Apistogramma elizabethae

by Don Kinyon

This jewel of a fish was described in 1980 by Kullander and named in honor of Professor Louis R. Agassiz’s second wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz. It closely resembles the Apistogramma agassizii, named in the professor’s honor.

It comes from the Rio Uaupes area in Brazil, from slow moving streams where the water is soft and very acidic.

Apistogramma elizabethae comes in several color forms, from blue to red to yellow, depending on the location. In the particular fish I am working with, the male has a base color of blue-gray, with brighter blue markings along the top of the dorsal fin and through the ventrals. He has a slender body, much like the agassizii, with a spade-shaped tail and elongated rays on the front of the dorsal fin. From the lower jaw to the beginning of the anal fin, it is a bright orange-yellow, and this area intensifies in color greatly when courting and caring for young. The female is olive-colored normally, but when courting and caring for young, she becomes a brilliant yellow, with contrasting black spots on her sides.

I was fish-sitting this pair of fish for a friend that was on a collecting trip to Peru (I love opportunities like this). I decided it was a fine chance to try and breed these beautiful animals. They were clearly in very good condition when they arrived, and I was impressed by the male’s color from the start.

The pair was housed alone in a standard twenty gallon long-style tank, with straight rain water; 0° GH, pH of 6.2, at a temperature of 89° F. The tank had no substrate, a good bunch of sunken locust wood, several clay pots and a covering of oak leaves about two inches thick over half the bottom. I reduced the pH to 5.3 with dilute phosphoric acid (yes, it grows great algae-more on this later).

Both fish had a great appetite. They ate anything put in front of them, including live, frozen, and dry prepared foods. Mosquito larva, white worms, black worms, chopped earth worms, daphnia, frozen blood worms, adult Artemia, and shredded beef heart were offered on a rotating basis in the evenings, and flake or freeze-dried food was morning’s meal. On this diet, along with twice-weekly, thirty percent water changes, the fish were in breeding condition in no time.

The first unusual thing I noticed was that the female had not been out for a few days to eat. Being a little concerned (these aren’t my fish, remember), I checked a little closer. The pots were empty, but on examination of the oak leaves, the bright yellow female was found, along with a large group of eggs, buried in the middle of the pile! The female had laid the eggs on the underside of a leaf, ignoring the pots in the tank for her use. I left them alone, other than feeding and water changes, for the next few days. During this time the female did come out from under the leaves occasionally to eat, and the male patrolled the tank, keeping away imagined intruders.

In four days, the female and fry emerged from under the leaves. The half of the tank not covered in oak leaves had a fine crop of hair algae about an inch tall (thank you, phosphoric acid), and the fry took to it naturally. I’m not sure if the young fed on it, but once they were into it, they never left. The female was comfortable with the situation, and led her brood around that section of the tank most of the time. When any threat arose, the young fish disappeared into the dense growth, and mom stood guard over the top. Everyone was satisfied.

The frys’ first food were microworms, fed twice a day, then after a few days newly hatched Artemia were added as well. The young fish grew quickly on this XXXX diet, and at one month ate grindal worms and finely chopped frozen blood worms.

The pair proved to be good parents. They remained in the tank until the young were six weeks old, at which time the fry paid no attention to them. Once the parents were removed, the young dispersed throughout the tank, still remaining in the algae for the most part and some already staking claims to territories.

At present, the brood is ten weeks old, and starting to show some adult color.

Although hard to find and on the pricey side, these Apistogramma are some of the more sought-after dwarf cichlids from South America. Once you’ve seen them in breeding dress, it’s no mystery why.

For More Information:
American Cichlids I , Dwarf Cichlids, Linke, Staeck: pgs. 47-48, drawing and text
South American Dwarf Cichlids, Mayland, Bork: pgs. 60-62, pictures and text
Aqualog, South American Cichlids II, Glaser, Glaser pgs. 32-33, pictures, info

David Soares’ web site

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 31, # 2