The attractive Agassizi Cichlid has that cool cichlid personality, but in a small package!

The pretty and vibrant coloring of the Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid Apistogramma agassizii is one of their feature attractions and helps make them one of the most popular choices for many aquarists. They come in many color forms including red, gold, and blue and, depedning upon where they originate geographically may have considerably varying colors and patterning. They are also known as Agassizi Cichlid and Agassiz’s Apisto, along with other more descriptive names for individual types associated with their coloring and/or distribution points.

These are slender dwarf cichilds reaching only about 3 inches or so in length. This small size means they can be more manageable than many of the other cichlid species. These are delicate cichlids, but a great choice for a more advanced enthusiast who has limited space and cannot provide a large aquarium. The wild Agassizi Cichlid is more colorful than the captive strains but is also more sensitive and susceptible to medical issues. Breeding a wild caught with a captive bred helps to keep the lines healthier.

This cichlid is considered a community fish that can be kept with other non-cichlids. Fish that are not large and aggressive will make the best tank mates. Provide a substrate of fine dark sand along with rocks and pots to create plenty of caves, one for each female’s territory. They do enjoy densely planted aquariums and floating plants will help to diffuse the lighting. Make areas for them to “defend” by having natural divisions in the aquascaping.

The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid is moderate to difficult to care for since water changes must be performed frequently and diligently. In addition, they are susceptible to toxins such as nitrate and a lack of oxygen. They are also sensitive to some medications, especially those used to fight hydra infestations. This fish does well in acidic water. It requires a low nitrate level and the pH level must be kept within the correct parameters. If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur. Just a little dedication will reap pleasurable results from this little fish.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

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Clear views of a breeding pair.

Awesome video showcasing a breeding pair of specimens complete with clear views of both the male and female fish as well as showcasing a clutch of eggs!

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Cichlidae
  • Genus: Apistogramma
  • Species: agassizii
Agassizi Cichlid – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.89 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 81.0° F (22.8 to 27.2&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid Apistogramma agassizii was described by Steindachner in 1875. They are found in South America along the Amazon-Solimoes River in the Amazon River basin from Peru to the Capim River Basin. The specific area from which the individual fish originates will be a deciding factor in the coloration and patterning of that particular fish.This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names they are known by are Agassizi Cichlid and Agassiz’s Apisto.

They inhabit clear, black and white waters that are still or slow-moving. These include tributaries, backwaters and creeks that are often strewn with leaf litter, apparently feeding mostly on benthic invertebrates. Both the litter and time of year can affect the type of water. These cichlids are polygamous. They have a patriarch/matriarch arrangement forming harems of a dominant male and multiple females.

  • Scientific Name: Apistogramma agassizii
  • Social Grouping: Harems
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid is a small colorful fish. The males are larger, growing to 3 1/2 inches or so (8.9 cm) in length while females only reach about 2 – 2 1/2 inches (6 cm). They can live up to about 5 years.

Color variations are dependant on the area where it is caught, or if it is captive bred for coloring. Wild caught Agassizi Cichlids are more colorful than the captive strains but are also more sensitive. Red, gold and blue are the color varieties that are available. Breeding a wild caught with a captive bred helps to keep the lines healthier.

The male is more colorful. The male’s general color description is the upper back being red and the lower back being green. There is a horizontal black band that runs from the nose straight to the tip of the tail fin, and it runs below and parallel to the green of the lower back. Coloration below the black band can run from blue to green to yellow. The belly is usually yellow. The face has gold or green marks and the forehead is yellow. The dorsal fin is an orangish red color with a sharp point at the end. The caudal fin has lines in white, light blue to blue, and comes to a point at the end. Other fins are green to blue. Females do not have the longer fins or the intense color of the males, but have a yellow coloring and similar markings.

A common feature of all cichlids, and some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, is a well developed pharyngeal set of teeth located in the throat in addition to their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.

Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense “smells” in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being “sampled” for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to “smell” the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.

  • Size of fish – inches: 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) – The male grows to a length of about 3.5 ” (8.9 cm) or slightly larger, females are smaller reaching about 2.5″ (6 cm).
  • Lifespan: 5 years – These fish commonly live up to 5 years in captivity, though they have been known to live as long as 12 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This species of cichlid is a great fish for intermediate fish keepers with some experience in keeping cichlids. They are on the smaller side and are not overly aggressive. They are easy to feed and generally easy to maintain aside from fairly frequent water changes and diligently maintaining water levels. If the water is properly maintained and they are feed a variety of foods this fish will thrive.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Agassizi Cichlid is an omnivore, but with a strongly carnivorous diet in the wild, feeding mostly on benthic invertebrates. In the aquarium they can be fed newly hatched baby brine, frozen brine shrimp, crustaceans, insects, insect larvae, and some may eat flakes and pelleted foods. Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts rather than a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – To avoid negatively impacting the water quality, feed smaller amounts of food multiple times a day instead of one large feeding.

Aquarium Care

Do water changes of 10% to 20% biweekly or weekly, more or less depending on stocking numbers. If water quality is ignored, as with all cichlids, disease and death can occur. Make sure to clean the viewing pane throughly and let particles settle before cleaning. Use a siphon hose to vaccum the substrate making sure to remove all debri. When refilling the tank make sure to treat the replacement water and also that the temperatures are similar to the water in the tank.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – 10% to 20% either weekly or bi-weekly, depending on tank size and stock amount.

Aquarium Setup

A minimum 20 gallon tank is suggested. They prefer slow to moderate moving water along with good efficient filtration. They do well in acidic water but need the nitrate levels low and for the pH level to be kept within the correct parameters. A mature tank with soft water and a pH of acidic to neutral is best. Keep track of nitrates. Oxygen levels must also be maintained for the best color and health. These fish may be slowly adapted to more alkaline, slightly harder water, but they will not be able to hatch eggs in this water. The aquarium should have a cover and low to moderate lighting.

Provide a substrate of fine dark sand along with rocks and pots to create plenty of caves, one for each female’s territory. Caves formed from rockwork, or with synthetics like coconuts or clay pots, will provide a refuge for the fish as well as a place for breeding. When using substrate or rocks, be sure they do not leach into the water and affect the pH. Substrates such as limestone can increase the pH level and becareful to not use sand that is intended for use in marine tanks. Driftwood is a big help in keeping pH low and contributes to the “tea stained” coloring of the Amazon River. To add a more natural look and feel for the fish add some aquarium safe peat to the filter to simulate the black waters that they come from.

They do enjoy densely planted aquariums. Floating plants help to diffuse lighting. If using live plants, dense plantings that will provide shade for your fish do need time to grow out. Rosette plants like the Amazon Sword, Vallisneria, and other acidic tolerating plants work great, as can stem plants like Wisteria. Make areas for them to “defend” by having natural divisions in the aquascaping.

The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid is a rewarding specimen for the more experienced aquarist but is susceptible to medication, toxins such as nitrate, and a lack of oxygen. The wild Agassizi Cichlid is more colorful than the captive strains but are more sensitive. If purchasing a wild caught Agassizi Cichlid, quarantine procedures should be followed. It can be moderate to difficult to care for since water changes must be performed frequently with a good water conditioner added.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gal (76 L)
  • Substrate Type: Sand/Gravel Mix
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 81.0° F (22.8 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – Temperature range of 79° to 84° F (26° – 29° C).
  • Range ph: 5.0-7.0
  • Hardness Range: 2 – 10 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid is a community fish. They can be kept with other fish that are not large and aggressive. They are tolerant of their own kind and should can be kept in harems of one male with 3 or 4 females. More than one male may be kept if aquarium is large.

South American cichlids tend to be less aggressive than their African cousins, but space is very important. Some acceptable tank mates include: characin species like the Cardinal Tetras and the Three-Line Pencilfish, Otocinclus Catfish and Corydoras like the Julii Cory, Glowlight Rasbora (Hengel’s), Dwarf Gourami, Kuhli Loach, and Dwarf (Neon) Rainbowfish.

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – These Dwarf Cichlids can mix well with a variety of community fish.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Males are larger with longer and brighter fins, and the tail fin is pointed. The females are yellow in color and smaller in size. Though females have markings similar to the male, their fins are not elongated and their tail fin is more rounded.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Agassizi Cichlids are polygamous with a patriarch/matriarch arrangement. Harems of multiple females will each defend a small territory from all except a dominant male. They are cave breeders and generally spawn 40 – 60 eggs. The eggs are deposited on the cave ceiling where they attach and are cared for by the female while the male guards the territory. The fry will form a school once they become free swimming and will be lead about by the female.

In the aquarium sexing is pretty easy since males have longer fins and are larger than the females. To breed they will appreciate upturned flowerpots, fake “coconut caves,” bogwood, and broad leafed plants for cover and as spawning sites. They require a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, a water hardness of 5 – 8 dH, and a temperature of 79° to 84° F (26° – 29° C) with frequent water changes. Also, the eggs tend to be prone to fungus which can make the breeding of these fish more difficult.

Get 6 juveniles and let them grow up together. Once they are of breeding size they will form a harem of one male with several females. The female will approach the male, curve her body, and display to catch his attention. When he sees her, he will then “dance” by flashing his fins. The female will lay up to somewhere between about 40 – 150 oval eggs on the roof surface of her cave. The male will fertilize them and then promptly leave the cave to patrol on the outside.

The female will care for the eggs which will hatch in for 3 to 4 days depending on water temperature. She will then take the fry over to a pit in the substrate until they are free swimming 4 to 6 days later. The female attracts her young by the movements of her body.The fry can initially be fed liquid foods and rotifers. In a week or two feed artemia nauplii 3 times a day. They can also be fed live freshly hatched baby brine shrimp 3 times a day.

If interested in obtaining more of one sex than the other, a system which has worekd for the Cockatoo Cichlid may also work for the Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid. It has been stated that for the Cockatoo Cichlid if the water temperature is low (68° F or 20° C) most of the fry will be females, while with higher temperatures (86° F or 30° C) the fry will mostly be male. pH also plays a role in the sex of the fry, but to a far lesser extent. These conditions must also be kept constant for the first 3 weeks to be effective. See more about cichlid breeding in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Moderate

Fish Diseases

The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlids are susceptible to typical fish ailments, especially if water is stale and of poor quality and oxygenation. Be aware of the following diseases that are found in the Amazon (per Parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.) including White spot Disease known as Ich (Ichthyobodo Infection), Costia Disease, Flatworms (Metacercaria Infection), Cestoda infestation (Tapeworms), Metacercaria Infection (Flatworms), Bacterial Infections (general), Bacterial diseases, and Turbidity of the Skin (Freshwater fish). Ich is one of the more frequently encountered ailments and can be easily treated by elevating the tank temperatureto 86° F (30° C) for 3 days.

As with most fish Agassiz’s Apisto are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Remember anything that is introduced to the tank can be a potential risk of passing disease into the tank. Quarantine all new tankmates before introducing and throughly clean any decor going into the tank.


The Agassiz’s Dwarf Cichlid is often available online. A single fish is moderately expensive and a pair will cost about twice as much. They are a rare find in fish stores, but can usually be special ordered if you are willing to wait. Make sure you examine them for spinal defects before purchasing.