Apistogramma steindachneri

Apistogramma steindachneri male

Apistogramma steindachneri (A 138) has been a popular aquarium fish since it was first discovered. It was likely introduced to Germany in about 1906 and became well-established in the hobby after the end of WW II. It’s one of the largest Apistos and makes a very showy impression. Although it’s mostly silvery in appearance, it has features and highlights that make it an attractive species.

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

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Apistogramma steindachneri general information

Apistogramma steindachneri males can reach 4 inches in length, making them one of the largest known Apistos. At about half that size, males develop the squared-off to lyrate-shaped caudal fin (tail) which is characteristic of the species. The shape of the caudal fin varies from fish with just a squared-off tail to others with distinct extensions on the top and bottom.

Apistogramma steindachneri young male

Males exhibit a black patch on their side which includes the lateral line. The black patch is a diagnostic feature of all the species in the steindachneri group. In A. steindachneri the patch will include the lateral line of the fish The location of the patch varies in the other species in the group. The appearance of the black patch in males is dependent on the individual fish and their mood. While usually a dark black patch, at times the spot may be gone entirely.

While male A. steindachneri lack the flashy colors and finnage of many Apistos, they have a subtle beauty with a golden yellow shoulder area and red highlights tipping their dorsal and caudal fins. In many males, rows of red spots are found striping the caudal fin.

Apistogramma steindachneri Classification

A. steindachneri is the type species of the steindachneri group of Apistogrammas (A 130 – A 139). Genetic testing places the A. steindachneri group in the A. pertensis lineage. In addition to A. steindachneri, the A. steindachneri group has 3 scientifically described and 2 – 4 (or more) undescribed species.

Apistogramma steindachneri mature adult pair surrounded by many juveniles in thickly vegetated aquarium
This pair coexisted quite nicely with their juvenile offspring in this tank that was crowded with fish and vegetation.

A. steindachneri was first described as Heterogramma steindachneri in 1908, named in honor of the Viennese ichthyologist Franz Steindachner. As with many other Apistos, A. steindachneri was misidentified several times after it was first described. In 1936 specimens were described as Apistogramma ornatipinnis and in 1960 it was described as Apistogramma wickleri. Each of these names was abandoned when they were recognized as synonyms of A. steindachneri. Today, it’s unlikely that you’ll find the fish under an incorrect name unless you are visiting old aquarium literature.

Apistogramma steindachneri in the wild

Apistogramma steindachneri come from northeastern South America where they inhabit a variety of water types in Suriname, Guyana, and Venezuela. Their native habitats include small streams, rivers, ponds, pools, and lakes. Generally, they are found over a sandy substrate and many of the collection accounts have them near overhanging vegetation and other complex habitats. In at least one instance the collector noted that they were not found in high abundance and significant effort was required to get a good collection.

They are most commonly found in soft acid black and clear water environments with low pH values. The documented pH range for A. steindachneri is rather extreme ranging from 3.9 to 7.3 with water temperatures ranging from 75º to 87º F. Most collection reports recorded temperatures in the 80s and far fewer in the 70s. This is to be expected given the geographic range of these fish. While pH and temperatures varied significantly between collection sites, all of them had very soft water, less than 1 dGH.

Apistogramma steindachneri aquarium care

Apistogramma steindachneri are generally pretty easy to keep and breed. They will feed on most high-quality prepared foods and are rather undemanding of water conditions. They seem to do fine in soft water that is neutral or even slightly alkaline but do best in softer more acidic conditions. Male A. steindachneri are much larger than females and, in the wild, a single male may have a harem of several females. This can be replicated in the home aquarium but, for this robust species, you must make sure that you have a large enough aquarium to house a harem.

With a peaceful pair, it’s possible to keep and breed young fish in tanks as small as ten gallons but larger tanks are recommended. As with all Apistos, you must make sure that you have a complex environment as they can be very aggressive. You must provide multiple places for a female to hide. If you’re trying to keep two males in a tank you probably have a problem as the dominant male will surely spend his time hunting the weaker. If you have this situation you must add a lot of complexity to the tank or add a number of additional males. With enough males in the tank, aggression is spread between all the fish and no individual becomes a constant target. Of course, you can’t appreciate the beauty and behavior of these fish if you keep them in a crowded group.

For detailed information read this article about Apistogramma and Dwarf Cichlid Aquarium Care

Breeding Apistogramma steindachneri

photo of pistogramma steindachneri female above a cave showing her bright red newly laid eggs
This photo clearly shows the hollow-looking belly area and swollen vent of this female Apistogramma steindachneri. The photo was taken just minutes after she finished spawning. There are hundreds of bright red eggs on the roof of the cave below her.

Breeding is typical for the genus. The female will select a breeding cave and lure the male in to fertilize the eggs. He will wait outside the cave and occasionally enter to release his sperm. After egg-laying is complete the female takes sole responsibility for the eggs and fry. She becomes the dominant aggressor and keeps the male patrolling the perimeter of their territory. On several occasions, I’ve observed males actively joining the female in bi-parental care. This is particularly true in smaller tanks housing single pairs. In larger harem situations it is rare to see the male participate in an active care role.

Apistogramma steindachneri are very prolific and spawns of 150 – 200 are normal with 250 fry from a single spawn not unheard of. With good habitat, water, and feeding A. steindachneri can produce a lot of fry quite quickly. Keep in mind that this is not a high-demand species and there is likely to be a very limited market for any fish you produce. Before you start growing out hundreds of fry make sure you have final homes for them.

Too many fry – a personal story

I hadn’t kept A. steindachneri for many years until I found a wild pair in a shop I visited in 2009. They proved to be excellent parents and quickly provided me with a spawn. Roughly three weeks after the fry became free-swimming I moved the parents to a different tank. After two days of chasing and fighting the pair spawned again and produced another healthy batch of fry. Both batches grew out in excellent condition but I ended up with 100% male fish (about 400 of them!). The two groups were spawned and reared in different tanks at different temperatures but still produced a very skewed sex ratio. Just another example of why you must always expect that anything can happen when you keep dwarf cichlids!

Photo of a large group of young adult A. steindachneri
These are a few of the hundreds of male A. steindachneri that I ended up with after two consecutive spawns turned out to be all males.

Where to buy A. Steindachneri

From the mid-1970s through the mid-90s A. steindachneri were common Apistos and were often available for purchase. Unfortunately, since the mid to late 1990s, they’ve become uncommon in the American hobby. It’s likely this is because newly discovered species and collecting areas are more profitable for collectors and exporters.

In recent years I’ve rarely seen A. steindachneri on availability lists. Commercial hatcheries find other species to be more popular and more profitable to raise and wild imports are rare. If you’re seeking this species the best you can do is communicate regularly with the specialty fish suppliers who deal in Apistos.

If you have a chance to acquire this robust species take advantage of the opportunity. They make great aquarium residents and are definitely worth adding to your fish room.

Apistogramma ortmanni – a similar species

Apistogramma ortmanni (A46 – A49)  is a regani group species that is often confused with Apistogramma steindachneri Although Apistogramma ortmanni was first described in 1912 it was never correctly identified in the hobby. All early information and photos of A. ortmanni actually refer to an A. steindachneri group fish. Still today, in the American hobby, almost every fish sold as Apistogramma ortmanni is actually A. steindachneri.

In 1985 the first photos of true Apistogramma ortmanni were published in Germany and since that time there has been better info available about them. However, various different forms are found across their range which includes parts of Venezuela, Suriname and Guyana. There is still a lot of confusion surrounding the populations of this fish with at least four recognized forms. All are relatively subdued in coloration and do not have elaborate finage.

 In terms of aquarium care, treat them like any Apisto. give them good water, good food, and good habitat and they should thrive. They shouldn’t be too demanding of water conditions and fairly soft slightly acid water should be fine. In nature, they are found in a variety of water types ranging from full black water conditions to moderate conditions. If it’s possible to identify the collection location try to do so as the true blackwater forms might require those conditions in the aquarium.

Apistogramma ortmanni are not common in the hobby and I’ve never kept them myself. They are rarely offered for sale but you might find them by contacting the specialty fish sellers in my Guide to Buying Apistogrammas.


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.