shell dwellers are endemic to Lake Tanganyika
where they live (as their common name suggests) inside empty shells (mostly
of genus Neothauma but also shells of snails
used to prepare “escargot a la bourguignonne”
will fit, the way I do in my tanks). Many local/colour morphs are known,
my trio is said to be of the “Burundi strain”.
Burundi, in the Rift Valley, is located along the east cost of
Tank: the main point to
to make sure if you’re dealing with specimens living in pair(s) or small
colonies. In short, a pair will fit in a 30 litre
tank while those living in groups (a trio or more) will require slightly bigger quarters. I keep my trio in a 75
litre tank. The bottom of the tank is divided in two parts (one side
larger than the other) kept separated by an "invisible" stone of
adequate size. Each female lives in her quarter while the
male is patrolling the whole area happily visiting both of them to mate.
These fishes do not damage (intentionally at least) plants but are
“dedicated diggers” (trying to bury the shells they use for breeding in
hence, just in case, roots need some protection. Of course
aquascaping should be made in the usual “Rift Valley fashion”
(with plenty of room at bottom).
give’em shells in a number exceeding the
specimens hosted (at the moment my three fishes can rely on a dozen, or
so, shells) since this option will diminish the possible risk of fights.
Water chemistry: their
original biotope says it all; in some area of the lake pH can exceed the
reading of 9.0! When hosted in captivity, large water changes should be
avoided (a common
precaution when dealing with Tanganyikan cichlids).
Beware of “too warm” water in small tanks during summer (the safe upper
limit is said to be 28° C even though I “had” to exceed this mark
occasionally with no detectable troubles up to 30° C).
Spawning: Not difficult
at all. My adult trio spawned about three weeks after entering
the tank. The eggs are released inside a shell (sized/shaped in
such a way as to host one fish at a time) by the female. Immediately after the
male enters the “cave” to fertilize them. After this is done, the female
will again enter the shell and no longer move from there until the eggs
hatch. Larvae are guarded, again, by their mother which swims above the shell.
Eventually, newcomers will come out of their den (
fully developed but extremely tiny). Growth rate is rather slow.
Food: Dry (extremely
powdered for the fry) food will do. Frozen
artemia, bloodworm and the alike are
appreciated as well.
The key point is the overall size of an adult fish (an adult male will
attain a T.L. of, at most, 3 cm slightly over one inch!). With this in
mind there is no problem provided extremely “messy” friends are avoided.
One of my choices in the past is mentioned
here: it was a good mix!!!
Remarks: more “vintage”
information on these fishes (always on MCH, of course)
IMAGES (of actual fishes)
Middle October 2005:
the female “owning” the larger part of the bottom is swimming above the
shells. Eggs are hosted (actually) in the shell – in the foreground - at
Middle October 2005:
same situation; in this case the size of the substrate grains is easily noticed. Any
way, in my opinion, it is still slightly too big (hence a bit unnatural).
Another point to remember is the fact those are, to the best of my
knowledge, “unstressed” fish, being kept almost alone in the tank and
with plenty of room for their needs they don’t have the urge to bury
shells in order to feel “safe”.
This way the going is easier, and more enjoyable, to
look at. Please note, too, the number of shells “used” by a
single female. For your information fry are now happily growing (see below).
Middle November 2005:
for my joy and pride fry are happily swimming at the bottom of the tank;
four of them are in sight. Their number is estimated to be a bit more
Final remarks on pictures:
This spawn (and the batch of fry that followed, shown in the last
image) was absolutely unexpected and resulted in pictures taken trough a
“algae-covered” glass (thus a bit dim) but having a clean glass, to get
sharper images, was NOT an option (to me at least), since the well being of
my fish comes first … I DO hope you will agree …
The picture of the fry (despite the, eventually, cleaned glass)
looks a bit blurry since I had to deal with the “limited” capacity, in
macro mode, of my (compact) digital camera to handle the tiny size of