Young male Apistogramma Agassizii hiding under log

Apistogramma Aggression And How To Reduce It

Are Apistogrammas Aggresive?

Although Apistogramma dwarf cichlids are relatively peaceful they are from the cichlid family and can be aggressive at times.

Most aggression occurs between Apistogramma males over territory disputes (if multiple males are kept within the same tank) or when Apistogrammas are breeding and protecting their spawning site.

When Do Apistogrammas Become Aggressive?

Territorial Disputes

Territorial disputes can occur between Apistogramma males who are trying to assert dominance and authority over a territory within the aquarium. This can often be to impress a female within the territory who the male is trying to attract as a mate.

Aggressive behaviour can occur not only when establishing territories but also when maintaining them and guarding boarders. Male apistogrammas will chase other male apistos out of their territory as well as other fish if they get too close.

When Breeding

When breeding apistogrammas become even more territorial.

Not only will the male become more territorial during breeding, but the female will become extremely territorial of their spawning site and chase away all other fish.

Although the female will generally allow the male to hang around and keep other fish away the female will likely stop the male from getting too close to the actual spawning site.

Signs Of Apistogramma Aggression

Chasing And Fin Nipping

Apistogrammas will chase other fish out of their territory if they get too close. The level of aggression can depend on the type of fish and how close it gets.

A male will chase away other male Apistogramma and if the tank is too small or there are no hiding places for the intruding male to retreat to then fin nipping can occur.

Apistogrammas will often ignore other breeds of fish such as tetras and dwarf pencilfish which generally occupy the middle and upper regions of the tank and keep away from the bottom where apsitos prefer to be.

If the aquarium is overstocked and fish don't have their own space the likelihood of chasing and fin nipping increases as inevitably fish will stray into one anothers territories.

Standoffs With Erect Fins

When multiple male Apistogramma are kept in the same tank aggression can occur between males as they try to assert dominance and establish territories.

This can often result in standoffs where the fish face off towards one another with their fins erect as they try to look bigger and stronger and intimidate one another. This often leads to nipping and chasing until the dominance hierarchy is established.

Tail Slapping

Tail Slapping is usually not a sign of aggression but more a sign of courtship and potential breeding.

Male and female apsitogramma may tail slap when they are courting. The male may tail slap the female while displaying himself and if she is interested, she'll tail slap him back.

Young male Apistogramma Agassizii hiding under log
Young male Apistogramma Agassizii hiding under log

Reducing Apistogramma Aggression

The best way to reduce Apistogramm aggression is to minimise the scenarios which lead to aggressive behaviour.

Ensure the aquarium is setup correctly. An Apistogramma tank should include driftwood, and other objects to create different areas within the tank and to break up line on sight between fish.

These different areas will serve as possible different territories for Apistogrammas and stop Apistogrammas seeing the whole tank as one territory which they dominate.

The majority of Apistogramma aggression occurs between males.

Male apistogrammas want their own territory, so don't keep multiple Apistogramma males in small tanks. I'd suggest if you have a community tank and want to keep multiple males then an area of 2 square feet per male is best, ie a well laid out 4 foot aquarium for 2 males.

This will provide enough space between the males and allow them to establish their own territories. However even then there is still the possibility of aggression from time to time.

In most cases I would recommend keeping a single male Apistogramma or a harem, with 1 male and 3 female Apistogrammas, of the same species.

Care should be taken when choosing suitable tank mates for Apistogrammas. Choosing fish which inhabit different parts of the aquarium can help to reduce parts of the aquarium becoming crowded and hence reduce the probability of aggressive behaviour.

We have a specific article on Apistogramma Tank Mates For Community Aquariums which goes into further details.

If you are breeding apistogrammas keep the breeding pair in their own tank or with just a few dither fish.

This is because apistorgrammas become very territorial and aggressive when breeding which causes stress to other fish but also to the Apistos.

For more information on breeding apistogrammas check out this article on breeding apistogrammas.