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A Colombian Beauty – Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck/Gill-spot’

Wild male of Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ from the headwaters of the Rio Inirida. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

(This is an authors’ translation of the original German article published in November 2018 in the monthly German Cichlid Society (DCG) journal. HÄTTICH, F. & OHNOTA, Y. (2018): Eine kolumbianische Schönheit – Apistogramma sp. „Kiemenfleck“. – DCG-Informationen 49 (11): 244-250.)

The dwarf cichlid introduced in this article is a particularly beautiful member of the ‘D-numbers’ – a grouping of more than fifty Apistogramma species and forms that have been discovered and cataloged by Daniel MEJIA (Bogota, Colombia) in cooperation with Tom CHRISTOFFERSEN (Larvik, Norway) (see also HÄTTICH & KIPPER, 2017, 2018). The species presented here possesses the D-number 37. For reasons of conservation of the wild populations and the habitats of these new species and forms, their precise catch locations are not revealed. Nevertheless, shortly after their discovery, a huge number of specimens of ‘D37’ have been commercially imported to Asia, where it is common for enthusiasts to pay highly for new discoveries. The fish have been imported as Apistogramma sp. ‘San José’, which is a particularly misleading name because the town referred to, San José del Guaviare, is directly situated on the Rio Guaviare, suggesting that the species in question comes from a tributary of this river. However, this is not the case. In order to prevent this confusion, we propose a different common name that instead refers to a distinct feature of this species and accordingly we call them Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck/Gill-spot’.

Collecting Sites

A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ were first discovered in February 2017 by MEJIA, CHRISTOFFERSEN, and VAN GENNE (Oldeberkoop, Netherlands) in a lagoon at the headwaters of the Rio Inirida.
Because of the many Moriche palms (Mauritia flexuosa) such lagoons or oases are called ‘Morichales’ by the natives. Due to the dry season, the water level was quite low and because of the lack in water exchange, there was hardly any water movement.

In this lagoon in the headwaters of the Rio Inirida,
Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ have been discovered for the first time.
(Photo: Tom Christoffersen)

Adult dominant male of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma from the first location in the headwaters of the Rio Inirida (if not mentioned otherwise, all pictured specimens of Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ are from this location). Like in many representatives of the A.-alacrina-group, not only can their body shimmer bluish or greenish, rather they often show corresponding shiny spots at the posterior end of the caudal spot as well. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

The second collecting site of Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’. In this pond in the headwaters of the Rio Vaupés, besides a few specimens of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma, Apistogramma sp. ‘Alto Vaupés I’ have been collected too. (Photo: Tom Christoffersen)

The slightly brown yet crystal clear water was very soft and quite acidic with a pH of 5.2. The water temperature was 28-29 °C. Small groups of A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ mostly stayed in shaded places near the shore or hid in between the many water plants. A layer of leaf litter, often used by Apistogramma to hide from predators, wasn’t present in this habitat. Apart from about a dozen A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’, no other Apistogramma were found in this lake. In the shallow areas where they were mostly found, species of other genera were collected as well, namely Copella MYERS, 1956, Pyrrhulina VALENCIENNES, 1846, Nannostomus GÜNTHER, 1872, Melanocharacidium BUCKUP, 1993, Characidium REINHARDT, 1867, Hoplias GILL, 1903 and Laimosemion HUBER, 1999. In the deeper areas, some cichlids of the genera Aequidens EIGENMANN & BRAY, 1894, Crenicichla HECKEL, 1840 and Geophagus HECKEL, 1840 were lingering.

In the following rain period MEJIA found the species in another location. It was situated south of the initial lagoon and it didn’t belong to the headwaters of the Rio Inirida. Rather, it belonged to those of the Rio Vaupés. This second location of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma was a pond in the vicinity of some larger lakes in a wooded area that was partly flooded by a nearby river. The slightly murky water was very soft and had a similar pH to the first location in the Rio Inirida drainage. Due to several later visits, it was found that this pond does not dry out during the dry season.
The preferred places of the Apistogramma within this habitat were the many aggregations of dead wood, roots of trees extending into the water, and a thick layer of leaf litter that was present here, unlike the first location. As in the first habitat, the substrate had a clay-like appearance, whereas water plants were not present in this second location.
Besides some specimens of A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’, another new Apistogramma species has been found here. It has been named A. sp. ‘Alto Vaupés I’ (D39) and seems to be very closely related to A. personata KULLANDER, 1980. In contrast to the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma which have exclusively been found here during the rain period, A. sp. ‘Alto Vaupés I’ have also been collected during the dry period. Besides the Apistogramma, species of the genera Carnegiella EIGENMANN, 1909, Hoplias GILL, 1903, Otocinclus COPE, 1871 and Corydoras LACÉPÈDE, 1803 have been collected in this place too, as well as some not further identified tetra and knifefish species.

In the spring of 2018, a third population of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma was found by a local fisherman (MEJIA, pers. comm.). Its habitat is situated close to the same river as the second location but slightly farther to the south-east. Here too, A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ have been found together with A. sp. ‘Alto Vaupés I’. Unfortunately, no further information about this habitat has been available to us. Something that seems worth mentioning is that the known male ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma of this population show differences to the typical coloration of males of the other two populations, so this third population might be a new color form of the species. They show a very intense yellow coloration in the entire area of head, chest and belly, whereas males of the other two populations show a yellow coloration that is generally restricted to the head and the directly adjacent area above the pectoral fins. Moreover, the dorsal, anal, and caudal fin of males from the first two locations typically show intensely purple colored areas, whereas these are less pronounced or completely missing in males from the third location. However, these findings are merely based on observations of a few specimens and therefore can only be regarded as preliminary.1 Since, in addition, the coloration of the fins and body of males of the first two populations is quite variable in itself, a reliable evaluation of the status of the third population of A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ isn’t possible at the moment.

Habitat  Habitat

Male ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma from the second locality, in the headwaters of the Rio Vaupés, searching for food.
(Photo: Tom Christoffersen)

‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma-male of the third population, found in the Rio Vaupés headwaters too, with intensely yellow belly and without purple area in its caudal fin. (Photo: Tom Christoffersen)


Dominant male of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma in neutral mood showing a zipper-like lateral band as typical for the species and forms belonging to the A.-alacrina-group. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

Apistogramma sp. ‘Alto Vaupés I’ which have been found together with Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ in both Rio Vaupés locations resemble Apistogramma personata, but differ from them by means of the distinct markings that in certain moods appear in the area of the second and third vertical bar. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

Phenotypic Features, Sexual Dimorphism and Systematic Position

The at most slightly elongated and quite deep body, the low and even dorsal fin with the distinct seam at it’s upper edge, the pronounced dorsal spots, the rounded caudal fin, and the zig-zag or zipper-like2 lateral band disclose A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ as a typical representative of the

Portrait of an aggressive Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ male with typical shiny spots, distinct gill cover spot and conspicuous yellow-orange spots in the anterior dorsal membranes. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

Male in frontal threat display with opened mouth and spread gill covers. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

A.-alacrina-group (see WISE, 2011; KOSLOWSKI, 2002, 2004).
Moreover, habitus and dark markings of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma largely resemble the forms and species most closely related to A. alacrina KULLANDER, 2004 and often laxly called ‘A.-alacrina-forms’.3
Besides A. alacrina itself, these forms include A. cf. alacrina (Orteguaza), A. cf. alacrina (Rotpunkt/Red-point), A. cf. alacrina (Guayas), A. cf. alacrina (Caquetá), A. cf. alacrina (Putumayo) and A. cf. alacrina (Tena) (WISE, 2017; CHRISTOFFERSEN, 2011, 2015a, 2016).4 Whether these are just different locational forms of A. alacrina or separate species is yet to be clarified.
However, besides phenotypic differences, they originate from different river systems (Rio Napo, Rio Putumayo and Rio Caquetá) that are hundreds of kilometers remote from the type locality of A. alacrina in the Rio Ariari,5 so it is to be suspected that at least some of them are already separate species.
Thus when we speak of ‘A.-alacrina-forms’ in the following sections, this is in no way meant to preclude their possible status as distinct species.

Though similar to the forms of A. alacrina, the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma are clearly distinguished from them by some unique phenotypic features.
Both sexes of A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ mostly show a noticeable V-shaped marking on the lower head as also seen in A.-alacrina-forms. The marking is made of the suborbital stripe combined with another black stripe that starts at the latter’s lower end and then runs diagonally up- and backwards. Often this ‘V’ is shown in a reduced form. Especially in aggressive or displaying males of A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’, the ‘V’ is regularly reduced to a single distinct black spot on the gill cover that then remains as the only black marking on the entire lower head (which gave us the idea for their common name).
Sometimes similar markings can also be seen in A.-alacrina-forms, but generally their gill cover spot is considerably smaller than that of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma or they even show several of such smaller spots.

Habitat   Habitat

Female defending her territory. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

Subdominant young female in the presence of a dominant conspecific. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

There are also differences in the shiny blue-green markings in the head-region. In A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’, these markings usually consist of a multitude of shiny points or small and mostly disjoint spots. On the other hand, A.-alacrina-forms generally show fewer but larger spots than A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’, that in addition, often form contiguous pattern like wormlike markings and larger shiny areas. The forms of A. alacrina moreover often show conspicuous orange or red-brownish points

For comparison: Male of Apistogramma alacrina from the type locality of the species in the Rio Ariari drainage. (Photo: Uwe Römer)

For comparison: Brooding female of Apistogramma alacrina.
(Photo: Uwe Römer)

or spots, sometimes several rows of them, that start on the gill cover and can reach far into the body. This was the reason for the choice of their common name ‘Rotpunkt/Red-point’-Apistogramma by SCHMETTKAMP (1978). Though some reddish-orange points or spots can sporadically also be shown by A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’, these are restricted to the head-region only.
The dorsal fin of adult ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma usually show some noticeable yellow-orange spots in it’s first few membranes and their unpaired fins generally possess more or less extended and intensely purple colored areas. Neither of these are seen in any of the known A.-alacrina-forms.
However, the taxonomically most important difference to the latter is the missing lower pectoral spot in both sexes of A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’. This diagnostic feature is (mood dependently) present in all A.-alacrina-forms, and especially in females it is often so large and eye-catching that it prompted KULLANDER (2004) to choose the name alacrina (ala, axilis (lat.) = axilla, crinis (lat.) = dark hair) because it reminded him of dark hair protruding out of the armpit.
By taking into account all the mentioned phenotypic features, we have no doubt that A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ is a to date unknown distinct species.

A pronounced sexual dimorphism is present in A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ and mostly resembles that known from the A.-alacrina-forms. With about 5-6 cm in total length, females stay considerably smaller than the males which can reach up to 8 cm. In addition, females are less high-bodied, possess fewer shiny markings on their head, have merely rounded or pointed but not distinctly elongated soft parts of dorsal and anal fin as well as hardly elongated ventral fins. Though their fins can shimmer orange or purple, they don’t show a coloration as intense as that of the males. Females do show intense black seams at the frontal edge of the anal and ventral fins more often than their male conspecifics in which these seams frequently are merely of a sooty-hyalin appearance.
Adult males possess a pattern of whitish-bluish spots or spotted stripes at the base of the posterior soft part of dorsal and anal fin. In females, these patterns, especially in the dorsal fin, are generally less pronounced than those of the males. Moreover, adult males sometimes show distinct vertical whitish-bluish stripes or a pattern of whitish-bluish and dark stripes in the anterior and middle part of their caudal fin which haven’t been observed in females thus far.

Remarks about Maintenance and Reproduction

Like the A.-alacrina-forms, A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ is one of the simpler species to keep and breed (see e.g. KOSLOWSKI 2002; STAECK & LINKE 2006). In general, their intraspecific aggression is rather low. However, this doesn’t mean that during brood care and especially after the fry are free-swimming conflicts will not arise between the partners that can even end in the death of one of them (MAGIS, pers. comm.).


A courting male of Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ in front of the entrance of the cave with the female inside.
(Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

Female of Apistogramma sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ with a nest of intensely yellow eggs. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

In this stage, special attention should be paid to the behavior of every Apistogramma species so that the degree of aggression doesn’t exceed a healthy level, and in the case it does, one can timely separate the male. So far the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma have been successfully bred in very soft and acidic water with a pH of 4.8 as well as in soft and slightly acidic water with a pH of 6.5 (VAN GENNE, pers. comm.).

The yolk sacs of the larvae hatched from these eggs possess the same intense yellow color. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

The observation of courtship, spawning, and broodcare behavior so far has not revealed anything special. Yet, what is noticable is the color of the eggs: according to the observations made so far, it can be whitish to an intense yellow (VAN GENNE; MEJIA; BAKKER; MAGIS; VAN DER MEIJ, pers. comm.). Usually Apistogramma eggs have a more or less intense red coloration. So far, we were aware of whitish eggs only from A. diplotaenia KULLANDER, 1987 and of yellow ones only from A. sp. ‘D16’ (CHRISTOFFERSEN, pers. comm.; see also CHRISTOFFERSEN, 2015b), a species assigned to the A.-eunotus-subcomplex (WISE, 2017). Whether and to what extent the color of the eggs of the ‘Kiemenfleck’-Apistogramma is biased towards a more or less whitish or yellowish color by environmental factors, especially by their food, or whether under certain conditions also differently colored eggs may occur, can only be figured out by means of systematic observations under controlled conditions. According to RÖMER (pers. comm.), the first research work of this kind carried out on a total of ten Apistogramma species6 is nearly finished. It turns out that the composition of the food in fact has an influence on the color of the eggs, statistically reliable results about the strength of this influence, however, couldn’t be determined thus far. Therefore, it is not clear whether the color of the eggs is mostly genetically determined (and thus is largely specific to the species in question) and different environmental factors might just lead to small deviations in color, or whether conversely external conditions are the most important factors because their influence prevails possibly existing genetic dispositions. However, if results from breeding of food fish should be applicable to Apistogramma, they point more towards the lastly mentioned option (RÖMER, pers. comm.).


Female with her four week old fry. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

A subadult at 2 cm. (Photo: Yukitoshi Ohnota)

Their attractive looks and their rather easy maintenance and breeding give rise to the hope that A. sp. ‘Kiemenfleck’ will permanently be established in the tanks of Apistogramma enthusiasts instead of quickly disappearing after a short period in the hobby, as is often the case.


We would like to thank Tom Christoffersen, Daniel Mejia, Uwe Römer, Ernst van Genne, Bruno Magis, Erik Bakker and Vincent van der Meij for their support by providing a lot of information and photo material, moreover Uwe Römer and Roland Kipper for proofreading earlier drafts of the German text, and Shane Puthuparambil for his help with the English version.


CHRISTOFFERSEN, T. (2011): Apisto news/Apistogramma sp. "Rotpunkt"/cf. alacrina – new location found (March 2011).
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/page.aspx?PageId=53]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

CHRISTOFFERSEN, T. (2015a): Fish Profiles / Apistogramma / Apistogramma cf. alacrina (Putumayo).
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/fish.aspx?fishIndexID=2554&gruppeID=1]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

CHRISTOFFERSEN, T. (2015b): Fish Profiles / Apistogramma / Apistogramma sp. "D16".
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/fish.aspx?fishIndexID=2568&gruppeID=1]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

CHRISTOFFERSEN, T. (2016): Fish Profiles / Apistogramma / Apistogramma cf. alacrina (Caqueta).
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/fish.aspx?fishIndexID=2607&gruppeID=1]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

CHRISTOFFERSEN, T. (2018): Apisto news / The Apistogramma sp. "D18" has arrived (May 2018).
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/page.aspx?PageId=53]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

HÄTTICH, F. & KIPPER, R. (2017): Die Schnauze voll! — Apistogramma sp. „D10“, ein neuer Maulbrüter aus Kolumbien.
— DCG-Informationen 48 (11): 242-247.

HÄTTICH, F. & KIPPER, R. (2018): A mouth full! – Apistogramma sp. "D10", a new mouthbrooder from Colombia.
English translation of HÄTTICH & KIPPER (2017).
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/page.aspx?PageId=125]. Last time visited on 28.07.2018

KIPPER, R. (2017): Type localities of Apistogramma.
— Available at:
Last time visited on 22.06.2018

KOSLOWSKI, I. (2002): Die Buntbarsche Amerikas, Band 2: Apistogramma und Co. — Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart: 318 Seiten.

KOSLOWSKI, I. (2004): Rotpunkt-Apistogramma und Apistogramma alacrina. — DATZ 57 (10): 35-39.

KULLANDER, S. O. (2004): Apistogramma alacrina, a new species of cichlid fish (Teleostei: Cichlidae) from Colombia.
— Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters V. 15 (No. 1): 41-48.

RÖMER, U., HAHN, I., MELGAR, J., SOARES, D. P. & WÖHLER, M. (2004): Redescription of Apistogramma eremnopyge Ready & Kullander, 2004. – Das Aquarium 38 (12) (426): 17-34.

SCHMETTKAMP, W. (1978): Neues aus der Apistogramma-Szene. — DCG-Informationen 9 (1): 16-18.

SCHMETTKAMP, W. & WERNER, U. (2004): Der Rotpunkt-Apistogramma. Eine zumindest aus aquaristischer Sicht notwendige Ergänzung zur Erstbeschreibung von Apistogramma alacrina. – Das Aquarium 38 (6): 15-18.

STAECK, W. (2004): Neue Apistogramma-Art beschrieben. Aquaristik-Fachmagazin 36 (177): 112.

STAECK, W. & LINKE, H. (2006): Amerikanische Cichliden I – Kleine Buntbarsche. Ein Handbuch für Bestimmung, Pflege und Zucht. – 8. komplett überarbeitete Auflage. Tetra Verlag; Berlin-Velten: 296 Seiten.

WISE, M. (2011): A Description of Apistogramma Species-Groups.
— Available at:
[www.apisto.sites.no/page.aspx?PageId=116]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

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— Available at: [www.apisto.sites.no/page.aspx?PageId=124]. Last time visited on 22.06.2018

1 Besides the two males kept by MEJIA and CHRISTOFFERSEN themselves, there were about twenty males in the tanks of the fisherman from whom MEJIA (pers. comm.) got the fish.
2 This consists of two rows of vertical stripes offset to one another horizontally.
3 For the problems with the scientific description of A. alacrina see e.g. KOSLOWSKI (2004), RÖMER et al. (2004), SCHMETTKAMP & WERNER (2004) and STAECK (2004).
4 A. sp. ‘D18’ that is likewise closely related to A. alacrina isn’t mentioned here separately because like CHRISTOFFERSEN (2018) we too believe that it is identical with A. cf. alacrina (Guayas). A. sp. ‘D1’ and A. sp. ‘D4’ (WISE 2017) from the Rio Caquetá drainage may also be (new or already known) forms or species very closely related to A. alacrina. However, because of the very sparse and only partly useful photo material available so far, unfortunately no evaluation about this is possible at the moment. The same applies to A. sp. ‘Ouaou’ that, contrary to WISE (2017) who assigned it to the A.-hongsloi-complex, in our opinion also belongs to the A.-alacrina-group.
5 Here we want to refer to the map of the type localities of all Apistogramma species created by KIPPER (2017) by the means of Google maps.
6 These are A. agassizii, A. borellii, A. cacatuoides, A. iniridae, A. macmasteri, A. nijsseni, A. panduro, A. pertensis, A. trifasciata and A. uaupesi.

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