Apistogramma atahualpa (aka A. sp. 'Sunset')

by Francine Bethea

One of my favorite things to do is to check out all the local fish stores in my area. I have discovered that there are bargains to be found in these small shops, especially if you are looking for wild specimens of Apistogramma. There are two things I always ask whenever I walk into any aquarium shop: "Do you have any South American Dwarf Cichlids?" and "How much?"

This is how I found my Sunsets. There was a store that had just opened and I went in with my questions. The proprietor pointed to the front tank by the counter. He said that the fish were a wild shipment of Sunsets. The guy didn’t know any more about them than I did. Neither of us could sex them. These fish were juveniles and were the typical drab grey. Although we tried to find them in the reference books he had, the fish were not listed. So he gave me the net and the container and told me to choose the ones I wanted. At $3.99 each, I took six.

I didn’t have a tank ready for the fish, so I set up a ten gallon. In this tank, I put a shallow layer of gravel and added small pieces of driftwood with java fern attached. I added halved coconut shells with java moss. The water was five gallons of a partial water change from another tank topped off with distilled. All my tanks have soft acidic water and the pH is 5.0 and less than 4°. Filtration was taken care of by a new hydro sponge that I rinsed in the tank as I poured the water. The temperature was set to 78° F. This was definitely a quick and dirty setup.

After acclimating the fish to their new water, I feed them a large amount of brine shrimp. The fish were extremely shy, darting out from under the shells long enough to snatch food, so I added four gold tetras to the mix. All the fish were eating and seemed fine.

The next morning I found four of the sunsets on the floor of the kitchen. The term ‘four-on-the-floor’ has a new meaning for me. I had to go back and buy more. This time I bought three and added a better fitting glass canopy. I found these fish to be very aggressive toward each other, which led me to assume they chased one another out of the tank.

Eventually, the fish began to fatten and color up. As luck would have it, I ended up with two males and three females. One of the juveniles began to take on the typical yellow of a spawning female. I kept the largest of each sex and took the trio to my club’s auction to sell.

A week later, while cleaning the tank, I noticed that the cave entrance had been partially blocked with gravel. I didn’t know any better, so I removed it. The female immediately began to rebuild and it dawned on me that she had spawned. It is unknown to me if blocking the entrance to the cave is behavior indigenous to this species or perhaps an eccentricity of this particular female. However, this will be a matter for further study when the fry from this clutch mature.

The male Sunset was crammed underneath the sponge filter with tattered caudal and pectoral fins. The gold tetras were a tight group hovering in a corner. I removed the male and left the tetras to receive the brunt of the female’s attacks. Within two days, the female was leading around 15 fry.

I increased the lighting on the tank to produce algae by simply putting two 30-watt fluorescents over the ten gallon. In addition to the algae, I fed the fry microworms and frozen BBS. In order to ensure the fry were getting all the food, I cleared an area of gravel in the front of the tank. I then would scrape some microworms into a shot glass and added a little water. Using a syringe with air line tubing attached, I siphoned the worms a third of the way into the tubing and then injected them onto the bare spot of the tank. This feeding method accomplished many things. First off, I was assured that I administered the proper amount of food. Secondly, it presented an opportunity to count the brood and observe their behavior. Last, but not least, it made the fry extremely easy to catch.

The methods I used worked well. The fry have grown fast and are now eating flake, live and frozen brine shrimp.

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 31, # 1