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Top 5 Dither Fish for Apistogramma (Breeding & Community Tanks)

Re-creating the natural habitat that makes your fish feel safe and comfortable is a big part of being a responsible Apistogramma owner, especially if you have many polygamous species.

One way to achieve this is by adding dither fish to the tank. Dither fish can help shy or aggressive fish feel more at ease by creating movement in the water and signaling to the other fish that it’s safe to come out and explore.

But which dither fish are the best for Apistogramma? There are many options to choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the top dither fish for Apistogramma and discuss why they might be a good fit for your tank. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced aquarist, you’re sure to find some helpful tips and advice here.

What Are Dither Fish?

Dither fish” is a term used in the aquarium hobby to refer to a type of fish that is added to a tank to help create a sense of security, which encourages other fish to move around the tank more freely. Dither fish are also used to distract more aggressive fish from harassing other fish in the tank.

Dither fish are typically peaceful, active, and outgoing, and they tend to swim around the tank a lot, which can help keep the other fish occupied and distracted.

It’s important to note, however, that not all fish will respond well to the presence of dither fish. The specific species of dither fish that are best for a particular tank will depend on a variety of factors, including the size of your tank, the number of fish you already have, the temperament of your fish, and the water conditions of the tank.

Do Apistogramma Need Dither Fish?

Apistogramma fish are known for their beautiful colors and interesting behavior. They are also known for being territorial and semi-aggressive, especially during the breeding season. So, do they need dither fish?

The answer is no; Dither fish are appreciated but not essential in a well-decorated Apistogramma tank. Some fish keepers choose to add dither fish to their Apistogramma display tanks just for aesthetic purposes.

As with most Apistos, the more hiding spots (floating plants and caves) there are, the more you will see your fish, and the less likely you will see serious aggression.

One thing that potential Apistogramma breeders should realize is that some dither fish may eat Apistogramma’s eggs and fry. For this reason, the critters that you put in your breeding tank have to be non-predatory.

Top 5 Best Dither Fish for Apistogramma

Dwarf Pencilfish (Nannostomus marginatus)

Dwarf Pencilfish (Nannostomus marginatus)

The Dwarf Pencilfish is our #1 pick for both community and breeding Apistogramma aquariums. They are small, peaceful, and active swimmers, which can help the shyer Apistos feel more comfortable and hide less.

As surface-dwelling fish, they spend most of their time swimming in the upper third of the tank and have a superior small mouth that is designed to eat floating food at the surface. This makes them a perfect companion for your Apistos that are guarding their babies near the bottom.

Unlike tetras, pencilfish are not true schooling fish and do not need to be kept in groups of six or more. In a small breeding tank, 1-2 dwarf pencilfish swimming near the surface will help the breeding pair feel more comfortable and confident in spawning.

Brown pencilfish (Nannostomus eques)

Not all pencilfish (Nannostomus spp.) are suitable for an Apistogramma breeding setup. Some are not readily available in pet stores, some may eat Apistos’ babies, and some are reported to be aggressive.

For example, Golden Pencilfish (Nannostomus beckfordi) are often favored by many hobbyists on social media, but they have a tendency to eat other fish’s fry at times. On the other hand, the Coral Red Pencilfish (Nannostomus mortenthaleri) can be aggressive from time to time.

The Brown or Hockeystick Pencilfish (Nannostomus eques) is a great alternative to the Dwarf Pencilfish. This species of pencilfish is slightly larger in size but exhibits similar behavior. Additionally, they usually congregate around vegetation near the water’s surface, where they find both safety and food.

Marble Hatchet Fish (Carnegiella strigata)

The Marble Hatchetfish is another surface dweller that stays at the top of the tank and rarely forages near the substrate. In the wild, Hatchetfish often cohabitate with Apistogramma, so unless the fry accidentally swim up to the surface, they should be safe from predation.

A distinctly compressed body with wing-like fins is what makes this unique fish stand out among dither fish. These fish grow to be 1 to 2.5 inches (2.5 to 6 cm) in length and require a tank of at least 20 gallons long or larger. Because of their timid nature, these schooling fish should be kept in groups of six or more individuals of their own species.

Hatchetfish are not super active fish but can jump when frightened, so make sure your aquarium has a tightly fitted lid or hood. To provide proper nutrition, it’s recommended to use only floating foods.


Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi

If you’re not interested in breeding Apistogramma or are simply looking for a group of fish to add to a display tank, tetras are probably the best option. However, most tetras are always eager to get a little snack.

No matter what type of tetra you choose, make sure to get at least 6-12 fish of the same species for the best results. These fish are very popular and readily available everywhere.

The Black Neon Tetra (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi) is considered by many to be the easiest South American tetra to take care of and breed. Moreover, unlike their more popular cousins, the Neon Tetra and Cardinal Tetra, they mostly swim in the middle to upper part of the aquarium.

Ember Tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae), Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha), and Ruby Tetras (Axelrodia Riesei) are undemanding and seem to adapt well to new environments, compared to Neon Tetras and Cardinal Tetras.


Boraras brigittae
Chili Rasbora (Boraras brigittae)

Rasboras are native to freshwater habitats in South and Southeast Asia, but they are pretty hardy fish that can adapt to a wide range of water parameters. As is true with most schooling fish, rasboras prefer to live in schools of at least half a dozen.

The most popular species of rasboras that make good companions for Apistogramma include:

  • Harlequin rasbora (Rasbora heteromorpha)
  • Chili Rasbora (Boraras brigittae)
  • Kubotai Rasbora (Microdevario kubotai)
  • Rummy Nose Rasbora (Sawbwa resplendent)
  • Galaxy rasbora (Danio margaritatus)


Are Corydoras and Plecos good dither fish for Apistogramma?

Unfortunately, no. Corydoras and Plecos are unsuitable for an Apistogramma breeding setup as they are all bottom dwellers and may eat the Apistos’ fry if given a chance.


Adding dither fish to your Apistogramma tank can be a great way to recreate a more natural and harmonious environment for your fish. If you intend to breed Apistogramma, 1-3 Pencilfish could be your best bet as they don’t bother the fry of other fish.

When introducing dither fish, it is important to monitor their behavior closely. Keep in mind that some Apistogramma may be more aggressive than others and thus may require a more careful introduction of dither fish.

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Ember Tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae), Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha), and Ruby Tetras (Axelrodia Riesei) are undemanding and seem to adapt well to new environments, compared to Neon Tetras and Cardinal Tetras.


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Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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