by Don Kinyon
Apistogramma mendezi comes from the black waters of the Rio Negro in Brazil. It is also said to inhabit sandy or muddy-bottomed creeks off the main river, and the water may be almost clear, but still soft and acidic. Officially described by Romer in 1994, it was named for environmentalist Chico Mendes.
The adult male is not one of the breath-takingly colorful Apistos, but is nonetheless attractive. Its fairly slender body is light brown, with a broad, dark brown stripe starting at the eye and ending in the tail. There are several thinner stripes below this main stripe and an eye stripe of the same color. The ventral and anal fins are blue and the dorsal can have shades of red, brown, yellow and blue. The lyreate tail is light brown with mottled dark brown markings. The female is rather nondescript except when courting or brood-caring, at which times she is bright yellow with black markings.
I started out with a trio of these fish and, to be honest, had no idea what to expect as information on fish this new to the hobby is hard to find. By making a nuisance of myself and asking questions of cichlid hobbyists I knew (and some I didn’t), and finding a book that included the fish, I felt confident enough to give it a try.
A fifteen gallon tank was set up to house the trio with very soft acidic water, 0° hardness, and under 5.5 pH. There were two sponge filters, some Java moss and bog wood for cover and several clay pots for them to choose from for breeding, or for the females to find refuge in.
After two weeks it was clear that this setup was not going to work. The male’s attentions had both females in hiding most of the time, and they were getting thinner from lack of eating. I removed the male and placed him in a community tank with much the same water conditions. The females then started to eat well and were soon large with eggs.
Unless the fish are all being conditioned for breeding in the same tank, whether it is cichlids, catfish, killis, or whatever, I generally don’t condition pairs or trios I condition the females. I have found that no matter what the food and water parameters are for the males, as long as they survive, they are ready to breed. The females always take more coaxing. (My wife proofreads for me, so that’s as far as I can pursue the point; You’ll have to make your own comparisons.)
Once the females were in breeding condition, I returned the male to the breeding tank. He immediately gave chase to the females, who were now more receptive. Within a week of feeding live and frozen foods: mosquito larvae; white worms; blood worms; chopped earth worms; and brine shrimp (same as the females had been fed for conditioning), the fish began to spawn.
Both females spawned in the same day, but neither batch of eggs hatched. Both spawns developed fungus on all the eggs. Only after I lowered the pH with dilute phosphoric acid did the eggs of subsequent spawns hatch. Sorry, but I can’t say what the magic number was; my test kit only goes down to 5.5. There were a good number of fry; each female had a brood, but in a few days their numbers started to drop dramatically. I never saw what happened, but I suspect the male was snacking on them. Wanting to save what I could, I removed about twenty young from the tank, and put them in a small rearing tank with the same water.
The fry were not unusual as far as Apistogramma go; they ate microworms and baby brine shrimp, grew and matured. With the close quarters of the three gallon tank, the young had no problem finding the food, but water changes twice a day were getting tedious, so I set up a twenty gallon for them. This worked out much better, and the young started staking claims to their own territories at six weeks old.
The fry are two months old at this writing, and near half an inch in length. They will now eat chopped frozen foods and are looking more like the parents. These Apistos are a bit more trouble than some to raise and breed, but I think any cichlid enthusiast will find them well worth the extra effort.
For More Information: Aqualog- Southamerican Cichlids II, Glaser, Glaser pgs. 50, 51, 57 pictures & info South American Dwarf Cichlids, Mayland, Bork pgs. 89, 90, 91 pictures & text
This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 31, # 2