How can you not like "shellies?"
The shell-dwelling cichlids of Lake Tanganyika are perfect for the cichlid lover who has relatively little space, but a big interest in keeping fishes with big personalities and interest! They are ecologically adapted to inhabit the shell beds of this African rift lake, and form large, interesting communities that are fascinating subjects for us fish geeks to replicate in our aquaria!
The nice thing about these little guys is that you can provide them a bunch of shells scattered all over the bottom of their aquarium, introduce a handful of them, and in time, have a full-blown breeding colony/community! They are perfect for a species aquarium.
They prefer "Lake Tang" conditions; that is to say, hard, alkaline water with the correct mineral balance (around 8.0 and 8.3 pH and the hardness between 10.0 and 20.0 dkh). The water should be kept "clean", and the tank not disturbed...They like to be left alone, for the most part, so hands out of the tank as much as possible, especially when breeding, is always an advisable strategy! Just regular water changes. Oh, and sand..they like to dig a bit, so fine sand of about 2" deep works great. The breeder who's tank I photographed opted for gravel, but in general, finer sand is best!
And best of all- they just don't get all that large, so you can keep a nice population in a relatively modest-sized aquarium (like 20 gallons and up!). In the wild, they inhabit the empty shells of the endemic snail, Neothauma, but tin the aquarium, you can use anything from escargot shells to Babylonia shells to provide them with housing options!
The shells should have a large enough opening for the fish to easily get in and out, and over time, you may need to provide progressively larger shells to keep these fishes happy and healthy. And you need a lot of shells- like 2-3 for each fish at least...this will give them multiple choices!
The fish shown here are the charming Neolamprologus multifasciatus, but there are a number of other species that you can work with, such as Neolamprologus brevis, Neolamprologus caudopunctatus, Lamprologus ocellatus, and more.
They need a high protein diet, so a good quality food, like Paradigm Omnivore, would be good, in addition to the "usual suspects"- brine shrimp, Daphnia, etc. You should also provide some occasional vegetable matter for them to consume as well.
One tip- add all of your "shellies" at the same time, so that everyone can choose a territory and for the social order of the community to settle out quickly! Although easy to get to bread, they are not prolific, with a batch of 20-30 fry being a great accomplishment!
There is much, much more on these fishes than I can write about here, and we'll talk a lot more about them in the future, but I hope I at least got your appetite whetted for these incredibly endearing, always fascinating little cichlids!
Try something a little different...
And stay wet!