Port Acara

A long time favorite, the Port Acara is one of the most handsome of the ‘Port’ cichlids.

Unlike other “port” cichlids, the Port Acara has iridescent colors and is the most attractive member of this group. A medium sized cichlid reaching about 6 – 8 inches, they are an excellent choice for a South American cichlid aquarium. Besides their beauty and size they are easy to care for. They will eat anything you give them and need only normal monthly water changes. They spawn easily and generally make excellent parents. The Port Acara is an undemanding fish and is a perfect beginner’s cichlid.

The Port Acara will appreciate a decor with rocks and roots which has the added benefit of providing neutral territory areas. They also like plants, but because they will dig a pit for their fry after spawning, the plants can be uprooted. Protect the plants with rocks or something to weigh them down. Better yet offer them floating plants, these will offer them some cover and will help when you get a pair that messes with the substrate plants.

The attractive Port Acara was among the early cichlid species in the aquarium hobby, being introduced in Germany around the turn of the century and then into the United States in 1913. It was very popular and vigorously traded until the advent of World War II, after which imports of this fish ceased for the next several decades. A more common import was its close relative, the Black Port Cichlasoma bimaculatum, which has a rather drab brown coloration. The Port Acara was occasionally seen only as a by-product in shipments, but today it is regaining its availability and popularity.

The Port Acara, also called the Black Acara or Red Port Acara, was described by Hensel in 1870. They are found in South American in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, in rivers such as the Lagoa dos Patos basin and possibly Tramanda along with the river basin in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. They inhabit shallow, peaceful streams with softer water. In the scientific community the Port Acara’s were originally described as Acara portalegrensis and then Aequidens portalegrensis, but more recently have been renamed as Cichlasoma portalegrense.

The history of the scientific names for this fish started in 1870 when it was caught in stagnant ponds near Porto Alegre, which is a city in Brazil. This is where the “port” name came from. The species name portalegrensis stuck. The genus name started under “Acara”, which was also used to describe several dissimilar fish. It was later moved to the genus Aequidens (Eigenmann, 1910)
With the advent of World War II until the mid 1980’s, the Port Acara disappeared from the aquarium hobby. In the 80’s the Black Port Cichlasoma bimaculatum from Guyana became the most available import, with the Port Acara occasionally showing up as by-catch. The difference between the “Black Port” and the Port Acara is that the Black Port has 4 or more hard rays in the anal fin, and the Port Acara has 3 of these hard rays. Because the Black Port, in the genus Cichlasoma, had profound similarities to the Port Acara, the Port Acara’s scientific name was changed from Aequidens portalegrensis to Cichlasoma portalegrensis.
At this point there were some 100+ species that were described under the genus Cichlasoma. They no longer fit in that genus so were moved into their own various genera. Many were left orphaned and are now designated as “Cichlasoma” (with quotation marks) until the scientific community decides what genus to place them in. This allows only true Cichlasoma to remain in this ‘corrected’ genus, currently comprised of 12 species.

This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.

The Port Acara is an iridescent fish with shiny blue-green scales edged in black. The gill covers and the lips are also blue-green. They have a black stripe that runs from the eye to the middle of the body. There are 3 black blotches along the body as well; the first blotch is below the eye, the second is in the middle of the body (where the black stripe ends) and the third is near the caudal fin (which has 3 hard rays). The pectoral fin is a bright yellow to orange and the other fins are reticulated with various colors. They can live up to 6 years.
All cichlids share a common feature that some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish have and that is a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are 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.

Size – Weight:
The Port Acara grows to a length of 6 – 8” (15 – 20 cm).

Care and feeding:
The Port Acara are primarily carnivores however they will eagerly accept all types of aquarium fair including live foods, flakes, and pellets. They will enjoy bloodworms, brine shrimp, dried krill, carotene enhanced supplements, and even spirulina based foods. For the best color offer live red earthworms Feed 2 to 5 small pinches of food a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer time. A one-day-a-week ‘fast’ can also be beneficial. All fish benefit from vitamins and supplements added to their foods.
A minimum 30 gallon aquarium is suggested. If kept with other cichlids, the tank should be much larger, up to 100 gallons as the Port Acara’s territory can be roughly 50 gallons. They do best in water that is slightly acidic to neutral, with low to moderate water movement, and efficient filtration. Provide a bottom of fine sand and plenty of hiding places among rocks and wood. They can be put with plants, but because they will dig a pit for their fry after spawning, the plants can be uprooted. Protect the plants with rocks or something to weigh them down. Better yet offer them floating plants, these will offer them some cover and will help when you get a pair that messes with the substrate plants. Low to moderate lighting is fine.
Do water changes of 20% a month, more or less depending on stocking numbers. Oxygen levels must be maintained for best color and health. They are subject to infections as well as other diseases that ail all freshwater fish. One common problem is Ich. It can be treated with the elevation of the tank temperature to 86° F (30° C) for 3 days. Ich is easily treated with an elevated temperature of 86 for a few days since they can tolerate higher temperatures. They are sensitive to medications, so make sure you do your research.

Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom:
These fish will swim in the middle and bottom areas of the aquarium.

Acceptable Water Conditions:
These fish were one of the few that were successfully kept before aquarium heaters were used. They can tolerate temporary temperature drops to 60° F (16° c).
Hardness: 1 – 10°dH
Ph: 6.0 – 7.0
Temp: 66 – 75° F (19 – 24° C)

Social Behaviors:
The Port Acara is a community cichlid can be kept with other smaller South American cichlids, catfish, or plecostomus. They are generally peaceful except when breeding and will not bother any fish that stay away from their territory. They can be kept alone or in a pair. If you are keeping one Port Acara they are not too hard on their tank mates, but a pair that is breeding (which is what they always will be doing) can be more territorial.

Sexual Differences:
Males are larger with extended dorsal and anal fins.

This Port Acara is readily bred in captivity and it is one of the fish that was used to breed the Flowerhorn Cichlid. They are what is referred to as a ‘hard substrate’ spawner, but they do like movable platforms to lay their eggs on. They will lay their eggs on a stationary platform if they have nothing else available. An interesting idea one fish aquarist used is waterlogged leaves like dried up rubber tree plants. They will “re-hydrated” and sink to the bottom, but after the babies are free swimming it must be removed so it does not rot and spoil the water.
The male and female do not squabble like other cichlids, making it easier to breed them without having a divider. Ph of 7.0 and a higher temperature of 76° F will help initiate breeding. The male and female display as spawning time gets near, and will increase their displays the closer it gets. The parents will both clean and mouth the spawning site to hold their eggs. They will then darken and distend their “tubes” and swim back and forth over the site, eventually dropping eggs and sperm.
The eggs number 600 or more for mature, full sized Port Acaras. The eggs will hatch in about 4 days in temperatures of 70 – 75° F (21 – 24° C) and the fry will wriggle for 4 more days. The fry are egg shaped and drab gray-brown with a hint of the iridescence that becomes more apparent as they grow. They are moved to an excavated pit that their parents dig for them.
Once they are free swimming, you can feed them newly hatched brine shrimp, crushed flake, and pellet foods. The parents will guard the fry for a few weeks until the female is ripe again. Both use signals to alert the fry to hide or lay low if there is a threat. The fry will be 3 inches (8 cm) at about a year and can reproduce 6 months later. See the description of how cichlids breed in Breeding Freshwater Fish.

The Port Acara is generally available in fish stores and online. They can be also be special ordered if you are willing to wait. They run about $12.00 USD currency for juveniles. Make sure you examine them for defects before purchase.


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