Apistogramma trifasciata Species Profile & Care

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If you’re new to Apistogramma dwarf cichlids and looking for an “eye candy” fish for your large community tank, why not give Apistogramma trifasciata a try? 

Commonly known as the Three-Striped Apisto, this species is quite hardy and can survive in a wide range of water parameters. However, males of A. trifasciata are notorious for being highly aggressive and territorial toward other males and females that are not ready to breed.

The following care guide will teach you how to keep these stunning fish in good condition.

Species Summary

In its native South America, Apistogramma trifasciata is known to have one of the widest ranges of any member of the Apistogramma genus. 

This little cichlid can be found all the way from the Río Paraguay system in northern Argentina and Paraguay to the Pantanal wetland system of southern Brazil and eastern Bolivia. Several populations can also be found in the subtropical areas of the middle to lower Río Guaporé in Brazil and Bolivia, where the water is slightly acidic and softer.

Apistogramma trifasciata taxonomy

According to Koslowski’s book (2002) and genetic studies by Miller & Schliewen (2005) [1], A. trifasciata and its closely related variants have been recognized as a basal lineage (or clade) known as the trifasciata lineage.

The trifasciata lineage has been divided into two morphological sublineages due to their similar characteristics and distributions: the trifasciata Sublineage and the agassizii Sublineage.

To aid in distinguishing the various interrelated species within a sublineage, authors [2] and ichthyologists divide each sublineage into several species-groups and species-complexes. Apistogramma trifasciata belongs to the trifasciata group.

Similar to the L-number system used for identifying catfish species of the family Loricariidae, the German aquarium magazine DATZ also introduced an A-number system for identifying unique species or geographical variations.

Species of the trifasciata Group have their own set of T-numbers from A 204 to A 207, depending on where the fish was collected from.

Scientific Name:Apistogramma trifasciata
Common Name:Three-Striped Apisto
Origin:Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Max Size:Males: 2.2 inches (5.5 cm); Females: 1.6 inches (4 cm)
Social:Males are notorious for being highly aggressive and territorial.
Lifespan:2 ~ 5 years
pH:6.5 – 7.5
Temperature:50 °F (winter) ~ 84º F (10º ~ 29ºC)
KH: < 2 dGH;
Tank Size:20 gallons (a trio)

Apistogramma trifasciata Identification

Apistogramma trifasciata

The scientific name “trifasciata” is a combination of two Latin words:

  • tri – meaning three
  • fasciata – meaning stripes.

Therefore, the name probably refers to the three dark stripes on the body: The most visible black lateral line runs from the mouth to the tail; a dark suborbital stripe across the cheek ends at the edge of the operculum (gill cover); From the pectoral fin, an abdominal stripe extends until it meets the anal fin.

Like the other two groups of the trifasciata lineage, the cacatuoides Group and the nijsseni Group, the species of the trifasciata Group exhibit characteristics of evolutionarily advanced fish: more streamlined bodies and elongated dorsal and ventral fins.

Members of the trifasciata Group are often mistaken for young species of the Cacatuoides Group due to their miniature size. You can spot them by looking for the diagnostic caudal fin; the cacatuoides Group possesses a more lyrate caudal fin, while the trifasciata Group has a more rounded caudal fin.

A.cacatuoides vs A. trifasciata


The three-striped dwarf cichlid tends to be on the smaller side in the trifasciata lineage.

The standard length- that is, the length of a fish excluding the caudal fin- of this species doesn’t tend to go over about 2.2 inches (5.5 cm) for males, while females are even smaller, reaching a maximum standard length of 1.6 inches (4 cm).

In terms of total length (including the caudal fin), meanwhile, males usually do not exceed 2.75 inches (7cm), and females typically grow to around 2.25 inches (5.7cm).

Three-Striped Apisto Care & Tank Setup

The Apistogramma trifasciata (three-striped Apisto) has some territorial tendencies that may not make it the best choice for first-time breeders. 

However, it doesn’t require super acid or soft water for breeding. This makes it a popular choice among Apistogramma enthusiasts who are seeking a hardy species to breed.

If you are thinking about caring for a three-striped dwarf cichlid, it is important to understand its basic requirements for optimal health and well-being. 

As with other Apistos, captive-raised specimens are fairly resilient against most common aquarium diseases such as ick, and they can still become sickly when kept in inadequate conditions.

Tank Size

The first step to ensuring the health and happiness of your fish is to provide them with a suitable aquarium environment. 

Despite its small size, Apistogramma trifasciata is a highly polygamous species that should be kept in a trio to spread the male’s ardor around. Therefore, a 20-gallon long (30″ x 12″ x 12″) or larger aquarium is recommended.

Whether it’s a breeding tank or a biotope tank, it can be difficult to properly decorate it to give each fish its territory in a smaller tank.

Water Parameters

Water quality is one of the most important factors to consider when getting a new fish of any kind- after all, for many species, even small variations in pH and temperature can have a negative impact on the fish’s health.

Luckily, the three-striped dwarf cichlid is fairly easygoing and able to tolerate a wide range of water conditions, though that doesn’t mean you can ignore water quality entirely. Below, we’ve included a handy table of information concerning the best water conditions to allow your Apistogramma trifasciata to thrive.

  • Temperature: 50 °F (winter) ~ 84º F (10º ~ 29ºC)
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5;
  • GH: < 2;
  • KH: < 4;


Apistogramma dwarf cichlids are bottom-dwellers, choosing to spend most of their time in the lower half of the aquarium.

In their natural habitat, the three-striped dwarf cichlid inhabits slow-moving tributaries in heavily forested areas, so they tend to prefer dimmer lighting. A dark background will also help the Apisto’s colors to stand out and provide a desired low-light habitat.

They prefer fine sand or gravel with a layer of dried leaf litter, as this mimics their natural environment. The addition of leaf litter can have other benefits, from providing cover to allowing for the growth of beneficial microbes as the plant matter decomposes.

They also appreciate the presence of caves and driftwood, as this provides them with hiding spots and territory markers. 

Make sure that your tank is properly decorated to provide adequate breeding sites and territorial boundaries if you plan to breed Apistogramma trifasciata. In some cases, with an overly aggressive male, you may consider separating the sexes with a tank divider or a flowerpot.

Give them plenty of live plants; a few floating plants are preferred, as they can diffuse the light further. Here are a few easy-to-grow plants you can include in your tank: Ceratopteris spp., Cryptocoryne spp., Anubias barteri, and Bolbitis heudelotii.

Apistogramma trifasciata Social & Tankmates

Apistogramma trifasciata is relatively peaceful and a good option for a community tank, but males are highly polygamous and can become aggressive towards other males and females during breeding. 

Therefore, keeping them in a harem of one male and two or more females in a well-planted aquarium with ample hiding spaces is recommended.

To spread the male’s attention and reduce aggression for females that are not ready to breed, small peaceful “target” fish can be added as tankmates. Good choices include smaller tetras (e.g., ember, cardinal), pencilfish, or small corys.

It is not generally recommended to house different Apistogramma species together, as this can exacerbate aggression issues and lead to hybridization.

Author notes: Corys and plecos should be avoided in a breeding tank, as they may get in the cave and prey upon the eggs and fry at night.

Gender Differences

Apistogramma trifasciata are sexual dimorphism, with males being more colorful and larger than females. Males have longer fins and a more intense coloration, with bright blue highlights often visible on the fins and faces, sometimes mixed with red or green.

Females, meanwhile, tend to be a bit less vibrant, with tan or bright yellow bodies that are much more uniform in color.


Apistogramma trifasciata is relatively easy to breed in trios or pairs. It is a cave spawner and exhibits some unique mating behavior compared to other Apistos. This is because it is one of the special few species in which females initiate courtship.

The breeding tank should be decorated with rocks to provide females with a choice of spawning locations. If rocks and the like are unavailable, hiding places can also be provided in the form of clay flowerpots, plastic piping, and other coconut shells.

Water parameters are not critical for the successful reproduction of this species. Of course, extremes should be avoided; In fact, they can thrive and reproduce even in slightly alkaline and moderately hard water conditions.

Sources vary on the difficulty in breeding these little fish, though most agree that they can become very territorial when ‘in the mood’ so to speak. It may be wise to keep more than one female in the tank in order to keep the male from getting too aggressive with any one fish.

Once the spawning process is complete, the female will deposit between 50 to 100 eggs on the ceiling of whatever “cave” you have provided them.

The eggs typically hatch within 36 to 72 hours, after which you may observe the female relocating the larvae to areas 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.

When bred in a trio, Apistogramma trifasciata are notable for practicing biparental care- females will solely guard fry, while males will defend their territory as a whole. However, in the case of a breeding pair, the male often assists in leading and caring for the fry.

The fry become free-swimming after 4 days and will take newly hatched brine shrimp as their first food. They have the potential to grow quickly but will be vulnerable to predation by other fish until they reach a size of 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) in length. This growth stage typically takes about two weeks to a month, depending on factors such as feeding and water quality.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Apistogramma trifasciata, or the three-striped dwarf cichlid, is a beautiful and rewarding fish species to keep in your home aquarium. 

By providing them with the proper tank setup and care, these fish can thrive, allowing you to enjoy their vibrant colors and playful behavior for years to come.


  • Miller M, Schliewen U. The molecular phylogeny of the genus Apistogramma—a working hypothesis. Datz special. 2005; 12: 24–25.
  • A description of Apistogramma species-groups. Mike Wise, October, 2021.
  • Tempo and rates of diversification in the South American cichlid genus Apistogramma (Teleostei: Perciformes: Cichlidae). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182618. PMID: 28873089; PMCID: PMC5584756.
  • Haseman, John D.. 1911. “An annotated catalog of the cichlid fishes collected by the expedition of the Carnegie Museum to central South America, 1907-10”. Annals of the Carnegie Museum. 329-373

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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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