Rams,Apistos and Keyholes:What you need to know

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Apr 22, 2004
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Ive decided to do a write up on Dwarf cichlids,Mainly the Blue/Gold Ram,The Bolivian ram and various Apistos(including dwarf acaras such as the keyhole)

let me start off with;
Tank Size
Tank size,the most common question today is "How many Rams can i keep in my tank?" Well,im about to answer those questions all in one.
I go by the general rule 10gallons per Ram and Apisto,and since rams and Apistos like to be kept in pairs(they're much happier and active that way) the way to go is 20gallons for every pair of rams or Apistos.if you add more then one pair to a tank of 20 gallons the third one or the weaker pair will get chased around terrorized and die.Remember just because they're peaceful to wards other fish,they're still cichlids and they're still Territorial whether you like it or not and will defend their territory. Keyholes are a different story. Since Keyhole cichlids grow around 2 or 3 inches bigger then a Ram or Apisto(they're a form of Acara),they're going to need a bigger tank. If you have a pair of them You are going to need a 30 gallon tank minimum but one will do fine in a 20gal.

Tank Mates
Another commonly asked question is,"Will my ram be okay with these fish?" and so on. Rams, Apistos and Dwarf Acaras are regarded as the most peaceful cichlids out there and are great for community tanks. a perfect setup for beginners would be a 20gal,one pair of rams,5 neon tetras,5 glow light tetras,5 Harlequin rasboras and 5 corys.plant it and it would be your favorite tank. other good tank mates are
  • Danios
  • various large tetras(such as the black widow)
  • small rainbow fish
  • catfish(a good one is the Bristle nose catfish)
Again,with keyholes its different,yes they can be kept with the above fish listed but also can be kept with the larger fish like Severums,Festivums,Flag cichlids etc.
The list can go on for ages,there is such a variety with these fish which leads to so many people buying them over larger cichlids.

Water Chemistry
Rams(especially the Blue/Gold variety) can be very sensitive to water conditions and often die if something is not right
PH: PH is very important when keeping rams,if their needs are met you might have more rams then you bargained for ;)
Blue/Gold Rams and Apistos usually like their PH around the 6-7 range
Bolivian Rams and Keyholes prefer 7.6 but arnt to picky and are hardier then Blue/Gold Rams.
Temperature: Since these dwarfs are South American cichlids they all prefer a temperates of 80°F,the maximum being 85°F.
Water Hardness:
Blue/Gold Rams seem to like very soft water unlike the Bolivian who like Neutral.
Keyholes also like it neutral but not too hard.

Most dwarf cichlids max out at 2-4 inches but dwarf acaras max out at around 6 inches

Breeding rams and Apistos is proved to be quite easy, All you need to do is lower the temperature a little,get the PH level right,add a female and male(sometimes with juveniles its easier to add a bunch of them,let them pair off and remove the remaining fish). Rams and Keyholes are open spawner's and will lay eggs on rocks or wood where as Apistos are cave spawner's and usually lay their eggs in clay pots or caves made of of rocks or wood. The parents will do anything to defend the fry and are very protective. Dont be disappointed if your rams eat their eggs/fry on their first go as in a months time they will try again and might get it right but remember "Practice and patience makes perfect".

What makes a dwarf cichlid?
Some of you may ask,well what exactly makes a dwarf cichlid? Well i found out what exactly makes one

Cichlid-Forum.com said:
The following criteria are all combined to distinguish a size standard for dwarf cichlids.
  • Male specimen can be no longer than 14 cm in their wild biotope. This length allows for larger fish to be considered, but is modified by the other criterion.

  • Female specimens may be no longer than 12 cm in their wild environment, regardless of their relationship to the males of their species.

  • Size at sexual maturity must be 10 cm for males and 8 cm for females.

  • For the larger candidates being considered that are close (within 2 cm) of the size limits, a minimal body depth should produce the "impression" of a smaller size. This means that long fish must not also be exceedingly tall or wide. Discus are a prime example of this and in many ways meet the requirements of a dwarf cichlid. However, they are far too high-bodied to be considered, even if the maximum length for a female in the wild was 12 cm. Whereas, Crenicichla regani (one of the dwarf pike cichlids) males are 13cm, but appear to be a smaller fish because of their slender body.

next is the list to the behavioral paterns of a dwarf cichlid in home aquaria
  • No or minimal live plant destruction.

  • No or minimal substrate excavation. This does not include limited cave digging associated with breeding.

  • They can be housed individually with other cichlids. This means a single specimen can be kept with other species of cichlids.

  • Minimal predatory instincts. This suggests that they must have food requirements other than their tank-mates, as well as accepting of non-cichlid species ( see 5)

  • Can be kept with "dither" fish. This suggests that other fish won’t be regularly killed during non-breeding times.

  • Males and females of that species can be housed together.

  • Can be bred in a 30 inch x 12 inch tank (20gal. long), although larger quarters would be more appropriate.

  • Juveniles can be housed together as a group at sub-adult size. Some juvenile cichlids start killing or eating each other at a young age (i.e. Various Hemichromis species show cannibalism by 2 to 3cm).

Although Convict cichlids fit within the parameters of size, they are far too belligerent and aggressive to be considered a dwarf. Other cichlids are more marginal in terms of their behavior and should be closely examined for their ability to fit within the "dwarf" scheme presented here.
Sexing Ram and Apistos can be quite easy. Males usually have an extended dorsal fin while females have a pink belly and are usually rounder.
With Bolivian rams the male has a brighter yellow stomach then the female.

Let me finish off by saying Dwarf Cichlids are the most enjoyable cichlids to keep. Their colours and personality make them king of the community aquarium

I hope this has helped



Feb 21, 2004
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Long island, New York
Other dwarf cichlids that haven't been mentioned are the Laetecara species (3") and Nannacara species (2.5", female smaller) They have pretty much the same needs as apistos, rams, and dwarf acaras ;)

Apistogramma species do better in a small group, with a 2 female per male ratio. If there is only one female present to a male, he will cause her extreme stress, and possibly death in his persistant attempts to breed with her.

Nannacara can be sexed so easily, the male and female look like wo different fish!
The male will appear to be a metallic green color, while the female is greyish yellow with a black stripe down her side (Similar to female apisto coloration)


Apr 22, 2004
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thanks for the input Dwarfs ;)

the reason i didnt mention those species was because i was focusing on the more common species and the ones that newbies will buy :nod:

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