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Apistogramma agassizii | Dwarf Cichlid Care & More

Looking to get into keeping cichlids? Why not start with one of the many colorful dwarf cichlids out there. Apistogramma agassizii (also known as Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid) is a true classic in the aquarium hobby and still a favorite when it comes to South American fish. Because the species is often captive-bred and raised, it’s not nearly as sensitive as many wild-caught Apistogrammas, making it a great choice if you’re a beginner.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping Apistogramma agassizii in your home aquarium!

Name (common, scientific)Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid, Apistogramma agassizii
Minimum tank size15 gallons (long)
Minimum group size1M 1F
Temperature74-84 °F
Difficulty levelIntermediate

Apistogramma Agassizii description & natural habitat


When it comes to color, the Apistogramma genus of dwarf cichlids never disappoints. Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid is no exception. The wild form is appreciated for its bright yellows and is easy to recognize by the striking horizontal stripe running along its belly. The males’ colors are generally brighter than the female’s.

It doesn’t end there, though. Scientists actually think the fish scientifically known “Apistogramma agassizii” is in fact multiple different species that need to be reclassified. This is why you might also see fish in your local store referred to as Apistogramma cf. agassizii. The “cf.” indicates a provisional name and that the species falls under the umbrella of fish currently known as A. agassizii.

Combine the many wild forms with selective breeding efforts over the years, and it’s no surprise that you can now choose between a bunch of different color morphs:

  • A. agassizii ‘Double Red’: with a fiery reddish-orange tail and fins
  • A. agassizii ‘Fire Red’: red fins and a pale orange body lacking the characteristic stripe
  • A. agassizii ‘Super Red’: redder fins and more intense body coloration
  • A. agassizii ‘Blue Flame’: metallic blue body color extending into the tail
  • A. agassizii ‘Cuipeua’: yellow belly and blue back, with fins and tail combining both colors
  • A. agassizii ‘Alenquer’: blue on the fins and tail, notable scale pattern
  • A. agassizii ‘Alemare’: blue body and red tail
  • A. agassizii ‘Gold Fire’: golden body color and orange fins
  • A. agassizii ‘Flamenco’: yellow back and powder blue belly

And many more! These trade names are not scientific, so keep in mind they’re also not definitive.

With a maximum size of around 3” for the males (females stay even smaller), this is really quite a tiny fish.

Natural habitat

Apistogramma agassizii is naturally found in the Amazon basin in Peru and Brazil. The species making up the “agassizii” complex inhabit slow-moving forest streams strewn with leaf litter and branches. The stream systems, called igarapés in Brazil, can be both clear or stained with tannins (referred to as blackwater).

The IUCN Red List hasn’t classified this species, but unfortunately, studies have noted that it’s likely under pressure. Issues like overfishing for the aquarium trade, deforestation and climate change form serious threats.

Apistogramma agassizii aquarium fish

Apistogramma Agassizii Aquarium

Apistogramma cichlids like the Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid are generally found in relatively slow-flowing rivers with plenty of cover, soft water, low pH, and leaf litter. In the aquarium they’ll appreciate a similar environment, making for a great opportunity to set up a biotope aquarium. This way, you can have your own little slice of the Amazon right in your living room!

You don’t need a huge tank: a 15-gallon long aquarium is enough for a pair or trio (1M 2F). If you’d like to keep multiple couples or harems, it’s generally recommended to add 10-15 gallons for each one. Keep the light relatively dim and the filter flow rate low.

To keep your Apistogramma agassizii happy and healthy, provide plenty of décor for cover. Coconut caves, live plants, rocks, driftwood and even terracotta flower pots all work perfectly. The addition of leaf litter, like Indian almond leaves, stains the water a darker color due to the tannins it contains, preventing stress and even potentially protecting your fish from illness.

Most Apistogramma agassizii specimens available in the aquarium trade today have been captive-bred for many generations. This means they’re used to water values like those in our aquariums and are generally relatively tolerant to a wide range of conditions. Wild-caught specimens will need very soft water with a low pH.

Do keep in mind that these Apistogrammas can be relatively sensitive to low water quality and fluctuations in water composition and temperature. Keep a close eye on your aquarium water using a liquid test kit to ensure it’s cycled and stable, but avoid doing large water changes without proper acclimation.

Did you know? We recommend sandy substrate for Apistogrammas like this one. A relatively fine sand bottom encourages their natural sand-sifting behavior. It’s both fun to see and thought to be beneficial to the fish.

Apistogramma Agassizii compatibility

Like other (dwarf) cichlid species, Apistogramma agassizii is territorial towards its own species. This usually doesn’t lead to serious issues, though. As long as there’s enough space for everyone (important!), each male will set up shop in his own part of the tank. A relatively stable and peaceful social hierarchy tends to form naturally.

When it comes to tankmates, you’re best off going for small and unaggressive schooling fish. This prevents squabbles that might occur if you add other cichlids and ensures your aquarium stays peaceful.

Don’t worry about aggression on the part of the agassiziis. They’re not known for harassing their neighbors, and since they’re so small, they’re not much of a threat to their tankmates either. The only time you’re likely to see your Agassiz’s dwarf cichlids misbehave is after spawning time, when they guard their eggs. This behavior can be dispersed by providing plenty of hiding places or possibly by temporarily removing the male.

Aside from dwarf shrimp, most calm fish that like similar water parameters should work. For species that hail from similar waters, you can consider:

Apistogramma agassizii diet

In the wild, Apistogrammas like this one eat all sorts of bugs. Stomach analyses have found that A. agassizii has a particular taste for fly larvae and adult flies that have fallen into the water.

So: this fish is carnivorous. In the aquarium, it can be fed a protein-based diet. Regular cichlid pellets will work perfectly fine for most specimens, as long as they’re used to commercial fish foods (which they will be if they’re captive-bred). Do try to switch things up as much as possible using at least frozen foods.

Live would be the ideal: cultivating creepy crawlies like blackworms or daphnia might seem like a lot of effort, but your Apistogrammas (and almost all other aquarium fish) will really appreciate being able to hunt as they naturally would.

Breeding Apistogramma agassizii

If you have some experience keeping or maybe even breeding freshwater fish and want to try your hand at breeding dwarf cichlids, Apistogramma agassizii makes a good choice for a first attempt. It’s generally considered easy to breed. If you have a healthy pair or harem, they likely don’t need too much intervention from your end!

The fish need to be at least around 6 months old to be able to reproduce. Add plenty of caves, tubes and other attractive spawning spots to the tank and make sure the water is extra clean, soft, and acidic. Start feeding plenty of protein-rich live and frozen foods (rather than normal pellets) for conditioning.

When your Apistogrammas are in the mood, the female will lead the male to a cave she’s selected. They perform a fascinating mating dance before the female lays the eggs inside the cave and takes charge of caring for them. The male is responsible for protection, which means he’ll sometimes need to be removed from the tank if he’s bullying other fish.

The eggs hatch after up to 5 days. No need to mess around with separating the fry: the female will stick around to make sure they’re OK until they can fend for themselves. In a well-matured aquarium, there will be plenty of bugs and other bits for them to feed on, although you can always add some baby brine shrimp for them to catch. Mom will take them around the tank so they can eat.

If you do want to separate the fry, you can raise them on infusoria followed by baby brine shrimp.

Your own Amazonas biotope?

Interested in keeping this beautiful dwarf cichlid species but feel like setting up and maintaining an Amazonas biotope (or an aquarium in general!) will be a little too time-consuming? We can help!

The experts at FantaSEA Aquarium have years of experience and can set up and maintain any (biotope) tank for you, whether it’s at home or in the office. Sound good? Contact us and share your ideas here. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Estivals, G., Duponchelle, F., Römer, U., García‐Dávila, C., Airola, E., Deléglise, M., & Renno, J. F. (2020). The Amazonian dwarf cichlid Apistogramma agassizii (Steindachner, 1875) is a geographic mosaic of potentially tens of species: conservation implications. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 30(8), 1521-1539.

Kochhann, D., Campos, D. F., & Val, A. L. (2015). Experimentally increased temperature and hypoxia affect stability of social hierarchy and metabolism of the Amazonian cichlid Apistogramma agassizii. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 190, 54-60.

Virgilio, L. R., Brito, C. H. D., Suçuarana, M. D. S., & Vieira, L. J. S. (2020). Forest fragmentation influences the diet of cichlids Apistogramma agassizii (Steindachner, 1875) and Aequidens tetramerus (Heckel, 1840)(Actinopterygii: Cichliformes) in streams of the Western Amazon. Acta Limnologica Brasiliensia, 32.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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