If you are looking for a smaller, colorful fish to grow and spawn, I have the perfect fish for you: the Blue Acara. This is a Central-South American cichlid that for a long time was known as the Aequidens pulcher but was recently moved to a different classification, Andinoacara pulcher. In the wild, the Acara can be found in clear flowing streams and pools of slow flowing to murky water. Natural conditions are generally softer water with a pH from 6.5 to 7.5, with temperatures from 71 to 82F.
In the home aquarium, the Blue Acara and its newer Electric Blue variation will require a fair amount of space in which to claim territories once they pair up. The general rule of thumb is to purchase 6 of the juveniles and let them grow up together to get one or two pairs. Once the Blue Acara pairs off, you may need to remove the “odd man out” male to avoid continual harassment. The Acara is not aggressive in the sense that it just bullies and attacks everyone, but it can be very defensive once it has claimed an area in the aquarium. You will want to use a sandy/small pebble type substrate as, common with most cichlids, the Acaras love to dig and dig. As such, you generally would not want to use rooted plants except for types that attach to the driftwood or rocks like Java Fern of Anubius species. Floating plants can help set the environment, and subdued lighting will work fine with these cichlids. Their natural conditions have very low levels of pollutants, so an efficient biological filter and frequent partial water changes are a must to keep these fish.
Given their behavior, the Blue Acaras can be kept with fish like Silver Dollars, Black Skirt Tetras, Black Neons, most Corydoras catfish and even other “mild” cichlids like Firemouths, Severums or Salvani. The Blue Acara is mainly carnivorous and should be offered foods like bloodworms, mysis shrimp, chopped earthworms or mussels. They generally will accept prepared flake foods and some of the Cichlid Pellets and shrimp pellets. If you are planning on spawning the Acaras, be sure to offer several of the meatier foods and even live brine, daphnia or white worms to get the pair in condition ready to spawn. They will generally pick a large flat stone, the broad leaf of a real or fake plant or even just dig through the substrate to the bottom for a smooth surface. The female will make a pass over the area and release a string of eggs, the male will follow behind and fertilize these eggs. After several passes. the female will tend the eggs while the male defends the territory. The eggs should hatch out after 48-72 hours, and the fry will be free swimming and looking for food after another 72 hours. You should offer the fry foods like microworms or freshly hatched brine shrimp. The parents will guard the brood for about two weeks and then run them off to spawn again. The new Electric Blue variation adds even more startling colors in the male and has brought renewed interest in this great little cichlid.