For decades, Apistogramma have been loved by the fishkeeping community all over the world, but it feels as if there’s an upwards wave of apisto appreciation right now – especially for the less-common species. also enjoying a boost in popularity at the moment is the use of botanicals or leaf litter in aquaria and, particularly if you’re looking at setting up a biotope tank, this goes hand in hand with the keeping of dwarf cichlids. Not only do leaves and seed pods make the tank look and feel natural for Apistogramma, they also leach humic and tannic acids, have a background antiseptic quality, and build up a layer of biofilm – the first food of many fry.
Fallen leaves accumulate in the steady moving forest streams of south america that Apistogramma species inhabit. The leaves cover the river bed, forming an ‘active’ substrate that’s busy with all sorts of bacteria and enzyme activity, it also hides higher lifeforms such as insect larvae, aquatic molluscs and crustaceans. at times of higher flow, sand can cover the settled leaves too, resulting in a substrate made up of layers of leaves and sand.
Twigs and branches constantly fall from the canopy above. once waterlogged and sunken, this arboreal waste makes ideal shelter and play areas for a family of small cichlids. With sand and leaf litter underneath the fallen wood, it’s easy for mature Apistogramma to excavate a cave if they can’t find a ready-made one in among the branches.