Practical Information About Keeping, Breeding and Buying Dwarf Cichlids

Fish Profiles & Photos
South American  
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Apistogramma atahualpa  

Apistogramma atahualpa male    Apistogramma atahualpa male. Males of this robust species can be very colorful. They have extended dorsal fin lappets but their other fins are of normal lengths.
   Apistogramma atahualpa (A 175) is a very colorful dwarf cichlid from Peru that was introduced to the hobby as Apistogramma sp. "sunset". Although Apistogramma "sunset" may still be used as a common name for this fish, today it is increasingly sold as Apistogramma atahualpa.  

     Apistogramma atahualpa was first described by
Dr. Uwe Romer in 1997.  Unfortunately, he based his description on specimens obtained through aquarium import without known collecting locations. Romer speculated that they might originate in the Yavari drainage, however, it is now known that they come from blackwater habitats near Iquitos and from the Rio Nanay. The exact placement of A. atahualpa in the genus Apistogramma is not completely understood. It is probably in the cacatuoides group but further field and lab studies will provide better answers. For more information about Apistogramma groups and the A number system see Apistogramma.

Apistogramma atahualpa female with very young fry     Apistogramma atahualpa female with very young fry. This fish shows the very bright yellow coloration that is typical of  a parental female.
      Dr. Romer derived the species name "atahualpa" from the name of the last Inca Emperor who was strangled by the invading Spanish Conquistadors.  In his description Romer makes these comments about the name "A perfect metaphor for the continuing destruction of the cultures of the indigenous peoples of South America and the destruction of their environment by modern man". Today the native habitats of many Apistogramma species face dire threats and Romer is more aware than most of us of just how fragile these environs are.

      In 2004 an Apistogramma very similar to A. atahualpa was introduced to the hobby. In recognition of its similarity to Apistogramma atahualpa it was commonly sold as Apistogramma sp. "Sunrise", in parts of Europe and Asia it was named Apistogramma sp. "Su-Pin". Subsequently, in 2007 the fish was formally described as Apistogramma huascar. Apistogramma atahualpa has a round and essentially clear caudal fin while Apistogramma huascar has a squared off caudal that develops pointed tips. In addition,
male Apistogramma huascar have a cross hatching pattern on the caudal. I have not seen Apistogramma huascar offered for sale since about 2009 and it may no longer be in the hobby. As with too many Apistogramma species, this species seems to have been available and heavily collected for only a few years. It may be that the fish population has diminished, the fishermen are working different waters or the exporters don't think there is a market but they don't seem to be commonly collected.

     Apistogramma atahualpa will accept a range of water conditions but for successful breeding use soft water. They adapt easily to most aquarium foods and are generally a great Apistos. Although a true dwarf, Apistogramma atahualpa males grow to a fairly large size, up to 4 inches (10 cm).  This species has a reputation for being quite aggressive and there are reports that it is difficult to find a compatible pair. However, in my experience this is not completely true. They can be very aggressive if kept as just a few fish in a tank but when kept in larger groups
Apistogramma atahualpa
, aggression is spread among the tank and they seem to get along quite well. In these circumstances, a dominate pair will often form and they may spawn in the atahualpa community. However, as with most apistos, I recommend that you provide them an established breeding tank. I have rarely kept breeding atahualpa in tanks smaller than 10 gallons and would strongly suggest something larger. Complex habitat is critical so make sure that you have plenty of hiding places and escape routes. Breeding, fry development and parental care are typical for the genus.

     Male atahualpa develop extended dorsal fins and vibrant colors as they age. With most Apistogramma species I think that younger male show the most vibrant colors but with atahualpa I find that the males continue to color up and become much showier as they age. In my experience, somewhere around 2 years of age they become truly spectacular fish.

       Female atahualpa in brood care are a sight to be seen.  They become a lemon yellow color with striking black markings. Usually a single spot is seen on the side of the female but in some cases a double spot or no spot at all may occur.  The top of the dorsal fin is striped with iridescent white which matches the vivid white of the belly. The combination of yellow, black and white make this a stunningly attractive fish.
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