A fully grown Lamprologus stappersi male in the aquarium. Fish by Michal Pregowski and Photo by Artur Bialosiewics.
Shell-dwellers are one of the most fascinating groups of fish from the lake Tanganyika. With their "no compromise" attitude, shell-dwellers are tough and stubborn, even though they are so tiny! Up today, I have kept only two species of those amazing fish, but I am convinced that I have already found my fishy favorite.
I first met Lamprologus stappersi this spring, thanks to my friend Marcin Nowacki, who bought the fish for me in Germany. According to the salesman, they are wild-caught. The first house for my five L. stappersi, was a quarantine tank of 30 liters Unfortunately, I soon lost one fish due to fighting for shells. The fights themselves were of little dangerousness, but the weakest male somehow managed to jump out of the tank (my fault - I left the tank not fully covered). Despite the tiring trip from Germany to Poland, all other individuals were in perfect health. After a short time, the fish were ready to be moved to a bigger, 100 l. aquarium. At that moment it was housing only a few L. ocellatus "Nkamba Bay", close relatives of L. stappersi.
A month passed by and I was happy to notice a pair among my newest shell-dwelling friends! The couple was moved back to the 30 l. aquarium (the one I used as quarantine tank). It did not take long and my fish made me happy once again... the fry!!! It was a great moment: being aware it was me who provided the good-enough conditions for wild-caught L. stappersi to spawn. Later on, it also appeared that it was most likely the first spawning in Poland... I was proud.
Luckily for me, the remaining two individuals also paired off and I was left with two couples. The second pair was put in a 50 l. tank. Later on, I lost the male from the first couple. Reproduction process carried on, thanks to the other pair.
Among other shell-dwellers, L. stappersi is easily noticeable by its beauty. Grown up and healthy fish are silver, with irregular black spots, and their bodies shine with tiny pearly dots. The view of intensively colored male is unforgettable! Speaking of colors - I noticed that those of L. stappersi depend quite strongly on the surroundings. Keeping four individuals from the same source, housed in two absolutely different tanks, I was able to observe it very well. The brighter the surroundings, the brighter the fish - which, in case of L. stappersi, is surely not an advantage. In my opinion, one should avoid placing bright or glaring rocks in the tank. It is best to provide this type of fish with darkish surroundings and as black background as possible. The only desirable bright thing is the sand. If, by any chance, such setup cannot be provided, I suggest at least not cleaning the algae from the rocks.
Beauty of L. stappersi goes together with their moderate tendency to quarrel. Five minutes after being put into the 100 l. tank, my fish successfully fought the shells out from L. ocellatus! Paradoxically, when compared to their cousins, L. stappersi are rather peaceful species. Fights for territory are usually delicate and their aggression seldom effects in something more than nipped fins.
Intentional selection of a pair is not an easy thing, in my opinion. The fish cannot be distinguished by their colors. Difference in size is much more significant. Grown up male can reach 5-6 cm (2-2.5 inch), while females usually reach 4-4,5 cm (1.5-1.8 inch). It is good to remember though, that the size difference can help in distinguishing fully grown fish, not their young. Therefore, the best way of selecting a pair is also the easiest one: buy 5 or more fish and let them pair off.
Behavior of L. stappersi pairs is very interesting to observe. The fish are very discreet and spend most of their time very close to the shells. It is thus not an easy thing to find out whether the female has laid eggs or not, and inexperienced hobbyists are most likely to be surprised, seeing tiny, comma-sized fry at the entrance of female's shell.
Well-guarded secrets of mating can be sometimes revealed by male's temperament. In case of my second pair, finding out the mating-time is always as easy as pie. The ritual is always the same: male becomes very obtrusive and possessive, chases female away a bit and occupies her shell (she is obviously not ready to mate at that moment and she tries to avoid him). What is worth mentioning - he never gets REALLY aggressive. As soon as the female occupies her shell again, one can be sure that the caviar is inside! L. stappersi are easily bred fish - as long as they are given proper conditions. After they spawn for the first time, they will spawn readily and almost constantly. According to the literature, one spawning can reach up to 40 eggs. My personal count is about 30 fry every time.
I have never noticed grown-ups eating fry, as well as older fry preying on younger. This behavior would supposedly change, with the number of fish outgrowing the tank size.
Keeping young L. stappersi is a great pleasure - they eat with good appetite, trying to swallow food even bigger than them. One of unforgettable memories of mine - young L. stappersi "fighting" with a half-swallowed bloodworm... Surprisingly, newly born fish are not that bold; on the contrary - for the first couple of weeks of their lives, they are rather shy. Every unexpected move (in or outside the tank) causes an instinctive reaction, so characteristic for young shell-dwellers: diving to reach the substrate, then lying on it without a single move. This marvelous reaction successfully protects the fry from predators.
After about 2 months, the fry gains the "grown-up" coloration. As the time passes, young fish resemble their parents more and more, also in behavior. It is very funny to see a 2 cm fish acting like a perfect copy of an adult, with its gill covers raised and the mouth open to appear more "scary"... At the same time (plus minus) youngsters try to occupy their first shells.
|Up to down - The fry soon gets the "adult" coloration, even though young fish miss the significant pearly dots. Brilliantly colored young male. Stressed female may become very bright, starting to resemble L. ocellatus. Fish by Michal Pregowski and Photos by Michal Pregowski and Artur Bialosiewics.|
As I already wrote, my fish live in 30 and 55 liters tanks. I consider such aquariums perfect for L. stappersi. Observations of many shell-dwellers helped me come to such conclusion: these fish feel much better in "one-species" tanks. In community tanks, it is much harder for them to find a place to settle and spawn. It takes much more time to see the female finally laying eggs and the fry hatching and raising. Just to add another point - other fish can successfully prey on the fry - the conclusion that comes to mind, is rather obvious.
Adult L. stappersi do not need a lot of tank space; typical 30-liters aquarium is great for a pair of this peaceful species. Please remember about covering the tank - do not repeat my mistakes.
Of course, 30 liters is the smallest capacity recommended - bigger tank diminishes the risk of female being harassed - if you are unlucky, like me, to get a hyperactive male. Chances to buy a "super macho" are not big, in my opinion, but, to be frank, I am not sure how would my pair (the one with obtrusive male, kept in 55 l. tank) exist in a smaller aquarium.
What is also worth mentioning Lamprologus stappersi is by no means a fragile fish. I experienced a day long heater failure; the temperature suddenly went down from 27°C to 24°C and lasted for many hours (I was away). Fortunately, it appeared that I was the one most stressed. My fish were in perfect condition, even the smallest fry!
Nowadays, I have three adult L. stappersi, many 2-cm young ones and plenty of fry. I am truly amazed by this species and plan to keep all siblings and infest another tank with them! Three out of my five tanks would then be devoted to L. stappersi?... Is it love of my life? It is very probable.