I wasn't paying much attention to the auction,
like most cichlid auctions, this one was dominated by overpriced
African, rift-lake cichlids. The few "South American"
cichlids being sold were mostly Discus and Angels, which had been
selectively bred for many generations so that they would not resemble
their beautiful ancestors. So, I was talking quietly with a friend
sitting beside me while the auctioneer ran through the fish.
The friend on my other side nudged me.
Some sort of rare Aequidens, he told me.
"Yo! I yelled, shooting my arm in the air."
The auctioneer took my bid, looked for another,
and sold me the fish. I don't remember exactly how much I paid,
but I thought they were quite the bargain. They could have been
$200.00, for all I knew when I bid on them, but fortunately they
weren't. They were more along the lines of what you might pay
for Blue Acaras in a store.
Interestingly enough, that's just what they looked like: three
young Blue Acaras. (Blue Acaras are supposedly 'Aequidens' pulcher,
but they have been bred commercially for so long that it is difficult
to ascertain what wild stock they might have originated from.)
"Aequidens sapayensis. Probable trio,"
the bag read. Well, one was larger than the other two, but it
seemed a bit premature to be sexing them at 1" long. Still,
if these really were what they were said to be, I hoped that the
size difference really did reflect a sex difference as well. The
auction was in Chicago, so it was late the next evening before
they were placed in a tank at my home in Minneapolis. I had changed
some of their water at the hotel the evening of the auction and
again the next morning, but the water looked rather foul in their
bag when I got them home. The seemed to adjust well to their new
Two days later I found one of the smaller fish dead. I couldn't
tell if the stress of the trip or one of its siblings killed it,
but my probable trio was now a probable pair. I kept the label
from the bag, which listed the seller's name and phone number,
in case my probable pair turned into a definite loner.
I hadn't heard of 'Ae.' sapayensis before, so
my first step was to pull out my copy of Die Buntbarsche der Neuen
Welt: Südamerika. Sure enough, there they were, in the chapter
entitled "Der Buntbarsche der ..Aequidens" -pulcher-Gruppe."
There was a page of text, and pair of pictures, no less. All this
told me three things: (1) sapayensis is valid species, (2) they
are 'Aequidens' sapayensis until they are assigned to some genus
(as Aequidens has been restricted to exclude this group of species),
and (3) my fish resembling Blue Acaras as they did, stood a chance
of being 'Ae.' sapayensis.
That was pretty much where I let matters sit
until I decided to write this article. Two years had past, the
fish had bred successfully (see Keeping and Breeding, below),
and I had accepted that my fish were, indeed. 'Ae.' sapayensis. As
adults they still resembled Blue Acaras quite strongly, although
they had horizontal rows of golden dots instead of the bluish
dots of Blue Acaras. I had taken to referring to them as my "Gold
As I prepared to write this article, however, I became curious
as to how the seller in Chicago had identified his fish. While
there are a few small differences between these Gold Acaras and
the Blue Acaras of the aquarium hobby, these differences are assuredly
not striking. I doubt that I would notice anything unusual if
I came across these fish while perusing sellers' tanks for rare
fish. I doubted even more that most importers, wholesalers, or
retailers would have noticed anything either.
Fortunately. I had kept the seller's tag from
the auction, although I hadn't had to call him for more fish.
Mike Brousil, the seller, told me that he got his fish from Steve
Covolo. He also told me that Steve had either received his fish
from, or at least had them identified by Dr. Wayne Leibel.
Wayne was unsure of the details (it had been
four or five years now since his role in this saga), but was able
to confirm that he had probably identified the ancestors of my
fish somewhere along the route. He told me that 'Ae.' sapayensis
were sometimes found in pet shops at small sizes being sold as
Green Terrors, having been brought in from the wild misidentified.
He said that based on the fact that they were found in Green Terror
territory and that they matched closely with good color photos
published in the German aquarium literature, he was convinced
they were 'Ae.' sapayensis.
Good photos and collecting data probably provide
as accurate an identification as can be reasonably had with these
fish. The description of 'Ae.' sapayensis was done ninety years
ago and the descriptions of the species most likely to be confused
with 'Ae.' sapayensis (which are 'Ae.' pulcher. 'Ae.' coeruleopunctatas,
and 'Ae.' latifrons) were made twenty-five to fifty years before
that. As was the general case for descriptions of the time, these
descriptions are brief and are made from a small number of specimens
(one in the case of 'Ae.' sapayensis). All but one of them lacks
drawings and, of course, all of them lack photographs.
Spine and ray counts from the original descriptions of 'Ae.'
pulcher, 'Ae.' coeruleopunctatus. 'Ae.' latifrons, and 'Ae.' sapayensis
and from two "Gold Acaras."
Further, the published meristics for the various
species are quite similar; the dorsal and anal fm spine/ray counts
of 'Ae.'; coeruleopunctatus and 'Ae.' sapayensis overlap entirely.
(See Table.) The case is probably even worse than suggested by
the numbers in the original descriptions. Now that many more specimens
are generally examined when describing a species, it is recognized
that spine and ray counts can vary widely within a species. In
the recently described 'Ae.' patricki, to chose an example from
the true Aequidens, specimens are recorded with dorsal counts
of 14-18 hard spines and 10-12 soft rays.2 If these sorts of variances
are found in species of 'Aequidens' as well, it might well be
impossible to assign an individual fish to any of these species
on the basis of spine and ray counts alone.
Nonetheless, I examined photos of two specimens
of Gold Acaras (a female from the original purchase and a male
from two generations later) to obtain dorsal and anal counts.
The counts of these two fish agreed with each other (not surprisingly)
but do not match those from the descriptions of any similar 'Aequidens'
species. (See Table.) They are closest to those of 'Ae.' latifrons
but (as per the discussion above) this may well be insignificant.
The Blue Acara Group
One might tend to wonder given the similarity
of meristics and general overall appearance, whether or not the
species mentioned above are all valid species. This is a question
that I am not qualified to answer and will not attempt to. Perhaps
the best that we aquarists can do is wait for a modern review
of these species by an ichthyologist.
It seems at least possible, however, that separate
species of 'Aequidens' might be found where these species are.
The type specimen of 'Aequidens' pulcher is from the island of
Trinidad and the species is known to come from adjacent Venezuela
as well. 'Aequidens' latifronsis is described from the Rio Magdalena
in Columbia. The original description of 'Aequidens' coeruleopunctatus
says that they originate from the Rio Chagres (in the canal zone)
and from the western slope of Panama. Finally, 'Aequidens' sapayensis
is named for its type locality, the tiny Rio Sapayo in Ecuador.
(See map.) Quite notably, these localities fall into separate
major ichthyofaunal provinces. (An ichthyofaunal province is a
region characterized by a distinctive assemblage of fishes;) It
is much more common that a species will be wholly contained within
such a province than that it will cross province boundaries. In
fact, genera often are found completely within a single major
province, although that is apparently not the case with these
Keeping and Breeding
Gold Acaras resemble Blue Acaras not only in
appearance, but also in behavior and in their requirements for
successful keeping and breeding. Like most Acaras (but notably
unlike the sympatric Green Terrors), Gold Acaras have a moderate
temperament for a cichlid.
Mike Brousil reports (pers comm.) that his pair were quite timid
and would not spawn if there were other fish in the tank. If isolated,
however, they would spawn, at which point they would become very
aggressive towards (ie: kill) any new fish introduced into their
My own pair held their own in a tank with South
American cichlids such as Acarichthys heckelii and Cichlasoma
taenia which were at the time of similar size. When they matured
they were placed alone in a thirty gallon aquarium with an undergravel
filter which had been cichlid proofed" by placing a
piece of plastic window screen on top of the bottom two inches
of gravel. Several rocks, pieces of driftwood and bark, and some
homemade, plastic plants were present in the tank for hiding places
and/ or spawning sites. The tank was lit only by the ambient room
light. A rather defective heater varied the water temperature
between 70° and 85° F. The water was very soft (approx.
3 DH), and the pH ranged from about 7 down to nearly 4. No attempt
was made to record the temperature and pH fluctuations and correlate
them with behavior.
The larger of the fish staked out a territory
at one end of the tank and the smaller fish spent most of its
time hiding near the other end. The fish were fed primarily Doro-Min
with a supplement of frozen blood worms. The larger fish ate greedily,
but the smaller only caught an occasional food stick that floated
near its hiding place or ventured cautiously forth after blood
worms. Both fish grew at about the same pace, but the larger fish
grew much more robust, even fat. Then one day the larger fish
showed a female breeding tube.
I was a bit surprised to see that the probable
male of my probable pair was actually a female. I began to worry
that I either did not have a pair (as I thought that the smaller
fish was unlikely to be a male) or if Idid have a pair, that they
wouldn't successfully spawn (as I doubted that such a timid male
would leave hiding long enough to fertilize the eggs). So, I wasn't
all that excited when I finally saw eggs. Many captive female
cichlids will lay eggs by themselves if a suitable mate is not
The eggs were laid on a nearly vertical piece of rock at the
female's end of the tank. The spawning was not observed, but the
behavior of the other fish on the day the eggs were found did
not differ from its previous behavior. It continued to hide on
the far end of the tank from the larger fish; this helped to convince
me that I did not have a breeding pair of fish.
I was surprised then when the eggs, roughly 100 in number, did
not fungus on the following days. After 3 days they hatched, but
the fry soon disappeared, never to be seen again. Still, I now
knew I had a pair and I began to condition them with more feedings
of blood worms in hopes of another spawn.
On the next spawning, there were approximately 300 eggs laid
in the same location as before. This time, after the eggs hatched,
the number of fry began to dwindle and the male became increasingly
beaten-up. I suspected that the male was eating the fry and being
attacked by the female as she attempted to defend them. I siphoned
a couple of dozen fry out of the tank and set them up in a ten
gallon aquarium with a sponge filter in order to raise them away
from the parents. I also separated the male from the female using
a piece of "eggcrate" light grating placed in the middle
of the tank.
The fry in the thirty gallon with the parents grew much more
quickly than those in the ten gallon tank, but their numbers continued
to dwindle, although at a much slower rate than before. My guess
is that now and then one of the fry in the parents' tank would
find its way to the male's side of the tank and be eaten by him,
but I never actually witnessed this. The presence of the divider
did not significantly change the general behavior of either adult
fish; the male continued to spend most of his time in hiding even
though he was separated from the more outgoing female.
I decided to remove the remaining fry (now down to about a dozen)
from the parents' tank. They were too big to place in with the
fry previously removed from the thirty gallon, so I put them in
a ten gallon tank of their own. A couple of days later I observed
that there was still one young fish in the parents' tank, but
I decided to leave it there.
In the next couple of weeks the growth of the single juvenile
remaining in the parents' tank greatly outpaced those of its siblings
in the fry tanks. I decided that it could probably fend for itself
with the barrier removed and I was anxious to have the adults
spawn again, so I took out the egg-crate divider.
No change in behavior was noted when the divider
was removed, but a couple of weeks later the male was found dead.
I imagine that he was killed by the female, but this is only speculation.
In any case, this ended my attempts at spawning 'Aequidens' sapayensis,
for the time being. I still have the female and the one of her
offspring that grew up beside her. The remaining fry were all
sold or given away to friends, local aquarists, or those attending
the 1994 ACA convention. I know that at least one aquarist has
bred the Gold Acaras he got from me (Vinny Kutty, pers. comm.)
and now has fry from them. Also, considering the information provided
by Dr. Wayne Leibel (above), it might be worthwhile to look for
"Green Terrors" that really aren't.
Conkel, D. 1990. "Fishes of the Balboan Jungle." Tropical
Fish Hobbyist, 38 (8): 74ff.
Gill, T. 1858. "Synopsis of the Fresh Water Fishes of the
Western Portion of the Island of Trinidad. W. r." Annals
of the LycewnofNaturalHistory of New York. 6: 363-430.
Kner. R. and F. Steindachner. 1866. "Neue Gattungen und
Arten von Fischen aus CentralAmertka." Abhandlungen der Mathematisch
- Phy sikalischen Classe der KoniglichBayerischen Akademie der
Wissenschaften. 10: 1-61.
Regan. C. 1903. "Descrtptions of new South Amertcan Fishes
in the Collection of the British Museum." Annals and Magazine
of Natural History. Ser. 7. Vol. 12: 621-630.
Stawikowski. R. and U. Werner, 1988. Die Buntbarsche der Neuen
Welt: Siidamertka. Essen, West Germany.
Steindachner. F. 1878. "Zur Fisch-Fauna des MagdalenenStromes.
.. Denkschriften der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
MathematischNaturwissenschajtliche Classe. Wien. 39: 19-78
U.S. Office of Geography, Department of Interior.
1957 Gazetteer No. 36: Ecuador. Washington, D.C.