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Preliminary research: should I go apisto or a different dwarf cichlid?

Redeemed

New Member
Hi,

I am considering getting back in to keeping fish (pending spouse and landlord's approval) and am doing some research on different options. I remember as a teenagere that cichlids were my favourite fish - I had convicts and lombardoi - so all my options are cichlids.

One of those options is some type of apistogramma - hence my presence here. From what I've read online, they would do nicely in a 75-150 litre aquarium, which is the realistic aquarium size range for our space and budget. And I understand that apistogrammas would let me have cichlid personality (maybe not as energetic as the lombardoi) but let me also keep plants.

Note that I want to breed whichever fish I go with as watching fish care for their young is fun. And if I can defray the costs of my hobby by selling a few fish here and there, that's even better.

The first question is the suitability of my tap water - and if it isn't suitable, how onerous it will be to move it in the right direction? According to official information from the council, the tap water has a PH of 8.2 after aeration and a total hardness (as CaCO3) of 45 g/m³. There are further parameters available online if necessary. So the question is: assuming that the water from my tap has the same PH and hardness (I'll check obviously), how expensive and time-consuming would it be to move the water parameters to a range suitable for the average apistogramma species to breed and keep them there? Due to budget, it would suck if I had to get a reverse osmosis machine. And it would turn my wife off from the fish if getting and maintaining the correct water parameters required daily testing.

The second question is this: for those that have kept rift-valley cichlids: how does the effort for apistogramma compare with moving and then keeping water parameters in a direction suitable for, say, lake tanginyika?
 

yukondog

Active Member
Welcome to the sight Redeemed, sorry I can't help with your water, mine is soft from the tap but I'm sure someone here can help.
 

Ben Rhau

Member
Hi Redeemed,

I'm relatively new, but went through a similar process as you, and this is what I've learned here:

1. It would help to know the conductivity or TDS of your water (if you know one, you know the other). (a) Because apistos need low conductivity to induce spawning and (b) to understand how easy it would be to lower your pH without RO. Without any kind of manipulation, Apistogramma cacatuoides might be the only species that may spawn in your tap water. If your conductivity is low enough and if you're willing to filter over peat, you may have more options. For any of the blackwater species, you need an RO unit.

2. I've kept Rift Lake cichlids and this year switched to Apistogramma. The amount of effort you need to put into your water depends on what species you want and what you're starting with (see #1).

3. Make sure your space and budget take into consideration that breeding requires multiple tanks. I started with a breeding trio in a 75 liter tank, and now I have three tanks.

Good luck,
Ben
 

Redeemed

New Member
Hi Ben,

Thanks for your response: it seems that you understand the sorts of questions that I'm asking. From the council website:

Conductivity at 20°C (mS/m)10

Is this low enough for apistos?

Filtering over peat gives you blackwater right? That might be something I'd have to sell to the spouse, but potentially sell-able provided we can still see the fish, looks nice rather than dirty etc. Is it the same idea as using dried leaves (never done it but heard of it) or is there something specific about peat that makes it more useful?

2. Based on my water parameters (need anything else), how will apistos compare with rift lake cichlids.

3. I'm aware that I'll need multiple tanks by the time they're breeding, but I have not factored this in to the budget yet. Good catch! Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that air powered sponge filters are good for apistos, so I could power three filters from one airpump if I needed to stretch the budget (at the cost of increased risk of failure)?

What were the dimensions of that 75 litre tank? Short one or tall one?

Thanks,

Redeemed
 

dw1305

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Hi all,
Welcome, are you in the UK?
Is this low enough for apistos?
Should be. It is a slightly different scale to the one we normally use, so 10 milliS/m is about 100 microS/cm.

I'd keep away from the black-water species (from the Rio Negro region), but you should be all right for A. macmasteri, A. hongsloi, A. cacatuoides, A. borellii, A. trifasciata etc.
Filtering over peat gives you blackwater right?.......or is there something specific about peat that makes it more useful?
Sphagnum peat has a <"number of advantages">, but it isn't very environmentally friendly.

You can use <"Oak leaves"> and <"Alder cones"> to give you the same advantages.
how will apistos compare with rift lake cichlids.
My personal opinion is that Apistogramma spp. do much better in planted tanks.

If you haven't kept planted tanks before? I'd spend a bit of time mastering that side of the hobby before you buy the fish. Have a look at the <"Duckweed Index"> it is a simple method using plants to maintain water quality.

There is also differences in water chemistry to the Rift Lakes, pH is much more variable in soft water, this isn't an issue, the fish experience it in their natural environment. Also there are some bits about <"cycling and the nitrogen cycle"> that would be worth reading.
What were the dimensions of that 75 litre tank? Short one or tall one?
Rectangular tanks are better than cubes etc. because they have more floor area, where the fish are.

cheers Darrel
 

Redeemed

New Member
Hi Darrel,

Thanks for your reply.

I'm in New Zealand

Should be. It is a slightly different scale to the one we normally use, so 10 milliS/m is about 100 microS/cm.
[\QUOTE]

Given the fact that when I get around to testing my tapwater that the conductivity will differ somewhat from the council's values, can you give me a rough cut-off for where reverse osmosis becomes necessary for breeding?

I'd keep away from the black-water species (from the Rio Negro region), but you should be all right for A. macmasteri, A. hongsloi, A. cacatuoides, A. borellii, A. trifasciata etc.
[\QUOTE]

I've been finding quite variable information online about apistogramma species, with every second species having disputes about the definition of the species, care instructions etc. What resources would you recommend on particular species, their habitats etc? The ones you listed sound like some of the more widely available ones here - so I suspect that'll be where I start - but I'm curious.

My personal opinion is that Apistogramma spp. do much better in planted tanks.

If you haven't kept planted tanks before? I'd spend a bit of time mastering that side of the hobby before you buy the fish. Have a look at the <"Duckweed Index"> it is a simple method using plants to maintain water quality.
[\QUOTE]
I intend to plant the tank say a month before I get the fish. Let the nitrogen cycle to mature, give the filters time to mature and give the plants some time to establish some roots.

Sphagnum peat has a <"number of advantages">, but it isn't very environmentally friendly.

You can use <"Oak leaves"> and <"Alder cones"> to give you the same advantages.
[\QUOTE]
This quote initially confused me until I realised that those were links. So if I understand you correctly, peat is the best, but Oak leaves and Alder cones can provide similar benefits? Later on, you say that in very soft water ph is relatively unstable so it can change a lot even in the fishes' natural habitat. Given this, would you just chuck peat moss into the tank's filter, or would you pre-treat water with the peat moss before adding it to the tank? Up to this point, I had been assuming I would have to do the later.
 

Ben Rhau

Member
Filtering over peat gives you blackwater right?
Natural methods will definitely tint your water, but it doesn't have to be to an extreme degree, especially if you mix it with untreated water. Some people like it darker. I do not, so I don't go overboard on the tannins.

You can use <"Oak leaves"> and <"Alder cones"> to give you the same advantages.
Driftwood is effective also, especially since you can add so much more mass to your tank. I use all of these in combination, but if adding to your tank is the sole method for pH regulation, it takes some effort to maintain stability. With peat, I can filter water outside my tank, and within an hour or so, I know exactly my parameters before adding to the tank. With leaves and cones, the exchange is more gradual and will eventually exhaust unless you keep adding at some rate. It works, but you have less precise control.

2. Based on my water parameters (need anything else), how will apistos compare with rift lake cichlids.
I'm not sure if you're asking: "Is it more effort to treat my water?" or "Is it more effort overall?" For water: If you get cacatuioides, it's possible you don't have to alter your water at all, so close to no effort. For the other species Darrel mentioned, I would recommend lowering your pH a bit. The effort is not a big deal in my opinion, but it depends on what you can tolerate doing. With Tanganyikans, you need to add salts. With apistos, you'll want to lower your pH without increasing conductivity. i.e., you're doing some kind of ion exchange rather than adding acid or buffer. For overall: They both take effort, but again the considerations are different. I would imagine it will take more effort in the beginning as you get up to speed, but I think that's the fun part. Here's a fairly accurate account from someone else who switched from Rift Lake cichlids to apistos: https://www.tfhmagazine.com/articles/freshwater/the-apistogramma-aquarium

-Ben
 

Redeemed

New Member
Thanks Ben. Regarding your first two responses, it's clear and makes good sense. Peat is simpler and more reproducible and therefore less effort. I'll add driftwood because I like the look of it but rely on peat etc.

On the final response: my question mostly has to do with week to week effort. Set up effort is fine - that's the new, excited stage of a hobby. Provided I don't kill all my fish, effort at that point is ok. The risk is if week-to-week effort makes me (or, more likely, my wife) resent the fish. I clicked your link and found it interesting. Whilst it didn't answer my question directly - that is, the question of which tank takes more effort - it did answer another concern of mine. Namely, given where I'm at in life, it would be really good to be able to sell some of the fish I breed to defray the costs the hobby. Given that he says apistos aren't being mass produced (except maybe a couple of species) that is in my favour. That and apistos seem to have small numbers of fry at a time so I won't be stuck with 1000 angelfish right off the bat or something.

Cheers. I'll file all this information away for when I'm able to action it, whether that be a month or a year from now. At that time, I'll also want to find out where to get apistogrammas in NZ. Are there people in NZ who are known as reliable breeders etc? I really enjoyed fish keeping as a kid and suspect that I'll enjoy it a lot as an adult. My wife, who isn't excited about fish yet, I reckon will be once she sees a clean pretty planted aquarium full of beautiful and inquisitive apistogrammas (especially if they're breeding). I just want to get it right.

Thanks again.
 

Mike Wise

Moderator
Staff member
5 Year Member
Just realize that breeding apistos requires at the minimum 2, preferably 3 aquarium: a breeding tank for the adults and 1 larger, preferably 2 grow-out tanks for the fry/juveniles. Also realize that apistos, like larger Central American cichlids, takes time before most people are willing to buy them. This is usually >6 month, at a minimum 3 months. This is why commercial size breeding operations are not common. If you really want to make money with dwarf cichlids, I'd suggest Orinoco Rams, M. ramirezi.
 

Redeemed

New Member
Thanks Mike. I noticed somewhere on this website that apistos are slow growing after they've been born. That doesn't bother me necessarily provided that I can sell all of them. That's why I've ruled out any fish that lays 1000 eggs at a time. I will hate having to move that many: while I might make good money if I'm good at it, it won't be a hobby anymore. EDIT: I noticed that German Blue Rams lay 500 eggs per spawning. How would I handle this many eggs efficiently so it doesn't become laborious?

Why do you think that M. Ramirezi would be the way to go? Faster to raise offspring to a sellable size? Greater demand? Because off less sexual dimorphism than apistos? After your comment I had a quick google and noticed that these fish like tanks that are quite warm (like 30 degrees celsius). I keep the interior of our house at 16 degrees in winter, so I suspect that some advantages might be lost in increased heating costs. I initially dismissed the German Blue Ram because I'd heard they'd been line bred/inbred a lot and have issues. Is that not the case/not always the case. I'm not dismissing your suggestion, just curious for more info.

Part of me was thinking something a little bit offbeat like apistogrammas might be good. I do note that Darrel was right that there are few species available in NZ and importing them is difficult (something like 6 weeks quarantine along with various inspection fees etc). Apparently apistos are a higher risk species due to iridoviruses, so they get more attention from quarantine. I have seen comments on NZ aquarium forums that people have bred certain wild apistos in the past but that subsequent generations weren't colourful. Is that a diet issue? It also occurs to me that if an entire country's stock of a particular fish species came from an import of 10 fish, that there would be high potential for issues due to inbreeding.

I've been working on the assumption that I'll start with one aquarium - but only if the budget allows getting a second and third aquarium at shortish notice. I suffered a career-changing injury a while back and so I'm in my 20's saving up to go back to uni - which as an immigrant to NZ, I'll have to pay upfront. On the topic of needing 2-3 aquariums, I had also thought of putting a mattenfilter in the middle of the aquarium to create a separate region for fry if I needed a second aquarium but lacked space.

Sorry Mike - I realize that this reply is a potpurri of various thoughts. I hope it makes sense at your end. Thanks again.
 

Mike Wise

Moderator
Staff member
5 Year Member
First, I am giving you my 40+ years of experience breeding apistos. Take it or leave it as you will.

Thanks Mike. I noticed somewhere on this website that apistos are slow growing after they've been born. That doesn't bother me necessarily provided that I can sell all of them.
Don't count you chickens apistos before the eggs have hatched. A good breeder doesn't sell all of them. Some will not hatch and some will be defective in some way - poor genetics, deformed body, deformed fins, not to mention natural losses that occur. Me? I'm happy if I get 50% salable rate, typically 20 - 25 specimens per spawn.

EDIT: I noticed that German Blue Rams lay 500 eggs per spawning. How would I handle this many eggs efficiently so it doesn't become laborious?
This is where a hobby turns into a job, which you write you don't want to do. No one says you have to raise every fry. Pull what you can handle and let nature take its course with the others (feeder fish).

Why do you think that M. Ramirezi would be the way to go? Faster to raise offspring to a sellable size? Greater demand? Because off less sexual dimorphism than apistos?
Yes all of these plus they are salable faster than apistos.

After your comment I had a quick google and noticed that these fish like tanks that are quite warm (like 30 degrees celsius). I keep the interior of our house at 16 degrees in winter, so I suspect that some advantages might be lost in increased heating costs.
Temperature is important when breeding apistos, too. Too warm and most fish will be males, too cool and most will be females. Do a search here on sex determination and temperature.

I initially dismissed the German Blue Ram because I'd heard they'd been line bred/inbred a lot and have issues. Is that not the case/not always the case. I'm not dismissing your suggestion, just curious for more info.
If you want quality offspring you start with quality parents. Be very selective and don't accept just anything that comes along. I'm sure, if you search long and hard, you will find a hobbyist who has quality.

I have seen comments on NZ aquarium forums that people have bred certain wild apistos in the past but that subsequent generations weren't colourful. Is that a diet issue?
This is true everywhere - mostly because of poor selective breeding. Nutrition is also a reason. For example, I started carefully breeding A. wolli from 6 specimens I brought back from Peru in 2012. When I compare photos of the wild fish with fish that I have now there is almost no difference. We can never duplicate the diet apisto have in the wild, but we can approximate it with a good mix of live, frozen and dry foods.

It also occurs to me that if an entire country's stock of a particular fish species came from an import of 10 fish, that there would be high potential for issues due to inbreeding.
Not an issue for a good apisto breeder. Inbreeding is only a problem when a poor breeder passes on poor stock. Think of all of the Thoroughbred horses. They all come from only 3 stallions brought to England and carefully bred with several brood mares in the 17th and 18th Century. Careful breeding not only kept the quality high, but improved on desired traits. The same is true of color strains of apistos.

I've been working on the assumption that I'll start with one aquarium - but only if the budget allows getting a second and third aquarium at shortish notice. I suffered a career-changing injury a while back and so I'm in my 20's saving up to go back to uni - which as an immigrant to NZ, I'll have to pay upfront. On the topic of needing 2-3 aquariums, I had also thought of putting a mattenfilter in the middle of the aquarium to create a separate region for fry if I needed a second aquarium but lacked space.
Live and learn. Try it, but I doubt that you will be very successful based on my and many others' experiences. This, of course, assumes that you are starting with a 'normal-size' aquarium and not a 300 l tank.
 

Jon Webb

New Member
Dear Redeemed, I’ve followed your thread with interest, since I plan to start with Apistos when I can get a Discus tank set up. Although I’ve been in the hobby for 50 years, and have bred Pearl Gouramis and wild discus successfully, and enjoy biotopish planted community tanks, there has been a great revolution in aquarium tech since I last struggled with keeping healthy plants. Specifically, lighting has progressed amazingly with LEDs. Good lights are pricey, but much cheaper over time than all the hot, energy guzzling methods available before. I don’t use CO2, and really don’t need it to have lush growth. I agree with previous posters that you should get right with the plants before stocking up much with animals: if your plants are growing, you’ve got a healthy tank. I stock nerites as the first animals, while cycling, and add bacteria as well.
On to water parameters. I have hard, alkaline water here in Southern New Mexico. I use peat in bags in my canister filters, and had to cut the amount of peat in half to achieve clear water, and not overdo the pH target of 6.5 to 7.0 ( nerites need some calcium to maintain their shells). I struggled with how much r/o or distilled water to use to halve our hardness, trying to do all sorts of esoteric calculations, and finally found 1:1 worked just fine. In my smaller tanks, I just pick up a few gallon jugs of the above ( 3 gallons per week at $1 US per gallon) and use 3 gallons of dechlorinated tap to match. With the 75 gallon Amazon/discus setup, I’ll need 20 gallons a week of r/o, which I think I can get in 5 gallon jugs of my own at local water stations very much more cheaply. I may be forced to install a small r/o setup under the sink, but I try to avoid high dollar tech if I can. The r/o cost is the price of being a blackwater fan in the desert.
I agree that plant and fish species should be carefully chosen to match your sustainable tech and effort, as well as compatibility with the other tank tenants.
In sum, the tanks are gardens and should be managed as such. I have benefited hugely from Rachel O’Leary’s instructional YouTube posts. Best of luck with these beautiful and fascinating little cichlids.
 
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