the spawning caves. Eggs will hatch after approximately three days at around 79ºF (26ºC).

It is common to see many females may move the larvae from the cave to plants or other decorations (if available) closer to the surface of the water. This behavior is believed to respond to lower oxygen levels in their natural habitat during the warmer breeding season. Remember to remove the dither fish if it happens.

Step 5: Take care of the fry.

The fry become free-swimming after 4 days and need to be fed infusoria or rotifers until they are large enough to accept freshly hatched brine shrimp. Perform a partial water change of 10% to 20% to 30% based on the size of the fry.

Apistogramma trifasciata 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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