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Apistogrammas My Way
by Don 'Z-Man' Zilliox

Apistogramma species are a dwarf cichlid group that inhabits an area from northern South America to the northern parts of Argentina, which includes Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. For the most part they inhabit soft water except on the slopes of the Andes Mountains. They are always looking for a place to hide such as caves, crevices and areas of low overhanging plants with a few fallen leaves thrown in. The water temperature is usually between 76 & 78 degrees and mostly has a brownish tint. To keep as display specimens, normal tap water is adequate but for breeding I try to duplicate their natural habitat as closely as possible. A few years ago I did have some success without changing water conditions but lately have changed my methods.

For a group of six or eight young specimens I use a 10-gallon bare bottom tank. A slate bottom type can be used but you will be unable to "peek" from underneath to see if there are any eggs. Begin with your regular fish tank water (RO can come later) as many will spawn in regular water. One bubble-up box filter, Java moss/Java fern, a sinking or floating yarn mop AND at least one 3" clay flowerpot for each Apisto must be added.

Nature Organism Fish Adaptation Snout

Each pot has a small opening cut into what is normally the top, just large enough for the male to squeeze through. If all the fish are small fry, cut an opening about the size of your "pinky" finger, which should be about the right size. One note about cutting into clay pots. You must use a hacksaw type blade called a "carbide grit rod saw" as a normal blade which is flat will split the pot if twisted ever so slightly and you will end up with 2 or 3 shards which become of no use at all. Along with the fish, a few Cory cats can be added if so desired to clean up excess food if you overfeed. Make sure there are enough hiding places for everyone, as sometimes things can become a little violent.

Now comes the hardest part. Just wait, and wait and wait. If you purchased small fry, this can take almost eight months. Make your weekly water changes and feed live baby brine shrimp daily. My long time breeding adults still get live brine exclusively daily. About once a week they get small portions of frozen brine very sparingly as not to foul the tank water. When a female finally turns a bright yellow with deep black markings, that's a sign telling me there are eggs somewhere. If she stays half in the doorway of the flowerpot, it's a good bet the eggs are inside. At this time you can look from below or if that is not possible, just slowly lift the pot and check that way being careful not to disturb the area too much. If there are eggs I just replace the pot and try to remove all the other fish as quietly as possible. This just ain't easy so take your time as usually all the others are forced up into a far corner and will return there if you miss them the first time. If you are lucky and all goes well, fry will appear in about ten days. If she eats the eggs; they most likely were no good to begin with especially with the first spawn. The eggs should be dark blood red in color or they probably are infertile. If they are no good after a few times, now comes the RO water.

If you don't have a soft water unit you can purchase some at the supermarket IF they have a machine. Regular bottled water IS NOT soft water and "Hey Culligan Man" is no good either. I usually remove all but two inches of water and replace it with the same temperature RO water that brings the ppm's down to about 20. A few degrees colder will make the fish think the spring rains have come and may get an idea to spawn quickly. By adding the RO water, the pH usually drops close to 6, which is ideal. Go through the same process as before and just keep your fingers crossed. I have had many different Apistos go through my fish room but have only been able to get a small number of them spawn successfully so as you can see, they are not an easy species to work with.

Fin Organism Fish Marine biology Tail

At the last OCA Extravaganza in Cleveland, Ohio I purchased a trioof Apistogramma gibbiceps from my good friend "Little John" Wubbolt. I like this fish because of the black diagonal markings below the lateral line and it's lyre tail The tail is not elongated as much as others such as Dicrossus filamentosus but can very definitely be noticed. Anyway most Apistos that I have bred lay from 20 to 50 eggs at the most but one of the females is now leading a spawn of about a hundred small fry around the tank. I didn't think that any Apisto could have that many offspring at one time. To add to my amazement, she is barely ¾" in length. After spawning 20 or so Apistos I now learn something new. Some have a whole lot of fry!

When I purchased my first "Apistogramma" book in 1987 there were 40 species listed. The updated version of the same book in 1994 listed 50 different and now the latest new book written by Hans Mayland and Dieter Bork and published in 1997 list 69 species. As you can see, new Apistos are being found almost daily. Of the 14 different I am working with now, three are not listed anywhere. Oops, I forgot about the Internet. Check through your browsers and club web sites and I'm sure you can find some that just were found last month. Or so it seems. The problem is that if you want the latest, you will pay through the proverbial nose unless you have a contact that can supply you with the newest findings as a trade. Like anything else, everybody wants the latest just to say they have it. Start out with the old standbys and see if you enjoy them first before spending a lot of money just to have something new.
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