Dicrossus filamentosus the Checkerboard Cichlid

Dicrossus filamentosus male

Dicrossus filamentosus, the Checkerboard cichlid, is a spectacular South American dwarf cichlid. These slender fish with a bold checked pattern are found in the upper Rio Negro and Upper Orinoco in Venezuela, Brazil, and Columbia. They inhabit very soft acid waters and require the same to thrive in the aquarium where they can be kept in single species or community tanks.

The genus Diocrossus

Dicrossus was first described in 1875 when Steindachner described the species Dicrossus maculatus. However, in 1905 Regan moved the species into the larger genus Crenicara where they remained until 1990 when Kullander revived Dicrossus and placed all the slender-bodied “Chequered Cichlids” into the genus.

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Today, Dicrossus consists of at least five distinct species – Dicrossus filamentosus, Dicrossus foirni, Dicrossus maculatus, Dicrossus gladicauda, and Dicrossus warzeli. They all are long slender fish with markings that are different from all other cichlids. Their distinctive pattern of dark and light patches collectively give them the name “checkerboard cichlids”.

The species of the genus fall into two broad groups. D. filamentosus, D. gladicauda, and D. maculatus all have two rows of large dark patches while Dicrossus foirni and Dicrossus warzeli have three rows of dash-like patches.

Dicrossus are distributed across a large portion of the Amazon Basin and it’s possible that there are more species than we currently recognize. Significant field collections and lab work needs to be conducted to gain a better understanding of the genus.

Dicrossus filamentosus Basic Information

Most commonly known as the Checkerboard cichlid, Dicrossus filamentosus has also been named the Chessboard cichlid. These names refer to their distinctive rows of square dark patches that form the pattern of a chessboard. While all Dicrossus species are referred to as checkerboards, D. filamentosus is the most common. There are two distinct forms of the species. The fish in the Rio Negro drainage have a different caudal fin pattern, and often differences in colors than fish from the Orinoco drainage.

photo of Dicrossus filamentosus pair
This pair of Dicrossus filamentosus clearly show the “checkerboard” pattern that gives them their common name.

In addition to these two identifiable forms, there are many different regional variations in coloration and the size, shape and arrangement of the dark blotches on the sides of the fish. It’s even possible that D. filamentisus could be split into several species in the future.

D. filamentosus Aquarium Care

Dicrossus make excellent community residents if kept in a lushly planted tank with a school of small tetras. In this type of set-up, they provide a graceful beauty that few fish possess. They have small mouths and require small foods. Live baby brine shrimp are great but they will take all live and frozen foods. They can be converted to dry food but it may take a while.

In my experience, Dicrossus filamentosus requires soft acid water in the aquarium. I’ve rarely been successful in keeping this species in neutral water and have never had successful breeding in anything other than soft acid water. I’ve had the best results when I keep the pH below 5.0. Except for their water demands, these fish are typical dwarf cichlids. They can be quite aggressive so be sure to provide a complex environment with lots of cover.

Dicrossus are open spawners. They will usually select a leaf or other secluded rigid structure. Females are notoriously poor parents and it can be very difficult to breed this species. One of the interesting variants of this species features females whose ventral fins turn bright red after their first spawn. D. filamentosus fry are very small and need microscopic foods for their first days. Once they take newly hatched brine shrimp, care and rearing become standard.

Photo of female Dicrossus filamentosus
Dicrossus filamentosus females are about 2/3 the size of males and don’t have extended tail extensions.

Where to buy Dicrossus filamentosus

Update 2022 – Due to overfishing, the Columbian government has banned the export of Dicrossus filamentosus for all of 2022 and 2023. Columbia is the source for the Orinoco form of D. filamentosus so wild fish of this form will not be available.

Dicrossus filamentosus are imported sporadically and wild fish can sometimes be found through the specialty dealers located in our Where to Buy Dwarf Cichlids section. It’s highly unlikely you’ll find them in a pet store which is understandable as they are not good pet store fish. Tank-raised specimens are rarely offered for sale but with persistence, you might find some.

Dicrossus filamentosus is the most commonly encountered Dicrossus species but a few other species are sporadically available. D. maculatus is the most commonly encountered but there are a number of other species that are rarely imported from their native waters. However, when they are offered, they are a great challenge for experienced hobbyists.

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.