|Adult male L. speciosus peering from rocks. Photo by Helen Hastings.|
Three years ago I decided to broaden my fish keeping horizons with cichlids but space was at a premium for me. The challenge was to find cichlids that would do well in small quarters. After weeks of research, I came across a description of shell dwellers. In their native Lake Tanganyika, various species of shell dweller occupy the sand floor. Their "caves" take the form of empty snail shells of the genus Neothauma. They are typically harem breeders with a male defending a relatively small territory. 1
My quest ended when I found photographs of Lamprologus speciosus, "handsome Lamprologus." While not as brightly colored as larger Tanganyika cichlids, they exhibit subtle shadings of blue and purple over dark brown and tan that make them quite attractive. Fins are a translucent yellow-gold. The tips of the rays on the dorsal and ventral fins are black with white in between. Color intensity and patterns can change as well based on conditions and mood.
Understated good looks aside, for me, the charm of L. speciosus lies in the fact that they exhibit all the classic, complex cichlid behaviors - territoriality, courting and parenting - and come in such a small package. Males top out at 5 to 6.5 cm. (2 to 2.5 inches), females at 4 cm. (1.5 inches). Make no assumptions about their behavior based on just size. They will try to fend off fish much larger than themselves, will completely remodel the tank substrate to their liking, and will bite your hand if you get too close during tank maintenance.
Through the Internet I located a reputable commercial source and purchased my first breeding-age pair of L. speciosus. They were shipped via air and arrived in excellent condition. Again, because of space limitations I have chosen to continue with only one breeding pair at a time as opposed to a harem situation as seen in the wild.
This article is an account of personal experience and observations of these fish in an aquarium setting over the past three years. I hope it is helpful to any who would like to breed these feisty Lamps. Now, to the breeding tank.
While plants can lower the pH, they also provide a natural look to the aquarium and if healthy, contribute to fish health. For my first setup I decided to work a little harder on maintaining pH and keep some plants in the tank. Also, while algae can create a little too much of a natural look, I have found that a natural algae "fur" on rocks seems to mean conditions are right for spawning. Juveniles are always on the prowl for food and an algae carpet provides hunting grounds.
My original tank was set up as follows:
- 76 liters long (20 gallon)
- Near west-facing window, no direct sun
- Penguin 170 Biowheel filter
- Thermostatic heater
- One digital and one analog thermometer
- Double fluorescent tube hood: 7 watts/liter (2 watts/gal), 12 hrs/day; incandescent and natural room lighting 1-2 hours before and after the tank lights
- Crushed coral substrate; no undergravel filter
- Sandstone rocks in background forming a planting area, open area in foreground
- Corkscrew Vallisneria, crypts, anubias (adapted to alkaline water)
- Malaysian Trumpet Snails
- Shells, Neuthauma from Lake Tanganyika and other similar shaped shells
Lessons learned: With this light wattage you can imagine I was thinning Val and hair algae constantly. (I think my buddy at the local fish store suspected that the fish were just a cover and I was growing something else in the tank.) The Val was beautiful, but I went with less light on subsequent setups. This made it easier to maintain water chemistry. I also used sand in subsequent setups so that the fish could dig more easily.
- pH 8.4, GH 300 ppm (fish had been kept at pH 8.0 at the breeder's facility)
- Amquel and Novaqua water treatments per manufacturer's instructions
- Seachem Lake Tanganyika Buffer and Salts per manufacturer's instructions
- Temperature, 27 Celsius degrees (81 F)
Schedule and methods vary based on the breeding phase. In general, I perform a 25 - 30% water change every week. I minimize temperature and pH change by using warm water from the tap and adding replacement water gradually. After the turbulence settles I rinse the filter media, pump impeller, and intake tubing in drained tank water.
If spawning has just occurred, I minimize substrate vacuuming and cut back on algae scraping. Same goes for the time from when the eggs hatch until the time the fry are about two weeks old. During these sensitive times I also slow the tank refilling process even more.
Conditioning and Spawning Triggers
Feeding is easy; variety is key. I feed small amounts two to three times a day. For commercially prepared fare I feed various dry pellets, tablets, and flake food, frozen krill and plankton, and a prepackaged moist food from Tetra called Nature's Delica that comes in small packets. The Tetra packets come in three "flavors:" brine shrimp, bloodworms and water fleas suspended in vitamin-enriched gelatin. In the moist food packets the fish prefer the bloodworms and brine shrimp but not the water fleas. I also keep cultures of Grindal worms. They always spark a feeding frenzy with these small predators. I notice courtship/bonding behavior after every feeding, even if the pair is guarding fry.
An increase in day length - the time the tank lights are on - can help spark breeding activity as long as the fish get 8 hours of darkness. Slight temperature dips of a degree or so associated with water changes can trigger courtship behavior. I have not kept these fish in a community setting but have observed pairings of juveniles in a grow-out tank; the pair bond is strengthened by defense of a common territory.
The male establishes the overall territory. Within his real estate the female(s) establish territories of their own. The female demonstrates shell ownership by tail slapping when the male swims close by. I observed two females in a grow-out tank that had already bonded with one male, and they defended territories from each other, though not with the ferocity displayed against "outsider" females. I have seen interesting interactions between a male and female over a shell, with one taking possession for a while, the other taking over when the other fish is distracted by a new shell, then the original owner reclaiming the space. Shell size certainly determines occupancy since males need larger shells.
Setting up housekeeping is an interesting and amusing process with these fish. They dig pits, arrange shells, then maintain their plots by frequently cleaning out sand and debris, including carrying off errant snails. Work, work, work! Proper shell placement means survival, so L. speciosus spends a lot of time getting the shell placed and buried. When finished, a properly placed shell is almost invisible. For a detailed description of this process, see Konings' excellent photo series of a female L. ocellatus, a relative of L. speciosus, concealing a shell. 2, 3
When my first pair of fish arrived it did not take more than an hour for them to start remodeling the tank. The female chose an area in the middle of the downward current from the filter output. I have since observed this behavior frequently after tank overhauls or new tank setups. She seems to select the best area for her and her fry to access drifting food.
Once shelter is established, the dance begins. The chosen shell will be in pristine condition and the female will entice the male to it with much tail-slapping and fin display. Both fish will show intense coloration. If the male has retreated into his shell for some reason, she will mouth his tail until he comes out! He will respond by mouthing her flanks. Once she has his undivided attention, she will disappear into the shell to lay the eggs. The spawnings I have seen have taken place in shells too small for the male to fit inside, so when the female comes out, the male hovers over it, releasing sperm. Afterward she will take over occupation and protection of the shell. About 10 days later the eggs will hatch. The first spawn of my first pair produced 11 fry. Spawns can number up to 20.
It can be surprising to see that a large pit (or two) has formed overnight around the spawning shell. This can be a good indicator that hatching is imminent. This is what you might call a nursery pit. It is a place for the young to make their first foray into the world and still stay close to the spawning shell. For the first couple of days they will stay in the shell and you may not even see them, but then the female will "allow" them to swim into this pit. A good way to see them is to get to eye-level with the substrate and watch for them to dart up for food particles.
Observations on Parent and Fry Behavior
Protecting and Preserving; In the absence of other species in the tank I observe protective behaviors during routine tank maintenance. The male has an explosive display; he is impressive with fins are fully extended and gills and mouth opened wide. He will rush the "enemy" (in this case, my hand) two or three times, then hide in his shell. I have observed that the female, while making shorter rushes, does not back down as easily as the male. She will stay where she can see the intruder and continue to attack. After the disruption she will patrol the territory, checking on the fry.
Juvenile with adult female: Wary (left photo), on alert (right photo). Photo by Helen Hastings.
Both parents ignore plastic scraping tools or tubing, instead targeting flesh. Did I say I was grateful for their small size? Head shaking is another warning signal to stay away from the fry.
Junior, Get Over Here Now!: I recently saw a week-old fry that had gone quite a distance from the home shell. In this world and at this size, seven centimeters (three inches) is a chasm. I leaned closer to the tank and the female rushed to the shell entrance and slammed her head down on the substrate. The errant fry darted under her head, then into the shell. This all happened in an instant. Coincidence or alarm signal as seen in other species? Since these fish instinctively hit the bottom of the tank when threatened it could have simply been an automatic response to her gesture of "hitting the deck;" we have all seen groups of fish dive to the bottom in fear. However, I think it is interesting that the fry did not dive at the point it was located in the tank, instead swimming laterally to where the female was located.
Moving the Fry (The Shell Game): Even if you miss the spawning act you can tell that the female is "brooding." Not only does she stay close to one shell, a few days before the eggs hatch she will prepare other shells in the vicinity. This can be confusing if you don't know what to look for; you may think that the spawn was unsuccessful and she is starting over. That may be exactly what she wants you to think. I've seen newly hatched fry at the mouth of one shell in the evening and gotten up the next morning to see them peeping out of a different shell. That evening they would be in yet another shell. The female moves them, I suspect, to avoid predation. At about four weeks the fry will start to disperse across different shells, even sharing the male's shell.
Leaving the Nest: At some point the adults will be ready to spawn again. If the juveniles are left in the tank, the adults will become more serious about defending space around their shells. I have never seen an adult attack its own juvenile progeny with intent to harm. They will, however, rush at and physically push youngsters away with lateral displays and mouthing. When the young reach sexual maturity that's another matter. Unless there is space for them to establish their own territories you need to remove them.
Adult female L. speciosus, far left, with sub-adult young. Note heightened color in response to the camera's "threat;" she is still protective even at this point in their development. Photo by Helen Hastings.
The following behaviors are noted because they are similar to other species of cichlid-or simply interesting.
- Submissive: Juveniles will perform tail slapping towards an adult. It is not for courtship, it is a submissive "fluttering" around the head of the adult fish. I have observed it when two fish come together in the aquarium, as if the juvenile is saying, "Don't eat me, I'm yours."
- Glancing: This one really surprised me. Glancing behavior in fry is associated with feeding from the parents' skin, such as that seen in discus fishes. 4 I saw an L. speciosus fry glancing off the adult female. I could not tell if feeding was involved or if it was just a type of schooling behavior, but it warrants further observation.
- Hiding: Sometimes a shell isn't handy and a fish has to hide somewhere. In a tank using sand as substrate I observed fry burying themselves. One wriggle and nothing showed but a pair of eyes. This behavior has also been observed with the previously mentioned cousin L. ocellatus. 5 If you have rockwork or plants you will observe Julie-like behavior with fry swimming parallel to surfaces, upside-down and sideways.
- Fighting: Juveniles will start to stake out territories and spar at a young age. In a large spawn I've seen fry flare fins at each other at 8 weeks! I have also observed parental intervention in sibling fights. For example, two 4-month-old juveniles were clashing repeatedly, outside the adult female's shell territory. If their engagements lasted more than a few seconds the female swam over to them with fins and gills flared, stopping the fight.
You do not have to bend over backwards to feed these fry. They are large enough after hatching to take advantage of the tank's natural fauna as well as eat regular food, as long as it is fine enough in texture. As stated earlier, an algal carpet is good grazing for very young fry. Another way for young fry to obtain small food particles is from parental scraps. The female stays close to the home shell with a young brood, so at feeding time she is likely to grab a mouthful and dart back to the shell opening to chew it. This releases a cloud of food bits eagerly consumed by the young. Commercial fry food is available and the young take it eagerly. I also found that a benefit of the Grindals is that even juvenile fish can eat the smaller worms.
Always important, water quality is crucial to the proper development of young fish. You can feed them the highest quality food but if it pollutes the water it doesn't do them any good. I like to feed fry small amounts three or four times a day, so that means I have to be religious about water changes.
I recommend these fish to anyone interested in cichlids, especially to those who have space limitations. I have successfully bred and kept them in a 37 liters (10-gallon) aquarium. They are always industrious and charming.
|Tail of adult female visible in shell; juvenile hovers nearby.. Photo by Helen Hastings.|
- 1 The Cichlid Room Companion page contains other informative articles describing various shell dweller species.
- 2 Ad Konings, Tanganyika Cichlids (Raket B. V., Pijnacker Holland, 1988) pp. 210 - 211. At the time of this writing this fish had been assigned to the Lamprologus genus. You will see this species variously assigned to the Lamprologus genus or to the Neolamprologus genus.
- 3 Also see these Cichlid Room Companion articles on breeding L. ocellatus:
- 4 George W. Barlow, The Cichlid Fishes (Perseus Publishing, 2000) pp. 193 - 197.
- 5 Hiding in the sand described in the Internet article by Mark Elieson, Lamprologus ocellatus http://www.cichlid-forum.com/articles/l_ocellatus.php
No matter what species of cichlid you keep, please keep some sort of written log. Share your findings with other hobbyists through forums such as The Cichlid Room Companion. Our collective experience - mistakes and successes - creates a knowledge base that may ultimately contribute to important findings in evolutionary biology.
© Copyright 2003 Helen Hastings, all rights reserved
Hastings, Helen. (May 16, 2003). "Lamprologus speciosus (Buscher, 1991)". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from: https://www.cichlidae.com/article.php?id=232.