Practical Information About Keeping, Breeding and Buying Dwarf Cichlids

Fish Profiles & Photos
South American  
    sp. "Abacaxis"
    sp. "Putumayo"
    sp. "Steel Blue"

West African 

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South American Dwarf Cichlids

        When most aquarists hear the term ?dwarf cichlid? they automatically think of a fish from South America. This is perfectly understandable as South America has the most species and they are much more commonly available. Dwarf cichlids are found throughout much of South America (see map). This is a huge geographic area and there is a lot of diversity of habitat. From savanna to rain forest, various dwarf cichlids are found in a wide variety of conditions.

        The one habitat feature that most directly affects a fish is the water it lives in. Most of the waters of South America are classed as one of three types; black water, white water and clear water. Each of these water types has its own basic parameters which greatly influence the fish that live there. The different water types are created through a combination of geology and climate and generally large geographic areas contain waters of the same type.
  • Crystal clear conditions characterize waters classed as Clear Water. These waters are soft and pH levels are acid to neutral. Many of the rivers that enter the Amazon from the South are Clear Water.
  • White Water conditions are created by large amounts of suspended sediments in the water. These waters are a milky yellow color and are soft and acid to neutral. White Water areas are found in the upper reaches of the Amazon.
  • The most extreme water conditions are found in the Black Water areas. These tea colored waters are clear but deeply stained. This darkening is caused by the massive decay of vegetation that is carried out in the streams. Black Waters are very soft and very acid.South America Map Some areas have water with a pH as low as 4.0.
        One thing that the South American waters have in common is that they are all soft. While there are significant variations in pH levels across South America all of the waters are soft to very soft. This is important to remember when we keep fish in our aquariums. They will often survive in hard water but it is very difficult to successfully spawn many species unless you have soft water.

        We have no idea how many species of dwarf cichlids are found in South America. One reason is that South America is huge and relatively undeveloped. There are vast areas that have never been explored and many waters have never been sampled. Every year there are new introductions to the aquarium trade as commercial and private collectors search out new habitats and species. In recent years there have been many new discoveries and we can expect that this will continue for some time.

        Another reason we don't know how many species there are is that there is a lot of disagreement as to when to call different forms of a similar fish a different species. This presents a particular problem with the Apistogrammas as there are many different fish that are similar to each other and it is almost impossible to determine if they are different species, different sub-species or the same species. Scientists are now conducting genetic studies on some of these fish and it is possible that we will have some better answers in coming years.

        No matter how many species there turn out to be, the fact is there are a lot! The most recent identification book published has photos of 243 species/forms of Apistogrammas. is not intended to be any sort of a comprehensive source for information about all species. Rather, we will provide more detailed information about selected species.

        Before we start with the fish I need to take a quick second to talk about names. I will use almost only Latin names on this site. The reason for this is that when the proper Latin name is used for a fish there can be no misunderstanding as to what fish is being discussed. While these names might seem difficult and confusing at first you will quickly find that they are really quite easy to master. At the most basic level you need to know that each fish has two names. The first is called the Genus. This is the equivalent of a last name with humans. It identifies a larger group that an individual species fits into. All fish with the same genus name share a number of common characteristics. The fish's second name is its species name. This name is unique to the fish and no other fish can share that name. When writing their names, the Genus is always capitalized and the species is always lower case. In addition to Genus and Species there are other terms that are occasionally added to a fishes name and these will be discussed when the come up.

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