Leaves for Apistogramma: Myth, Top Picks & How to Use

Leaves for Apistos

Are you a passionate aquarium enthusiast looking to breed Apistogramma species? If so, there is one thing you absolutely must get right: the water conditions.

Originating in South America, these delicate dwarf cichlids are found in slow-moving streams and tributaries beneath dense forest canopies, where the water is naturally soft and acidic from the decaying leaves, wood, and other organic matter.

Over the years, the characteristics of their native habitats have led to a common misconception that adding some plant materials like dried tree leaves and driftwood can easily lower aquarium pH and create a Rio Negro biotope aquarium.

But is that really the case? Join us as we explore the truth behind this myth and reveal which leaves are best suited for your Apistogramma tank.

Do Leaves Help Lower pH in an Apistogramma Aquarium?

When you drop some leaves into your Apistogramma aquarium water, they gradually decompose and release tannins, which are plant-based substances that slowly tint the water with a yellow-brown coloration. However, these leaves can only lower the pH in aquariums with low or zero carbonate hardness levels (KH<5).

KH, or Carbonate Hardness, is primarily determined by the concentration of bicarbonate (HCO3-) and carbonate (CO32-) ions in the water. These ions act as buffers, helping neutralize any acids or bases added to the water.

That is to say, if you simply put the foliage in your Apistogramma fish tank with hard, alkaline tap water, the weak tannic acid present won’t affect the pH level other than coloring the water and increasing levels of total dissolved solids (TDS).

Myth: Leaves or Tannins Will Soften Water

Aquarium water hardness (referred to as GH for short) measures the amount of mineral cations in water, with the most abundant being calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+) ions.

While the tannic acid will react with mineral cations, causing them to form complexes and precipitate out of the water, the extent of the softening effect is extremely limited and short-lived in those areas with hard water.

Map of water hardness in the United States

If you live in an area with hard water and want to soften it for your Apistogramma fish, you’ll need to use a reverse osmosis (RO) system to filter the mineral cations. You can also collect rainwater from your roof or directly buy RO water from Walmart, Walgreens, Target, and Whole Foods.

More Benefits of Leaves in Apistogramma Aquariums

Leaves for Apistogramma

On top of helping to lower pH, using leaves in your freshwater aquarium offers numerous advantages for both the tank environment and the well-being of your aquatic pets. Let’s explore some of them:

Promote Humic Substances Formation – Humic substances are large, complex molecules produced by the decay of organic matter (such as leaves). They help to form a strong biological foundation in your tank, binding with trace elements and providing essential minerals for beneficial bacteria and fauna. This is especially important in Apistogramma fry growth.

Provide Natural Shade and Cover – Leaves offer shade and cover for Apistogramma species as they are bottom dwellers.

Alter Tank’s Aesthetics – The brown/yellow tint released by leaves adds a natural, wild-looking feel to your aquarium. Apistogramma species are known for their brightly colored patterns and vibrant colors, and adding some floating plants, driftwood, or leaves helps bring out these unique visual displays.

Act as An Antibacterial Agent – These leaves contain various phenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, coumarins, phenolics, and triterpenoids, which act as natural antibiotics. This helps to protect fish against bacterial and fungal diseases in your tank.

12 Leaves are Best for Apistogramma?

Not all leaves are created equal when it comes to lowering pH in an aquarium—some are far better than others.

We have listed 12 popular leaves below and how they improve your South American biotype or blackwater aquarium environment.

Catappa (Indian Almond) Leaves

Indian Almond leaves

Catapaa leaves, also known as Indian almond or Ketapang leaves, have been widely used for decades in fish farms as an antibacterial and antifungal water treatment.

The size varies from seller to seller, but they usually measure around 4-7 inches (10-18 cm) long and can produce a brown tint in aquarium water. Start with one leaf per 5 gallons of water, and increase it until the desired color is achieved.

Oak Leaves

Oak Leaves for Aquariums

Oak leaves are the most common type used in aquariums due to their availability, tannin content, and ability to lower pH. There are dozens of oak species in North America, and they are divided into two main categories: red oaks and white oaks.

The former makes particularly good choices for aquariums because they decompose slowly, impart a beautiful dark brown/red hue to the water, and have great shape.

Japanese Maple Leaves

Japanese Maple Leaves

Japanese maple leaves are an interesting and attractive addition to your aquarium due to their leaf shape and texture. These leaves tend to break down much quicker than Indian almond leaves.

Hazel Leaves

Hazel Leaves

Hazel leaves are another leaf litter for lowering the pH in your Apistogramma fish tank. The leaves of common hazel (Corylus avellana) are slightly bigger and thicker, but they will last just as long as Catapaa leaves.

However, it does not tint the water deeply and has a milder acidifying effect, which might require more leaves for larger tanks.

Hornbeam Leaves

Hornbeam Leaves

Hornbeam leaves are a popular choice among owners of nano tanks because of their smaller size, typically measuring between 1.5-3.5 inches (4-9 cm) in length. 

They decompose rapidly and can quickly lower the water’s pH, similar to the effect of Catappa leaves. Therefore, you may need to replace them more often.

Sycamore Leaves

Sycamore Leaves

Sycamore leaves have a similar appearance to maple leaves, but they typically have shallower lobes and are arranged alternately on the branch.

Like Hornbeam leaves, Sycamore leaves have a strong and rapid coloring effect when added to aquarium water. However, they decompose quickly and have a short-lived ability to reduce the pH of the water. If not replaced, the pH level will rise again over time.

Magnolia Leaves

Magnolia Leaves

Adding magnolia leaves to your Apistogramma tank offers similar benefits as Catappa leaves because they can produce phenolic antimicrobial compounds to exert antimicrobial effects. 

These leaves come in a variety of colors, ranging from oranges to browns, which makes them an appealing addition to a mixed leaf litter bed in a blackwater aquarium.

Guava Leaves

Guava Leaves

The leaves of the guava tree (Psidium guajava) are rich in antibacterial properties and can boost the overall health of your Apistogramma aquarium. 

They are popular with dwarf cichlid hobbyists who like to add dried leaves that dissolve much more slowly. In addition, their coloring makes them especially attractive for recreating a natural habitat for Apistos.

Mangrove Leaves

Natural Mangrove leaves have been used by Apistogramma keepers for years to maintain a stable, acidic environment.

They are small in size, durable, and last longer, so they can be used to add depth to your aquarium. They don’t strongly tint the water, but they do impart an amber-brown hue.

Jackfruit Leaves

These tropical botanicals provide a good alternative for conditioning aquatic habitats and are known for their aesthetics, abundance of antibacterial properties, and phytonutrients. 

As you can see, they have a very solid shape that brings a nice effect to your aquarium with a beautiful golden-brown color.

Mulberry Leaves

Like jackfruit leaves, mulberry leaves are a highly beneficial leaf litter to Apistogramma aquariums. Not only do they provide an aesthetically pleasing Nature style habitat, but they also serve as a natural food source for shrimp and snails.

Banana Leaves

Did you know that banana leaves possess the highest concentration of tannins among agricultural wastes and are considered a potent source for manufacturing leather in tanning processing and wood adhesive?

In the freshwater aquarium, aquarists often use dried banana leaves to add a natural look and flavor to their tank. As they decompose, they slowly release tannins and other beneficial substances into the water that can help soften it and reduce pH levels.

How to Use Leaves in Apistogramma Tanks?

To prepare these leaves for your aquarium, first, rinse them under running water to remove any dirt or debris. Then, you can either let them air-dry or brew them over with some boiling water to make them sink immediately. 

Don’t boil or pre-soak them for too long. Otherwise, they will lose their natural tannins and color quickly, and you don’t get their benefits.

When adding the leaves to your aquarium, simply place them on the water’s surface, and they will slowly sink to the bottom after a week, or you can weigh them down with a decoration.


Do Beech Leaves Lower the pH in An Aquarium?

Beech leaves are low in tannins and will only slightly reduce the pH.

How Many Leaves Should I Put in My Aquarium?

It depends on your tank size, tap water parameters, the type of leaves you are using, and the desired water conditions, like pH and TDS.

As a general rule of thumb, start with a few leaves and monitor your water parameters for any changes. Adjust the number of leaves accordingly to reach your desired results.

Can I Collect Leaves from Outside for My Apistogramma Aquarium?

Yes, you can do so, but only if you are certain they have not been exposed to any chemicals or pollutants, such as fertilizers and pesticides. Damaged or rotten leaves should also be avoided.

Last Words

While adding leaves to your aquarium can help lower its pH, it is important to note that this method does not act as a miraculous fix. Adjusting pH should be a gradual process to prevent stressing your Apistogramma fish. 

Next time you are thinking of using leaves effectively to lower the pH, get an RO/DI unit or buy RO water to supplement your water changes.

Speaking of Apistogramma tank set-up, check out our comprehensive section to help you create a suitable environment for these beautiful dwarf cichlids.

How To Acclimate New Apistogramma Fish? (Drip or Float Method)

Apistogramma Acclimation

Welcome to the fascinating world of Apistogramma fish! These stunning dwarf cichlids are renowned for their vibrant colors and fascinating behaviors, making them a highly sought-after addition to any dwarf cichlid enthusiast’s collection.

But before you can witness their beauty in full bloom, it’s crucial to properly acclimate them to their new environment. Don’t let the stress of relocation harm your new aquatic friends.

Read on to learn the proper Apistogramma acclimation method that guarantees a smooth transition and promotes optimal health.

The Importance of Proper Acclimation for New Apistogramma

Upon receiving your Apistogramma fish from an online source or store, proper acclimation is essential, especially for wild-caught specimens since they are more sensitive to environmental changes.

By acclimating your newly-received fish, you can help them adjust to the water parameters in their new home as quickly and stress-free as possible, reducing the risk of acclimation shock – one of the biggest killers of new aquatic animals.

Apistogramma Acclimation Methods

Although the goal of a slow and careful acclimatization process is the same, the methods and nuances behind it have evolved over the years as new knowledge becomes available.

When it comes to acclimating Apistogramma and other aquatic life, the two most commonly used methods are the floating bag method and drip acclimation.

Floating Bag Method

Aptly named, this 1960s method is straightforward:

  1. Simply place the sealed shipping bag in your quarantine tank (QT) and let it float to equalize the temperature. This gradual process usually takes 15-30 minutes, depending on the temperature difference.
  2. Once the equalization period is over, open the bag and take 1/2 cup of water from the QT and add it to the bag.
  3. Repeat it every 15-20 minutes until the shipping bag is full.
  4. Take the bag out of the QT and pour about half of the water from the bag down the sink.
  5. After that, float the bag in the QT and repeat step 2.
  6. Net the fish from the bag, discard the water into a sink and carefully add the fish into the QT.

Reasons Why the Floating Bag Method Is Not Ideal for Apistogramma Acclimation

While there are several variations based on this broad approach, in most cases, it is a poor way to acclimate Apistogramma species unless you can buy them from local breeders (or LFS) within a driving distance of less than an hour.

Here is what you need to know about the defects of the floating bag method; they are quite clear and reasonable.

If you purchase Apistogramma online and not at a store, it may take a day or two for the fish to be delivered to your doorstep. During transit, the water temperature in the shipping bag can drop a bit, resulting in a reduction in the fish’s metabolic activity.

ammonia poisoning

However, despite this, the accumulation of carbon dioxide and ammonia from the fish’s waste can still increase the acidity of the water in the bag. As you probably already know, ammonia exists mainly in the form of ionized ammonium (NH4+) at low pH and temperature, which is relatively non-toxic.

When you get the shipping bag float in a tank with warmer water, where the fish’s metabolism is ramped up and produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia waste.

Once the bag gets opened, the carbon dioxide is released, and the excessively increased pH level converts the ammonia to the un-ionized form (NH3), which is a hundred times more toxic and can burn your Apistogramma’s gills.

On top of causing ammonia burns or even sudden death in fish, consider the following potential problems associated with the floating bag method.

  1. Hailing from soft, acidic water, Apistos can be very vulnerable to pH and temperature changes.
  2. It is possible that parasites or other disease-causing organisms can enter your tank by hitchhiking at the bottom of the shipping bag from the pet store.
  3. The increase in the fish’s metabolism means oxygen depletion in the fish bag. This lack of oxygen may cause your fish to suffer from hypoxia.
  4. Most often, the outside of the bag’s inner lining is dirty, even has debris inside, and should not be floated.
  5. Some breathable bags can allow the gas exchange through the bag’s wall, which creates a relatively stable environment. Once the fish bag is immersed in the aquarium, however, this process can be disrupted.
  6. Keeping any fish in a polluted, confined space longer than necessary is a poor husbandry practice.

Introduce the Squirt & Dump Method for Tank-raised Apistogramma 

Now that you understand why the floating bag method isn’t ideal for Apistogramma let’s talk about the squirt & dump method.

The concept behind this technique is to add a few drops of water conditioner into the transport bag to neutralize the ammonia once the temperatures have equalized. Popular water conditioners like Novaqua plus or Seachem Prime can make the water safe for your new fish arrivals by detoxifying the excess ammonia.

Once you have made the most important parts of the game of conditioning the water, your next step is determined by whether your Apistogramma fish is tank-raised or wild-caught.

For commonly tank-raised Apistogramma specimens like A. agassizii “Fire Red” or cockatoo dwarf cichlid, which can handle a wide range of pH and temperature conditions than their wild-caught counterparts, you can go from step 2 of the floating bag method if you want.

While many aquarists prefer to transfer the fish into the quarantine tank (QT) right away rather than leaving them in a bag where ammonia levels are increasing, as they believe this is less stressful for the fish.

Acclimating Wild-caught Apistogramma with the “Squirt & Drip Acclimation”

For those wild-caught Apistos, you may have to use the drip method. This technique has been widely accepted at the hobby level for decades as the “advanced” way of acclimating sensitive aquatic life to a new environment.

What is Drip Acclimation?

The “drip acclimation” or “bucket method” is considered the gold standard among hobbyists of all levels. It works by introducing quarantine tank (QT) water to a bucket at a precise rate of drips per second using a handmade siphon device.

Initially, the Drip Acclimation Method was advocated mostly by saltwater marine aquarium hobbyists who have to monitor a wider scope of water parameters to acclimate new arrivals, not just the water temperature. 

However, the same principle applies to sensitive Apistogramma fish because the difference in pH levels and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) between the transport bag water and the QT water can easily shock the fish.

As a general rule, if the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) or pH are different by more than 50mg/L or 1.5 pH points, respectively, there’s no doubt that you should use the Drip Acclimation Method for your newly-purchased fish.

Instructions for the Drip Acclimation Method

Before starting the acclimation process, gather the following items:

  • A clean bucket or a specimen container (thanks to their small size, a 2.5- or 5-gallon bucket work sufficiently for Apistogramma fish)
  • A length of aquarium airline tubing and an airline control valve (not necessary)

Once you have all the materials ready, here’s how to do it:

  1. Float the bag: Start by floating the sealed bag containing the fish in your aquarium. This will equalize the temperature inside the bag with your QT water, reducing temperature-related stress.
  2. Open the bag and neutralize ammonia: After 15-20 minutes, open the bag and quickly add a dose of a water conditioner like Novaqua Plus or Seachem Prime. This step neutralizes the ammonia in the bag, preventing additional stress and potential ammonia burns to the fish.
  3. Transfer fish to the bucket: Place the Apistogramma fish, still in its transport bag, inside the bucket or container. Carefully open the bag and pour the water, along with the fish, into the bucket.
  4. Start siphoning: Gently coil the aquarium tubing around the rim of the bucket, secure it in place with a clip, and create a siphon between the aquarium and the bucket. Attach the control valve or tie a loose knot in the airline to control the water flow.
  5. Adjust the drip rate: Aim for a slow drip rate of about 1-2 drops per second, and this can be achieved by adjusting the control valve or making the knot tighter. Don’t let the drip rate become too slow, which can cause the water to cool too quickly.
  6. Pour out half the water once the water doubles. Regularly monitor the water level in the container. Once it has doubled, remove half of the water and repeat the dripping process five times until the water from the shipping bag in the container to less than 10%.
  7. Net the fish to the quarantine tank (QT): Once the acclimation process is complete, gently use a net to transfer your new Apistogramma fish to your QT, making sure to avoid transferring any of the water from the bag.

Tips for Preventing Problems with Your Apistogramma Fish During Acclimation

To make the acclimation process go as smoothly as possible and reduce the chances of problems arising, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make sure there is enough place in the bucket.
  • Test the pH and water temperature when the water is doubled.
  • You might want to pull the knot tight if it’s a really sensitive fish.
  • When acclimating both fish and invertebrates, it is recommended to use a separate bucket for each.
  • It can be helpful to turn off the lights of your aquarium during the acclimation process to avoid shocking your Apistos.


The floating bag acclimation is more suitable for hardy dither fish, such as tetras, pencilfish, or rasboras.

But if you’re a first-time Apistogramma keeper, the Drip Acclimation Method is recommended as it will help to reduce stress and provide better protection for your delicate fish.

Hopefully, this guide will help you feel more confident in choosing the right acclimation process for your Apistogramma fish. If you are unsure or have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. 

The 5 Best Apistogramma for Beginners (Easy to Keep & Breed)

The Best Apistogramma for Beginners: Easy to Keep & Breed

Apistogramma, or Apistos, are often considered to be a good starter dwarf cichlid for those who want to observe fascinating breeding behaviors.

While it’s true that these small and colorful freshwater fish often don’t require large aquariums with expensive filtration systems and heaters, not every Apistogramma is as easy to breed and care for.

If you are a first-time Apistogramma owner and want your new setup to be an instant success, below we have compiled a list of species that are the best Apistogramma for beginners.

Factors in Choosing Apistogramma Fish for Beginners

A. borelli male

New owners tend to look for a fish species with the most appealing physical characteristics. These attractive Apistogramma may be acceptable choices for beginners, but some Apistos are poor choices due to their water conditions requirements, living space needs, or temperament. A beginner Apistogramma fish should have these qualities:

Hardy and Easy to Care For

Many species of Apistogramma fish are native to blackwater streams and tributaries of the Amazon River.

These natural environments are characterized by very soft and acidic water from fallen leaves, decaying wood, and other organic matter, with a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 and no detectable hardness (conductivity less than 50).

For blackwater species like A. elizabethae, A. gibbiceps, A. paucisquamis, A. mendezi, A. diplotaenia, etc., the care requirements can be very challenging for beginners. They are also known to be difficult to reproduce consistently even under ideal water conditions.

Tank-raised Specimens

Tank-raised Apistogramma individuals are greatly preferred over wild-caught ones for two main reasons. They are fairly easy to find and acclimate much more easily to home aquariums, making them better choices for beginners who do not want to bother with specialized water conditions. Additionally, being tank-raised, they are accustomed to eating prepared foods.

Popular Apistogramma species, such as A. borelli, A agassiziiA. macmasteri, and A. cacatuoides, are widely available in certain pet store chains and online retailers. As a bonus, their cheap price tags make them even more attractive for those on a budget.

Peaceful Temperament

For some species, it is necessary to house them in harems with one male to two or three females because they employ strictly polygamous and monogamous mating strategies. During spawning, males can become extremely aggressive and choosy towards females.

On the other hand, beginner-friendly Apistogramma species are usually opportunistic polygamy and monogamy, which means that a male will mate with multiple females as the opportunity arises, resulting in higher reproductive success. In most cases, they can be housed with other different Apistogramma species.

 Apistogramma Species Mating Systems and aggression level

It’s worth noting that although strictly monogamous males can be very picky about their mates, once they have paired up, their peaceful nature makes them good choices for small community tanks.

The best Apistogramma for beginners that fit the bill of being peaceful include members from the regani, steindachneri, and macmasteri groups. These fish are not only good-natured but also among some of the most stunning Apistos that are easy to breed.

5 Recommended Beginner Apistogramma Dwarf Cichlids

As one of the largest groups of cichlids available in the aquarium trade, it can be intimidating to know which fish to pick for the first time.

To help you quickly populate your aquarium with Apistogramma species, here are five of the easiest Apistos to get you started.

#1 Apistogramma borellii (Umbrella Cichlid)

Apistogramma borellii Opal

The Apistogramma borellii, also known as the Umbrella cichlid, is one of the most popular and arguably the #1 easiest Apistogramma that do well in a beginning fish tank.

These 2-inch dwarf cichlids are especially robust. Tank-raised specimens can handle a wide range of pH from 5.0 to 8.0. Because of their small size, they can be kept in a 15-gallon aquarium.

Speaking of the colors and markings, they come in several domestic color morphs with a lot of red, blue, and yellow. Vibrant blue coloration and red caudal fins make these fish a colorful addition to a community freshwater aquarium.

This species is quite easy to breed in captivity, even by accident. Plus, A. borellii complexes belong to the regani Group, the members tend to be opportunistically monogamous during breeding seasons. Therefore, they are quite peaceful and less territorial.

#2 Apistogramma macmasteri (Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid)

Apistogramma macmasteri

One of the factors that impact how to choose a beginner Apistogramma fish is “how hard it is to keep them?” The Apistogramma macmasteri, also known as Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid, stands out in this regard.

These dwarf cichlids come from the macmasteri Group, and the dominant male displays opportunistic polygamy. As mentioned earlier, given a chance, the male will breed with multiple females instead of spending much time guarding and defending its territory.

It is an incredibly beautiful fish, known for its bright red shoulder patches, which can be quite prominent in males. When mating, brooding females can be differentiated primarily by their shimmering yellow coloration.

At almost 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, these easy-to-care-for fish are not too picky about water parameters. As with A. borellii, they can adapt well to a variety of water environments. However, they are more prone to several diseases at lower water temperatures, where A. borellii can still thrive.

#3 Apistogramma viejita


Did you know that virtually all the fish sold as “Apistogramma viejita” are actually either A. macmasteri or a hybrid resulting from selective breeding between A. macmasteri and A. viejita, or other undescribed species within the macmasteri Group?

Despite this, those domestic strains are still a good choice for beginners who want to enjoy the beauty of Apistogramma without too much hassle. 

Just like A. macmasteri, A. viejita has the ability to live in various water conditions. However, the water should be acidic (pH <7) and moderately soft (dH <10º), and they are susceptible to bacterial infections in harder, more alkaline waters.

#4 Apistogramma sp. ‘rotpunkt’

Many experienced Apistogramma keepers agree that this undescribed species is undoubtedly a beginner dwarf cichlid to keep because of its striking golden-yellow hue, small size, and simple maintenance. During spawning, their coloration becomes even more stunning and vibrant.

This 2 inches (5 cm) Apistogramma is a lesser-known fish to find in the hobby. Thanks to its small size, it can be kept in pairs in 10-gallon tanks or larger.

This species is very robust and is easy to breed. The water requirements for spawning are not crucial. Plus, they have a great appetite and show an interest in almost all kinds of food. Frozen, dried, or live foods are all welcomed by them!

#5 Apistogramma steindachneri

Apistogramma steindachneri
Photo: Gert Blank

The beautiful A. steindachneri is the largest of all Apistos, growing up to 4 inches (10 cm) in length. It is also a prolific breeder, capable of laying up to 250 eggs in a single spawn. You might be surprised to find that it can even tolerate alkaline conditions.

The bad news is that you won’t find this fish in the hobby due to the more lucrative market for newly discovered species. If you’re lucky enough to acquire this uncommon species, take advantage of the opportunity.


Is Apistogramma trifasciata beginner friendly?

Apistogramma trifasciata, also known as the “Three-Striped Apisto,” is a typical strictly polygamous species that must be kept in trios in tanks larger than 20 (Long). Males are extremely aggressive towards females who are not willing to breed, making them not a good candidates for novice Apistogramma owners.

Is Apistogramma cacatuoides beginner friendly?

Although A. cacatuoides doesn’t really need soft and acidic water to reproduce successfully, it’s a large, strictly polygamous species that requires a large tank and is known for its aggressive and territorial behavior. For more info, read the full Apistogramma cacatuoides care article.


Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of which Apistogramma species is best for beginners. Whether you decide to set up a breeding project or a display community aquarium, A. borellii is the one you can be proud to have in your aquarium.

If you are new to the dwarf cichlid hobby and want to learn more great tips and tricks, check out our Apistogramma section to get started.

Can You Keep Apistogramma with Guppies? We’ve Got the Answers!

apistogramma with guppies

The guppy fish (Poecilia reticulata) has been a staple in the aquarium trade since its first discovery in South America around the 1860s. This readily available livebearer gained popularity due to its brilliant colors, active personalities, and ease of breeding.

As an Apistogramma owner, you may be wondering if you can house Apistogramma with guppies together. 

We’ve got the answers. Keep reading to learn more about this interesting topic.

Can You Keep Apistogramma with Guppies?

Apistogramma with Guppies can live together in the same fish tank- but only on a short-term basis if you want both fish to thrive. Common reasons for these two species can work in some situations include:

Different Tank Levels

Like bettasgouramis, and many livebearers, guppies are middle-to-top swimmers rarely found at the bottom of a tank. Apistogramma dwarf cichlids (or Apistos), on the other hand, will spend most of their time in the lower regions of the aquarium.

Keeping guppies and Apistos in different water levels assures them each plenty of space to swim around, feed, and even breed without interference from the other. This can greatly increase the chance of success when mixing these two species, resulting in a peaceful, visually appealing community tank.

Guppies Are Hardy Fish

Guppies make fantastic beginner fish because they are quite low-maintenance and tend to be very forgiving. To date, these fish have been highly inbred in captivity to get stunning colors, so most guppies sold in the aquarium trade can thrive in a wide range of water conditions.

As a side note, try to purchase guppies from a reputable local breeder with good strains. Quite often, many sellers will offer unique color morphs found nowhere else, which are the result of persistent inbreeding, and these fish can be fairly weak.

Reasons Why Apistogramma with Guppies Make Poor Neighbors

Despite the fact that Apistogramma and guppies can get along under the same roof for a short period of time, it is generally not a good idea to have them cohabitate long-term.

Here’s what you need to know what is wrong with the coexistence of Apistogramma species and Guppies?

Water Requirements Difference

As a general rule, it’s not recommended to mix fish from various habitats in one aquarium, since each species typically has unique water requirements for optimal growth and survival.

Apistogramma and guppies are native to freshwater in the north of South America, but the water parameters of their natural environments differ significantly.

Guppies are often found in hard, more alkaline water, some even from brackish to full marine environments near the coastline. Apistos, on the opposite side, come from small shallow streams and tributaries with soft, acidic water in the rainforest.

To provide good amounts of essential minerals for guppies, such as calcium, iron, and magnesium, most aquarists usually add buffer solutions to the water in their aquariums.

Unfortunately, this can greatly increase the alkalinity and pH levels of the water to a point where Apistos become less colorful and are less likely to breed. This reason alone should discourage you from mixing these two species long-term.

The Guppy’s’ Tail Will Be Ripped Off

lyretail guppy
Flickr: Gemma Whalley / photographybyambrose

Depending on the variety, some guppies have long-flowing tails and fins, such as swordtail or lyretail guppies. While their unique appearance may be quite attractive, the tails can easily become a target for Apistogramma cichlids.

Guppies are not faster swimmers, and Apistos will not hesitate to rip off a guppy’s tail if given a chance, even though they are not known as fin nippers. This can cause serious injury or even death for your poor fish, which is something you should absolutely avoid.

Aggression Issues

Apistogramma dwarf cichlids can be extremely territorial when breeding and may attack guppies if they come too close to the Apisto’s cave, eggs, or fry.

While some aquarists might get lucky and avoid serious issues in a well-structured tank, mixing these two species can easily become a recipe for disaster if you are not prepared to observe them closely, particularly in small aquariums. 

Guppies Tend to Be Noisy for Apistogramma 

Naturally, guppy males tend to be more boisterous and curious, which can be a bit distracting and stressful for the Apisto.

Guppies’ constant movement and active behavior can also push out the apistos’ from their favorite spots and make them uncomfortable.

A brooding Apistogramma will not be happy in the presence of a tank full of guppies, so it is best to avoid this situation if you want to breed them successfully.

Apistogramma Will Eat Guppy Fry

Another reason guppies make poor tank mates for Apistogramma is that Apistos will not hesitate to munch on some guppy fry if available.

Guppy fry are small enough to fit into the mouths of dwarf cichlids, so they can become easy snacks if they do not have enough places to hide.

Final Thoughts

Apistogramma and guppies are wonderful fish species that can bring lots of joy to the aquarium. Separately, they make great candidates for small to medium-sized planted aquariums.

However, mixing them is not recommended for long-term success in most cases due to the differences in water requirements, aggression issues, and territoriality.

If you decide to do so anyway, ensure you provide your fish with enough hiding places and plenty of room to move around freely. Remember the golden rule: “Out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to dealing with fish aggression.

Can Apistogramma and Betta Live Together? 7 Tips to Make It Possible

apistogramma and betta

Apistogramma (aka Dwarf Cichlids) and Bettas both have their own charms. Their natural beauty, compact size, and lively personalities can magically add life and interest to any aquarium.

While they serve as ideal pet fish individually, a common thing that Apistogramma and Betta owners wonder about is if these two creatures can live together peacefully. 

Keep reading for more insights about the coexistence of these two different species and what it takes to increase the chances of this combination working.

Can You Keep Apistogramma Dwarf Cichlid with Betta Fish Together?

Apistogramma and Betta

Apistogramma dwarf cichlids with Bettas can coexist together in a community tank setup, but you will have to take certain measures to ensure that both species cannot physically attack or stress each other out at any point. 

Bettas sometimes get a bad reputation for being ornery and might be nipping the dorsal fin of the Apistos, particularly those with extended lappets like Apistogramma macmasteri or Apistogramma hongsloi.

Some Apistos may be docile and play nicely with Bettas until they are ready to spawn. They would very likely chase the betta around the tank during breeding in order to protect their eggs/fry, so it is important to prepare for this behavior ahead of time.

What Makes Apistogramma and Betta Potential Tank Mates?

Keeping two fishes together in harmony is a complex process of trial and error, and the success rate depends on several factors, such as the size, stocking levels, diet, water conditions, and behavior patterns of each fish.

They Swim at Different Levels

One of the guidelines often overlooked when mixing fish species is the difference in water levels that they prefer, which not only helps reduce tension when fish have to battle for territories but also provides adequate swimming space for each species.

No matter what species of Apistogramma you have, they are mainly bottom dwellers, so they will stay near the bottom and sometimes dig into the substrate to find food, like their larger Geophagus cousins. For this reason, we don’t recommend housing Apistos with Kribensisloaches, and rams unless the tank is spacious to accommodate everyone.

On the other hand, like Gouramis, Bettas are surface dwellers and swim around the upper third of your fish tank. In some cases, they might even hang around the middle and lower water levels, but this highly depends on the size of your aquarium.

Both Fish Love Floating Plants

Apistogrammas and Bettas both love floating plants in their tank, as they provide a great deal of comfort and a sense of security. Moreover, these two fish species will benefit greatly from the subdued light that floating plants provide.

Live plants can also be used as a sort of filter in the aquarium, reducing nitrates and improving water quality. In addition to this, they can provide a lot of covers, hiding places, and a block line of sights, not to mention creating an eye-pleasing aesthetic for the aquarium, which is always a good thing.

Both Fish Prefer Similar Water Conditions

Indeed, although Apistos and bettas originate from different regions of the world, they both come from slow-moving waters that are low in hardness and alkalinity. 

The desired temperature of bettas is slightly higher, with an ambient temperature of around 75-82°F (24-28°C), while most Apistos prefer to live in cooler water below 79°F (26°C). Higher temperatures will speed up their metabolism and can lead to a shorter lifespan. 

7 Tips For Pairing Betta With Apistogramma Cichlids 

betta fish tank

If you plan on owning betta fish and Apistogramma simultaneously, here are a few tips to help them coexist peacefully:

#1 Provide Ample Space

The best way to keep both fish species happy is to provide them with ample space and various hiding places. This means that you should choose a big tank with a large footprint.

For a single male betta with Apistogramma, the tank should be at least 20 gallons so that the betta has enough room to swim freely and the Apistos have plenty of territories and hiding spots. 

The bigger the aquarium, the better.

#2 Choose the Right Apistogramma Species

Choosing a suitable Apistogramma species is essential for the success of your pair. We recommend avoiding advanced, strictly polygamous Apistos that can be more territorial and aggressive when it comes to breeding and guarding their offspring, such as Agassizii, Macmasteri, and Cacatuoides.

Instead, opt for opportunistic polygamous species in the regani Group and steindachneri Group, like the A. borellii and A. steindachneri, which are the easiest Apistos to keep.

#3 Create a Safe Environment

Plenty of hiding places are essential for the coexistence of the two species. Aquascaping your aquarium with caves, driftwood, rocks, and plants can provide them someplace to escape to if necessary.

We recommend adding floating blankets of plants in the upper part of your tank so that the betta feels comfortable swimming around up there.

#4 Supervise All Interactions

You may never be able to trust a pair (or trio) of Apistogramma with a betta alone together, and that’s OK. It is necessary to supervise all interactions closely.

Some Apistos tend to be inquisitive and may try to interact with the betta, which could result in a fight. All it takes is one wrong move, and they can start chasing each other or become aggressive. Therefore, you should always be vigilant and ready to intervene if necessary.

#5 Remove Aggressive Fish

Having a backup tank on hand is not a bad idea, so you can remove aggressive fish (betta) if needed. You can also try installing a plastic divider in the middle of your aquarium that ensures the two species are safely separated in large tanks.

#6 Rearrange or Redecorate the Tank

When introducing either Apistogramma or betta fish to the same aquarium, they may fight and attempt to claim their own territory. If this occurs, rearranging or redecorating the tank with caves, plants, and other hiding spots can help create distinct territories and reduce aggression.

#7 Never Put More Than One Male Betta in a Tank.

Repeat it again: never put more than one male betta in a tank. Male bettas are highly territorial and will almost certainly battle each other if housed together. Keeping multiple female Betta fish together may be the safest option, but it’s still risky.

Final Thoughts

In general, it’s not a good idea to house two fish from different geographical origins in the same tank. 

However, a betta and Apistogramma can peacefully coexist in the same tank with the right setup. All it takes is careful planning, patience, and supervision.

For more recommend tank mates for Apistogramma, view our list here.

Apistogramma and Kribensis: Compatibility & Which to Choose?

Apistogramma and Kribensis

Apistogramma and Kribensis are two types of dwarf cichlids that are popular among aquarists. They are both beautiful and fascinating to observe. So it is not surprising that many fish keepers are interested in keeping them together in the same tank.

However, can these two fish from different continents and habitats co-exist peacefully in a community aquarium? If not, which one is right for your setup?

Apistogramma and Kribensis Coexistence

Pelvicachromis pulcher: Kribensis

The Common Kribensis (Pelvicachromis pulcher) is native to the River Ethiope drainage in the Niger Delta of West Africa, where it inhabits low-lying streams with soft water, low conductivity, and an acidic pH (ranging from 5.6 to 6.9). However, near the sea, the water in the Niger Delta region is harder, more alkaline, and can even be brackish.

That said, Kribensis are quite hardy and can thrive in a wide range of water conditions, from soft and acidic to hard and alkaline. This is particularly true for tank-raised specimens that have been acclimated to higher pH and alkalinity. Some individuals are even able to tolerate up to a pH of 8.5.

On the flip side, Apistogramma species originate from the clear water and blackwater streams in South America. They prefer soft, acidic water and live in flooded forests and slow-moving streams with abundant vegetation.

The adaptability of Kribensis cichlids to soft and acidic environments is one of the underlying reasons why the question of the compatibility of Apistogramma and Kribensis cichlids arises. However, why do many dwarf cichlids enthusiasts say this is not a good idea?

Can I Keep Apistogramma and Krib Together?

It is neither safe nor appropriate to house Apistogramma and Kribensis cichlids together as both are bottom-dwelling fish, so they will compete for the same territory. Additionally, Kribensis fish tend to grow larger and are known to be more aggressive than most dwarf cichlids, including Apistogramma. 

To ensure the health and well-being of both species, it’s wise to keep Apistogramma and Kribs in separate tanks.

Of course, some of you sole Apistogramma or Kribensis cichlid owners might need more proof that these colorful dwarf cichlids cannot live happily in the same tank. Let’s lay out the facts in detail.

They’re Bottom Dwellers

No matter the specific species, Kribs and Apistos are bottom-dwelling fish. They lend interest to the bottom region of the aquarium. 

Despite being relatively peaceful cichlids, this can pose serious conflicts, as they will both compete for the same space and food.

Even if you have a large aquarium, the conflict may continue. It can be life threatening when either fish is ready to spawn, especially the Kribensis; they will become extremely territorial and aggressive while guarding their fry.

Choosing fish that prefer different water levels is the key to creating a more attractive community aquarium. 

Along with similar adult sizes and the same water conditions requirement, consider those top and middle dwellers when it comes to cohabitation Apistogramma or Kribensis cichlids.

Size and Aggression Levels

Kribensis are slightly larger than Apistogramma, with males reaching up to 4 inches (10 cm) and females up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, while the average full-grown size of an Apistogramma is around 3 inches (7.6 cm) in length.

In general, African cichlids are more aggressive than South American cichlids, and Kribensis are no exception to this rule, as they are known for their territorial nature. 

Due to their larger size and aggressive behavior, Kribs can easily intimidate the Apistos in a community setup.

For more compatible Apistogramma tank mates, make sure to check out our list here: 15 Best Apistogramma Tank Mates (Breeding & Community)

Kribs or Apistogramma, Which Species Is Right for You?

Apistogramma Vs Kribensis

Apistogramma and Kribensis are great options for a community aquarium, but which one is right for you?

Many considerations need to be taken when picking out the potential candidate for your display aquarium, so let’s take a closer look at each one and see which fish comes out on top as the winner.

Care Level (The Winner Is Kribensis)

Both Kribs and Apistogramma are relatively easy to care for, but Kribs are less demanding and more forgiving of water quality issues, making them good choices for people new to the world of dwarf cichlids.

Depending on the species and your tap water chemistry, some blackwater Apistos can be a bit challenging for novice aquarists. To achieve their desired water parameters, you will need to invest in an RO/DI unit, along with specialized water additives for breeding purposes. 

Apistogramma are definitely not fish for lazy aquarists. They do require some extra work to maintain their bright colors and good health, as well as to encourage breeding.

Author note: Newly set up aquariums are not suitable for both fish. 

Cost (The Winner Is Kribensis)

Owning a pet fish is going to cost you money. Depending on the type of fish and size, prices may vary. 

Kribs usually cost around $5 for a single fish, a bonded pair could cost you up to $40 or more. The majority of specimens available in the aquarium trade are captive-bred, from commercial fish farms rather than wild-caught.

Apistogramma is more expensive than Kribs, which will likely cost you anywhere between $10 and $15 for more common color morphs. The rarer, wild-caught specimens fetch a heftier price tag, up to hundreds of dollars.

Considering the tank setup requirements and the cost of both fish, Kribensis are more suitable for those on a tight budget.

Regardless of the species you decide on, be sure to purchase from a reputable breeder whenever possible.

Color and Appearance (The Winner Is Apistogramma)


Apistogramma and Kribensis make beautiful additions to your community aquarium with their vibrant colors and amazing patterns.

The scientific name of the Kribensis dwarf cichlid, Pelvicachromis pulcher, which means “beautiful belly,” can give you an idea of what to expect. Females can be identified by a bright red or purple belly when they are ready to spawn.

As the largest South American cichlid genus, Apistogramma offers more variety in terms of color and pattern. From the dazzling Apistogramma agassizii “Fire Red” to the sparkling Apistogramma panduro (Blue Panda Dwarf Cichlid), the possibilities are endless.

The stunning colors and beautiful finnage of Apistogramma make them the clear winner for showmanship in a planted aquarium full of greenery.

Wrapping Up

While Apistogramma and Kribensis cichlids are both beautiful and fascinating fish, keeping them together in the same aquarium is not recommended. The fact that they’re both bottom-dwellers tends to aggravate territorial behavior and can lead to aggression.

In the end, it will come down to your personal preference and budget, but if you’re looking for an easy-to-care-for showstopper of a fish, Apistogramma are definitely worth considering. Who knows, you may even find yourself with a breeding pair in no time!

Can Apistogramma and Discus Live Together? (Good or Bad?)

Apistogramma and Discus

Discus fish, the king of the aquarium, are known for their distinctive disk-shaped bodies and regal colors. But they’re also notoriously difficult to care for and are usually relished by experienced fish keepers.

If you recently bought Apistogramma dwarf cichlids for your South American display tank, you may be wondering if the Discus would get along with them.

Can Apistogramma Be Kept with Discus?

This is a complex issue, and there is no set answer that fits all situations. You can mix Apistogramma and the Discus together if the tank is large enough and well-structured, with many hiding spots for the Apistos.

The Risk and Challenge of Keeping Apistogramma and Discus Together

Apistogramma and Discus

However, as an Apistogramma owner, here’s what you should know about the risk and challenges of Apistogramma and the Discus coexistence.

Warmer Water Shortens the Lifespan of Apistos

Aquarists choose to keep Apistogramma and Discus fish in separate tanks mainly because the Discus requires higher temperatures to thrive compared to Apistogramma. The high temperatures that benefit Discus can speed up the metabolism of Apistogramma, which can eventually reduce their lifespan.

Unlike Apistogramma, the Discus cichlid (Symphysodon spp) is only distributed along the main waterway of the Amazon basin. The average daily temperature in these regions is 86 °F (30 °C), with very little seasonal variation throughout the year.

As you probably know, the Heckel’s discus is native to the Rio Abacaxis, a blackwater tributary of the lower Rio Madeira, where water temperatures can reach as high as 93°F (34°C).

Author note: Rio Abacaxis is also the natural habitat of Apistogramma sp. 'wilhelmi,' and they may be sympatric species.

Today, most Discus available to the hobby are captive bred and are typically kept in water temperatures that range from 85° to 86°F (29° to 30°C ). Whether caught in the wild or bred in captivity, failure to maintain a suitable temperature could be detrimental to their health.

Most Apistos, on the other hand, are able to endure high temperatures but ideally prefer to live in cooler water below 79 ºF (26 ºC). At higher temperatures, the metabolic rate of Apistogramma accelerates, and their lifespan is reduced.

A Sex Ratio of 1:1 Will Never Happen

While it is known that a community tank is not ideal as a breeding tank, there may be instances where your Apistogramma will spawn in such an environment.

Under optimal conditions, the perfect ratio of male to female should be 1:1. However, not only does water temperature affect the metabolism in Apistogramma, but it also significantly influences the sex of the offspring.

In general, the higher the water temperature, the more males you will get.[1] Therefore, if you are trying to breed Apistogramma in water above 86°F (30°C), you will likely end up with an overwhelming 90% male population and very few females.

Pay Special Attention to Water Conditions

Apistogramma and the Discus require a high level of water quality in terms of water conditions. However, Discus fish are more demanding, particularly when it comes to breeding and raising. 

Spawning the Discus is relatively easy, but ensuring that the eggs hatch and the females care for the brood can be challenging when other fish are present. The eggs won’t hatch unless the water quality is perfect.

Unlike other tank mates of Apistos, the Discus fish is not an easy species to keep. Getting them from 2″ to adult size requires more space and effort compared to Apistogrammas. If you’re willing to commit to regular water changes, then it’s worth considering. Otherwise, it’s probably better to stick with Apistogrammas.

Ways to Help Apistogramma and Discus Coexist

Although higher temperatures shorten the lifespan of Apistogramma, it’s not a major concern if you have bred them and have spare fish.

First and foremost, both fishes need a specially prepared tank for the breeding process if you choose to take that route.

In a community tank, there are some things you can do to increase the chances of coexistence between Apistogramma and Discus.

Keep Them in a Large Tank

Discus are schooling fish species that do best when kept in groups of at least six individuals of their own kind. Keeping a single Discus with a pair of Apistos in a 29-gallon community tank is doable for learning about their different needs.

Monitor the Discus’s behavior and watch out for signs of aggression, as it may start to bully the Apistogramma when kept alone. Remember that these fish can grow up to 7 inches (17.8 cm) in diameter in captivity.

We recommend at least a 75-gallon tank for housing 3-5 Discus and a group of Apistos together. You could do a 55-gallon tank, but a wider tank that provides a larger water bottom area is preferable for these Apistogramma dwarf cichlids.

Keep Only One Species of Apistogramma

Mixing different species of Apistogramma in the same tank can pose several problems.

Firstly, there is a possibility of cross-breeding. Secondly, some Apistogramma species may have specialized water quality requirements that are difficult to maintain, making them more challenging to care for than Discus. Thirdly, having different species of Apistogramma can greatly decrease the survival rate of the fry and eggs.

If you insist on keeping more than one species of Apistogramma, avoid mixing similar-shaped species and members of the same or closely related species-groups. 

For more information on the compatibility of two different Apistogramma species, check out this guide: “Can You Keep Different Apistogramma Together?

Apistogramma Species Considerations

Apistogramma ortegai

In addition to sticking to only one species of Apistogramma, it is especially necessary to take into account the temperament and spawning behavior of the chosen species to ensure a good chance of successful breeding, as well as to prevent them from accidentally disturbing your Discus.

Some species of the Apistogramma that employ either a strictly polygamous or strictly monogamous mating strategy should be set up in harems, as the males become extremely aggressive and selective of their mates.

On the other hand, other species tend to exhibit opportunistic polygamous or monogamous mating behavior. These fish can be kept in pairs, like most members of the Regani group and Steindachneri group.

Depending on your tank setup, you need to make a decision about which Apistogramma may be more suitable.

aggression of the apistogramma species

Decor & Layout

No matter the breed, Apistogramma are bottom dwellers that prefer to stick close to the bottom, and they should be provided with plenty of hiding spots. Driftwoods, overturned flowerpots, or PVC pipes are good options.

Discus are middle-dwelling fish and sometimes may forage for food near the bottom, so make sure to leave an open swimming space in the middle of the tank.

A planted aquarium with both floating and rooted plants is ideal for this combination. Choose plants that can adapt to the mandatory high water temperatures, such as Bucephalandra, Anubias, or Java Ferns.

These lush, hardy plants can offer cover and refuge to the Apistogramma, as well as provide a natural shelter for the Discus when threatened or feeling stressed.

To mimic their natural habitats, use more Catappa leaves and Malaysian driftwood to give the water a more acidic pH and make it look like blackwater. Indian almond leaves also release very slight antibacterial and antifungal properties into the water that can help keep your tank clean.


At the end of the day, with a suitable aquarium setup, you can successfully combine Apistogramma and Discus in your home aquascape.

Just remember that keeping these two cichlid species together requires an understanding of their different needs so they can live harmoniously under one roof.


6 Reasons Why Loaches Are Not Compatible with Apistogramma

loaches and apistogramma

Loaches and Apistogramma are both diverse groups of fish. While loaches can be a fun addition to any tropical freshwater aquarium, they may not be the best fit for Apistogramma Dwarf Cichlids.

Let’s take a closer look at these six reasons why these two species may not be compatible.

#1 Loaches Are Bottom-Dwelling Fish

Kuhli Loach

Loaches are benthic fish and typically swim near the bottom or at the bottom of the tank. They are known to be active and playful, often digging in the substrate and exploring all of the hiding spots, including Apistos’ caves.

One thing is for sure – they will compete for the food and space unless the tank is large enough and laid out so they don’t bother each other very much.

In a commonly-used 20-gallon Apistogramma tank, this can cause stress and aggression between the two species, leading to fights and potential harm to both fishes, especially if you have a breeding pair in the tank.

#2 Some Loaches are Large, Shy Fish

Although the smallest rosy loach only reaches around one inch, most popular loaches grow to an average size of 4-8 inches when fully matured, not to mention they prefer to be kept in schools of their own kind. Some species will become less active, weaker, and more prone to diseases when kept alone.

This tends to be problematic, too. Loaches are too small to fit in Apistos’ caves and too large to compete for food with them. And if there is a lot of activity going on in the tank, loaches are likely to be scared and hide away most of the time.

You need to dig a little into the specific species of loach before adding them to a tank with Apistogramma. Considering the average size of Apistogramma, avoid larger loaches, as they will eat Apistos at the first opportunity. 

#3 Loaches Are Eggs/Fry Predators

On top of being potential competitors, loaches are also known to be big eaters and can prey on Apistogramma eggs or fry during the night. This is especially true for those nocturnal (crepuscular) loach species, including:

  • Kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii)
  • Silver Kuhli Loach (Pangio anguillaris)
  • Horseface Loach (Acantopsis dialuzona)
  • Sun Loach (Yasuhikotakia eos)
  • Splendid Loach (Yasuhikotakia splendid)
  • Speckle-tailed Loach (Yasuhikotakia caudipunctata)
  • Jaguar loach (Yasuhikotakia splendida)

These fish tend to be more active at night, and they may enter breeding caves and make a meal of Apistogramma eggs or fry. Sometimes, the brooding females might even be disturbed, thus reducing the chances of successful breeding.

Like Plecos and Corys, if you are seriously interested in breeding Apistos, avoid adding these fishes.

#4 Some Loaches Are Fin Nippers

Several loaches have a bad reputation for nipping the fins of tank mates. Zebra loaches, Rainbow Loaches, Black Kuhli Loaches, and Queen Loaches are some of the commonly-known fin nippers.

While they may not cause serious damage, those fin nips can be annoying for Apistogramma species with extended fin lappets, such as Red Shoulder Dwarf Cichlid (A. macmasteri) and Redline Apisto (A. hongsloi), which can become quite aggressive in response to such disturbances.

#5 Loaches Prefer Different Water Parameters

Loaches are native to freshwater rivers and creeks throughout Central and Southeast Asia, northern Africa, and Europe, and they have adapted to a wide range of water parameters. Depending on the species, some loaches may prefer more soft, acidic water while others may need slightly alkaline water.

In contrast, Apistos are found exclusively in South America, where the waters are soft and more acidic. Some species originate from the blackwater streams and tributaries beneath dense forest canopies.

Therefore, unless the loaches you have are compatible with Apisto water parameters and can thrive in their habitats, they may not be suitable tankmates.

You should test your water regularly and provide a stable environment for both fish species, or else risk one or both of them being unhappy and stressed out.

#6 Not All Loaches Consume Algae and Snails

Most species of loaches have no interest whatsoever in eating algae. The most well-known algae eater among loaches is the Reticulated Hillstream Loach, but this oddball fish tends to be very susceptible to the disease when kept in tanks with higher water temperatures.

Author note: Kuhli Loaches do not eat algae, snails, and shrimp.

Other loaches like the Yoyo, Clown, Zebra, and Skunk loach are effective snail eaters. They will consume any snails they come across in the tank by suctioning them right out of their shells.


Ways to Help Loaches and Apistogramma Coexist

With so many potential problems that can arise, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid putting loaches with Apistogrammas. However, if you really want to add loaches to your tank, here are some tips that will help them coexist in a community tank:

  • Get a Big Tank: First, the tank must be large enough for both the loaches and Apistos. Remember, the more fish you have in your tank, the bigger it should be.
  • Avoid Species That Are Not Compatible: Don’t add fin nippers and large loaches to a tank with Apistogrammas. Stick with species that are small and peaceful.
  • Create Hiding Places: Provide plenty of rockwork, live plants, driftwood, and other tank decorations for both species to hide in.
  • Cover the Filter Intakes: A few species of loach have been known to find their way into impellers.


Most species of loach will not do well with Apistogrammas due to their incompatible water parameters, temperaments, size differences, and food preferences.

If you do choose to keep loaches with Apistogramma, it’s important to understand their needs and preferences and create an ideal environment for both species.

Algae Eaters for Apistogramma (Shrimps, Snails & Otos)

Algae Eater for apistogramma

No matter what type of tank you have, I think Apistogramma owners everywhere dream of crystal-clear aquariums without unsightly algae. I know I do. I would give anything to have a fish tank that looks like something out of the great show Tanked [1]

Unfortunately, once we mix fish with water and light, algae growth is a fact of life that we will have to face sooner or later. A small amount of algae is welcome and expected, but an outbreak can turn your tank into a green mess in no time.

In addition to the scheduled maintenance tasks, the best method to prevent heavy algae build-up is to get an excellent algae eater for your Apistogramma aquariums. 

Do Apistogramma Eat Algae?

Contrary to what you may read out in forums and blogs, most Apistogramma species are micro-predators and primarily carnivorous in the wild. They feed on aquatic invertebrates, insect larvae, and plant detritus. So, in general, the answer is no – Apistogramma do not eat algae.

However, we have an exception here—Apistogramma angayuara [2], which is known as the smallest Apistogramma species, measuring only 0.9 to 0.95 inches when fully grown. A. angayuara has a unique diet that consists mostly of rhizopods.

Can Apistogramma Live With Algae-eating Shrimp?

Many shrimp make the most effective clean-up crew members in the aquarium hobby, with Red Cherry Shrimp (RCS) and Amano Shrimp being the most popular.

Red Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi) grows to a maximum of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length and come in a very bright, vivid red color, which can easily make them prey for Apistogramma, especially those Apistos with large mouths, such as Cockatoo dwarf cichlids (A. cacatuoides), Azure Cichlid (A. panduro), or Inca cichlid (A. baenschi).

When it comes to a head-to-head comparison between Cherry Shrimp and Amano Shrimp, the latter is definitely a winner at algae eating.

The Amano Shrimp (Caridina japonica) is mostly translucent that tends to have either a brown or tan hue. Plus, they get bigger than Cherry Shrimp, reaching about 2 inches (5 cm) long.

Obviously, the Amano shrimp is a good candidate for Apistogramma aquariums.

Apisto are, well, cichlids! Your Amano shrimp might be getting eaten by Apistogramma when they are molting and shedding their exoskeleton.

On the other hand, shrimps require slightly alkaline, hard water (GH>5°) to build strong exoskeletons. In your average Apisto tanks, where the water is usually soft and acidic, shrimps may not be able to grow and reproduce.

Some hobbyists have reported success in mixing Amano shrimp with Apistogramma borellii, but we cannot guarantee that it will work in your tank.

Algae-Eating Snails for Apistogramma Tanks

red-rim melania (Melanoides tuberculata)

Certain snails gained a reputation for being excellent algae eaters, but not everyone is a fan of snails. The most powerful algae-eating snails are those coming from the Neritidae family.

Not only are nerite snails capable of removing and eating the green spot algae, which can be difficult to scrape off of plants and rocks, but they also give you peace of mind that they will not out-reproduce in your tank and take over.

However, we don’t recommend adding nerite snails to your Apisto tanks. Read more about the nerite snails and Apistogramma coexistence.

Are Siamese Algae Eaters Compatible with Apistogramma Cichlids?

Crossocheilus oblongus (Siamese Algae Eaters )
Heather Brown | Instagram

If you have trouble with excessive amounts of hair algae or black beard algae, a group of at least three Siamese Algae Eaters (Crossocheilus oblongus) does a great job than others. However, there are several reasons why SAE is not your best option.

The main reason is that the SAE is a large, schooling, bottom-dwelling fish. They will grow quite large, up to 6 inches (15 cm). Think about it, a school of three large SAEs will take up so much space and compete with the Apistogramma for territory, not to mention only juvenile SAEs are effective algae eaters, and the adults will eventually be big enough to get the lion’s share of Apistogramma’s food.

In a nutshell, unless you have a particularly large tank, SAEs are not compatible with Apistogramma cichlids in the long run.

Otocinclus Catfish: The Best Algae Eater for Apistogramma Dwarf Cichlids

Otocinclus and Apistogramma

Commonly known as “dwarf suckers” or “otos,” the Otocinclus catfish (Otocinculus sp.) typically stay small, with adults usually not growing more than 2 inches (5 cm) in length.

Their slender bodies are small enough to reach the harder-to-reach spaces for algae but large enough not to be eaten by most Apistogramma.

Oto cats live in shoals or schools, requiring at least three to six individuals to feel comfortable and safe in the aquarium.

These diminutive fish will spend most of them between the middle and bottom of the tank so that they won’t compete for territory with Apistos.

Plus, Otocinclus catfish are best suited for the live planted tanks and can often be found hanging out live plants or other decorations using their suckermouths. By doing so, they can feed on diatom algae, which makes them excellent natural cleaners for your tank.

As a bonus, they only clean the decaying debris and algae off of the live plants, and there are no worries about them nibbling on plants’ leaves. 

Lastly, Otocinclus catfish are easy to care for and hardy because their modified digestive tracts can allow them to breathe air in water.

Remember to remove these timid and peaceful catfish if you plan to breed Apistogramma.

Wrapping Up

As you can tell, the best algae eater for Apistogramma tanks is not an easy question to answer.

Snails and shrimps may work to some extent, but they may be eaten by the Apistogramma cichlids in the tank.

If you want a reliable algae eater that won’t compete with your Apistogramma for food or territories, Otocinclus catfish are your best bet.


  1. Tanked | Imdb
  2. Kullander, SO and Ferreira, E. (2005) – Two new species of Apistogramma Regan (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from the rio Trombetas, Par State, Brazil. Neotropical Ichthyology, 3(3):361-371, 2005.

How Many Apistogramma Should Be Kept Together?

how many apistogramma in 20 gallon

One of the most common questions asked by new Apistogramma owners is, “How many Apistogramma can be kept in a 20-gallon or 55-gallon aquarium?” It’s a logical question, as most fish keepers who become interested in having these diminutive fish tend to have small- to medium-sized tanks.

But, it’s also a tough question to answer. Depending on the size of your aquarium, the species of Apistogramma you have, and what type of aquarium you are going to set up, you may have come across hundreds of opinions about how many fish can be safely housed together.

Luckily, as with anything, there is a very rough Rule of Thumb. Read on to learn the general recommendations and factors that will most impact your Apistogramma stocking levels.

Rule of Thumb

How Many Apistogramma Can I Put in a Fish Tank?

If you’ve had any exposure to the fish-keeping world, you may have heard the most widely-known rule for stocking a tank: one inch of fish per 1-2 gallons of water. While this rule applies well to other small community fish (3 inches or less), it does not apply to dwarf cichlids due to their aggressive and territorial nature.

Instead, an accepted “Rule of Thumb” in the Apistogramma hobby is that each fish should have a territory of approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. 

This is a good starting point, but there are several factors to consider when stocking an Apistogramma tank before one can be sure that the fish will have enough space and territory in the bottom area.

How Many Apistogramma Can I Put in a Fish Tank?

Given their small size, this simple rule makes it much easier to calculate how many Apistogramma you can stock in your aquarium.

As you may guess, a wider tank is more suitable for keeping Apistogramma as it provides a larger footprint, allowing the fish to establish their own territory.

The chart below lists the most common aquarium sizes, their dimensions, a’s well as the number of Apistogramma that the aquarium can safely house within the recommended territory.

Tank SizeDimensions (L x W x H)Number of Fish
10-gallon (Breeding)20″ x 10″ x 12″A pair/trio
15-gallon24″ x 12″ x 12″A pair
20-gallon (long)30″ x 12″ x 12″A pair
29-gallon 30″ x 12″ x 18″A pair
30-gallon (breeder)36″ x 18″ x 12″A pair/trio
40-gallon (long)48″ x 12″ x 16″A harem of one male with 3 females
55-gallon48″ x 13″ x 21″A harem of one male with 3 females
75 gallon48″ x 18″ x 21″A harem of one male with 3 females
125-gallon72″ x 18″ x 21″A harem of 2 males with 4 – 5 females

Factors Affecting the Number of Apistogramma in a Tank

Once you get to the point where you want to stock more Apistogramma than the chart above would suggest, there are several factors that will come into play. 

Aquarium Type

The two basic types of fish tanks in the Apistogramma world are community-type tanks and breeding tanks. Remember a community tank can never be used as a breeding tank.

A 10-gallon aquarium is the most commonly available tank and is both inexpensive and large enough to breed almost any Apistogramma species, whether it’s a breeder pair or a trio of one male and two females. Never keep more than one male in a 10-gallon spawning tank.

The stocking density in a community tank is a bit more complicated since various species of Apistogramma cichlids will have different temperaments, breeding practices, sizes, aggression levels, and living conditions.

Breeding Practices & Aggression Levels

When selecting an Apistogramma species for your community tank, choose carefully. Some species, such as Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid (A. agassizii), Three-Striped Apisto (A. trifasciata), and Banded Dwarf Cichlid (A. bitaeniata), are strictly polygamous and tend to be quite demanding and aggressive. Other species, like A. borellii and A. steindachneri, practice opportunistic polygamy, where the male will attempt to breed with any female as the opportunity arises, without any exclusivity.

When stocking these polygamous species, it is recommended to keep a harem of one male with at least two females. This ratio helps to ensure a more peaceful environment for the fish and reduces the male’s aggression, especially when a female is not ready to spawn.

Ensure each female has her own hiding spot and the room to establish and defend her territory. The less aggressive the species are, the more fish you can have.

Tank Mates & Preferred Tank Levels

apistogramma tank mate

An attractive community tank of Apistogramma can be created by incorporating other peaceful and small fish species that prefer different water levels rather than competing for the same space. As a bonus, it gives you more room to raise more Apistos in the tank.

Since Apistos are known as bottom dwellers that stay primarily on the bottom of the tank, fishes that prefer the middle and top levels of the aquarium are ideal tank mates.

Good choices are Neon Tetras, Pencilfish, hatchet fish, and other small dither fish. Make sure to select tankmates that can tolerate similar water parameters as Apistogramma cichlids; otherwise, they may not do well in such an environment.


Next, think about aquascaping. When starting out in aquascape design, the goal should be to create a natural landscape that closely mimics Apistogramma’s native habitat, rather than designing something that is merely aesthetically pleasing to you.

The design principles for aquascaping a tank used for Apistogramma should be based on providing lots of hiding spots and boundaries. A great way to do this is by adding necessary elements, such as live plants, driftwood, dead leaves, rocks, and caves, that provide the illusion of different levels in the tank.

Simplicity is your friend. Many aquarists tend to overdo it by adding too much in the tank, which can make it look cluttered and as well as make a difference in the amount of fish that can successfully be kept.

Keep in mind that some plants thrive in different conditions, and floating species are always appreciated by Apistogramma. 

Last Words

Apistogramma are cichlids with very strict stocking densities. When stocking, stick to the general rule of providing them with abundant territory instead of the “One Inch per Gallon” rule of thumb.

Always research the species of Apistogramma that you are interested in prior to purchase, and never buy fish on impulse. Carefully select tank mates for your Apistos so that they have enough room to live and can co-exist peacefully.

Finally, don’t forget about aquascaping! Set up an attractive habitat with plenty of hiding spots and features that re-create their natural environment. This will give your Apistogramma cichlids a better chance for long-term success in the aquarium.