Which dwarf cichlids would suit this set-up?

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Max Pedley advises on setting up a tropical tank.

Q: I have just set up a tropical fish tank, with bogwood, stones and lots of live plants. It holds approx 80 l. I’m using an RO/tapwater mix and the pH is hovering just below 7. I have added a group of Bronze corydoras and am intending to add a shoal of tetras such as Cardinals or Rummy-noses. I’d like a feature fish and I wondered about dwarf cichlids like Apistogramma. I’d like something eye catching and colourful but reasonably peaceful, as far as cichlids go anyway. Any ideas or suggestions, please?

BEN CUMMINGS, VIA EMAIL

A: Max says: This sounds like my sort of tank! Apistogramma are sand sifting species, so a prerequisite for any member of the genus is a soft sandy substrate. Provided that’s not an issue, the world is your oyster (almost). 

Go for commonly farmed species which are more tolerant of varying water parameters. You simply can’t go wrong with Apistogramma borellii or A. cacatuoides as your first species. Get a pair, as harems in smaller tanks seldom end well. You’ll want to make sure there are plenty of caves and hiding spaces so that the Apistogramma have plenty of boundaries to set up a territory. The only problem you may encounter is that the Corydoras won’t really understand the territorial behaviour of the apistos and may be subject to some aggressive behaviour should spawning take place. 

If that worries you, turn the heaters up to 27-30°C and you’ll be all set for Checkerboard cichlids, Dicrossus filamentosus. You’ll struggle to find less offensive cichlids.