At last, “success!!”. It only took me 10 years and “a lot of $$$$!” to breed this fish. I can honestly say that I have had my share of success in breeding most of the species in the Apistogramma genus. But, the two fish that have eluted me in the past ten years are Apistogramma nijsseni and Apistogramma agassizii. Well, “one down and one to go” and I hope that it won’t take another ten years for the other.
In my opinion the A. Nijsseni is in a class by itself. They were first collected in 1979 by the Swiss Patrick de Rham. But not successfully bred until 1983. They were collected in a small black water stream near the town of Jenaro Herrero,, a frontier outpost between Peru and Brazil. The water, where they were collected, was clear, dark brown, pH 5.4 and total hardness <1 dH (very soft!). It’s a very beautiful and distinct specie. There is hardly any other female of an Apistogramma species that can match the beauty of a mature A. Nijsenni female. When reaching maturity, the female usually assumes a beautiful yellow coloration, which they almost always maintain. They have a pitch black spot on the gill-cover, and also the large lateral blotch change to light green during various phases of courtship. They also display a large black round to oval blotch on the base of the tail and the most distinguishing mark of all is the unmistakable semicircular band on the outer edge of the caudal fin, which could vary in color from fire-red to yellow.
The female may reach 2″ in total length while a mature male could grow up to 3″ and look very bulky. The males have a pretty yellow chest and belly region and of course the caudal fin is round with a semicircular fire-red fringe. The rest of the body is light blue.
Wild caught fish do best when kept in moderately soft water. But, tank raised species do very well on straight tap water. The only time you should consider lowering the pH and hardness is when it’s time for breeding. But even here you have some flexibility, as I explain later on in the article. I like to give this specie a lot of room. Common practice for me is to place six to eight fry in a 30 gl. tank. The tank is set up with natural to dark colored substrate, a piece of driftwood in the middle of the tank, which I cover with Java Moss, two sword plants on either side of the drift wood and at least one cave for every fish in the tank. A sponge filter at one side and a box filter on the other side of the tank. For caves I use anything from pieces of slate to broken flowerpots, coconut shells and the black base of a two liter soda bottle. I raise them in straight tap water (moderately soft), pH 6.91, conductivity at 150 micro-Siemens and the temperature at 78 degrees.
This fish is less shy than many other species of the genus Apistogramma. If provided enough space and properly decorated aquarium they might even be considered “tame”. The cleanliness of the water is of outstanding importance and a varying diet should also be given special attention. Take it from first hand experience, if you neglect this fish and / or feed too much live or frozen food, of the same type, they have a tendency to come down with “bloat”, which of course leads to “death”. I feed twice a day , usually a good quality flake food in the morning, which I alternate with my own “home made paste food”, and in the evening I alternate between frozen blood worms, Brine Shrimp and once a week live black worms. Provided these conditions, they grow rapidly and start forming pairs when they are about seven to eight month old. Which leads me to…..
Like I stated before, I tried many times to breed this fish with all types of set-up variations. But, it didn’t make any difference if I started with three wild pairs or a dozen fry, I would always end up with a solitary male and sometimes with a very “bossy” female.
On April/98 I purchased eight fry in a local fish auctions. I set them up as described above. Everything went along fine until they matured and pairs started forming (eight-month-old). I ended up with six females and two males. I wasn’t totally disappointed, I figured that I would remove a quad and placed them in a 20gl. long tank. I decorated the tank the same as the 30gl. tank. Please note that I did NOT condition the water. But, I did try extra hard to keep the water very clean.
I would do partial water changes throughout the week, especially if I would notice any uneaten food. As I mentioned above, when it comes to conditioning the water you have flexibility (choices). You can choose to do nothing, just keep the water extra clean, like I did or you can go to the extreme. There’re many ways you can bring the pH and hardness down. For example; (1) Filter water through Peat Moss (messy, but it works), (2) collect rain water and add to tank very slowly to avoid pH shock. A gallon or two, each time you change water until the desired level is reached, (3) get a RO (reverse osmosis) unit, could be expensive! and lastly (4) use chemicals, such as Discus Buffer and pH down etc. etc…”You get the picture!”
Anyway, back to the fish. War was declared immediately by the dominant female of each group. She kept the other two females from eating, they slowly started to look emaciated. I place a couple of cardinals as dither fish hoping that the other females would get a chance to eat. “Yeah, sure!” The dominant female completely ignored the cardinals. The dominant female showed all the signs of wanting to spawn. Her body was an intense yellow color, with a large black blotch on her cheek, mid body and on the base of her tail, and an orange semicircular edge on her caudal fin. “She was beautiful!” She would dance in front of the male trying to entise the male to follow her in her chosen cave, but he completely ignored her. She, of course would take her frustration out on the other two females. The same scenario was being played in the 30 gl tank.
I was getting ..soooo.. frustrated that I started venting to my fellow hobbyists. Since I have veryyyy understanding friends?? They showed a lot of compassion by making remarks such as..”OHH?..my Nijsenni spawned while I was guaranteeing them!”,”what seems to be the problem Sal?…lost your touch!?”…”Maybe you need to go on another business trip and let your wife spawn them”. This type of compassion went on & on & on…. But, one of my “so called friend!?!?” “Hi, Basil!” did volunteer to give me one of his extra males. By the way, he spawned his group (4 males and one female) in a 20gl long tank with a mixture of (70% rain water & 30% tap water). The pair that spawned stayed on the right side of the tank and the extra three males on the left. All coexisted peacefully and managed to raise three spawns. “You figure it out! I have no answer!”
By now I was so desperate that I was willing to try anything. Basil’s male was much larger than my younger male. I placed him in the 20gl. long tank with the others and waited for nature to take its course. Within a week I had to remove the young male because he was being harassed and traumatized by the bigger male and I would never see the other two females. I would catch glimpse of them as they tried to eat some food passing nearby. One day I didn’t see the dominant female when I went to feed them, usually she would be the first one to come to the front of the tank. After I dropped some live Brine Shrimp she came out of her cave, ate very quickly and return to the cave. I tried to hold back my excitement but I started mumbling to myself ,because this behavior usually meant that she was tending eggs. I was even tempted to steal the eggs and hatch them artificially but I did not succumb to the temptation.
The eggs are usually laid on the ceiling of a cave, but my experience has been that if a female is ready to spawn she will lay her eggs anywhere. I had females lay eggs on a box filter, on the side of a rock, under a leaf , on the glass and under a piece of driftwood. At about 78 degrees the eggs hatch after approximately 48 hours. After four to five days the fry are completely developed and become free swimming. As it was, on the morning of the fifth day when I went to feed the tank the only fish I saw was the female. The male was at the other side hiding behind the box filter. He would come out and eat but kept his distance. If he moved too close to the female she would attack him viciously. I knew what this sign meant. I put on my reading glasses and looked very close for any movement around the female, sure enough…”there they were, FRY!”.
They were feeding on the Java moss. I had some newly hatched baby brine shrimp, which I fed immediately. I usually try to feed light the first week. The last thing I wanted to do is foul the water by overfeeding. “Which is something none of us do anyway..”right?”. They took to the brine shrimp immediately and you could see their bellies turning orange. I estimated the clutch to be around 25 fry. At this time I recommend that you remove all other adult fish because if the female sees them she will hunt them down and ….you can guess the outcome?. The female alone cares for the fry but helps the male defend the territory. As the fry get larger and started to wonder away from the female she would allow the male to come closer and even stay among the young fry. Here is where you have to be careful, the female will spawn again as soon as she become gravid, usually after about 5 to 6 weeks. If you don’t remove the first batch before she comes out with the new batch she will eat or kill the older fry. I didn’t pay close attention and I lost half of the first batch.
IThey were feeding on the Java moss. I had some newly hatched baby brine shrimp, which I fed immediately. I usually try to feed light the first week. The last thing I wanted to do is foul the water by overfeeding. “Which is something none of us do anyway..”right?”. They took to the brine shrimp immediately and you could see their bellies turning orange. I estimated the clutch to be around 25 fry. At this time I recommend that you remove all other adult fish because if the female sees them she will hunt them down and ….you can guess the outcome?. The female alone cares for the fry but helps the male defend the territory. As the fry get larger and started to wonder away from the female she would allow the male to come closer and even stay among the young fry. Here is where you have to be careful, the female will spawn again as soon as she become gravid, usually after about 5 to 6 weeks. If you don’t remove the first batch before she comes out with the new batch she will eat or kill the older fry. I didn’t pay close attention and I lost half of the first batch.
I removed the remaining fry and put them in a 15 gl. Tank. With proper food and water changes the fry grow surprisingly fast. At three months the largest fry measured approximately 1 1/4″ TL. Even though sexing subadults is difficult, at this size you could start seeing the difference. The females are the easiest to sex because they will start showing a more pronounced black coloration in the anterior part of the ventral fins. There’s a theory that sex ratio is depended on the temperature that the eggs are hatched and the fry raised during the first week after hatching. But I won’t go into this now, since this is the topic for another article. All I can say is that my fry were hatched and raised at 78 degrees and the sex ratio was 80% females, in both spawns. Next time I’ll try 80 degrees and see what happens. This pair only had two spawns since the male died for no apparent reason and the female has not yet paired off with any other male.
In conclusion, I still think that this is one of the most interesting and beautiful Dwarf Cichlid. It has two important characteristic (trait) – It’s not a shy cichlid and it’s not easy to breed. Therefore, not only do you get to enjoy them because they don’t hide but they will also present you with a challenge when you try to breed them. So, “What else can you ask for in a fish?! I leave with this parting thought… “A. AGASSIZII…You’re Next!”.
STAECK, W & LINKE, H (1994): -American Cichlids I : Dwarf Cichlids
SCHMETTKAMP, W (1982):Die Zwergcichliden Sudamerikas
Firs Publication: Wet Pet Gazette, Norwalk Aquarium Society
Source: aquarticles.com (no longer available)