Which apistos are best for me?

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Max Pedley shares his advice to a reader who would like to know which apistos is best for their tank.

Q) I’d like to have a go at keeping an Apistogramma species in a 120 l/27 gal set-up with a few dither fish. My pH hovers around neutral but the water in my area is reasonably hard at 12°H. Ideally I don’t want to fiddle with the water chemistry too much so would adding leaf litter reduce the hardness safely, or is there anything I can keep in there as it is? Please could you recommend a fairly colourful species of apisto, and maybe a good species of dither fish? I tried keeping Rams many years ago in a community tank but they just faded away, so I want to try a different type of dwarf cichlid.

JONNY BRADSHAW, VIA EMAIL

A) MAX PEDLEY SAYS: Apistogramma is easily my favourite genus of cichlids, and I can certainly understand why you want to try keeping them.

Rams, assuming they are Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, are naturally a fairy sensitive species and you really have to keep them in perfect conditions to have any success. I’m talking high temperatures, slightly acidic water and tankmates chilled enough for the Rams to handle.

Luckily, Apistogramma are actually a lot tougher than this. If we look at some of the more commonly available captive farmed species such as A. cacatuoides, panduro, hongsloi and borellii, low pH and hardness becomes less of a prerequisite, with all the aforementioned species being able to tolerate your water quite comfortably, though they may not be particularly prolific if they breed. Generally the reason these species are so common is due to their hardiness under aquarium conditions.

In terms of attempting to reduce hardness, leaf litter won’t really help with the reduction of hardness though it will lower the pH slightly, depending on the type you choose to add. You don’t mention KH, which would have more bearing on the potential pH of your aquarium.

More importantly for apistos, in my experience, is the presence of a fi ne sandy substrate. This is imperative for good health and condition, and shouldn’t be too much of an issue to implement if you haven’t already.

Finally, the choice of dither fish is yours. If breeding is your aim, smaller Nannostomus spp. such as N. minimus or marginatus will work well as would Green neons, Paracheirodon simulans, but if you are aiming for a solely pleasing display, consider some colourful tetras such as Hyphessobrycon sp. ‘Blue ribbon’ or Hyphessobrycon wadai. The choices really are endless!