Fish, Tanks and Ponds


Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Tanganyikan shell dwellers

Neolamprologus meeli
Neolamprologus meeli

Introduction

These interesting little fishes can best be described as little fishes with lots of "character", each individual one with its own personality. If you are looking for a fish which is easy to keep, a little different, interesting, very individual, and in most cases only requires a small tank with a very simple layout, then read on.

Tank Size

In most cases a tank of 24 x 12 x 12 inches will be sufficient for a shell dweller species tank. The larger species like L callipterus, or the colonial species like N multifasciatus will probably do better in a 36 or even a 48 inch tank to see them at their best.

Filtration

Due to their small size and that sooner or later there will be some fry present in the tank the only filter that is required is a small air operated sponge filter. This will provide all the required biological filtration and it will also provide a place for the fry to graze in safety. Even for larger tanks there are larger versions of these filters some of which are powered with a powerhead rather than air. They are the safest filters to use when fry are present.

Water Conditions

Due to its enormous size Lake Tanganyika is more like an ocean than a lake where conditions remain very stable. Tanganyikan fish like their marine counterparts have lost the ability to cope with changing conditions and even small changes can be the cause of poor health.

Lake Tanganyika

The surface temperature varies from 24 to 29 C depending on local weather and season.

The pH varies from 7.8 to 9 depending on location.

The water is very mineralised and it has the highest amount of dissolved minerals in the area, twice that of Lake Malawi.
The important thing for keeping shell dwellers in an aquarium is the water temp and chemistry. Most of the fish available will have been captive bred and they will have become accustomed to less extreme conditions than are found in the Lake itself. The conditions listed below will suit both captive bred and wild caught fish alike.

Temp - 24 to 27 C
pH - 7.8 to 8.5
GH 8 to 35
Nitrate < 20ppm

Only the salts of calcium and magnesium are counted when measuring the GH of the water. But the water has a lots of other minerals besides those and if you live in a soft water area where there is little or no dissolved minerals in your local water supply these may have to be supplemented by commercially available "Rift Valley Cichlid Salts" and the regular addition of important trace elements so that the fish don't suffer from any deficiencies.
Regular partial water changes are essential to keep nitrates at a low level, most Tanganyikan fish will not thrive in water where pollutants have been allowed to rise. The nitrate level should be kept below 20ppm at all times.

Habitat

Almost all shell dwellers inhabit the shallows near to the shore. In most cases they live on or near to the floor almost in the same way that marine Gobies do. They get there name because they use empty Neothauma snail shells to breed and in some cases to live in. These shells are found where there is either a sandy or muddy substrate out in the open away from any rocks and in great numbers in some locations and this is where these fish make their home.

The smaller species which actually live in the shells will claim a small territory of about one square foot around their shell and spend their entire life there. Shell-dwellers are so tied to this way of life that in most cases they won't accept any substitute for a breeding site. When setting up a tank for these fish make sure that there is a variety of shell sizes available and that there are more shells than fish so that they can select which shell suits them best.

Feeding

All shell dwellers are micro-predators which prey on small crustaceans, insects and their larva, plankton ect. In captivity they will accept good quality flake, freeze dried food, small pellets, bloodworms, glass worms, daphnia, cyclops even small snails may be eaten. Two or even three small feedings is preferable to one larger feeding to keep them in top condition.
The fry can be fed on finely powdered flake food which is commercially available.

Breeding

One of the main attractions of shell-dwellers is watching them raise a family. Although breeding behaviour is slightly different for each species typically this is what happens using L ocellatus as an example.

After a few days they will begin to "arrange" their shells and once happy with the position of the shell. It is thought that the shells may be positioned where water flows in a certain way across the shells entrance and helps to keep the water within the shell fresh and aerated. Then they will cover it with sand.

L ocellatus must have a shell each because they don't live together or share their shells, except with young fry.

When all this is completed, the male will "visit" the female in her shell for a short time. Then leave (I can see all the ladies nodding knowingly) It doesn't last very long either and there is little obvious courtship, So if you miss it, you may not realise anything has happened, but there will be a slight change in behaviour.
Instead of hiding, the pair will defend the females shell against any perceived threat (I've had my hand bitten many times) Amazing when you think an adult male is only 1.5 inches long.

After 10 days the babies can be seen swimming inside the shell entrance, Over the next few weeks they will get braver and travel further and further under dad's watchful eye. Once they are fully independent it is best to remove them to a separate tank to grow them on.

Lamprologus ocellatus, Steindachner 1909

Shell dwellers
Explanation of the scientific name. - Refers to the dark spot on the gill cover, Ocellatus = having an eyespot.
Lives all its life the same small patch around its shell, Where it retreats when threatened.

Breeding this fish is usually very straight forward, and interesting. The breeding tank should be 24 x12 x 12, and the bottom covered with silica sand, but only about 1cm deep. No plants are required, but snail shells are essential. Escargot shells are perfect, make sure that they are clean though. Scatter 6 to 8 of these shells all over the floor of the tank.

The pair can now be placed in the tank; they will probably disappear into the shells at first but should soon settle down. They will eat all good quality food but their diet should contain quite a bit of live food.

After a few days they will begin to "arrange" their shells and once happy with the position of the shell. It is thought that the shells may be positioned where water flows in a certain way across the shells entrance and helps to keep the water within the shell fresh and aerated. Then they will cover it with sand.

L ocellatus must have a shell each because they don't live together or share their shells, except with young fry.

When all this is completed, the male will "visit" the female in her shell for a short time. Then leave (I can see all the ladies nodding knowingly) It doesn't last very long either and there is little obvious courtship, So if you miss it, you may not realise anything has happened, but there will be a slight change in behaviour.
Instead of hiding, the pair will defend the females shell against any perceived threat (I've had my hand bitten many times) Amazing when you think an adult male is only 1.5 inches long.
After 10 days the babies can be seen swimming inside the shell entrance, Over the next few weeks they will get braver and travel further and further under dads watchful eye. Once they are fully independent it is best to remove them to a separate tank. Because if the adults breed again, The older offspring will be regarded as a threat and killed, I have witnessed this change take place in just a few minutes. There are several varieties available, Standard, Golden, Yellow finned, but they are all cared for in the same way. Wild populations of L ocellatus are found mixing with populations of N brevis where they compete for the same shells

Lamprologus signatus

Shell dwellers
Pronounced Sig-nay-tus,
Definition of signatus: = marked, probably refers to the dozen or so paired bands which run through the body including dorsal and anal fins to the caudal peduncle.
Cape Nundo, Kabwe Ngosye. This fish is unique among shell dwellers because both of the parents will transfer eggs and fry between shells before they reach a free swimming stage. One male can be kept with numerous females depending on the tank size and number of shells. Only one adult male can be housed in a tank because two males will fight possibly until one is dead.

Lamprologus ornatipinnis, Poll 1949

Shell dwellers
Explanation of the scientific name. - Refers to ornatus = ornate, adorned, beautiful. Pinna = fin. Ornatipinnis = Ornate or beautiful fins

Lamprologus speciosus, Buscher 1991

Shell dwellers
Harem spawners, the females take up residence within the males territory and claim small territories of their own around their shells which they partially bury in the substrate, this is something they spend a great deal of time doing and it is thought that they position their shells so that the water flow over the shell keeps the water within the shell fresh, or possibly where they think the current is right to bring a good selection of drifting micro-food for the fry. Once the colony is established outsiders are made unwelcome mature males will be driven away and even females will be attacked but in a less severe manner.

Young fry will be tolerated on their parents territory for about two months after that the fry begin looking for a territory of their own, at this stage the fry should be removed for their own safety because the dominant male won't allow other males on his territory.

Lamprologus strappersi Pellegrin 1927

Shell dwellers
L stappersi is one of the more aggressive shell dwellers and shouldn't be kept in a tank smaller than 20 gall. Only one male per tank or the dominant fish will kill his rival.

Neolamprologus boulengeri

Shell dwellers
N boulengeri produces larger broods than most shell dwellers which number around 50 to 60 on average with new broods being produced every 8 weeks, even more unusually it will also accept a substitute spawning site when there are no shells present. It appears superficially similar to N meeli but can be told apart because it always has a yellow border to both dorsal and anal fins.

Neolamprologus brevis, Boulenger 1899

Shell dwellers
Explanation of the scientific name. - Refers to the size of the fish. Brevis = small or short.

In the wild, the N brevis are found in areas where the shells are minimal. Since there are few shells in the areas that they are generally found, it has forced them to spread out looking for new homes.
Their need to move around has lead to many different racial differences amongst N brevis. The picture at the top of the page and the one to the left show how much this species can vary in appearance. If at all possible it is best to find out where in the wild they come from and only keep specimens from the same location in a tank.

Once paired both male and female will share the same shell making the choice of shell size very important. Eggs and young non-swimming fry are retained within the shell and constantly fanned by the female.

Unlike other shell dwellers which return very young fry to the shell, once the fry of N brevis have left the parental shell they are not permitted to return although they will remain within their parents territory for a while.

Neolamprologus calliurus

Shell spawners
N calliurus differs from most other shell dwellers in a few ways. Only the female is a shell dweller because the male prefers to live among rockwork where he can watch over his territory. The females don't get on together and if a male has a harem of 3 or 4 females it is left up to the male to actively keep the peace by intervening in fights, something that he seems to be able to manage.When breeding the male fertilises the eggs from the outside of the females shell because he is to big to enter it. The broods are very big and may be as large as 150 eggs. This species is more difficult than most other shellies and is even harder to persuade to spawn.

Neolamprologus meeli, Poll 1948

Shell spawners
Explanation of the scientific name. - Refers to L M van Meel who was a member of the Lake Tanganyika hydro-biology mission
One of the larger true shell-dwellers which need larger shells than ordinary snail shells, fortunately they readily accept larger marine shells as a substitute. They have a very small range in the wild and seem to be restricted to Katibili Bay of Lake Tanganyika.

They are also more active swimmers which don't sit on the floor of the aquarium as much as most of the others in this group and the sexes are more difficult to tell apart but when fully adult the males are generally larger than the females.

They breed in typical shell-dweller fashion and this could very easily go unnoticed until the fry begin to appear in the mouth of a shell. The fry will remain in the shell for the first couple of days and any fry which become to adventurous and actually leave the shell will be quickly gathered in one of the parents mouths and replaced back into the shell. Eventually the fry will emerge from the shell and begin to look for food further away from their shell although they will quickly return to it at the slightest hint of danger and at night, they will do this for several weeks.

The adults will tolerate well grown fry on their territory and never show any aggression towards them, any other fish entering their territory when they have a brood of eggs or fry will be attacked regardless of its size. Non-breeding adults are peaceful and make good additions to a Tanganyikan community tank.

New free swimming fry will eat freshly hatched Brine-shrimps or finely powdered flake food.

N meeli are very protective parents as any fish foolish enough to wander to near their brood will discover, they are capable of raising a brood even in a busy Tanganyikan community aquarium.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus, Boulenger 1906

Shell dwellers
Explanation of the scientific name. - Refers to the many bars on the body of the fish. Multus = many, numerous. Fasciatus = striped.
These fish are members of the Cichlid family and are one of the smallest of all known Cichlids growing only to about the size of a Neon Tetra.

They are found in a few small areas of the lake, around Niamkolo Bay, Sumbu Bay and Luvu Bay.
II initially bought six fish and placed them in a 24 x 12 x 12 which had just a mature sponge filter and about 18 large snail shells a fine silica sand substrate about 1 inch deep.

The water conditions were pH 8.4 GH 12, and the temperature was 80 F.

The fish soon settled in and were fed on fine flake food and frozen Cyclops. Then the digging began, these fish are Olympic standard diggers, the first morning after getting them all the sand (and I do mean ALL the sand) was piled up in one corner and they were all still busy taking sand from the bottom of the pile and placing it on top. I read in a book that the more shells there are the less they will dig. So I more than doubled the number of shells in the tank, but it made no difference at all. So I removed most of the sand and only left a thin layer on the floor. And this solved the problem.

It wasn't long before the first fry appeared but only in very low numbers, from 1 to 4 in each brood, at first the fry could be seen swimming in the entrance of the shell gradually venturing further and further out over 2 or 3 days.

These tiny fry were left alone by all the adults and were tolerated in the spawning area even when there were younger fry around. This is because in the wild these fish live in colonies.

The fry were fed on powdered flake food, which is sold for Livebearers fry. They took to this food so well that I used it as their staple diet, for the adults to.

The number of fish in the tank soon grew to about 25 individuals but never beyond this? I think (although I never witnessed it that the dominant male of the group was responsible because there always seemed to be lots of fry of all sizes but never any more adults, they seemed to disappear once they reached adulthood the males especially. But when I removed some the numbers were quickly made up.

Neolamprologus similis, Buscher 1992

Shell dwellers
These fish live between 25 to 40m deep, at several locations in Lake Tanganyika. In the aquarium they will live happily in pairs, part of a larger colony or in a Tanganyikan community.

There has to be more shells than fish because although they do form pairs each fish has its own shell.

Very similar to N multifasciatus in appearance but they can be told apart because the bars are much heavier on N similis.
They aren't as likely to dig up the substrate as are N multifasciatus either.

N similis produce 5 to 20 fry every few weeks which they will defend quite fiercely even against much larger fish. Older male fry may eventually be seen as a threat by the alpha male and he may attack or even kill them.
In order to prevent this it would be better to remove the older fry once they reached 0.5 inches in size.

Shell Dwellers

Neolamprologus meeli
Neolamprologus meeli

Lamprologus ocellatus
Lamprologus ocellatus

Lamprologus signatus
Lamprologus signatus

Neolamprologus brevis
Neolamprologus brevis

Neolamprologus multifasciatus
Neolamprologus multifasciatus

Neolamprologus christyi
Telmatochromis temporalis

Lamprologus ornatipinnis
Lamprologus ornatipinnis