A perennial favorite in the aquarium hobby, the Port Acara is a wonderful first step into keeping cichilds!
Unlike other “port” cichlids, the Port Acara Cichlasoma portalegrense (previously Aequidens portalegrensis) has iridescent colors and is the most attractive member of this group. The term “port” used in both its common name and species name is derived from the location where this species was first collected back in 1870. It was caught in stagnant ponds near the city of Porto Alegre, in Brazil. It is also called the Black Acara, Red Port Acara, Port Cichlid, and Acara Cichlid.
These are undemanding fish and are the perfect beginner’s cichlid. They are attractive medium sized cichlids, reaching about 6 – 8 inches, that are easy to care for and do well with tankmates in a cichlid community tank. They will eat anything you give it and only need regular monthly water changes. They spawn easily and generally make excellent parents. They are a community cichlid that can be kept with other smaller South American cichlids, larger peaceful cichlids such as Discus, catfish, or plecostomus. They are generally peaceful except when breeding and will not bother any fish that stay away from their territory.
These cichlids will appreciate a decor with plenty of rocks and roots placed so as to create caves and natural territorial divisions.They enjoy living plants and are safe around them, but they also like to dig when breeding and can potentially dig up the roots of rooted plants. To prevent this, it is recommended to keep plants potted or surrounded by large, immovable rocks or other decorations. Alternatively, you can keep a number of floating plants in their tank. Floating plants offer the Port Acara some cover and will discourage them from digging around rooted plants.
The attractive Port Acara was among the earliest kept 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. Beyond the coloring, the most notable between the Black Port and the Port Acara is the number of hard rays in the anal fin of each fish, with the Black Port having 4 and the Port Acara only 3.
For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Perciformes
- Family: Cichlidae
- Genus: Cichlasoma
- Species: portalegrense
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
- Size of fish – inches: 8.0 inches (20.32 cm)
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L)
- Temperament: Peaceful
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Temperature: 66.0 to 75.0Â° F (18.9 to 23.9° C)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Port Acara Cichlasoma portalegrense was described by Hensel in 1870. They are found in South America 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.Other common names they are known by are Black Acara, Red Port Acara, Port Cichlid, and Acara Cichlid.
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 name ‘Port’ was derived from the place the fish was first collected, a stagnant pond around the Brazilian city Porto Alegre. The species name portalegrensis stuck, while the original genus name, Acarawhich was also used to describe several dissimilar fish, was later changed toAequidens (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, while 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,where it stands today.
Around the time the Port Acara was designated asCichlasoma portalgrensisthere were some 100+ species that were described under the genus Cichlasoma. Many no longer fit in that genus and were moved into their own various genera. Many of the displaced species 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.
- Scientific Name: Cichlasoma portalegrense
- Social Grouping: Groups
- IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed
The Port Acara is an oval shaped fish with pointed anal and dorsal fins. This is a moderately sized cichlid that can reach about 6 – 8 inches (15 – 20 cm) in length. They have a life span of up to 6 years when well cared for.
This cichlid presents an iridescent body 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.
All cichlids, along with some saltwater fish such as wrasses and parrotfish, share a common feature of a well-developed pharyngeal set of teeth that are located 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 of fish – inches: 8.0 inches (20.32 cm)
- Lifespan: 6 years
Fish Keeping Difficulty
The Port Acara is a very easy fish to care for. They are the perfect pet for any level of aquarist; from the least experienced beginner to the most veteran fish keepers. They are not an extremely large fish and are perhaps one of the most peaceful cichlids in the hobby, only becoming aggressive and territorial when breeding. They areready eaters and extremely easy to feed and do not require much in the way of water conditioning or treatment. They will prefer to have a moderate amount of water movement with efficient filtration and to have their water changed only about once a month. Decoration is standard for all cichlids and includes rock caves and other suchnatural territorial divisions, but they do not require an excessively large aquarium or to be kept in either isolation or in a species only tank.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
Foods and Feeding
Though Port Acaras are primarily carnivores,they will eagerly accept all types of aquarium foods including live foods, flakes, and pellets. They will enjoy cichlid pellets, bloodworms, brine shrimp, dried krill, carotene enhanced supplements, and even spirulina based foods. For the best color offer live red earthworms. Also, be sure to try more interesting foods and gauge their response to them. Foods such as blanched cucumber, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, etc. If you find your fish enjoys these foods, feed them as an occasional treat. Keep in mind that warm blooded mammal meats (e.g. red meat, beef heart, chicken, etc) should only be fed as a very occasional treat, and only if your fish enjoys them. Such meats contain amounts and types of proteins and fats not normally found in a cichlid’s natural diet and can cause damaging intestinal blockages and organ degredation.
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.
- Diet Type: Carnivore
- Flake Food: Yes
- Tablet / Pellet: Yes
- Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Most of Diet
- Vegetable Food: Some of Diet – Try some veggies such as cucumber or lettuce. If they enjoy it, feed it as a treat.
- Meaty Food: Most of Diet
- Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day
ThePort Acarais fairly easy to care for provided their water is kept clean. They do not have stringent water conidtions requirments, but it is still important to monitor levels of nitrates, phosphates, hardness, salinity, pH, temperature, etc. These fish mostly only require a water change of about 50% around once a month, though depending on stocking numbers and types of other fish kept in the aquarium you may need to clean more often. When doing the 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.
- Water Changes: Monthly – Since this is a long time frame, change at least 50% of the water each changing. Change more often if densely stocked!
A minimum 30 gallon aquarium is suggested for an individual fish with a minimum of 75 gallons suggested for a pair. 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. These fish do best in highly oxygenated water, which can be accomplished with filters or large air stones.
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.
- Minimum Tank Size: 30 gal (114 L) – Larger for multiple fish.
- Substrate Type: Sand
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 66.0 to 75.0Â° F (18.9 to 23.9° C) – Have been known to tolerate down to 60 degrees.
- Breeding Temperature: 76.0Â° F
- Range ph: 6.0-7.0
- Hardness Range: 1 – 10 dGH
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: All
The Port Acara is a community cichlid and can be kept with other smaller South American cichlids, catfish, plecostomus, or pretty much any large peaceful fish. 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.
- Temperament: Peaceful – They are mostly peaceful, but can become aggressive and territorial when breeding. Be sure to monitor your fish during this time.
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes
- Peaceful fish (): Monitor
- Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: May be aggressive
- Plants: Safe – Make sure to anchor plants.
Sex: Sexual differences
Males are larger with extended dorsal and anal fins.
Breeding / Reproduction
This Port Acara is readily bred in captivity and it is one of the fish that was used to develop the Flowerhorn Cichlid. They are what is referred to as a ‘substrate’ spawner (meaning they lay their eggs on the substrate), 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. A ph of 7.0 and a higher temperature of 76Â° 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.
A full sized adn mature Port Acara femlae will lay up to 600 eggs per spawning cycle. The eggs will hatch in about 4 days in temperatures of 70 – 75Â° F (21 – 24Â° C) and the fry will wriggle for 4 more days before becoming free swimming. The fry are egg shaped and drab gray-brown with a hint of the iridescence that becomes more apparent as they grow. Once hatched 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 a description of how cichlids breed in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cichlids.
- Ease of Breeding: Easy
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 86Â° F (30Â° 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. As with most fish the Port Acara Cichlids are prone to skin flukes and other parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), fungal infections, and bacterial infections. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
Anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance.
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 are moderately priced as juveniles, but more for adults. Make sure you examine them for defects before purchase.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Dr. RÃ¼diger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 1, Publisher Hans A. Baensch, 1991
- George Zurlo, David Schleser, Cichlids (Complete Pet Owner’s Manual), Barron’s Edu Series, 2005
- Richard F. Stratton, The Guide to Owning Cichlids, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2002
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- Cichlasoma portalegrense (Hensel, 1870), Fishbase.org