Apistogramma commbrae

Apistogramma commbrae male

Apistogramma commbrae (A93, A94) is a dwarf cichlid species from central to southern South America. They’ve been known to hobbyists for more than a hundred years but are rarely imported today. Apistogramma commbrae are rather drab compared to many other Apistos making them less attractive commercially. However, they are easy to care for, easy to breed, and make great aquarium fish.

Apistogramma commbrae Overview

Apistogramma commbrae have been kept by aquarists since the early 1900s and they used to be a very popular Apisto. They come from areas where collecting is not too difficult making them more available than many species. However, they don’t have the spectacular fins and colors that many dwarf cichlids do and few hobbyists today seek this fish out.  This is unfortunate because they are great fish and perfect for an Apistogramma novice.  

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Apistogramma commbrae male
This Apistogramma commbrae male shows the black blotch at the base of the tail that helps to identify the species.

This is a small species with males reaching about 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 inches while females are about 1 1/2 inches. They typically have black markings on a brown to gray colored body but many males exhibit colorful facial markings. There is a lot of variability from fish to fish in these markings and some are quite colorful.  However, as a general rule, commbrae are not spectacular fish.

The most reliable feature for identifying A. commbrae is the black-blotch marking on the caudal peduncle ( where the body joins the tail). This blotch may appear with two lobes or as a single blotch. You can see examples of this marking in the photos on this page. It’s possible that the varieties that are found in different localities in the wild may turn out to be separate species but for now, we can consider them all to be A. commbrae.

A. commbrae in the wild

Apistogramma commbrae are found in southern Brazil and northern Argentina, primarily in the Rio Paraguay system. The Rio Paraguay flows south into a more temperate climate where water temperatures are cooler than most Apistogramma waters.  Consequently, Apistogramma commbrae may be kept in cooler water than most other species. I’ve had success with them at temperatures as low as the mid-60s however they seem to do better at somewhat warmer temps.  

Photo of Apistogramma commbrae female in neutral coloration
Female Apistogramma commbrae in yellow brood care colors

These photos show the dramatic difference between a female in neutral coloration (left) and one in her bright yellow brood care colors (right).

A. commbrae are found across a vast range and in many different water types. However, they will always be found in slower and shallower waters where there is natural cover available. They are generally found over sandy substrates.

There are only a few Apistogramma species found in the Paraguay River despite it running for 1,600 miles through 400,000 sq miles. Besides the A. commbrae complex, A. borellii group species and A. trifasciata group species are the only Apistos in this huge river system.

Aquarium care and breeding

Group of male and female Apistogramma commbrae in dense vegetation
This group of Apistogramma commbrae contains both males and females that coexist quite nicely because of the incredible complexity of the environment created by the mass of chain sword plants.  There are countless passages and hiding places in the plants which provide both cover and microhabitats for each fish.

Apistogramma commbrae are generally quite peaceful and usually make excellent parents.  I’ve kept them as pairs, trios, and groups and I’ve had breeding success with all combinations. They are a small species and tend to be more peaceful than many Apistos. Thus, they can often be kept in a smaller aquarium.

They tolerate a wide range of water chemistry and temperature and will thrive in most water conditions. Although not demanding of parameters, they need excellent water quality so water changes are important. A. commbrae are best kept over sand but I’ve had success using gravel. They will take most prepared foods and eagerly eat live or frozen foods. They appreciate a complex habitat that has lots of rocks, wood, caves, plants, or other items to break up the tank.

Breeding A. commbrae is no different than most other species. The female will select a place for her eggs. Usually, this is a cave or other close, dark, and protected area. When the female has identified a place to lay she will entice the male to spawn. She will usually invert to lay eggs on an overhead place. After spawning the male leaves and the female cares for the eggs and larval fry for 7 – 10 days before they become free-swimming fry.

Photo of Apistogramma commbrae female in cave with eggs
This female Apistogramma commbrae has just finished egg-laying and has not yet adopted her yellow body color.

Fry care is standard for the genus. Live baby brine shrimp is a preferred food. It’s possible to raise the fry on prepared foods but it’s very hard to make sure they get the right-sized food in front of them while not overfeeding to cause water quality problems. If you want to raise A. commbrae fry or those of any other Apistogramma species, you really need to find a source of live food.

There is detailed information about all aspects of aquarium care and breeding in these two articles:

Apistogramma and Dwarf Cichlid Aquarium Care

Breeding Apistogrammas and Other Dwarf Cichlids

History of Apistogramma commbrae

Apistogramma commbrae was first described by Regan in 1906. It’s believed the name comes from a misspelling of the collection area of Corumba. However, Regan left no written record of how he determined this name.

Apistogramma male with colorful face

A. commbrae was imported into Germany in 1906. where their tolerance of cooler water temperatures allowed them to be kept in tanks without heaters. This made them popular with hobbyists at the time as most aquariums did not have heaters. In Europe, they have at least sporadically been available since their introduction. While in the USA, they occasionally arrived in wild fish shipments from the 70s to the 90s, Since then they very rarely appear on any availability list.

Where to buy A. commbrae

You will probably have to be lucky to find A. commbrae for sale in the USA. While they are not rare in the wild, the species is not commonly collected. Many other Apistos are much more colorful and interesting which results in little effort to collect and export this small and inconspicuous species.

That said, it can come in as a contaminant and every once in a while, it shows up on export lists. If you really want to keep this species you should spread the word to the Apistogramma online sellers to let them know of your interest. For more information about these sources visit our guide to Where and How To Buy Apistogrammas

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.