Care Guide for Shell Dwellers- The 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 are a great option if you have a small apartment or bedroom. The smallest African cichlids in the pet trade are the shell dwellers. They share the same fiery personality as the larger cichlids, but come in a smaller package of only two inches (5 cm). They can be kept in a nano tank of 20 gallons.
What are Shell Dwellers?
This article will focus on the shell dwellers who hail from Lake Tanganyika, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. It is located in East African Rift Valley. 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 biodiverse environment is home to hundreds of unique species, like cichlids, crustaceans, and snails.
Lake Tanganyika snail dwellers derive their common name from the shells they collect for shelter and breeding. They prefer Neothauma Tanganyicense snailshells that are approximately 2 inches (5 cm in) in diameter. The aquarium hobby’s maximum shell size is 2.5 inches (6 cm), so most shell dwellers can only reach this limit. Because of their diminutive stature, they tend to flee when startled by passing shadows or water changes, but once they recognize you as their primary food source, they will come up to the front of the glass to beg for extra 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 multiifasciatus : The most common and smallest of the many varieties, multis (or multies), are known for their narrow, vertical stripes and bright blue eyes. – Neolamprologus Similis: Similis are almost identical to multis except that their stripes extend all the way to the eyes and not behind the gill plates. Lamprologus Ocellatus. There are many types of Ocellatus but the gold one is the most colorful. They are more aggressive than their cousins, and may require extra space to breed. – Neolamprologus brevis: Brevis have a stockier body shape (like the Ocellatus), as well as a blunt, bulldog-like face. Sometimes, a male and a female will share the same shell. This is uncommon among shell dwellers.
Are shell dwellers easy to keep? Yes, they are fairly easy fish because of their small size, big appetite, and ease of breeding. The main thing to keep in mind is their alkaline water requirements (see below).
How to set up an aquarium for shell dwellers
Multis and Similis can live in 10-gallon aquariums, while Ocellatus & Brevis prefer 20 gallons. The preferred size for shell dwellers is 20-gallon tanks. You will need at least 29 gallons to add tank mates.
For Lake Tanganyika’s shoreline look best, you should aim for temperatures between 75-80degF (24-27degC), pH between 7.5-9.0, hard water at least 8deg (140 ppm), and temperatures between 75-80degF (24-25-27degC). Wonder Shells and Seachem Equilibrium are mineral supplements that can increase GH 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. Shell dwellers love digging so make sure to add at least 1-2 inches (22.5-5 cm) of sand substrate, such as aragonite, to the aquarium. This will help to increase pH and GH.
To reduce fighting among males, cover the sand entirely with shells if possible so that you have a minimum of three shells per fish. Online and specialty grocery stores can sell food-grade, extra-large Escargot snail shells. You can also use aquarium plants or decorations to block the line of sight between males. Plants can be uprooted by shell dwellers, who tend to excavate plants constantly. Look for plants that are not dependent on substrate and can live in high levels of pH, such as anubias, java Fern, and many other 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 are more aggressive and larger than females.
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. Also, narrow down your search to species that can tolerate alkaline, mineral-rich waters. For a 29-gallon tank, we have kept them with African butterflyfish, livebearers, halfbeaks, and smaller rainbowfish. Cyprichromis, Neolamprologus and Julidochromis cichlids are great additions to any 55-60 gallons aquarium.
Julidochromis cichlids (like this Julidochromis marlieri) can be good tank mates for shell dwellers if you add a separate section of rockwork for them to claim as their territory.
Do shell dwellers eat snails? Not in our experience. They have been kept with nerite, bladder, and Malaysian trumpet snails without any problems. A shell dweller will pick up a snail that is too close to the tank and drop it in the opposite corner.
What do Shell Dwellers 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. We feed them a wide variety of crushed flakes and nano pellets.
How to breed shell dwellers
It is very 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 opening of their shell. As they get larger, the juveniles will begin to explore further away from their shells until their mother kicks them out in order to make room for the 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 by lip locking
It is nearly impossible to get rid of shell dwellers from their 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. This beginner-friendly dwarf Cichlid is perfect for those with hard water and a large aquarium (20 gallons). Although Aquarium Co-Op does not ship live fish, you can check out at our recommended list of online fish retailers.