Apistogramma macmasteri has been a staple of the dwarf cichlid world and with good reasons. It is robust and beautiful to look at. Caring for them and breeding them is also reasonably easy. It does have some specific care requirements. Today, we will explore all those and all the reasons that make the Apistogramma macmasteri a must-have fish for any aquarium owner.
This fish is found in the upper Meta River drainage system consisting of the Guaytiquía and Metica rivers and the Orinoco river basin all through northern Columbia and parts of Venezuela. Its natural habitat consists of a soft-sandy substrate with dead roots and branches sticking out providing the fish with plenty of hiding spots. Some areas might even have leaf litter at various stages of decomposition. Consequently, the water is soft and slightly acidic. Plants are rare and the water is generally full of tannins that diffuse the sunlight which makes the natural habitat of the Apistogramma macmasteri quite dimly lit. These areas receive moderate rainfall and the water is of the gentle-flowing nature.
The Apistogramma macmasteri is a robust looking fish with an elongated oval shaped body. The dorsal fin has serrated edges and the tail fin is in the shape of a semi-circle. There are many strains that have been bred in the aquarium industry of the Apistogramma macmasteri but they generally have an iridescent blue coloration broken up by patches of yellow. The fins are generally partially or fully reddish-orange in color and there are black marking all along the body that can vary from blotches to vertical lines depending on the strain. Females can grow to about 4 inches while fully mature males can grow to about 5.5 inches. In rare case, females can outgrow males. The males are generally more colorful and their fins are more flamboyant.
Apistogramma macmasteri like most dwarf cichlid are peaceful fish except when it comes to males during spawning season. The males can become territorial and aggressive towards other fish to varying degrees. Usually, captive-bred specimens are better-behaved than wild caught ones but their behavior can fluctuate a lot from one individual to another. As long as there is plenty of hiding space and the tank is large enough and the proper ratio of males and females is maintained, these fish should not pose much of a problem.
This is, of course, the most important thing to know about any fish. The Apistogramma macmasteri can be an incredibly rewarding fish to keep both because of its entertaining nature and some unique characteristics. Let us take a really close look at the various care requirements of this amazing fish.
Aquarium size and substrate
A single pair of Apistogramma macmasteri can be kept in a 15-gallon tank but a group will require at least 30-gallons or more. These fish are generally not very fussy about the substrate but do best when the substrate is soft and sandy. Slightly darker substrate and background can make their colors pop quite well. Some leaf litter and bogwood or driftwood can also be added to replicate the feel of the natural habitat of the Apistogramma macmasteri.
The Apistogramma macmasteri thrives in soft-acidic water with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8 and a hardness of between 0-90 ppm. These conditions can be achieved by using carbon filtration or the addition of bogwood and almond leaves. Water changes should be small, usually in the range of 10% to 15%. RO filtration can also be used if the tap water has a significantly higher pH. These fish can tolerate neutral water but generally, lose their coloration a bit. Their health starts suffering in pH of above 7.5 especially for selectively bred strains of the Apistogramma macmasteri. The water-flow should be slow and gentle.
Lighting and tank setup
These fish prefer dim lighting with a maximum of 8-hours of light every day. Under bright lighting conditions, they can become skittish and start losing their coloration due to stress. They should have plenty of cover and hiding spots to feel secure. It doesn’t matter how you provide them. If you want to go the natural route they go for driftwood with plenty of branches or caves formed by arranging rocks. A PVC pipe or a ceramic pot will do the job equally well. These fish are indifferent to plants and choosing to have them is a totally aesthetic choice.
This is where a lot of variability comes in. Wild-caught specimens should be kept exclusively by themselves as they can get skittish around other fish. Captive-bred fish can be kept with other fish of a peaceful nature and similar size but this can vary from individual to individual. Some will do perfectly fine in a community tank while others will either freak out or go after other fish. Generally, it is a good idea to add other fish in small numbers to see how the Apistogramma macmasteri react and take a call according to their individual behavior. More often than not, these fish tend to turn out to be quite peaceful and accepting of other fishes. Dominant males, however, can become quite territorial during spawning but as long as there are plenty of hiding spots and the tank is large enough, it should not be a major problem.
These fishes can be picky eaters. In their natural habitat, they feed on small invertebrates and are primarily carnivorous. Wild-caught specimens will not accept dry foods and flakes and will have to be fed live or frozen food. Captive-bred Apistogramma macmasteri can be a bit more accommodating but generally also prefer live or frozen food such as bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp. Always get your fish from someone you can trust so you can get to know their feeding habits. Some Apistogramma macmasteri can be made to accept dry or flake food with time but it takes patience and is not always a given. Whatever they eat, they should be fed twice a day with just enough food that they can finish up in a couple of minutes.
Like most cichlids, the Apistogramma macmasteri make for excellent parents. The pairs formed can vary from individual to individual where some pairs mate for life while other pairings are a bit more temporary. The best chance of getting a breeding pair is to keep a few juveniles together and let them bond naturally. Once a pair is formed, separate the pair from the rest and provide a cave-like structure as these fish attach their eggs to the ceilings of such structures. Anything curved and open from one end will do. Once the egg is laid, observe the pair closely. If the male does not show any aggression then you can leave them just as they are. Occasionally the male can get very aggressive and under such cases, it is best to separate the female and leave the eggs under the care of the male. Once the fry is free-swimming they can be separated and cared for by feeding them freshly hatched brine shrimp.
Apistogramma macmasteri under the right conditions can be a very satisfying fish to keep. It does require a bit more attention than other dwarf cichlids but is well-worth the effort thanks to their unique personalities and the individual behaviour of each specimen.