Collecting, Keeping and Spawning This Wild Apisto from the Madre de Dios
By Don Kinyon
One of the biggest thrills for many aquarists is a chance to head into the field and collect their own aquarium fish. I had the chance in October of 2017 to do just that and one of the fish that made it back home into my fish room was the small cichlid: Apistogramma rubrolineata.
Apistogramma rubrolineata is relatively new to the hobby, only described in 2002 by Heine, Zarske, and Zapata. There are two known populations of the species: one in Bolivia and this one, from the Madre de Dios area of Peru. A fairly small Apistogramma, the males rarely reach three inches long and the females reach around two inches. The male is a light olive color with a dark zig-zag stripe following the lateral line and ending at the caudal peduncle in a dark spot. There are red stripes both above and below the lateral line, following the lines of scales. He has bright green markings on his face, sometimes continuing down his side and fading toward the tail. The rays of the dorsal, ventral and anal fins are also bright green, mixed with yellow on some individuals. Though not as brightly colored as some Apistos, this is an attractive fish. The female is drab unless in spawning or brood-caring mode, at which time she adopts the standard bright yellow body with contrasting black markings, as most of the females of the genus show when in the same situation.
It was only our second day collecting in the Madre de Dios area of Peru when we entered the water of the Alegria, or “Happy Creek”. The water was clear and soft: 17 ppm TDS, 6.5 pH, and 75° F. with a mixed mud and gravel bottom. The location we collected was slow flowing and shallow; most spots around two feet deep, a few holes were a foot deeper. There was very little vegetation in the creek but plants from the forest hung into the water from both banks. Here we caught some tetras, two Corydoras species, and this Apistogramma. We saved about ten of these Apistos, making sure we had a mix of male and female.
For the rest of the week the fish were housed in the aquarium room at Go Wild Peru, the service that took us on the collecting trip. With many large tanks to house catches and a supply of soft warm water for changes, the fish were kept very healthy. Water changes were done nearly every day at a 30 to 50 percent rate. We were unable to take the fish with us when the trip was over, so it was a few weeks later that they were shipped. In that time, the crew at GWP took good care of the fish and there were very few losses.
Once the boxes arrived from Peru my fishroom was in chaos, but finally room was found for all the new fish. The new home for these Apistogramma was a 30 gallon cube style tank with soft, acidic water: pH of 6, 60ppm TDS, and around 80°F for temperature. One large sponge filter was the only source of filtration and aeration so there was little current in the aquarium. Some bog wood, a few java fern plants and several clay pots broke up the line of sight and the floor of the tank was covered with a thin layer of brown sand. The water change schedule was 30% each week with rain water, keeping the conditions soft and acidic.
The wild fish seemed at home from the start and accepted most foods without a problem. They were fed twice daily: flake food in the mornings and either live or frozen food in the evening. The flake food alternated between four or five of the most popular brands and frozen food could be blood worms or chopped earth worms. Live foods were black worms, white worms, daphnia and black mosquito larvae.
These fish aren’t nearly as aggressive as some Apistogramma and there were very few altercations, and even those were minor, usually consisting of two males sparring and flaring fins. Sometimes the males could be seen chasing the females, but at that time the females were more interested in avoiding the males and finding food.
It was only a few weeks after the fish arrived that I noticed the largest of the females at the opening of a clay pot; showing bright yellow color with jet black markings and acting quite ferocious. For the next few days she’d either be found just outside the pot or inside with her head protruding from the opening, not letting any other fish near the site. One of the males, probably the father of the brood, could sometimes be seen on a short distance away, patrolling the area but he never came close to the nest.
Finally, on the sixth day after I first notice the yellow female, she came out of the pot with a brood of about 40 tiny youngsters all around her. The young fish were immediately able to take newly-hatched brine shrimp. They would consume them until there were none left and the young fish’s bellies were bloated and bright orange. The shrimp were their only food for the first few days and then alternated with decapsulated brine shrimp eggs and Golden Pearls powdered food.
This diet, along with weekly water changes, provided the fish with all they needed to grow quickly; by week three they were three-eighths of an inch and by week six the largest of the brood were nearly three-quarters. Around this time the youngsters were already starting to spar and chase, acting much like the adults. The adult fish paid little attention to the juveniles once they stopped following the mother fish. All were kept in the breeding tank with few problems other than squabbles over food.
In conclusion, this Apistogramma, though not as flashy as some others, is an attractive addition to a South American community tank or species tank. It’s fairly easy to keep and breed, is undemanding of conditions, the young are hardy and grow quickly, and it doesn’t present some of the aggression problems that so many cichlid species do.