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Apistogramma Tucurui: The Apisto in the Pin-Striped Suit

By Don Kinyon

The number of Apistogramma species that goes on my “need” list seems to increase exponentially for some reason, but this one, A. tucurui, has been on that list since the very first time I saw a color photo of the fish in an Aqualog book. Very seldom have been the times I’ve found them available and there has always been a reason not to buy; whether it be lack of trust of the seller, outrageous cost, or my own unwillingness to sell off another species in order to make room.

Finally, the stars aligned in my favor and I found the fish on a well-known and trusted wholesaler’s list for a somewhat reasonable price, and I had the room! I jumped at the chance and puchased eight juvenile fish.

Apistogramma tucurui is found in Brazil in the Rio Tocantins basin and was described by Staeck in 2003. Native water conditions aren’t easy to find for these fish, but we can assume they’re used to very soft and acidic surroundings.

Apistogramma tucurui male

These are an average sized Apistogramma, with the males reaching three and one-half inches at most and the females closer to two inches. They’re not an extremely brightly colored fish, but still catch your eye quickly because of the dotted or zig-zag pin stripes that run the length of the body on both the male and female of the species. These seem to be different from individual fish to fish, and can change with the fish’s mood or surroundings. The base color of the male’s body is pale yellow and fins are mostly clear with tints of blue or yellow, the first one or two spines of the dorsal usually dark brown. Some males have a reddish-pink blotch on the caudal peduncle. The females for the most part are a drab brown but the stripes can still be seen, even though they are subdued. Once the female is spawning or protecting the nest, she transforms into a bright yellow tyrant with black markings and the stripes are much more pronounced.

Apistogramma tucurui female

The first home for the “new” Apistos was a standard 40 gallon long style tank, filled with 100% rain water, lots of bog wood, clay pots on their sides or inverted for caves, and a few yarn mops; both submerged and floating from corks at the surface. I had heard that this species would fight, sometimes to the death if they were confined in too small a tank, and an article recommended that only one pair be kept in a very large tank to prevent losses. Thankfully, I didn’t find this to be the case. This species, in my experience, can be cantankerous, but there were no fights to the death or even to the point of serious injury.

The water in the fish’s new home was kept at 78°F, had a pH of 5.0 and TDS of 45ppm. Feeding was twice a day; the morning being dry food, usually commercial flake, and the evening feeding was either live, frozen, or freeze-dried food. In the spring and summer they received live mosquito larvae and live daphnia, which they chased down and disposed of quickly.

On this diet the young fish matured very quickly and it turned out I had a good mix: five males and three females. They were a little more aggressive with each other than some cichlids, but with all the cover in the tank there was never any long fights.

The first sign of spawning was when one of the females was seen poking her head out of the top of one of the clay pots, and she was the bright yellow “I’ve got eggs” coloration. After a day or so, my curiosity got the better of me and I lifted the pot to have a look. Yes! There were about 40 light burgundy colored eggs.

I left them alone and kept an eye on the pot to see how things developed. The female guarded the nest constantly, only darting out once in a while during feedings. Two days after I noticed the spawn, there was another of the females in a hollowed-out piece of bog wood on the other side of the tank, also bright yellow and chasing away any interlopers. I couldn’t see into the cave she chose, but assumed there must be eggs there as well.

As it turned out, there were eggs in both nests, and both nests had hatches. They stayed in the tank with the adults and were fed newly-hatched brine shrimp twice a day by forcing it down to the brood with a large medicine dropper.

At this time it may have been better to intervene and remove the fry or some of the adults as the young fish started to disappear. Even with heavy feedings of live food, the combined broods went from around 80 fish to 60, then to 40, and finally to around 10 fish that were one-half inch long and presumably out of danger.

Another facet of the reputation of this species is that they are not the best parents, as far as Apistogramma go. That may be the case, but it may also be that I had the group too confined for the parents to be affective. The mother fish seemed relentless in their protection, but the loss of young was large.

Apistogramma tucurui female with fry
Female with fry

Even at a half inch in size they were chased off by the adults during feedings, so it was necessary to put a divider in the tank (one of the perils of a small fish room is having to use tank dividers!). After that, the younger fish could eat without harassment. They were fed newly-hatched brine shrimp from the start and continued to eat them with gusto even at this size. By now they were also getting daphnia and dry foods to fill out their diets.

Around a month after the young fish were moved into the “grow-out” section of the tank, one of them staked a claim to a clay pot in the corner and turned bright yellow. I didn’t even know the fish were sexually mature yet, but I guess they knew! As it turned out, the eggs in that spawn didn’t hatch, but a few weeks later, they got it right and there were fry in the “grow-out” half of the tank, along with a new group of fry in the main section.

At this writing, the fry of both sections of the Apistogramma tucurui tank are growing out quickly. It would be a good idea with this species to allow the young fish to grow in a very sparsely populated tank, in my opinion. Predation of the young seems to be more prevalent in this species than some others.

Even with some little quirks, this fish is well worth the trouble and this hobbyist is grateful that they are finally part of his fishroom.

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