Five Less Common Acaras Everyone Should Keep
Acaras are a species of fish I would feel safe saying none of us are strangers to. I think it would be impossible to find someone who's never heard of an electric blue acara, threadfin acara, green terror, you know, every Petco and Petsmart special. Sadly, I think many folks miss out on the joy of keeping acara because they’re unaware of the options out there. I’m going to go over 5 species of lesser known acara I’ve kept that you may not know to look for, but are amazing fish and definitely worth keeping.
First we have Ivanacara Adoketa or the Zebra Acara. These guys are absolutely stunning and probably my favorite of the acara. They come from Igarapé do Cumaru, a tributary of the middle Rio Negro Basin, Northwestern Brazil and the middle and upper parts of the Rio Negro system. They inhabit rainforest streams and small tributaries where the water is typically tannin rich and the pH can be as low as 3.0 or 4.0. Temperatures range from 72-84 respectively.
Males normally don’t exceed 4 inches and females generally come in around 3-3.5 inches. You can get away with a 20 gallon for a single specimen, but if you’d like to keep a pair, which is suggested, a 40 breeder or larger would be appropriate. Wild caught specimens will need a lower pH, anywhere from 4.0-5.5 but tank raised individuals are generally quite tolerant of a wider range.
They have been known to be slightly aggressive with other fish and conspecifics. That being said, I’ve kept quite a few and only had one who would try and murder anything that was put in the tank with it, but all the others were pretty retiring and peaceful. They’re relatively easy to feed and do well on high end commercial foods like Xtreme, Fluval Bug Bites and/or frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, etc.
Due to the fact that they aren’t kept or bred regularly their price tag does come in a little higher ranging from about $40-75 depending on size. They have exceptional personalities and really earn the term “water puppy” and are some of the most stunningly colored cichlids I’ve ever seen. The vertical banding patterns and iridescent spangling is a sight to see. I highly recommend giving these guys a try.
Next up is the Burjurquina Vitatta or the Yellow Banded Cichlid. These guys come from the rivers and streams of Paraguay where the pH ranges from 6.0 - 8.0 and temps can be anywhere from 75-82 degrees. Their overall coloration is yellow with a black lateral line that runs most of the length of the fish. The face is barred across the nose with light blue iridescent stripes and the dorsal and anal fins of both sexes vary from red to orange. The male's fins are rather long and filamentous and their bodies will be slightly larger and bulkier as well, making them slightly easier to sex. The males generally don’t exceed 4.5-5 inches with the females coming in slightly smaller at around 3.5-4 inches.
The really interesting part about these fish is they are biparental mouthbrooders and they utilize a couple different strategies when it comes to spawning, one being quite uncommon. The pair will lay their eggs on a movable object such as a leaf or small piece of wood and actively move it around the tank in order to defend their cache. My pair did this all the time and it was amazing to watch them pick up a piece of wood almost as long as they were and swim with it around the tank, placing it where they deemed safest. Another method is more basic and simply includes them laying their eggs on an inanimate object and vigorously guarding them. I witnessed my pair do this as well, it really depends on the other inhabitants of the tank as they were in a 75 gallon south american community tank. The eggs only take a few days to hatch and the parents will keep them in their mouths, passing them back and forth, for weeks until they are left to free swim on their own. My pair provided amazing care to their fry and it was truly a joy to watch.
They are very peaceful fish save for defending their brood, never bothering other tank inhabitants. Another huge plus is the extremely reasonable price tag these guys fetch, only around $12-15 especially considering they’re one you don't see many places and are really amazing South American community fish. You can easily keep a pair in a 40 breeder with other small to medium sized cichlids, corydoras, tetras, the list really goes on as I’ve never personally seen them pick on anyone other than to defend their eggs and even then it was really just posturing. I highly recommend buying a small group of around 6 and eventually spawning. If you have a male and female together it is almost guaranteed they will spawn, another huge plus for those looking to take on a fun breeding project for a very underrated and hearty cichlid.
Aequidens Diadema is another beautiful medium sized acara out of South America. They come from wider rivers and drainages in the Orinoco River basin where the water is neutral to soft and temperatures range from 75-82 degrees.
They have two large spots, one found about mid-flank and the other at the base of the tail. The mid-flank spot may be surrounded by a band of yellow and the underlying base color is generally a yellowish-green.
Diadema is not very aggressive and they do well in community tanks so long as congeners are of similar size and disposition. They generally don’t exceed 5-6 inches so a pair could be kept in a 40 breeder, but if a community is desired, a 75 gallon or larger would be needed.
Some internet accounts say that this is a hard to breed fish. I think it probably needs soft water and temperature in the mid-80s. It probably didn't hurt that the pond got pretty hot and that the fish had lots of live food. This not a fish you are likely to find at a pet shop, although plenty of cichlid fans seem to be keeping it. If you could find it, I would expect 1.5 inch fish to go for $9-12.
Laetacara Curviceps or Dwarf Flag Cichlid is native to the lower Amazon river basin in Brazil with some populations exhibiting differences in color, specifically in respect of the amount of red and blue pigmentation on the body and fins. They prefer habitats with clear, transparent water with low flow rate and little sediment.
This species can be highly variable, with several distinct geographical races, which have been blended in captive populations and they can change color and pattern very quickly. Some specimens show quite a bit of color, particularly the blue in the body and red in the fins.
This dwarf cichlid was a regular in the early days of the hobby, but hobbyists lost interest when African cichlids gained popularity at the end of the 20th century. Water parameters are pretty undemanding, 68-82 temperature wise and 4.5-7.5 pH. A pair can be kept in a 20 gallon, but do make sure they have a good amount of cover in the form of wood and plants as they can be slightly shy if no hiding places are provided. These guys are readily available and aren't very expensive, sitting right around $12-20. A fantastic little mini cichlid!
Dosigera are really beautiful little cichlids, they have a well-defined stripe between the eyes and often a dark spot outlined with blue or white at the base of the dorsal fin. The spot on the female’s dorsal fin has a red and blue edge. The males grow a little larger than the females and develop noticeably longer ventral fins. Females usually have a noticeably larger spot on the base of their dorsal fin. They are fuller and have a more rounded belly. The belly of the female is generally more intensely red than the males. They do very well in pairs and if you’re able, keeping them this way will prove most rewarding as far as behavior goes.
These are very peaceful cichlids and can live with small characins, cyprinids or you can keep it in larger tanks with other dwarf cichlids such as Apistogramma and smaller Loraciids. It’s spunkier than the dwarf flag acara, Laetacara Curviceps, but more docile than some other small cichlids. An interesting fact about them, they’re known to leap from the water to land on nearby floating vegetation in order to escape predators, however this may in turn make them vulnerable to aerial hunters.
The price point is also a huge plus for these guys as you rarely see them over $15 and like the curviceps, a pair can also be kept in a 20 gallon with proper cover provided.
There you have it, folks. A short list of some excellent alternatives to your “standard” acara. I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these guys and they’re all relatively easy to get your hands on and won’t break the bank or your tank.
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