Apistogramma atahualpa

Apistogramma atahualpa adult pair male and female

Apistogramma atahualpa (A 175) is a 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 and is a popular and hardy dwarf cichlid.

About Apistogramma atahualpa

Apistogramma atahualpa are robust dwarf cichlids that come from the Rio Nanay in the Amazon Basin. They make good aquarium fish with spectacular colors and finage as well as fascinating behavior. They can generally be kept in a community tank but do best in a tank of their own. While not a common species, A. atahualpa do appear in the hobby on a regular basis.

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Male A. atahualpa develop extended dorsal fins and vibrant colors as they age. In my opinion, in many Apistogramma species the younger males show the most vibrant colors that can dull as they age. However, I find that A. atahualpa 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.

Female A. 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.

Apistogramma atahualpa female above several small fry
Apistogramma atahualpa females turn a bright lemon yellow when they are caring for fry. This female is guarding fry that are only a couple of days old.

Aquarium Care & Breeding

A. atahualpa originate from the Rio Nanay which is a blackwater stream with soft acid water that is usually tannin-stained. Thankfully, in the aquarium, Apistogramma atahualpa will thrive in most water conditions. However, for successful breeding use soft and acid water (pH below 6.5 if possible). They adapt easily to most aquarium foods and are generally great Apistos. Although a true dwarf cichlid, Apistogramma atahualpa are among the larger Apistogrammas and exceptional males can reach a size of up to 4 inches (10 cm).  

Photo of male Apistogramma atahualpa investigating a breeding cave with an unseen female inside
This male Apistogramma atahualpa is checking out the breeding cave placed on the flower pot. There is a female inside the cave but she can’t be seen. I use a lot of broken terracotta pieces to make caves in my tanks

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 a larger community aggression is spread among the tank and they seem to get along quite well. In these circumstances, a dominant pair may spawn which can disrupt the tank. If your goal is breeding I recommend you provide them with a dedicated breeding tank.

I’ve rarely kept breeding A. atahualpa in tanks smaller than 10 gallons and would strongly suggest something larger. A 20-gallon long is usually a perfect size for a pair. 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.

You will find detailed information about aquarium care and breeding in these articles.

Essential Articles About Apistogrammas
The Genus Apistogramma
Apistogramma Aquarium Care
Breeding Apistogrammas
Understanding Apistogramma Classification and Identification
Live Plants in the Apistogramma Aquarium
How and Where to Buy Apistogrammas and Other Dwarf Cichlids

History of Apistogramma atahualpa

 Apistogramma atahualpa was first described by Dr. Uwe Römer in 1997.  Unfortunately, his description was based on specimens obtained through aquarium import without known collecting locations. Römer 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.

A. atahualpa are in the A. trifasciata Lineage and sublineage. They are in the A. atahualpa group and are the type species of the A. atahualpa complex. They are closely related to the mouth-brooding species in the A. barlowi group. While this seems complicated, with more than 500 known forms we have to use extensive classification systems. Learn more about Apistogramma Identification and Classification.

Named for an Inca Emperer

Dr. Römer derived the species name atahualpa from the name of the last Inca Emperor who was strangled by the invading Spanish Conquistadors.  In his description, Römer 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 Römer is more aware than most of us of how fragile these environs are.

Similar Species

In 2004 an Apistogramma very similar to A. atahualpa was introduced to the hobby. In recognition of its similarity to Apistogramma Atahualpa (which was commonly called Apistogramma Sunset) it was sold as Apistogramma sp. “Sunrise”, in parts of Europe and in Asia it was named Apistogramma sp. “Su-Pin”. In 2007 this fish was formally described as Apistogramma huascar. There is not a lot of difference between the two species. Apistogramma atahualpa has a round and essentially clear caudal (tail) fin while Apistogramma huascar has a squared-off caudal with a cross-hatching pattern that develops pointed tips.

I’ve only seen Apistogramma huascar offered for sale a couple of times since 2009 and it may not currently 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. The reported source of A. huascar is far from the normal commercial collecting areas and they don’t seem to be commonly collected.

Where to Buy Apistogramma atahualpa

As far as lesser-known apistos go, Apistogramma atahualpa is offered in the hobby more than most. You won’t usually find them in a pet store but they are often available through hobby breeders and specialty fish sellers. However, it’s not unusual for years to pass without the fish being available. Your best bet to find them is through the sellers listed in our guide How To Buy Dwarf Cichlids.


Most of the information I provide on this website comes from books and websites. While I don’t provide specific citations, these are the sources for most of my information.
South American Books:
Mergus Cichlid Atlas Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Dr. Uwe Römer
South American Dwarf Cichlids by Rainer Stawikowski, I. Koslowski and V. Bohnet
Die Buntbarsche Amerikas Band 2 Apistogramma & Co. by Ingo Koslowski, Translation by Mike Wise
South American Dwarf Cichlids by Hans J. Mayland & Dieter Bork
American Cichlids I – Dwarf Cichlids by Horst Linke & Dr. Wolfgang Staeck
West African Books:
The Cichlid Fishes of Western Africa by Anton Lamboj
African Cichlids I – Cichlids From West Africa by Horst Linke & Dr. Wolfgang Staeck
Apisto sites – the home page of Tom C – Global authority for identification and classification of apistogrammas
Apistogramma.com – An excellent international forum with expert members who gladly share their knowledge.
Much more information is available in our complete exploration of dwarf cichlid information resources.