The adult male Neolamprologus brevis. Photo by Rob Kirkelie.
Who would ever think that you could breed a cichlid in a five gallon aquarium? Cichlids are usually thought of as large, aggressive fish that need a big tank and a lot of space, especially if you want to breed them. If you are not too turned on about the large tank requirements of most cichlids, you should turn to Neolamprologus brevis!
In a small five gallon aquarium, I have a breeding pair of Neolamprologus brevis. I acquired the pair from a pet shop that has a great selection of cichlids. They were not an "official" pair when I purchased them, but later they paired and produced many fry. Neolamprologus brevis make a great cichlid for a first time cichlid keeper or breeder. They are easy to care for, and not difficult to spawn.
The adult male Neolamprologus brevis breeding pair. Photo by Rob Kirkelie.
The setup of the five gallon aquarium is very simple and plain. I have a 25 watt heater to heat the tank to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The aquarium is filtered by a sponge filter that is run by an air pump. The tank is illuminated by one 25 watt incandescent light bulb built into the aquarium cover. I have cut a piece of black poster board to the correct size, and taped it to the outside rear of the tank to provide a nice background.
Further inside the tank is where the natural look is found. For the substrate, I have mixed fine grained river sand and natural colored aquarium gravel into a layer about one and a half inches deep. To the substrate, I mixed in crushed coral and dolomite that help to keep the water hard and alkaline as it is in Lake Tanganyika. There are two small pebbles in the tank which provide a natural look. Neolamprologus brevis are shell dwelling species, so shells must be present in order for the fish to feel comfortable and for them to breed. I put four shells in the tank, and once the fish chose their favorite shell, I removed the remaining two. The male chose the largest shell, with the largest opening. The female chose a rather small shell, with a round opening the size of a quarter.
Maintaining the tank so that it stays clean and healthy is quite simple. I squeeze the sponge filter out in aged water once a moth so that it does not clog. I scrub the inside glass with a sponge to remove buildup. I do not change the water as often as you may think. I change about 40-50% of the tank's water once a month, all at one time and rarely siphon the substrate. I only siphon the substrate out about once every month and a half (or whenever no non-swimming fry are present) for fear of sucking up the new fry. I found that the brevis do not like unstable water chemistry, and changing the water alters it somewhat. You may be surprised at how little I change the water, but as long as the fish are healthy and spawning, something must be right.
Water chemistry plays an important role in the well being of your Neolamprologus brevis and is important when trying to spawn them. The water needs to be hard and alkaline. A pH of 7.8-9.0 is best, with a GH of 250-350 PPM. I keep my tanks pH at 8.0 and the hardness is around 350 PPM. I use baking soda to raise the pH to its level. I use Epsom salt to raise the hardness. Epsom salt is basically magnesium and that is one element which hardens the water.
Once you have your Neolamprologus brevis, and you are looking for signs of a pair bond, the main thing to look for is that a male and female are sharing a shell. I find that once the lights are turned off, and it's time for bed, the female goes into her shell and the male squeezes what he can of himself into the rest of the shell. If you ever see the female pecking at the males flanks, this is also a sign that they are a pair and are soon going to spawn. Basically, if you notice they spend a lot of time around each other at a certain shell (the female's shell) you can be pretty certain of their bond.
Feeding special foods is not very important in conditioning your Neolamprologus brevis. I have found that a steady diet of high protein food and a staple of flakes does good for them. Hatching baby brine shrimp for your Neolamprologus brevis is a good way to get them into the "spawning mode". They love brine shrimp! Basically, if the tank conditions are good and you are feeding them a steady diet, the pair will spawn. It's always a good idea to have live baby brine shrimp on hand, but it's not completely necessary. The reason I say it's good to have the brine shrimp is incase some fry show up, but the fry will get along on powdered fry food as well. Leaving the tank dimly lit seems to trigger the Neolamprologus brevis to spawn. I have found that leaving them in subdued lighting, and keeping the area around their tank quiet can have a good affect. My Neolamprologus brevis spawned for the first time when I left them alone for a week, with just a few small feedings.
Once you get Neolamprologus brevis fry, you will want to feed them regularly. For faster, stronger growth, feed baby brine shrimp to the fry two to three times a day, along with some sort of powdered fry food. The fry will develop fine on the fry food alone, they just will not grow as quickly. For my Neolamprologus brevis fry, it took two months for them to reach 1/2 inch in size. By four or five months, many reached one inch in length, and some exceeded that.
Usually the broods of fry are small in comparison with other cichlids. The largest brood I have seen yet has been around 40. The first few broods of fry will be smaller in number, probably somewhere between 10-15 fry. The fry are very tiny at first, and they start swimming around two weeks after hatching. Keep the feedings of brine shrimp going as long as you can for best growing results. Once the fry reach 1/2 inch in size, start offering them a high quality flake food that is crushed up for their size as a staple in their diet, with occasional feeds of brine shrimp.
The fry can remain with their parents for quite some time. I usually move the fry from the parents five gallon aquarium to a ten gallon tank once they have reach slightly over 1/2 inch in size. In the ten gallon tank, more water changes and siphoning are done because there are no bottom dwelling fry. I change about 30% of the water every two weeks along with a siphoning. This tank has purely river sand as the substrate with a pile of small stones and a few flowerpot caves for comfort. I found that adding shells in this tank only promotes fighting amongst the Neolamprologus brevis. Shells in this tank also made it impossible for me to remove any of the fry since they would hide in them. This tank is filtered with a Penguin Bio-Wheel 110TM, and heated with a 50 watt heater to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The water chemistry is the same as the five gallon tank. Brevis fry are quite hardy and easy to raise.