Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher): Ultimate Care Guide


Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher) is a member of the rather extensive cichlid family. In the wild, they are found in freshwater streams and standing water in South and Central America. In Latin, pulcher means beautiful, and with one look at their beautiful markings, it is easy to see how they got their names. While most cichlids are known to be rather aggressive, blue acara is a much more peaceful species. For this reason, they have many more options for tankmates than other cichlids do. Originally, these fish were placed in the genus Aequidens. They were moved to the Andinoacara genus in 2009, but it is not uncommon to find them still listed as Aequidens pulcher.

Blue acaras have short, compacted bodies, with heads that are slightly more rounded than most other fish from the cichlid family. Their bodies have a steel blue-grey coloration, but their colors can vary quite a bit due to local diversity. Their bodies have 5 to 8 vertical black stripes (that may not always be visible) and blue iridescent spots. Often they will also have blue/green lines visible on their faces as well. Blue acara have long, flowing fins, tipped with orange or sometimes red.

Blue Acara Care

The blue acara is a rather hardy fish and is fairly easy to care for. For this reason, and because of their beautiful markings, they can be a great choice for your aquarium.

Temperature

Blue acara live in tropical water in their natural environments, so they require a water temperature in the range of 72º to 86º F (22º to 30º C). They are quite comfortable anywhere in this range, although their sweet spot for temperature is about 76º F (about 25º C).

Water pH

Blue acara require a water pH level of 6.5 to 8.0, although the optimal level is between 7.0 to 7.5.

Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher)
Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher)

Size

Blue acara normally grow to be about 5 inches (13 cm) in length, although they can reach sizes up to 6.3 inches (16 cm). It doesn’t take them very long to reach their full size either; they can be considered fully grown in roughly 8 to 12 months.

Food and Diet

Blue acara are carnivorous feeders, and as such, they require food with high protein content. In the wild, they feed on crustaceans, worms, larvas, and other small insects.

In an aquarium, blue acara can be fed bloodworms, tubifex worms, white worms, and brine shrimp, either live or dried. Frozen food is another great option, as it can be kept on hand for long periods of time. Tablets and flakes can also be fed to your acaras, as long as it has a high enough protein content. To get the best coloration from your fish, offer them live red earthworms from time to time.

Two smaller feedings, once in the morning and once at night, are preferred over one large feeding once a day. This can cause the water quality in your tank to drop quicker than it needs to. Having one day a week you don’t feed them can be beneficial too.

Acara will also benefit from having vitamins and supplements added to their foods.

Blue Acara Lifespan

The lifespan of a blue acara in an aquarium is 7 to 10 years. In the wild, they have been known to live nearly twice as long.

Optimal care will give your acaras the longest life expectancy. Factors such as poor water quality, subpar living conditions, and high levels of stress will all decrease their life expectancy.

Blue Acara Tank Size

To keep blue acara comfortably, you will need a tank that is at least 30 gallons (114 L). For every additional acara you want to add, it is recommended to increase the tank size by 15 gallons per fish. (3 Blue Acara = 60 gallons)

Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher)
Blue Acara (Andinoacara pulcher)

Tank Setup

The ideal tank setup for a blue acara has a soft, sandy substrate bottom with adequate caves, driftwood, and shaded places for the fish to hide. Soft sand is important as acara like to dig, and if the substrate is rough or hard (like gravel) they can cause themselves a lot of harm. Dried Indian almond leaves and beech can be added to the bottom of the tank. This helps to recreate water parameters as close to their natural habitat as possible. It also adds a food source if you plan to breed your acaras.

Blue acara enjoy using plants for cover and extra shade, but they are known to dig up plants that are planted directly in the substrate. For this reason, potted plants or floating plants, such as hornwort, are recommended. Plant species that can be attached to decor, such as java fern or Anubias, also stand a good chance of surviving along with acaras.

A tight-fitting lid with moderate lighting is recommended. Some natural sunlight (but not too much) will help to bring out their colors to their full potential.

As they prefer a strong amount of water movement, a quality canister filter or powerheads are recommended.

Maintaining the Fish Tank

Blue acara is very easy to care for, as long as their water is kept clean. These fish are sensitive to pollutants and pH instability, so it is important to change at least 15 to 20% of the water in the tank every week. The more densely packed your tank is the more water that should be changed weekly. Use a gravel cleaner during water changes to ensure all the decomposing organic matter is removed.

Blue Acara Breeding

Blue acara is considered moderately easy to breed, and as such most people can successfully breed a pair. Acaras can reproduce once they reach roughly 2.5 inches, although most will wait until they are slightly larger (roughly 4 inches).

As the time to spawn approaches, the male and female will both begin their breeding displays, increasing in frequency as they get closer to spawning. Comfortable breeding pairs can spawn several times a year.

The best method for getting breeding pairs is to buy 6 fish (3 male, 3 female) and let them pair off naturally.  Once they are approaching the time to spawn, it is best to remove other fish from their tank (if there are any) to give the fry the best chance to survive. Air-powered filtration is recommended while attempting breeding as well, to avoid losing fry to the filter.

To help with breeding, ensure the water has a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, and a water temperature between 77 and 82º F (25 to 28º C). Lots of flat stones and broad-leaved plants, such as Amazon sword, will provide your fish with lots of potential spawning sites. Make sure your fish are very well fed during the entire spawning process.

Once the conditions are perfect, the female acara will lay up to 200 eggs on a rock that she has cleaned off. She will then move out of the way, and allow the male to take her place and fertilize the eggs.

Caring for Blue Acara Fry

Blue acara eggs will hatch in 48 to 72 hours. During this time the male will defend the spawning site while the female tends to the eggs. It is for this reason that the other fish from their tank be removed, or your breeding acaras be placed in a breeder tank. Sometimes they may swap roles for short periods. After another 72 hours, the fry become free-swimming and can be fed microworms and or brine shrimp nauplii. The parents will continue to care for the fry for about 2 weeks, at which point they may spawn again.

Blue Acara Fry Growth Rate

Blue acara fry can grow quite quickly, provided they are getting enough food. Within a few days of hatching, you should be able to see them swimming around the tank. They will grow to about an inch in length after just a few months of life.

Blue Acara Male or Female

It can be difficult to tell the difference between male and female blue acara, but if you know what to look for it is possible. Mature males develop slightly pointed dorsal and anal fins, while females have a more rounded appearance than males. Males of the species are generally more colorful as well.

Both the males and females have dark vertical stripes that will become darker during breeding and when caring for their fry.

Blue Acara Diseases

Blue acara are subject to infections and diseases that affect all freshwater fish, especially if the water quality in their tank is of poor quality and/or low oxygenation.

Ich

Ich is one of the most common issues that can affect acaras is Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis protozoan). It is an external parasite that attaches to your fish’s fins, body and gills by forming tiny white capsules.

Ich can be treated with the elevation of the temperature in the tank to 86º F (30º C) for 3 days. If that doesn’t cure the Ich, then your tank needs to be treated with copper. Several copper-based fish medications should be available at your local fish store.  Copper must be kept within proper levels, so make sure to follow the manufacturer’s suggestions. You can combine the Ich treatment with an increase in water temperature for a more effective treatment.

Skin Flukes

Skin Flukes are a common name for monogenean trematodes or flatworms. They are parasites that live in the gills or skin of fish. Once attached with their hooked mouths, they feed on skin cells and mucus. Warm water accelerates their reproductive process.

There are a number of treatments available for flukes, but those containing Praziquantel are the most effective.

Blue Acara Temperment

Blue acara is known to be one of the most docile fish in the entire cichlid family. Although they aren’t overly aggressive, once paired off and ready to spawn, they can be quite territorial. They may also burrow and damage plants that are planted directly in the substrate.

Other than during breeding periods, blue acara generally aren’t the aggressors in any confrontation, nor are they known as fin biters.

Blue Acara Tank Mates

Even though they are considered not aggressive compared to most of the other fish they are closely related to, that doesn’t mean they can be put into a tank with every other species out there. There are still certain species that should be avoided, both for your acaras safety, as well as the other fish.  Even if your fish all seem to get along for the most part, just remember that your acaras may get more aggressive and territorial while they are spawning.

Try to keep the size of your fish relatively the same. Even a fish that isn’t normally aggressive may take some runs at a much smaller fish if it is introduced to their tank.

Blue Acara and Angelfish

Angelfish are an Amazonian species that prefer warm and soft to neutral waters, while blue acaras are mainly found in more alkaline, harder waters. Even though they aren’t from the same natural habitats, blue acara and angelfish can still thrive in the same water conditions. Both species of fish are hardy and adaptable and can accept a wide range of water conditions.

It is important to remember that one or both species may not be able to breed in these conditions, as neither will be in their optimal water conditions.

Blue Acara and Oscar

Oscar live in very similar water conditions to blue acara, so in that sense, they make great tank mates. However, Oscars can be quite aggressive, especially as they get to their full size. It is very important to make sure that if you are mixing the two species in the same tank, they should be as close in size as possible, and the tank shouldn’t be overcrowded. There should be lots of cover provided so that all the fish in your tank can comfortably hide.

Blue Acara and Green Terror

Green terrors can also be kept with blue acaras, although they can be quite aggressive. Make sure if you are keeping the two species together that they are in a large enough tank, relatively close in size, and that there are lots of places for the fish to be able to hide and feel safe.

Some aquarists have good luck pairing these two fish, while others recommend against it. It should also be noted that they are quite closely related, so hybridization is also a possibility.

Blue Acara and Firemouth Cichlid

In the right tank setup, blue acaras and firemouth cichlids can be acceptable tank mates. Both have similar water requirements, and both are low in terms of aggressiveness. Proper cover must be available for every fish in the tank. Ensure that you add fish in even numbers so they pair themselves off. Odd numbers can cause the unpaired fish to become aggressive and attack all the other fish in the tank, no matter the species.

If possible, it is advised to keep your acaras and firemouth cichlids in separate tanks until you can see that you haven’t got any overly aggressive fish. After they’ve been living separately for a short time, they can be added together into a bigger tank. This isn’t mandatory, but it is a great way to root out aggressive fish if you have the means to do it.

Blue Acara and Convict Cichlid

Blue acara and convict cichlids are another combination that needs a well-designed tank with enough hiding spaces to work. Convict cichlids can be aggressive, so there needs to be lots of cover in the tank. This is especially important if the convicts start to breed, as this will cause them to become even more aggressive.

The method described above for identifying overly-aggressive fish is recommended before adding convict cichlids into your acara tank, or vice versa.

Other Tank Mates for Blue Acaras

Most other similar-sized, non-aggressive fish can be considered to be housed with your acaras. Some popular options are discus, other Aequidens species, pearl cichlids or other eartheater cichlids, uara cichlids, or any other South or Central American cichlid species that is relatively easygoing.

How Many Blue Acara Should Be Kept Together?

It is recommended that you have 30 gallons for the first blue acara, and an additional 15 gallons per acara added after that, so how many fish you can have is highly dependent on the size of your tank. Keep in mind they are best kept in even numbers so they can pair off.

Example – 6 Blue acara would need roughly 105 gallons to live comfortably together

Where to find Blue Acara for Sale?

Blue acara can be found at some larger fish stores, and also online. They aren’t the easiest cichlid to find, but they certainly aren’t the hardest either. If you can’t find them locally, you will surely be able to find some online that you can order.

Blue acara range in price depending on their size. Smaller, younger fish tend to be less expensive than mature fish. Young fish can be found for a range of $5-$12 US, while mature fish can sell for closer to $15-$20 US.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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