Apistogramma trifasciata

by Don Kinyon

This is one of the most beautiful of the Apistogramma. I’ve said that before, and meant it. But this one really is. Described by Eigenmann and Kennedy in 1903, this is truly a gorgeous fish. It’s one of the thin-lipped species, and grows to 2 3/4 inches (male) and 2 1/4 inches (female). Though the wild specimens I have seen aren’t quite as brightly colored as the fish I am working with, they are nearly as attractive. Most are collected from the Rio Paraguay. The males have so much color that one would suspect them to be a dyed fish sometimes found in pet shops. A healthy male will show a body color of bight metallic blue, which is also found on the dorsal, anal and ventral fins. The upper portion of the dorsal fin is orange/red and the first three or four spines are elongated and show more separation than the rest. There is a black eye-stripe, but it’s not as noticeable as in most species. Fish from some locations show orange or red head markings, but mine were almost solid blue. There is little or no coloration in the tail. The females are pale yellow or brown with a dark lateral stripe, and bright yellow when spawning or during brood care.

I obtained a pair of these fish from a friend who has worked with the species for some time. The fish were out in front most of the time from the very first; I hate having an outstanding fish that’s always hiding under a filter or piece of driftwood. The tank was a homemade fifteen-gallon; longer and more narrow than the commercial ones. Two fairly large sponge filters accomplished filtration, and there were several pieces of driftwood for cover. There were several differently shaped clay pots for them to use as spawning sites, and some Java Fern to add more shade and cover. The tank was filled with collected rainwater: pH of 6.1 and hardness near 0 and kept at a temperature of 80 degrees. I had no trouble getting these fish to eat. They readily took live foods including daphnia, mosquito larva, white worms, black worms, and chopped earthworms. Frozen foods of bloodworms, beef heart, and brine shrimp, along with several brands of flake and freeze-dried foods were taken almost as well. Water changes were usually performed once a week, at about 40 percent with rainwater.

Within a week, the fish, or at least the female fish, started to show signs of spawning behavior. The female turned a brighter yellow, and pursued the male whenever he ventured into her end of the tank. She had chosen a medium-sized clay pot as her spawning site, and continually tried to entice the male to it. The male would flare his fins, turn sideways, wag his tail in typical Apisto fashion, and flee as fast as he could whenever they got close to her clay pot. This went on for several weeks, until one day I noticed the female in the pot not paying much attention to the male, who just looked too proud of himself patrolling the perimeter of the tank. I carefully lifted the pot a little and tipped it so I could see the inside. This didn’t please the female, who was now a much brighter yellow, at all; she was busy guarding thirty or so pink and red eggs. The male didn’t seem to be in any danger, and didn’t seem interested in getting near the eggs, so I left him in the breeding tank. The female came out to eat, but that was all. She rarely paid any attention to the male now, just left him to cruise the area around the spawning site.

In just under a week, the mother and fry first ventured out of the flowerpot. It looked like about twenty-five of the eggs hatched into young Apistogramma, about three-sixteenths of an inch long. They followed the mother fish very closely, and would dive for cover at any disturbance, even the male fish, if he passed too near. Now it seemed like the health of the father fish may be a little at risk, so I removed him to another tank, but not before his tail fin took a beating. I never saw the female attack, but from the reaction of the male every time she came near, it was a safe bet that she did the damage.

From the very start, the fry ate newly hatched brine shrimp with gusto, and grew accordingly. They still followed the mother for several weeks, but with no disturbances other than regular feedings and my occasional peeping, they grew more and more comfortable without the female’s protection. By the end of the third week, they paid little attention to the female, even though she frantically tried to keep the brood together. To save her all the aggravation, I removed her from the fry.

Other than brine shrimp and occasionally micro worms, the fry seem to like to graze on the algae that grows on most everything in the tank (I grow the best algae in town). I’ve seen other species do this, but not nearly as frequently. By the time the mother was removed, they were eating sifted daphnia and ground-up flake foods, and were over three-eighths of an inch long. By week six they would eat anything the adult fish ate, only more finely chopped or ground, and acted much like the adults. By the time the fish were two months old, they were well over one half inch in total length, and very active. At this writing the fry are now the parents, and the cycle starts over again. Like many Apistogramma, the sex ratio of the brood is determined by pH, temperature, and probably other factors. Something must have been a bit off with the conditions I set up this time, because the mix turned out about 70:30 in favor of males.

As colorful as the males are, I’m not complaining.

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 33, # 2