Apistogramma baenschi 

Photo of large adult Apistogramma baenschi male

Apistogramma baenschi (A188), is also known as Apistogramma Inka, Apistogramma Inka 50, or Apistogramma “high finned nijsseni”. These common names were used prior to the formal description of Apistogramma baenschi in 2004. Since its description, this delightful dwarf cichlid is usually sold under its correct name but it still pops up as Apistogramma Inca or one of its other common names.

Introduction to Apistogramma baenschi

Photo of mature male Apistogramma baenschi with a yellow head
This male Apistogramma baenschi has a very yellow head and neck area. There is a lot of variation in colors among baenschi males.

Apistogramma baenschi is an especially beautiful dwarf cichlid. They are a moderately large species and some males grow to 3 inches while females are roughly half that size. They have a robust body with a large head and powerful jaws. They have a series of dark vertical bars along their body that is especially pronounced in females. Males sport extended lappets on their dorsal fin that can be very high and flowing. Males also have a band of red that circles the outer margin of their tails.

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Apistogramma baenschi is a member of the nijsseni group of Apistogrammas. Apistogramma nijsseni itself caused a stir when it was introduced in the late 1970s as the “Apistogramma Superstar”. A. nijesseni were the holy grail of Apistos at the time and were known as delicate, very demanding of water conditions, and an especially challenging fish to breed.  By contrast, I find Apistogramma baenschi to be a hardy, undemanding, and easy-to-breed species. They tolerate a wide range of water conditions and do well in both community and species tanks. Apistogramma baenschi are not a shy species. Generally, they will be right out front in the aquarium, out in the open not hiding in cover.

Apistogramma baenschi in the wild

As far as it is known, this species is restricted to a small range in northwestern Peru where it seems to only inhabit jungle streams in a small area where it has been collected extensively. At one point there was concern that overfishing could become a problem. Today, most of the fish I see offered for sale are tank raised.

The jungle streams they inhabit are under a dense overhead canopy of dense vegetation. These deeply shaded streams are cooler than might be expected. The Apistos are found in shallow and slow-moving waters with sandy bottoms. They are associated with areas where there is a lot of cover and hiding spots. Leaf litter is especially common.

These are typically blackwater streams with very soft water that has almost undetectable mineralization. A. baenschi have been collected in waters with pH ranging from 4.1 – 6.3.

Apistogramma baenschi Aquarium Care

Although the native waters of A. baenschi can be very soft and acidic, they have proved to be adaptable in the aquarium. They don’t demand soft acidic conditions and can live in water at 7.0 pH and of moderate hardness. While they may do well in these conditions it’s best to give them neutral water or softer and more acidic if possible, especially for breeding. They are tolerant of a range of temperatures and you should have success between 72° and 80° F.

Photo of pastel colored male Apistogramma baenschi
When given the proper conditions, some Apistogramma baenschi males will mature into a pastel color scheme that rarely shows the vertical stripes the species is known for.

Like most Apistos, they do well on a variety of substrates from bare glass to small pebbles. However, in my opinion, sand is the best. They are sand-sifters, constantly picking up mouthfuls that they sieve through their gills to remove food particles. It’s important to have a complex habitat in the tank with multiple caves and areas that are out of sight from a dominant fish. Tank sizes of 20 gallons and larger are best.

Feeding is usually an easy task as they avidly feed on all types of live foods and will take most frozen and prepared foods. I’ve never had trouble converting them from live food to prepared and they thrive on a varied diet. Even wild fish can usually be converted to prepared foods without too much difficulty. I’ve noticed that some A. baenschi are voracious snail eaters and will hunt through the plants looking for small snails. I’ve not observed this in many other Apisto species.

Photo of female Apistogramma baenschi in neutral color
This female A. baenschi is in her neutral colors. She will adopt bright yellow brood colors after spawning.

In my experience, A. baenschi is not a particularly aggressive species. However, fish, like people, have their own personalities and I’m never surprised to hear that a baenschi male has become aggressive. Generally, they do well with a single male and one or more females. For a community tank, a single male will do just fine by himself and will be unlikely to cause problems. If you want to have multiple males in the tank you need to have at least several to spread around any aggression.

Breeding Apistogramma baenschi

I find Apistogramma baenschi to be pretty easy to breed. It all starts with the basics; give them good water, good food, and good habitat and they will usually do the rest. They prefer soft and at least slightly acidic water. A pH range of 5.0-6.5 is most appropriate, however, this is a relatively tolerant species. Apistogramma baenschi does well in lower temperatures than some species. They should be fine in the mid to low 70s but, again, they are relatively undemanding and will tolerate a large range. For breeding 76° – 78° is best.

Photo of female Apistogramma baenschi with newly hatched fry
This female Apistogramma baenschi is shepherding her newly free-swimming fry. Most A. baenschi females make excellent mothers.

A. baenschi spawn in typical Apistogramma fashion. The female selects a close dark place, typically a cave, which she prepares as a nursery. Following a courtship, she enters the cave area with the male and places rows of eggs neatly on the ceiling. She occasionally moves aside and the male will roll sideways emitting sperm to fertilize the eggs. The eggs are generally pink to fire-engine red in color and often show a white patch on the end. When the female has completed her egg-laying the male leaves and caring for the eggs is the responsibility of the female. The eggs hatch in 48 – 72 hours and the female moves the larval fry to a pit in the cave. After another 4 or 5 days the fry will begin to swim and the female will soon lead them out to begin feeding.

The newly free-swimming fry will be able to find a few days of food in a well-established tank but you must be prepared to quickly provide suitable food to the fry. Micro worms and newly hatched brine shrimp are two excellent foods and are my personal staples. It can be difficult to raise fry only on commercially prepared foods. The fry grow at a reasonable rate and I’ve not had too many problems with skewed sex ratios with this species.

This has been just a brief description of care and breeding. For more detailed information about keeping and breeding Apistogrammas read these articles

Apistogramma and Dwarf Cichlid Aquarium Care
Breeding Apistogrammas and Other Dwarf Cichlids

photo of a young male Apistogramma baenschi
Young adult male Apistogramma baenschi

History of Apistogramma baenschi in the hobby

Apistogramma baenschi was discovered in 2002 by a German scientist who subsequently guided a group of Japanese hobbyists to their location. These visiting hobbyists introduced them to Japan where they garnered immediate attention from the global dwarf cichlid community. Several expeditions were launched to the area and the species soon began to appear in both Europe and the USA. By early 2003 the species became commercially available and has generally been available in the hobby since then.

Where to Buy Apistogramma baenschi

While A. baenschi are generally more available than many Apisto species, that doesn’t mean they’re common. You might get lucky and find them at a good independent pet store but it’s most likely that you’ll have to get them from an online seller. Fortunately, the species is not uncommon and there are often captive-bred fish available. However, this doesn’t mean you can just find them at any time. Like most species, their availability seems to wax and wane over time. Sometimes they are available from multiple sources while at other times they are not available at all.

Our Guide to Buying Dwarf Cichlids Online has the information you need to try to find these great Apistos.

If you have the opportunity to keep Apistogramma baenschi you will find them to be a great addition to your tank. They are beautiful, hardy, easy to keep, and easy to breed. They will usually do well in a community aquarium but you should avoid having more than one male in the tank.

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


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.