Apistogramma borellii – Umbrella Cichlid

Apistogramma borellii – Umbrella Cichlid

The Umbrella Cichlid or Apistogramma borellii is a New World Cichlid that is often classified as a dwarf cichlid because of its diminutive size. Its popularity has been rising of late due to its small size because of which it can be housed in smaller aquariums while being quite strikingly colored helps too. It is a peaceful fish and can be housed in community aquariums with the right kind of tankmates. Still, there is plenty to know about this fish to properly take care of it and we will explore all of them below.

The natural habitat of Apistogramma borellii

The umbrella cichlid is native to the Paraguay River and the Parana River in South America. Country-wise, it is found in Brazil and Northern Argentina. Its natural habitat consists of soft sandy river bottoms with gently flowing water. These rivers are situated in the middle of dense tropical forests and the river bottoms are littered with dried leaves and dead root. Due to its small size, this fish is vulnerable to predators and takes shelter in thick vegetation and in shelters formed by roots and leaves. The waters are also slightly acidic due to the tannins found in these leaves and roots.

Physical Description

The umbrella cichlid has a rather short and stout body that fools many into thinking that it is an old-world cichlid. It is the fins that give away the fact that this is a South American Cichlid. The entire face, pectoral and anal fins are a brilliant yellow while the caudal fin is also mostly the same yellow. The dorsal fin’s tips are yellow while the rest of the dorsal fin and the rest of the body is a brilliant hue of silver with a thick horizontal line running down the middle of the body starting from the gills and running all the way to the tail. This line is usually black but sometimes can have a reddish hue to it. Like most dwarf cichlids, this is a cichlid that stays relatively small. Adult males can grow to be 6.5 cm or 2.6 inches while females only grow to about 5 cm or 2 inches. The males are slightly more colorful than the females.


This is a peaceful fish and would rather flee than confront other fish. In its natural habitat, it is quite low on the food chain and that is why this fish tends to hide in the presence of larger and even slightly aggressive fish. The males do show aggressiveness towards each other and any group of umbrella cichlids less than six in number should only have one male in the group. As long as this criterion is met, the umbrella cichlid is a rather docile fish and can be housed with other fish that have a similar disposition and do not grow too big.

Apistogramma borellii Care

Even though this is quite the hardy fish and species of this fish have been found in the wild in waters with temperatures as low as 6 °C, this fish needs certain conditions to do well and these have been described below.

Aquarium size and substrate

This a small species and as such doesn’t require a very big tank. In fact, a single pair can be housed in a 10-gallon tank. Larger groups will need a larger tank with groups of six being comfortable in a 30-gallon tank or larger. The substrate has to be able to mimic this fish’s natural habitat. A soft sandy substrate with plenty of cover is what this fish really likes. The addition of leaf litter makes this fish feel right at home.

Water conditions

Like most South African Cichlids, the umbrella cichlid is sensitive to elevated nitrate levels. So the water should be changed periodically without fail. Apart from that, this is quite a hardy fish. It can tolerate pH levels all the way from 5.8 to 8.0 but does really well in slightly acidic water with pH levels ranging from 6.0 to 6.8. Temperatures should be between 20 °C and 26 °C. It is quite tolerant of hardness but does best when kept in slightly hard to moderately hard water.

Lighting and tank setup

The waters inhabited by this species naturally is quite dark due to the tannins from the leaves. That is why it tends to hide when the aquarium is lit up brightly. Subdued lighting is what works best for this fish. It also comes with the added benefit of bringing out the brilliant colors of this fish. As we alluded to earlier, mimicking its natural environment by adding leaf litter is a great way to make them feel safe. Thickly planted parts around the corners of the tank with an open space in the middle are the best setup for this fish. Driftwood also helps and ornaments that provide hiding spots can also be added to give them a sense of security.


Docile fish that stay smaller than 3 inches are the best tankmates for the umbrella cichlid. This includes fishes like most tetras, Corydoras, Chinese algae eaters and Plecos. Avoid housing them with fin-nippers and other larger cichlids. Also, as we mentioned earlier, keep only one male for every five females. When housing more than one male, it is important to give them plenty of space and hiding spots while maintaining the ratio of males to females to avoid unnecessary aggression. Other dwarf South African cichlids with similar temperaments are also good choices provided the tank is big enough.


The umbrella cichlid in their natural habitat feeds on crustaceans and small worms. In the aquarium, most of them will readily accept dried food with pellets being the preferred type. Their diet should be supplemented by live and frozen food like bloodworms to keep them healthy.


These can be bred successfully if the tank only houses their kind. However, if it is a community aquarium then as soon as a pair is formed it should be separated and put into a breeding tank. They spawn in caves and the female protects the eggs and young. The males should be removed as soon as the spawning is one. The young can be fed brine shrimp 4-6 days after hatching. Like most South African Cichlids, they don’t seem to have a specific trigger and will procreate as long as the water is pristine.

These are delightful fish that aren’t very demanding and display some amazing courtship behaviors. Their smaller size and incredible colors coupled with their docile nature make them an easy cichlid to take care of.

Apistogramma borellii video