The Neolamprologus multifasciatus breeding tank. Photo by Lee Ann Olsen.
A somewhat dimly lit five gallon tank sits alone on a shelf in a quiet corner. Closer inspection reveals a breeding pair of Neolamprolugus multifasciatus and about forty fry of various stages of development, swimming amidst a cluster of shells that is positioned at the bottom of a pit that the fish have dug into the black sand on the bottom of the tank. A single adult male resides in the back corner of the tank, where he has his own shell into which he can retreat to safety should the need arise. Sudden movement of any kind results in a complete disappearance of fish into and under the shells.
There is a small sponge filter in the tank, which is vigorously defended by one of the larger fry, and a 25 watt submersible heater keeps the water at an even 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH in the tank is about 8.4, and the water is very hard (total hardness about 425 ppm). A lightly blue-tinted incandescent appliance bulb supplies lighting. Twenty percent of the water in the tank is changed on a semi-daily basis, and the substrate is cleared of larger debris weekly.
The fish are fed three times per day with live or frozen baby brine, though an occasional brine feeding is replaced with liquid fry food. At least once a day the fish are offered crushed flakes or dried blood worms. At feeding time, a cloud of fry ascends from the bottom of the tank and there is a frenzy of activity reminiscent of tiny sharks.
Neolamprologus multifasciatus male. Photo by Lee Ann Olsen.
Occasionally the dominant male will rush the other, and both take a nose dive to the sand, where they seem to hover at a forty-five degree angle, shaking their bodies slightly before swimming away. A close look at the lesser male would suggest that he has been on the losing side of an occasional battle. His dorsal fin is somewhat tattered, and his upper jaw seems somehow misaligned.
The pair spawns every ten to fourteen days. The female becomes fat with eggs and turns a rich rust color. She will pose for the male, perfectly still, fins extended, and the male, who is also richer in color, will return the pose. The pair then take turns going in and out of a shell that the female has chosen. The first indication that a spawn has been successful is the appearance of five to ten flea-sized fry in the opening of the shell. The fry are somewhat slow-growing, and the older fry take part in defending their younger siblings.
When the fry reach about 1/2", they are removed to a bare-bottom ten gallon tank with a box filter for growing to saleable size, though a few that are suspected to be female are left in the breeding tank in hopes that a breeding colony will form. There is a small flowerpot cave near the back of the tank for the growing fry to hide in, but there are no shells, as the fish are very difficult to remove from shells when needed, and shells might provoke spawning behavior in the older juveniles.
These tiny shell-dwelling cichlids from Lake Tanganyika are fascinating, prolific, and truly a pleasure to keep and breed.