By Oliver Lucanus
From the January 2003 issue
Dwarf cichlids of the genus Apistogramma are among the most widespread cichlids in the Amazon basin. The genus is perhaps one of the most quickly expanding of all cichlid genera. Every year new species are scientifically described and further new varieties and new species are found. Apistogramma are now often split around groups, species flocks that have many common features within the group.
The A. nijsseni group is described to have the following species that all resemble the basic color patterns and body shape of A. nijsseni. While these groups are just a loosely arranged set of characters to describe similar species, they are often helpful in setting up the aquarium and water parameters for similar species.
A. nijsseni Kullander 1979
A. panduro Römer 1997
A. payaminonis Staeck 1991
A. atahualpa Römer 1997
A. norberti Staeck 1991
A. sp. “Lyretail I”
A. sp. “Lyretail II”
A. sp. “Mouthbrooder”
With two new species to be added by this article:
A. sp. “red crescent/Inka,” the high fin nijsseni
A. sp. “black triangle,” the high fin panduro
All the species in this group have a round and high body shape. Females have a color pattern of spots or horizontal stripes. All of them live in blackwater habitats that run through the rainforests of Peru. Often the streams that these fish are found in are no wider than one meter and no deeper than 15 centimeters (6 inches). The substrate is often covered by leaf litter and has some terrestrial plants around its margins. Other fish common in all of these habitats are some small tetras, pencilfish (Nannostomus), Corydoras, and Crenuchus spilurus. There are few predators in this shallow water except for some knifefish and the wolf tetra (Hoplias sp.) that are present in nearly every habitat in the Amazon. Often these habitats are deep in the forest and far away from the main streams of the rivers and their flood zones that can extend for kilometers into the forest. Because of their distance from the main rivers and their ever-changing habitats these small streams are isolated and change little over the course of the year, which may well be the reason these fish could develop into such varied forms found in only tiny isolated areas. Of course this also makes the fish difficult to collect. Many of these fish have been discovered by aquarists searching small streams that cross roads and logging paths. In the absence of such access it may take hours of trekking through the jungle to find fish like these. This leads us to conclude that there are dozens more species to be found in the countless habitats of this nature found deep in the forest.
The two new Apistogramma are no exception. Their habitats are found nearly a day’s journey apart, but both fish unmistakably belong in the group of A. nijsseni –like fish. Apistogramma sp. “red crescent” was found by the German biologist Rainer Schulte. He has been living in Peru for many years to study poison arrow frogs and his search for frogs has taken him to many places in the Peruvian jungle. With his help, a Japanese group first managed to catch and export this spectacular fish last year. They named the fish A. sp. “Inka.” My expedition later that year yielded more Apistogramma of this new species as well as another Apistogramma species and a new Corydoras found in the same habitat. The habitat itself is typical for any fish from this group. The stream crosses a small logging road in several places and the fish are caught in water often less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) deep. In places where fallen trees have caused deeper pools to form, Corydoras and other Apistogramma species are found. This apisto is no less attractive and more similar to A. regani.
The water parameters in this habitat are: temperature 26°C (78°F), clarity 990 cm, pH 5.4, Fe (iron) 0.50 mg/l, GH 0, conductivity 15 µS, color blackwater, substrate white sand covered with leaf litter. The new Apistogramma is nothing short of spectacular. It has many features in common with A. nijsseni. The red margin around the tail, bright yellow ventral fins, and blue sides are common features of nijsseni. The most outstanding difference in the male is the spectacular dorsal fin that can be taller than the body of the fish, with all of the hard rays of the dorsal extended. Another very different feature to note is the more metallic blue flanks with several bars, not two spots like the typical form of nijsseni. The difference is even more extreme in the females: here the easily recognizable pattern of two spots (a large one on the flank and a smaller spot on the base of the tail) seen in A. nijsseni females is replaced by several vertical bars and a blue shine on the body.
In the aquarium the new species is much similar to A. nijsseni but requires larger tanks. The males require territories of at least 20 gallons each. Breeding females are fierce mothers that can defend large spaces even against much larger fish.
A day’s journey north another new Apistogramma was found. This species has common features with A. panduro but also features the dorsal fin extensions! The new fish has the same black triangle on the base of the tail and some extended rays on the dorsal fin. The black vertical stripes and blue shine on the flanks are also displayed in the males. Females are more similar to those of the new “red crescent/Inka” fish than those of A. panduro. Yet they feature only short vertical bars and a small round spot on their flanks. This variety is not nearly as aggressive as the other hifin Apistogramma and may be kept and bred in tanks as small as 15 gallons.
The new additions to this popular group of fish will bring them back to the most sought-after Apistogramma among hobbyists. With much attention paid to the slender Apistogramma species of the Rio Negro (A. diplotaenia, elizabethae, and mendezi) there has been little attention paid to new dwarf cichlids from Peru of late. Surely these stunning new fish will make them popular once again.