Dwarf Cichlids 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

Dwarf Cichlids are cute, friendly and fun fish that can have a peaceful nature in your home aquarium. These types of fish are generally very easy going, and therefore do well in community tanks. 

Dwarf Cichlids tend to have very outgoing, fun personalities, which makes them very popular among aquarium enthusiasts. If you’re considering dwarf cichlids for your freshwater tank, then read on to find out exactly how to care for them!

Species Summary

Dwarf Cichlids are also known as Apistogramma. These fish tend to be very bright, colorful and vibrant in appearance, and very excitable and lively in behavior. They love to explore and are very curious about the environment around them, making them very interactive, interesting and a joy to watch. 

Dwarf Cichlids are a type of fish, with Apistogramma as the name of the genus. What we mean is that there are several types of dwarf cichlids, and this is just an umbrella term for lots of different kinds of fish that belong in the Cichlidae family. 

There are actually over 90 different types of dwarf cichlids, and they all originate in South America. Whilst in depth habitats can vary depending on the species, the majority of dwarf cichlids reside in shallow bodies of warm water, with lots of vegetation and plant matter. 

As you may have guessed, dwarf cichlids are named as such due to their very small size and nature, however they make up for their size with a big personality, and a bright, eye-catching appearance. 

Types Of Dwarf Cichlids

Most Dwarf Cichlids can be found in rivers and streams of the Amazon Basin. They love warm, shallower habitats, and are very inquisitive about their environment and territory.

However, most of the time, these fish are found in freshwater aquariums around the world, and are some of the most beloved freshwater fish among the aquarist community. 

As mentioned above, the term Dwarf Cichlid is not one specific type of fish, as there are many species of dwarf cichlids, or Apistogramma Cichlids.

Whilst each type is similar in terms of origin, care and habitat, they are all different, distinct and hail from various parts of South America. Some of the most popular of these are found below, but this is just to name a few: 

Yellow Dwarf Cichlids

The Yellow Dwarf Cichlids, or Apistogramma Borellii are often all over yellow in color, and can have hints of blue over the fins and in other spots along the scales.

Their heads tend to have unique markings, and are very eye-catching in appearance. These Dwarf Cichlids tend to be gentle, quiet and peaceful and are great for community tanks! 

Dwarf Cockatoo Cichlids

These are the most appealing of the Dwarf Cichlids, and get their names due to their unique cockatoo-like looks. The males have a very distinctive dorsal fin that replicates a cockatoo’s spiked up feathers.

They are also very colorful, bright creatures, and it is not uncommon for them to have vibrant stripes along the sides of their bodies. They also have flowing, wispy tail fins that makes them look even more like cockatoos. These fish will definitely get your guests talking when they see them! 

Honglo Dwarf Cichlids

This type of dwarf cichlid is one of the most colorful types of Apistogramma you will find. They are often pink in color, with a flash of red around their fins and face. These are very peaceful dwarf cichlids that tend to stay away from other fish, making them great tank mates. 

Agassizi Dwarf Cichlids

These striking Dwarf Cichlids are often very golden in color, and have shimmering bodies with a very dark, contrasting stripe down the side. Males are often known to have red tails, and can have hints of blue all along the body and belly. The females tend to be darker in color and not as rich or bright. 

These dwarf cichlids are also popular among aquarists as they have small, sleek shapes and cute, lustrous bodies. However, they can be more territorial than other species of Dwarf Cichlids and will need a little extra care when it comes to caring for them and keeping their habitat just right. 

Care Guide

Although they are very small, these fish are mighty and they can need a little extra care to keep them happy. They’re not super high maintenance, but they are not the easiest to look after. So, check out our care guide to see how to properly care for Dwarf Cichlids!

Tank Size

Dwarf Cichlids do not need huge tanks due to their small stature, but if you purchase a group of this species, then you will need a bigger tank to give them enough space to swim and explore. 

We recommend a tank size of about 20 gallons at least, but you can grow this to 30 gallons if you plan on having more fish, as these fish can be a little territorial when there are too many others around. 

Tank Mates

The good news is that Dwarf Cichlids are suitable to keep with other species of fish, however it is recommended that you put them with fish that tend to stay in different parts of the tank than them. 

For example, Apistogramma, or Dwarf Cichlids like to remain in the lower parts of the tank, so keep them with peaceful fish that like to stay in the various other parts. This will reduce the risk of any territorial behaviors.

You should also keep them away from larger, more aggressive species, as the Dwarf Cichlids are so small, and can therefore become vulnerable to attacks. 

You are best off having multiple Dwarf Cichlids in a tank, and not too many males as they can become competitive and aggressive. Keep bonded pairs of Dwarf Cichlids together, and stick to the recommended species of tank mates such as Neon Tetras, Pencilfish, Cardinal tetras, Otocinclus Catfish, Pygmy Corydoras and of course, fish of the same species are suitable too.  

Water Parameters

As the same with most fish, you will want to imitate their natural habitat as much as possible. This means replicating the water conditions for your Dwarf Cichlids. As they reside in warm waters in the Amazon, it is very important that you keep the temperature a little on the warmer side. 

We recommend cycling the tank before adding these in, as they require very hygienic water. You will also need to change a third of the tank’s volume every week to stay on top of maintenance, and you have to regularly check the pH balance. 

For the best results, keep the water temperature at 72 to 86 degrees fahrenheit, and the pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0. When it comes to water hardness, you are going to want to keep it at 2 to 15 dKH depending on which species of Dwarf Cichlids you have. 

If you are unsure, make sure that you do all of your research before purchasing or keeping Dwarf Cichlids, as some species may have different requirements for proper care. 

What To Put In Their Tank

As we always say, just try to replicate their natural environment. Dwarf Cichlids will need a safe space that imitates their original habitat, which is the Amazon Basin. Therefore, you will need a sandy substrate for the bottom, and have lots of live aquatic plants. 

They love to nibble on the vegetation in their tank, and they use these plants to hide in as protection, and for a sense of security. You will be best off with natural plants, but you can also add in some rocks and decor items which can act as hiding spots and shelter. 

Common Diseases

There aren’t really any species specific diseases for Dwarf Cichlids, but they are prone to the same sorts of diseases that other freshwater fish suffer from. For instance, they can develop health problems such as parasitic infections and Ich. 

Most of the time, you can avoid health issues and diseases by ensuring that your fish are properly cared for. This means maintaining a hygienic and healthy environment, and ensuring the water conditions are just right for your Dwarf Cichlids. 

As long as they have the correct food and diet, and you imitate their natural environment as best as you can, you can keep your Dwarf Cichlids much healthier for longer, and prolong their lives. 

Food & Diet

In the wild, Dwarf Cichlids would be considered omnivores, as they can eat a variety of food sources. Dwarf Cichlids will be happy eating plant based foods such as algae, and are prone to nipping at plant leaves in their tank. If you see your Dwarf Cichlids behaving in this way, then they are probably hungry and you should feed them a little more. 

They will also need some protein, such as insect larvae, worms, fish fry and small invertebrates, but they do not need too much as they are such small fish themselves. You are best off giving them brine with worms or shrimp, and incorporating some high quality dry pellets to give your Dwarf Cichlids a well balanced diet. 

We also recommend that you ensure they are properly fed, and not gnawing on leaves in the tank, as this can lead to some aggression if they are hungry. 


The lifespan of dwarf cichlids can vary depending on the specific species you are considering, however, for the most part Apistogramma tend to live anywhere between five and ten years.

You can prolong your dwarf cichlids’ lifespan by ensuring the tank is always clean and hygienic, and that they live a healthy, happy and stress free lifestyle. 


The appearance of the Dwarf Cichlid is what draws most people towards them. These are some of the most popular freshwater fish due to their bright colors and shining scales. The colors vary depending on the species, but all have an attractive look about them that aquarists cannot resist. 


Again, depending on the species of Apistogramma, the size can vary. When fully grown, most adult Dwarf Cichlids can grow to about 3 inches in length. As you may have guessed, Dwarf Cichlids do not grow very large in size, and most species range anywhere between 0.8 inches to 3 inches in size. 

Behavior & Temperament

When it comes to behavior and temperament, the Dwarf Cichlids are different from others in their species. Many fish from the Cichlid family tend to be rather aggressive, whereas Dwarf Cichlids are not as bad, and can be kept in aquariums with various other tank mates. 

However, they can be aggressive sometimes, so you need to ensure that you have the proper habitat for them as they can be aggressive when they are territorial. To avoid any problems with other fish, it is a good idea to have lots of space for Dwarf Cichlids to swim around in, and room for fish to hide in case of aggressive fish. 

For the most part, Dwarf Cichlids will only become aggressive when it is time to breed, or when there is not enough food. So, always ensure that there is plenty of food to go around, and keep them well-fed to avoid any hangry Dwarf Cichlids. 

They also like to claim spots at the bottom of the tank as their own, so ensure that there are ample areas for hiding such as rocks and some floating plants. 

These fish are known for their fun loving and big personalities, so you can expect some behavioral and temperament problems to follow. However, for the most part, they are playful, curious and inquisitive fish that will be lots of fun to have in your aquarium.  


Dwarf Cichlids are egg layers, so breeding is a relatively simple process, you just might have to create the perfect habitat for your fish to want to breed.

Many female Dwarf Cichlids will keep the eggs in her mouth, and will choose a quiet, secluded spot to lay the eggs. She may also become aggressive and defensive of her young, whilst the males tend to just guard around the breeding area.

It is also best to keep the bonded, mating pair in a separate tank of 10 gallons for the breeding process. Raise the temperature to about 80 degrees fahrenheit, and cover filters with sponges to make the water more stagnant. 

When the environment is right, the female will find a spot to lay her eggs, and she can lay about 80 at a time. The eggs will hatch in about 3-5 days and the female will guard them very closely. The fry will then become fully grown after about 5 months.

Gender Differences: Male vs. Female

Dwarf Cichlids are sexually dimorphic, which means there are very little differences between male and females. Depending on the species of cichlid, the male tends to be a little larger than the female, and is often more brightly colored.

Fun Fact:

Did you know that there are actually over 90 different species of Dwarf Cichlids, and all originate from South America and the Amazon!