Care Guide for Shell Dwellers – Smallest African Cichlids


Care Guide For Shell Dwellers – Smallest African Cichlids

African cichlids are some of the most colorful, exciting fish in the freshwater aquarium hobby, but many species often require 55-gallon aquariums or larger. Shell dwellers may be a better choice if you are living in a smaller apartment or bedroom. As one of the smallest African cichlids available in the pet trade, they have the same fiery personality but condensed into a 2-inch (5 cm) package. The best part is that they can live in a 20 gallon nano tank.

What are Shell Dwellers?

This article is about the East African Rift Valley’s Lake Tanganyika. It is the world’s second-largest freshwater reservoir. The rift lake’s ancient water depth is so deep that most animals live on the rocky shorelines. This area has high alkalinity and tropical temperatures. This unique biodiverse habitat is home to hundreds if not thousands of unique species, including cichlids, crustaceans and snails.

Lake Tanganyika snail dwellers derive their common name from the shells they collect for shelter and breeding. They prefer Neothaumatanganyicense snailshells which measure approximately 2 in (5 cm) in size. Because of this size limit, most aquarium shell dwellers can only reach 2.5 inches (6cm) in diameter. Their diminutive stature means that they are prone to running when they feel threatened by water changes or shadows. But once they recognize you as their main food source, they will often come to the front of your aquarium to ask for additional feedings.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus (or multis)

What are the different types of shell dwellers? The most readily available species that you may find online or in your fish store include:

– Neolamprologus Mulifasciatus Multis (or multies), the most common and smallest type, are well-known for their fine, vertical stripes and brightly colored eyes. – Neolamprologus similis: Similis look almost exactly like multis, except their stripes go all the way to their eyes instead of stopping behind the gill plate. – Lamprologus ocellatus: There are several varieties of Ocellatus, but the gold type is one of the most colorful. They tend to be more aggressive than their cousins and may need a little extra space for breeding. – Neolamprologus brevis: Brevis have a stockier body shape (like the Ocellatus), as well as a blunt, bulldog-like face. It is not common for shell dwellers to have a male or female paired together.

Are shell dwellers easy to keep? Yes, they are fairly easy fish because of their small size, big appetite, and ease of breeding. Keep in mind their alkaline water requirements (see further).

How to set up a Shell Dweller Aquarium

Multis and Similis can be kept in 10-gallon aquariums or larger, whereas Ocellatus and Brevis do better in 20 gallons or more. A 20-gallon aquarium is preferred as shell dwellers have more space to use than vertical space. If you plan to add tank mates to the setup, you will need for at least 29 gallons in volume.

Temperatures between 75-80degF (24-25degC) and pH 7.5-9.0 are ideal for Lake Tanganyika. Hard water should have at least 8deg (140 ppm). GH. Wonder Shells, Seachem Equilibrium and other mineral supplements can raise GH levels in soft water. For filtration, use a sponge filter or get a pre-filter sponge to cover the filter intake tube, which will prevent baby fish and sand from getting sucked up. Add at least 2 inches (2.5-5cm) of sand substrate to your aquarium. This helps raise pH and GH.

Neolamprologus similis

To reduce fighting among males, cover the sand entirely with shells if possible so that you have a minimum of three shells per fish. You can purchase food-grade, extra-large escargot snail shells from online or specialty grocery stores. To make sure the males can’t see each other, it is a good idea to put decorations or aquarium plants in their path. Shell dwellers tend to uproot plants during their constant excavations, so look for plants that do not require substrate and can live in high pH – such as java fern, anubias, and many floating plants. Plants not only look beautiful, but they also help improve water quality by consuming the toxic nitrogen chemicals produced from the fish’s waste.

How many shell dwellers should I have? Get at least six fish of the same species to ensure that you have enough males and females to start a healthy colony. Although it is ideal to have at least two to three females per male, it can sometimes be difficult to sex young fish. Adult males tend be more aggressive and larger than their female counterparts.

What fish can you put with shell dwellers? Despite their small size, shell dwellers are considered semi-aggressive and can hold their own against bigger, 4-inch (10 cm) fish. These fish can be thought of as the Lake Tanganyika Chihuahua cichlids. They are located in the aquarium’s lower section so avoid disturbing their habitat. It is important to narrow down your search for species that can live in alkaline or mineral-rich waters. For a 29-gallon tank, we have kept them with African butterflyfish, livebearers, halfbeaks, and smaller rainbowfish. Cyprichromisleptosoma, Neolamprologus brchardi (lyretail fairy cichlids), Cyprichromis brichardi (sardine fish cichlids), or rock-dwelling Julidochromis Cichlids can be added to 55- to 60-gallon aquariums.

Julidochromis is a good choice for shell dwellers. They can also be tank mates if you have a section of rockwork that they claim as their territory.

Are shell dwellers allowed to eat snails? We don’t think so. We have kept them with Malaysian trumpet, bladder, and nerite snails with no problems. A shell dweller will pick up a snail that is too close to the tank and drop it in the opposite corner.

What does a Shell Dweller eat?

Wild, they eat mostly carnivorous foods, including zooplankton, small insects, and other microorganisms. The adults are not afraid to come to the surface to grab their meals, but the fry stay close to their snail shells and wait for tiny, sinking foods to waft into the shell opening. Our fry are fed a variety of foods, including crushed flakes, micro worms and white worms.

How to breed shell dwellers

It’s easy to breed shell dwellers. As mentioned before, start with six or more fish, and provide at least three shells per fish. Then focus on feeding plenty of food while keeping the water quality high. The male will be attracted to the female’s favorite shell. She will lay eggs inside the shell and wait for the male. The babies will wait until the baby brine shrimps and other tiny food float by, then they will move closer to the shell’s opening. As they get larger, the juveniles will begin to explore further and farther from their shells until the mother kicks them out in order to make room for her next batch. If the shell dwellers are not breeding for some reason, check the water parameters and consider adding more fish or shells to the mix.

Two Lamprologus ocellatus fighting for territory through lip locking

It is almost impossible to expel shell dwellers from shells. If you are planning to breed the fish for profit, remove the shells. Instead, make 3/4″ or 1″ PVC elbows. They have an end cap on one end. When it is time to sell the fish, you can easily remove the end cap and pour the fish out for bagging.

Shell dwellers are fascinating fish that will give you and your entire family hours of enjoyment as you watch them dig pits, defend their territory, and dart in and out of shells. If you have harder water and the space for a 20-gallon aquarium, you definitely need to try this beginner-friendly dwarf cichlid. Although Aquarium Co-Op does not ship live fish, you can check out at our recommended list of online fish retailers.