Cichlid Room Companion

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Tanganyikan shell dwellers

By , 1995. printer

Classification: Captive maintenance, Lake Tanganyika.

" Fishroom talk taking place on 1995-Sep-20 "

Juanmi gives the mic to dev

Dev says: WELCOME to this installation the Fishroom's weekly cichlid meeting

Juanmi says: First of all I want to thank Roger Miller, he built the PA system we are breaking in this night and worked hard to have it on time. We not only owe him this stuff but a lot of technology to play the toys in fishroom, thanks Roger.

Juanmi says: I will make a short introduction to shell dwellers from lake Tanganyika

Dev says: reminder: while the PA system is on, "say" has been disabled but tell will work for those without a mic.

Dev says: well, I'd now like to discuss the typical setup for a tank to house these truly interesting little cichlids

Dev says: if anyone has had ANY experience with shell dwellers, I encourage you to share that knowledge since I myself have not had any and can only rely on information derived from books.

Dev says: the typical shell dweller tank resembles the typical Lake Tanganyika tank in water chemistry

Dev says: temperature between 75-81 degrees. F(24-27deg C), a pH ranging between 7-8, and moderate hardness (between 10-20dH)

Juanmi says: Do not forget warmer temperatures will kill Tanganyika cichlids, at least Lamprologus

Dev says: shell dwellers tend to be rather small, with species such as N. multifasciatus

Dev says: FYI- the books I have referenced (which are truly limited due to my newbieness) are Barron's guide to cichlids, Baench's volumes, and a recent article in FAMA on dwarf cichlids.

Juanmi says: I would also advice the Cichlids yearbook and Tanganyikan cichlids by Ad Konings

Apistogramma says: I just wanted to mention that a really good book on the water chemistry as well as the major niche habitats in Tanganyika is Ad Konings 1988 book on the lake `Tanganyika cichlids'.

Juanmi says: It is found here in the bookshelf

Dev says: getting back to size, sp. of Neolamprologus get down to a mere 1" (2.5cm) for N. multifasciatus, while others such as N. meeli, N. boulengeri up to 3"

Dev says: other commonly seen sp. include N. brevis and N. ocellatus

Dev says: what gives these fish their title of shell-dwellers is their natural habit of seeking out and utilizing the shells of dead snails on the lake bottom as spawning sites and refuges.

Dev says: these fish tend to live in colonies on the lake bed, forming pairs sometimes "harem" type families

Dev says: Questions?

Dev says: the fish actively seek out shells and eventually with select one to their needs and move it to a prime location and partially bury it within the sand, creating a pseudo-cave.

Rgrmill raises his hand impatiently.

Juanmi has turned the PA system OFF.

Dev says: under captive environments, it is MOST essential that you provide these fish with a good number of empty, various-sized snail shells from which to choose to provide them with a environment as close to the lake as possible.

Gustavo says: how big?, I mean the shells

Melissa says: What is an appropriate sized tank for most shell dwellers?

Juanmi says: Ten gallons will do it Melissa, 15 gallons is best

Apistogramma says: Of all the species mentioned, one that was left out as a dwarf (though I think it is because it is the smallest in it's Genus) is the Altolamprologus calvus. It is very much a shell dweller.

Horus says: I breed some shell dwellers in 2.5 gallon tanks

Roger says: I think I remember hearing that they used mollusk shells, is this the same type of fish?

Juanmi says: I would like to give a little insight on breeding habits

Juanmi says: Neolamprologus multifasciatus is always found in colonies, all members of a colony defend their habitat which consist of beds of beds of empty snail-shells. In breeding however, they seem to be monogamous. Aquarium observations showed that the same pair spawned in the same shell in a number of consecutive spawning

Dev says: books have recommended 20 inch tanks as ideal breeding tanks for a pair, slightly larger for small colonies

Horus says: Juanmi, the male will spawn with multiple females given the opportunity

Juanmi says: Each of the females won't laid more than 20 eggs in each opportunity

Apistogramma says: A really neat display of any of the colonial species is a forty breeder with the bottom littered with shells and a group of ten adults and their fry.

Dev says: for those who already have large Lake Tanganyika biotopes- an ideal place for a few shell dwellers (According to printed sources) is the open sandy front of a tank, out in front of the rock caves usually associated with Tanganyika tanks.

Juanmi says: When the fry grow a little bit, they will help defending the colony

Apistogramma says: I like to put pelagic cichlids over them and keep the tank bare except for the shells. Cyprichromis are great tank mates.

Melissa says: Can you use any kind of shells or are some better?

Juanmi says: Large shells about 2 inches are ideal for the fish

Horus says: most Tanganyikan shell dwellers breed more readily in a community tank unless you have a well-bonded pair, in which case you can breed them in anything from 2.5-10 gallons

Apistogramma says: I my experience that 1" fish like shells with round openings, while larger fish like the slit openings of conchs, whelks and olive shells.

Horus says: the opening of the shell should be proportionate to the size of the species of fish that will be defending it. the female should be able to "block" the entrance to the shell in order to defend fry

Dev says: what Juan pointed out is interesting and also what I read- that the offspring will readily grow up side-by-side with the adults and mature into part of the colony.

Juanmi says: The fry can go from nest to nest without restrictions

Horus says: but the breeding male(s) will only tolerate so many fry...after that, he starts eating

Horus says: believe me, been there...seen it happen too many times.

Apistogramma says: that is not true of all species. At least not in the aquarium. Also, leaving too many fry will have a negative effect on the productivity of the colony.

Juanmi says: And on the growing of the fry

Horus says: I'm generalizing. were you discussing a particular species prior to my logging on?

Jyching says: Are these shell dwellers generally available in fish stores? I don't remember seeing any locally...

Juanmi says: They are readily available through the A.C.A. trading post

Apistogramma says: The best place to find them is through the ACA....very few stores get them at a good price if at all.

Dev says: any particular food requirements for these fish?

Horus says: most of them seem to eat pretty much anything. you can't bloat them!

Apistogramma says: Most are micro invertebrate feeders and do very well on a variety of live foods. They also take flake and frozen.

Juanmi says: There is a nice article on lamprologus meleagris in the Cichlids yearbook number 5, great shots. The male N. melagris wont actually fit inside the shell

Horus says: melagris is a nice fish. my pair isn't extremely prolific, though.

Dev says: Now what is the ideal substrate for a tank- I'm assuming sand but I've also heard crushed coral to act as a buffer (in any African tank) but one has to take into consideration that these are burrowing fish and require somewhat fine substrate as they aren't all that big

Juanmi says: Crushed coral will be covered by organic matter over a period of time and become useless as a buffer

Horus says: Dev, I use coral sand. best of both worlds.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Horus says: and it works for most rift lake cichlids.Apistogramma says: Puca sand is good...that is a very fine crushed shell and coral.

Horus says: As will any coral gravel

Apistogramma says: Change it out 30 percent at a time every three months and you will not have that problem.

Juanmi says: That will longer the time the substrate will be useful, but will still get covered in the long run. Be careful if you make larger water changes, this fish, accustomed to stable water conditions could shock

Horus says: anyone know where to get some black coral sand?

Juanmi says: Black coral sand!!, sound pretty depressing, black coral is at the edge of extinction

Gustavo says: There is an ad in FAMA on live black sand

Horus says: I've never killed a shell-dweller due to a rapid change in water condition. those things are bullet-proof.

Apistogramma says: Black coral sand that is sold in the stores is actually a Hawaiian lava sand. It does not have the buffering properties. Try black dolomite.

Horus says: I've used white dolomite before but it doesn't have much buffering capacity.

Dev says: now, I suppose any plants that survive in a rift- lake tank would do well with shell dwellers? or would their natural burrowing tendencies be too much

Juami says: I have seen vallisneria growing in shell dwellers tanks

Apistogramma says: Not as much as coral...but at least it is black. If you use marine shells , they buffer as well.

Horus says: Dev, I have one tank with live plants. Anubias nana. they are growing on rocks, all above the substrate. none of the plant is in or below the substrate.

Dev nods his head in understanding.

Apistogramma says: they usually do not dig anywhere but right around their shells (most smaller species)

Dev says: anubias and val and java fern seem to dominate most Lake Tang tanks

Apistogramma says: Java moss is good too.

Dwebb says: Since your primary plants will be anubias and micropteroptus, and these can cling to rocks, you can make it so they plants won't be affected by the fish.

Horus says: I attach them with clear fishing line, 3 months later the roots have taken to the rock. you can leave the fishing line because you can't see it anyway, or cut it off if you prefer

Gustavo says: what about equipment for the tank

Juanmi says: All you will need is a sponge filter for a small tank

Apistogramma says: I suggest box or sponge filters for smaller tanks and canisters for larger.

Dev says: well, with sand an UG filter is unlikely

Dwebb says: Just curious, How about trickle filters?

Juanmi says: They will work just great

Apistogramma says: Trickle would be fine, but cost prohibitive if you intend several tanks.

Juanmi says: You can build your own though

Dwebb says: I was thinking a CFS could make it the most cost effective.

Apistogramma says: Still more expensive than sponges.

Horus says: Sponges are more than adequate, especially if you're only housing one pair in a tank

Juanmi nods his head in agreement.

Dev says: any good smallish tank mates for shell dwellers?

Apistogramma says: Rainbows

Horus says: Cyprichromis or other open water species are a good choice. they will attract the secretive shell-dwellers into coming on more often


Sung, Devin. (May 27, 1996). "Tanganyikan shell dwellers". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on May 22, 2019, from: