Apistogramma agassizii – Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid

Apistogramma agassizii – Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid

Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid or the Apistogramma agassizii is another wonderful example of one of those cichlids that have some of the most desirable characteristics found in cichlids without any of the negatives. As the name suggests, it stays relatively small which makes it a great fish for smaller tank setups. It is also quite peaceful but not in a boring manner. It has plenty of character to make any tank with it entertaining to watch. Then there are the looks. It is brilliantly colored and is the perfect combination of cute and elegant. The care level required to keep this fish is not that high making it a great option for the intermediate aquarium owners out there. Here is a detailed look at the amazing Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid.

Natural habitat

This is a South American cichlid that mostly originates from the Amazon-Solimoes river system. The natural habitat of these fish consists of either very slow-moving waters or totally still waters. The visibility in these places is quite high despite the abundance of sediments and leaf litter. Their habitat covers a wide area from Peru to the Capim River Basin and the coloration of this fish can vary vastly from one creek to another. Generally, though they are all vibrantly colored. The water conditions vary depending on the time of year and the water generally contains plenty of tannins from all the leaf litter. The Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid lives in groups headed by a dominant male and his harem of females.

Physical description

The Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid is a small and sleek looking fish with fins that are sleek but elegant. The males are larger than the females with the males maxing out at 3.5 inches or about 9 cm while the females stay smaller than 2.5 inches or about 6 cm. Both can live up to five years. The coloration of this fish is where a lot of variation is seen. Wild caught fish have more brilliant coloration but require stringent water quality. Captive bred Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid are more forgiving but do not have the same brilliant markings as their wild cousins. The males are more colorful with a combination of red, green and gold on their backs and a black line running from their eyes to the tip of their tail fins. It has a yellow forehead and green and gold markings on its face. The caudal fin is long and ends in a point and has blue lines on it. The females are similarly colored but the colors aren’t quite as intense and the fins aren’t quite as long. Either gender is still colorful enough to spice up any aquarium setup though.


The temperament of this cichlid is one of its coolest aspects. It is a community fish and doesn’t need to be kept in an all-cichlid setup. The males can be mildly aggressive towards other males but even that can be avoided if there are enough females and space. The general rule of thumb is to keep one male for every four females. As far as tankmates are concerned, the Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid can be kept with most community fish as long as they are not fin-nippers and are of similar size.

Apistogramma agazzi Care

Many cichlids have a reputation of being quite difficult to care for. The Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid thankfully does not fall in that category. While it is not extremely easy to care for, it isn’t too complicated either. Maintaining the water conditions within a certain range and regular maintenance is key to keeping these fish happy and healthy. Here is a more detailed look at the care the Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid requires.

Aquarium size and substrate

If a single group of these fish is kept then any aquarium above 20 gallons is good enough. They are not particularly picky as far as substrate are concerned as they rarely spend a lot of time at the bottom of the tank. Both sand and gravel can be used. A much larger aquarium is needed if multiple males are to be kept. A good rule of thumb is an additional 15 gallons for each additional male and its harem of females.

Water conditions

The natural habitat of the Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid consists of soft and slightly acidic water. Similar conditions can be replicated by adding bogwood and using peat in the filtration system. These fish can be gradually acclimated to hard and alkaline water but they generally lose a bit of coloration and are unable to breed under such conditions. Another important factor to consider is the flow. As these fish come from backwaters and creeks, the flow rate has to be really low. A gentle current enough to oxygenate the water is all that is needed. These fish can easily get stressed if they have to swim against even a fair amount of current. All this has to be achieved while keeping the rate of filtration high. A water change is needed once every two weeks. Ideally the pH should be between 5.0 and 7.0 and temperatures between 26°C and 29°C (79°F and 84°F).

Lighting and tank setup

The Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid originates from waters with low light conditions and similar conditions need to be replicated for best results. One of the best ways to do so is by planting the tank heavily. Using floating plants is a great way to diffuse the light. The other way to do this is by using plenty of decorations that allow for plenty of hiding spots. The actual light should also be not too bright. Another important thing to keep in mind when keeping multiple males is to keep the general layout the same during maintenance so the males can keep their territories instead of having to create new ones which can lead to a rise in tensions.


Similarly sized and peaceful community fish make for excellent tankmates. Tetras, Otocinclus Catfish, Corydoras, Rasboras, Dwarf Gouramis, Dwarf Rainbowfish, and Pencilfish can all be kept with the Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid. Under no circumstances should these fish be mixed with African Cichlids or larger and more aggressive fish.


They are not hard to care for as far as the diet is concerned. They readily accept flakes and pellets as well as live food. These fish are omnivorous with an affinity towards a carnivorous diet. Most commercial pellets and flakes are good enough for the Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid. They should be fed small portions multiple times throughout the day.


This is one of the easier cichlids to breed. The best way is to start out with juveniles and allow them to form a harem by themselves. A single harem should be given its own tank. The water has to be soft and slightly acidic with the temperature between 73°F and 81°F or 22°C and 27°C. The mating ritual is quite entertaining to watch with a mating dance involved. The female then lays between 40 and 150 eggs. She cares for these eggs for about 4-5 days after which these eggs hatch. A sandy substrate is needed as the female will dig a pit for her fry. The babies can be left in the care of the female or separated and fed a diet of freshly hatched brine shrimp.

The Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid is a very rewarding fish that doesn’t take too much effort to keep. It is the perfect fish for a planted community tank and is a great option for anyone looking to graduate from a complete beginner’s setup.

Apistogramma agassizii Video