The Blue Acara Aequidens pulcherhas been a cichlid of choice for many years for the South American cichlid aquarium. Its species term pulcher means "beautiful", and true to its name it is a beautiful medium sized fish cichlid. Its color is mostly a steel blue-gray, but it is distinguished from other Acara species by a broader forehead. It can reach up to about 8 inches (20 cm) in length, but it will start to breed at a much smaller size of only 4 inches.
This is a hardy species that makes an excellent choice for the beginning cichlid keeper. They are moderately easy to care for as long as the water quality is maintained and they are provided a quality diet. They are a ready feeder and if bred they become excellent parents. They spawn easily and take very good care of their fry.
This cichlid is a bit more courteous than the others of its genus. A peaceful community cichlid, it can be kept with other similar sized South American cichlids, catfish, or plecostomus. Though it is a fairly peaceful member of the Cichlid family, it is apt to bully smaller fish. It should be kept with the same size or larger fish.
The Blue Acara is generally peaceful even with its own kind. If more than one is kept, they will form pairs. They will also usually not bother any fish that stays away from its territory, except when it is breeding it may tend to become more aggressive. They will breed every two weeks on a regular basis if the fry are removed shortly after hatching. However they are excellent parents and will not harm the fry even if left in the aquarium.
They are most comfortable with a tank bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. Plants are appreciated, but Blue Acara love to dig and can uproot them. Hardy plants such as Sagittaria andVallisneria are best, and should be potted to protect the roots. They need frequent water changes as their excretions will cloud the water and promote disease.
The Blue Acara tends to be confused with its very similar looking relative, the Green Terror Aequidens rivulatus. For some time the Green Terror was actually known as the A. pulcher, but it is now recognized as an independent species. The Blue Acara is slightly smaller and not as aggressive as the Green Terror, nor does it develop as large a hump on its head when mature.
The Blue Acara is an oval shaped fish that is stocky and compact with pointed anal and dorsal fins. They are a moderately sized cichlid reaching about 8 inches (20 cm) in length with a life span of about 7 - 10 years. They become sexually mature at about 2 1/2 inches (6.35 cm) and will begin to breed at 4 inches (10 cm).
This colorful fish is mostly a steel blue-gray coloration with various spots and striping on its body and head. There are a few green horizontal lines on the face and their overall bluish-green scales give them a sparkling appearance. The sexes are very similar in appearance, but the male's fins are longer and the rays of the dorsal and anal fins will often arch around the tail fin.
All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common trait of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth located in the throat, along with their regular teeth. Cichlids have spiny rays in the back parts of the anal, dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins to help discourage predators. The front part of these fins are soft and perfect for precise positions and effortless movements in the water as opposed to fast swimming.
Cichlids have one nostril on each side while other fish have 2 sets. To sense "smells" in the water, they suck water in and expel the water right back out after being "sampled" for a short or longer time, depending on how much the cichlid needs to "smell" the water. This feature is shared by saltwater damselfish and cichlids are thought to be closely related.
The Blue Acara are fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size will need some maintenance. With home aquariums the nitrate and phosphates build up over time and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Because these fish are very sensitive to pollutants and pH instabilty, it is important that at least 15- 20% of the tank water is replaced weekly, especially if the tank is densely stocked. When performing the weekly water changes always use a gravel cleaner to make sure all of the decomposing organic matter that has built up is removed. The majority of of problems that occur with tropical fish tanks usually come down to one cause, decomposing organic matter!
The Blue Acara will need a minimum of a 30 gallon aquarium. The substrate should be made up of a soft sandy substrate with adequate caves and shaded places for the fish to retreat to if stressed. For a natural feel add dried leaf litter which will bring natural occuring microbe colonies as the leaves decompose. These colonies will also be a very important food source for any fry that may appear. Adding bags of aquarium safe peat will also give the tank the blackwater feel that they come from. These fish enjoy using plants for coverage and extra shade, but they are known to dig up the plants so it is best to have floating or potted plants. A tight fitting lid with moderate lighting is good for this fish and some natural sunlight will help bring out the most in their color. Since the Blue Acara prefer a strong amount of water movement, adding a strong canister filter or powerheads will aid in giving the proper amount of water movement. This fish can tolerate brackish water that has a specific gravity of less than 1.0002 and a salinity of about 10% of a normal saltwater tank..
The Blue Acara has been bred successfully in captivity. They are egg layers and tend to deposit their eggs upon flat surfaces open to the water (such as a flat rock at the bottom of the tank). They become sexually mature once they reach about 2 1/2 inches (6.35 cm), though most will begin to breed at 4 inches (10 cm). As the time to spawn approaches, the male and female will both begin to display, with their displays increasing in frequency the closer they are to spawning. Well adjusted pairs may spawn several times a year.
The breeding water should be neutral to slightly acidic with a pH of 6.5 - 7.0, soft to medium-hard at between 3 - 12° dGH, and have temperatures between 73 - 79° F (23 - 26° C). A ph of 7.0 and a temperature of 76° F and higher will help initiate breeding. A monogamous cichlid, the female lays the eggs on carefully cleaned rocks. Both parents will guard and care for the young.