Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue”

Photo of male A[istogramma sp. Steel Blue also called "Blue Face" or "Blue Steel"

Sometimes called “Blue Steel”, Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” is one of the most commonly available Apistos in many pet stores. Unfortunately, it’s one of the biggest Apisto mysteries of all time. The problem is that no one has ever taken credit for discovering the species and no one has ever reported collecting a similar species anywhere in South America. This leads to the assumption that they are a hybrid species created in a hatchery.

Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” are unlike any known species

Why is Apistogramma. sp. “Steel Blue” unlike other species?

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  • A. sp. “Steel Blue” markings and characteristics don’t align with any of the known Apistogramma species groups.
  • The original imports all came from Asia and there are no records of imports from the wild.
  • Almost all of the initial imports were males.
  • The fry from all early spawns suffered from the lack of vigor and poor survival that is typical of many hybrids.

These factors combine to support the assumption that this is an artificially created species resulting from the mixing of two or more different species.

Photo of male A[istogramma sp. Steel Blue also called "Blue Face" or "Blue Steel"
This is a typical male Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue”. The highly iridescent blue markings on the face of these fish make the name “Blue Face” an obvious match. There is a lot of color variation in this fish and some males are metallic blue on their entire body. This photo is courtesy of Mr. Steven Chester, Cheshire, England who has put a number of photos and videos (See below) on the Internet that show both the males and females of this easy-to-keep Apistogramma.

So, if these are a “manufactured” species, what are they made up of? There’s been a lot of speculation about this and it seems generally accepted that they are at least partially Apistogramma resticulosa, which, it is speculated, have been crossed with either Apistogramma borellii or A. caetei. Since initially no females were available, it’s been reported that the Eastern Europeans who first succeeded in spawning this species crossed “Steel Blue” males with A. caetei females which apparently resulted in viable spawns. I suspect they took females from these spawns and back-crossed them to the original “Steel Blues” males.

Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” in the fishkeeping hobby

Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” was first imported into Germany from Singapore in late 1994 and by mid-1995 large numbers of them were available from wholesalers. They are a very striking fish and there was great interest in determining their origin. Unfortunately, despite intensive efforts, no one was ever able to pinpoint the source of these fish.

They quickly became available around the world and many hobbyists purchased these Apistos for their community tanks. By the mid-2000s they almost became a staple in the tanks of shops that rarely carried dwarf cichlids. Their wide distribution made it obvious they were easily available from wholesale sources..

Through the 2000s, almost all imports remained exclusively male with a very rare report of a possible female. Finally, there began to be a few reports of successful spawning. Today it appears that they are firmly established in a number of commercial Apistogramma hatcheries and I understand that they are routinely offered by distributors in Eastern Europe.

This video of a pair of Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” shows both the male and female. For more A. sp. “steel Blue” videos visit YouTube and search for Apistogramma Steel Blue. There are several additional videos from Mr Steven Chester of Cheshire, England that you will find interesting.

A fish with many names

Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” has been sold under a lot of different names including “Blue Head”, “Blue Steel”, “Blaukopf”, “Bali”, “New Blue”, and “Blue Face”. Unfortunately, they are commonly sold in pet stores as A. agassizii or A. borellii. While any experienced Apisto keeper knows they are not one of these species, most are sold in pet stores that lack specialized knowledge and it’s usually an innocent mistake. However, the online forums are full of people looking for info on the weird-looking agassizii or borellii they just picked up.

Keeping and breeding A. sp. “Steel Blue”

Although females are not as rare today as when this fish first appeared, it’s often very hard to select a pair. This is because there is not much difference in appearance between males and non-breeding females. As with most Apistos, female “Steel Blues” get an unmistakable yellow color during breeding. However, when not sexually active they look remarkably like males. Darrell Watts of Wiltshire, UK has put together a photo guide to identifying female “Steel Blue”. Darrell has generously allowed us to put it on the site so be sure to check out his Guide to sexing Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue”.

If you can acquire a pair, keeping and breeding A. “Steel Blue” is a straightforward undertaking. They are hardy fish that are easy to care for. They are undemanding of water conditions but it’s best to avoid hard alkaline water. They can be an aggressive species so be sure to offer them a habitat that provides lots of cover and complexity. If you are uncertain how to set up the tank or maintain the fish read Apistogramma and Dwarf Cichlid Aquarium Care and/or Breeding Apistogrammas and Other Dwarf Cichlids.

Apistogramma sp. “Steel Blue” is a very attractive fish that is often widely available. Although it’s likely a hybrid, there remains the possibility that they are a natural species. They should provide you with much enjoyment, so don’t hesitate to add them to your tank as they are definitely worth keeping.

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.