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Apistogramma urteagai: Collecting, Keeping and Breeding a wild Apisto

By Don Kinyon

Habitat and Collection Photos By David Snell

I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll repeat myself with the risk of being a nag; If you have the chance to travel to wherever your favorite tropical fish are native to, just go. It may not be as expensive as you think, and you’ll have the experience with you for as long as you live. In October of 2017, I was lucky enough to take a collecting trip to the Madre de Dios area of Peru and catch some of my favorites; Corydoras, Apistogramma, and Characins. It was well worth the time and money and I’m going to do it again if at all possible.

The very first day we were in Peru, we stopped at a bridge in the Loboyoc marshlands, not far from Puerto Maldonado. The waterway near the bridge had been recently excavated, so at that point it was fairly deep and muddy, especially near the center. Once we ventured a short distance from the bridge, the stream bed was undisturbed. The stream was shallow, muddy, and had a considerable current near the center, but more calm toward the edges. Even during this, the low water season, there were large areas of marshland close to the stream. Water was soft and acidic: checked in different locations pH was from 5.5 to 6.5, TDS from 12 to 22ppm, and temperature around 77°F overall. Here we collected hatchetfish, some brilliant blue tetras, three species of Corydoras including some very nice CW097 and this Apistogramma: the A. urteagai.

Apistogramm urteagai was described by Kullander in 1986. It’s an average sized Apisto with subdued coloration. The male, especially when courting a female, displays a metallic teal color through the center of the body and the gill plates. The upper back is olive drab to gray and the belly is white. Most of the fins are clear, but some males have flecks of teal on the anal fin and teal coloration of the first few rays of the ventral fins. The females are drab unless in spawning/brood caring mode, at which time they’re bright yellow with contrasting black markings.

The collected fish were stored at the aquarium at the lodge of Go Wild Peru for the week. Water changes with soft, acidic water were done most every day and the fish were fed sparingly with commercial dry food. They did well in this situation and there were very few losses through the course of the week. We were unable to have the fish shipped until a few weeks after we left Peru, but the crew at GWP took good care and all the animals were shipped with no problems.

When the Apistogramma urteagai finally made it to my fish room, they were set up in a 19 gallon flat, breeder-style tank. As it turned out there were five males and six females; a very good mix for most dwarf cichlids. To give the individuals some cover and split the tank into several territories, numerous clay pots, driftwood, and Java fern plants were added. The filtration was a single large sponge filter. There was a thin layer of fine brown sand covering the floor of the tank. I tried to duplicate the conditions from where the fish were collected (without the mud) with mostly rain water. The pH in the tank was level at 6.0, temperature set at 78°F and dissolved solids at 45ppm.

Apistogramma urteagai male

Autumn in Virginia provides many live foods from outside pools and tubs, so the first few weeks were a buffet for the newly-housed Apistos. Lots of daphnia, mosquito larvae, and some glass worms were the main foods, supplemented with live black worms, white worms, chopped earth worms, and several flake foods. On this diet, the fish were very active and the females grew stout, seemingly overnight. There were a few squabbles over territory, but mainly some flashing and chasing by the males; never enough to cause injury.

It was only a few days later when the bright yellow face of a female A. urteagai could be seen peeking out of the door in one of the clay pots. I was in disbelief: I had to know if these wild fish had spawned after living in their new home for no more than a week. Carefully upturning the pot answered my question (and made the female Apisto very upset). There were around 50 maroon colored eggs on the underside of the pot, covering a good share of the top and continuing down one side. I set the pot back down in its original position and the female forgave me; she slid back into the pot and continued guarding her nest. One of the males could be seen patrolling the immediate area, keeping all the other residents of the tank away from the nest.

In two days’ time, flashlighting the inside of the pot showed that the eggs had hatched and the larvae were on the sand, wriggling. The female fanned them with her pectoral fins and from time to time, moved them around inside the pot. In another three days the young were free-swimming and formed a cloud around the female fish when she exited the pot. Now the male would not come very close to the brood or he’d be chased away with a vengeance. To keep the conditions a little more stable for the young fish, water changes were done twice weekly on a smaller scale, about 15%.

Apistogramma urteagai fry

The young were active and always seemed to be hungry. Their main diet was newly hatched BBS and sometimes decapsulated brine shrimp eggs or other powdered micro foods. They ate until their bellies were bloated and bright orange at every feeding. All the good food combined with water changes provided conditions for the fry to grow quickly. At three weeks old the fish were almost three-eighths of an inch and at eight weeks; three-quarters.

It was shortly after this brood followed the female out of the clay pot that I noticed another female in the opposite corner of the tank poking her bright yellow face out of another pot. Upon inspection, there were another large group of eggs inside. I decided to let things go as they would and let the fish figure out living arrangements. The fish got along just fine with that and no casualties arose from the cramped situation. The second group progressed much as the first and soon there were two broods swimming around the tank searching for food. Water changes were upped to three or four times a week and feedings to three times a day. Maybe it was the constant supply of food or the fresh water or a combination of both, but apparently all the females decided to increase the population in the smallish tank. At one point, there were four clay pots in the tank at once containing a brooding female and a bunch of eggs or fry. The only thing to do was catch out some of the larger fry and move them to grow-out tanks.

Eventually, the breeding frenzy slowed and at this writing there is only one (known) active nest in the breeding tank, but some of the first fry in grow-out tanks are starting to mature and behave more like the adult fish. I’d guess there are 150 to 200 of these fish now, between the young in separate tanks and the younger fry still in the breeding tank.

These Apistogramma urteagai may not be the most colorful of the dwarf cichlids, but they are some of the best parents I’ve found, and most definitely the most prolific.

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