South American Dwarf Cichlids - Second Nature Aquariums

South American Dwarf Cichlids

Dwarf Cichlids are found throughout much of South America. This is an enormous geographic region and there are a lot of different habitats – ranging from Savannah to rain forest (see map), various Dwarf Cichlids are found in a wide range of conditions.

South America, Amazon basin map


One of the most important factors is the water the fish live in. Most South American waters are classed as one of three types – black water, white water and clear water. Each of these water types inherits its own basic parameters which significantly influences the fish that live in those habitats.


Crystal clear waters conditions are soft and pH levels are acid to neutral. Most of the rivers that come in the Amazon from the South are Clear Water.

White Waters are a milky yellow colour and are soft and acid to neutral (sometimes alkaline and slightly hardy). These conditions are created by large amounts of suspended sediments in the water, resulting in poor visibility – those are found in the upper reaches of the Amazon.

Black Waters have the most extreme water conditions. The waters are clear but deeply stained, which is caused by the massive decay of vegetation that is carried out in the streams. Black Waters are very soft and very acid (pH as low as 4.0).


The only thing all South American waters have in common is that they are all soft, whereas the pH level can have big variations across South American water systems. This is important to remember when you keep fish in your aquarium. Most of the South American Dwarf Cichlids will survive in neutral to hard water but it is very difficult (or impossible) to successfully spawn and raise fry.

Some may ask now how many species of Dwarf Cichlids are there – so far it is unclear how many different species there are, scientist always find new species in remote areas. One reason is that South America is enormous and relatively undeveloped, most areas have never been explored and many waters have never been sampled. In recent years there have been many new discoveries of species which can be added to the list.

Another reason is that there is a lot of discrepancy as to when to call different forms of a similar fish a different species or subspecies. This presents a particular problem with the Genus Apistogramma as there are many different fish that are similar to each other (species groups) and it is almost impossible to determine if they are different species, different sub-species or the same species.


So what characterizes Dwarf Cichlids?

Dwarf Cichlids are generally recognised as a Cichlid that grows to no more than 10 -12 cm naturally, in extremely sexually dimorphic species both male and female should be less than 12 cm in length. They are also recognised as being non destructive to their environment, which means they are suitable to be kept in planted aquaria. Most species seem to thrive in a well planted tank and show their natural behaviour in this environment.

Generally speaking Dwarf Cichlids are less aggressive and groups of the same species can be kept together. Only during breeding females (and sometimes males) immensely defend the territory around the breeding cave and later on the fry whilst guiding them through the tank.

Apistogrammas especially do very well in a community/habitat tank with tetras and smaller catfish (e.g. Corydoras, Ancistrus or other Loricariidae).


South American Dwarf Cichlids

They are widely spread across the Cichlid families and derive from 11 different genera and there are more than 250 species – but keep in mind that new species and colour morphs are being found on a regular basis, and most genera have a number of species that are still scientifically undescribed.

Apistogramma: 100+ species

Apistogrammoides: 1 species (A. pucallpaensis)

Biotoecus: 2 species (B. dicentrarchus, B. opercularis)

Crenicara: 3 species (C. elegans, latruncularium, C. punctulata)

Crenicichla: 115 species (pike cichlids)

Dicrossus: 5 species

Laetacara: 6 species

Microgeophagus: 2 species (M. ramirezi, M. altispinosa)

Nannacara: 7 species

Taeniacara: 1 species (T. candidi)

Teleocichla: 6 species


In nature Dwarf Cichlids are prey for larger animals, predatory characins such as Hoplias, predatory Crenicichlas and predatory catfish, as well as birds and anything else fast enough to catch them. Consequently Dwarf Cichlids are not found in open waters, but in smaller streams, ponds, pools and remaining areas of flooded land, they are usually found in very shallow water in areas that provide a large number of hiding spaces. In their natural biotope this is usually provided by dense leaf litter on the ground as well as roots and dead branches, overhanging terrestrial vegetation or floating vegetation.

By nature Dwarf Cichlids are micro-predators, feeding on fresh water crustaceans and aquatic insect larvae, so that in captivity they require a fairly high protein diet. They are not necessarily fry predators, of their own or even other species in fact there are reported cases of broody females adopting fry from another species in captivity.


Please also read

Keeping Dwarf Cichlids

Breeding Dwarf Cichlids & Difficulties

28 October 2012 by Holger Loecker
Categories: How-To Guides | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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