Home | Aquarium Livestock | Rift Lake Cichlids for Small Aquariums – Breeding Shell-dwelling Cichlids

Rift Lake Cichlids for Small Aquariums – Breeding Shell-dwelling Cichlids


I’d like to welcome Jose Mendes to That Fish Blog. Jose is our resident Cichlid Pro. In addition to working at TFP for 13 years, he’s been breeding Cichlids for over 14 years and has produced over 200 different species. Check out Jose’s article below on setting up a Nano-cichlid habitat.

10 Gallon Rift Lake Cichlid Habitat

Working at That Fish Place/That Pet Place, I get a lot of questions regarding what type of African cichlids can be kept in small aquariums – particularly 10 gallon aquariums. Here I will try to answer some of the common questions concerning basic requirements and species specifics.

When a customer asks which cichlids are ok for a 10 gallon tank, I tell them to keep shell dwellers. These fish are from Lake Tanganyika and the majority of them only reach an adult size of 2 to 3 inches in length, though some do grow larger.

Let’s start with the tank itself. A regular 10 gallon glass tank is fine. For substrate, I prefer sand like Carib Sea Aragamax which I mix with Carib Sea Tahitian Moon black sand. The reason for choosing Aragamax is that not only does it help maintain the pH level in the aquarium, but it allows the fish to act naturally and bury their shells. My setup at home consists of a small cave in one corner and the remaining area is sand; into which I add 2 snail shells for each fish. For fish up to 2 inches I like shells the size of a quarter. (Medium turbo or apple shells work nicely.)

A 50 watt aquarium heater will be just fine. The temperature should be set between 78 and 80 degrees.

Filtration for this tank should be an outside power filter that turns the tank volume over 8 to 10 times an hour. Under gravel filters should be avoided!

The water chemistry in the lake is very hard with a pH of around 9.2. I’ve found from breeding shell dwellers that a pH of 8.4 or higher and a general hardness of at least 10 dkh is best for them.

Before I detail a few of the species, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from keeping and breeding these fish:

Weekly water changes: I’ve always done them and always will. 10% is enough to make a difference in health, vigor, and spawns.

Water conditions in my breeding tanks were all the same and were as follows: pH 8.6, General hardness 15+, and temperature 81 degrees.

For feeding; do not feed worms! Bloodworms, black worms, or tubifex. These will kill African cichlids sooner or later. Appropriate food would be any prepared small cichlid flake. They prefer sinking foods, but not necessarily pellets.

Have patience. Breeding shell dwellers is easy. Start out with a group of 5-6 individuals of one species. Don’t move the shells around and don’t add new fish. The fish will reward you for your diligence.

Now let’s detail some of the species that I would recommend for a 10 gallon aquarium. Once again do not mix more than one species per tank.

Lamprologus kungweensis: Adults reach lengths of 2.5 inches with females being slightly smaller than males. An identifiable trait of this species is the golden/yellow mark above each eye that becomes more apparent as they mature. Sexing is not easy there is not much dimorphism. Besides being smaller, the female is lighter in color and less intensely marked.

Neolamprologus Ocellatus GoldLamprologus ocellatus: A stunning 2 inch fish whose name means “eyespot” due to the distinctive spot, outlined in gold, on the fish’s operculum. In addition to the gill cover, the ocellatus has a gold colored iris, a golden cream colored body and clear fins speckled with blue or gold. Sexing is fairly easy; the male’s dorsal fin is edged in an orange/red band while the female’s is clearly paler and often edged in white. Also, mature females are rounded while males are more oblong in shape. The most distinctive feature of a pair is the size difference. Males are almost ½ inch larger than females and the teeth appear larger and more prominent. One of my favorite shell dwellers on the market is the Golden Ocellatus, which has a golden sheen to the whole body.

Lamprologus ornatipinnis: As the name implies, the appeal of this species lies in its ornate fins which are distinctively marked with a series of striations that vary in color from purple to black. While a mature male may reach a total length of 2 inches, the females are ½ inch smaller. The female is also considerably plumper with a metallic purple sheen developing over the abdomen as she comes into breeding condition.

Lamprologus signatus: Another small but striking shellie, males top off at 2 inches, females slightly smaller. L. signatus are more elongate or torpedo shaped than other Lamprologus species. These display clear sexual dimorphism. The flanks of the males are crossed by dark vertical bands that extend through the dorsal to anal fins. The females are drab with only a slight pink hue to their abdomen.

Neolamprologus boulengeri
Neolamprologus brevis: At less than 2 ¼ inches N. brevis is a shiny beige color with up to nine silvery-white bands. Iridescent pastel blue striations mark the upper jaw, the cheek, and the anterior third of the body. Females are slightly smaller and show fewer extensions of the pectoral fins.

Neolamprologus boulengeri: Attaining a length of 2 ½ inches, N. boulengeri is an attractively marked shell dweller. In addition to the characteristic blotch pattern across the flanks, they have a yellow/orange margin in the dorsal and anal fins. The upper jaw sports a vivid metallic blue moustache which continues as a thin blue iridescent stripe across the operculum and flank.

Neolamprologus Meleagris
Lamprologus meleagris: The so called “lace lamp” or “pearly ocellatus”, L. meleagris is a diminutive silvery/black cichlid that rarely exceeds 2 ½ inches in total length. Its flanks are purplish with a series of irregular pearl like spots that highlight the scales and fins. The throat is silvery with hint of blue; the eye is set off by a bright blue streak behind the orbit. Females are smaller than males and their colors are not as intense, even when breeding.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus: The smallest of the shell dwelling cichlids of Lake Tanganyika. As the name implies, N. multifasciatus has a “many striped” pattern over its body. The edges of the caudal, anal, and dorsal fins are highlighted with bands of yellowish/orange and white. Sexing mature specimens is simple because though the female is marked the same as the male, she is fully grown at under 1 inch, while the male reaches 1 ¼ inch.

Neolamprologus similis: Similar in appearance to N. multifasciatus but with a larger eye and greenish/brown body color and contrasting light green markings. The bands extend further over the forehead of the fish. Adult size is nearly identical to N. multifasciatus as well.

In closing, I would have to say that shellies are the type of cichlid for people who want to keep cichlids but don’t have the room for a larger tank, (especially college students) and their natural breeding behavior is fun to watch. They are a lot of personality packed into a small fish!

12 comments

  1. avatar

    that was really interesting i kept getting the species Neolamprologus mixed up but now i know

  2. avatar

    I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to feed african cichlids worms. I’d like to know more about that.

  3. avatar
    TFP Marine Biologist

    You will find conflicting opinions regarding the use of live blackworms in any aquarium, not just the african cichlids. Live black worms are an excellent source of protein, and can entice even the most picky fishes to eat. The concern with long term use is that if this is a fishes only source of food, the high protein an fat can lead to health problems. There is also the risk of unwanted parasites and pathogens that accompany any source of live food.
    I think that black worms are an excellent “treat” item, and can be used as part of an aquariums diet. A good varied diet is best for most aquariums.

    Dave

  4. avatar

    HI,I LIKE READING YOUR BLOGS YOU LEARN ALOT ,QUESTION I PURCSASE A 50 GAL BOW FRT TANK SET IT UP WILL AND MY TENANENTS ARE 6 MED SIZE PARROTS WHICH I BOUGHT FROM YOUR SITE ,I AM HAPPY AND THE SET UP IS GREAT AND MY TENENTANTS ARE DOING WELL ,BUT I HAVE A FEW QUESTIONS FOR THE EXPERTS.1,HOW MANY WATER CHANGES DO I HAVE TO DO,2.HOW MANY TIMES DO I FEED A WEEK,3.WHY DO MY PARROTS DIG TUNNELS IN THE GRAVEL ,4.I HAVE 3 AQUA FILTERS RUNNING AT ONE TIME AND A MID BUBBLE WALL RUNNING IS THAT FINE ,ALSO I LEAVE MY LIGHTS ON 12 HOURS DAILY IS THAT OK OR TO MUCH,MY LEAVLES IN THE TANK ARE FINE BUT I SHOW A LITTLE AMONIA BUT STILL IN THE SAFE LV,I ALSO HAVE A 200 WATT HEATER AND I KEEP THE TEMP AT 76 TO 78 ,IS THAT FINE, ITS SAD TO SAY I CANT FINE ANY INFO ON PARROTS INHAVE RED ONES ,CAN YOUS FOLLOW UP MY EMAIL WITH SOME GOOD SUGTS/ON MY SET UP AND ALL THE INFO YOUS CAN SUPPLY ON PARROTS ,THANK YOU H.P.G. PLEASE EMAIL ME IN DTAIL WHAT TO DO OR CORRECT ALSO WHAT DO YOU SUGT/FOR KEEPING PARROTS COLOR ,ALSO IN THE TANK I HAVE TO CAT FISH AND TO GLASS SUCKERS,THANK YOU.

  5. avatar

    Henry,
    I am glad to hear that you are enjoying your parrots, and are taking such interest in their care.
    You should exchange about 25% of your water per month, smaller changes of about 10% every other week would be better. You should use a gravel siphon to clean your gravel while doing this. You should feed your fish once or twice per day, only as much as they can eat in a few minutes, never leave any uneaten food in the aquarium. Digging in the gravel is a common behavior among many cichlids, it is usually associated with foraging or nest building. Not sure what kind of filter an aqua filter is, but using a combination of filtration and aeration will provide good results in your aquarium. 12 hours is a bit long to leave your lights on, over time this will promote excessive algae growth. I would reduce this to 8-10 hours, during the times that you most often view the aquarium. 76 -78 degrees is a good temperature range to keep.

    Six parrots, as well as other fish, is quite a few for a 50 gallon tank, especially if it has recently been set up. Keep an eye on your water quality, and feeding, you may have trouble keeping that many fish in the aquarium as they get larger, and may need to consider a larger aquarium, or less fish

    As far as keeping the parrots color, water quality and a good varied diet are the most important. There are a number of staple diets that have color enhancing ingredients. O.S.I. makes a pellet food designed for parrot fish, it is item 211614.
    I hope this information has helped, and good luck

    Dave

  6. avatar

    Chicklet fish rule.

  7. avatar

    Hi and thanks for this very good writeup. I have a question though. I heard that the Lamprologus meleagris is really aggressive. I’m getting a 15g for these fellas. How many of them can I keep? And I don’t see air pump on your list. So they don’t need aeration at all? If they do, is it better for me to get a powerhead or just an air pump?

    Thanks.

  8. avatar

    Hi Gel, Thanks for the comment. The Meleagris can be aggressive, mine acted just as bad as my Occellatus and they were in a ten gallon. In a 15 I would recommend 4 to 6 fish. As for an air pump the only time I used one was on fry tanks. All my breeding tanks had power filters on them that created enough water circulation. I hope this helps.
    Jose

  9. avatar

    Thanks for the prompt reply Jose. I’m a newbie to cichlid. So please bear w/ me. Can different kind of shellies be placed in the same tank?

  10. avatar

    Hi Gel, sorry for the delayed response (the holidays and all).

    I wouldn’t recommended mixing species. I tried it once and it was a massacre. I would definitely only stick with one species.
    Hopefully this helps!
    Jose

  11. avatar

    My step son left us with a 125 gallon fish tank with 28 african cichilds in it, we are having a problem with slime! The tank is in our living room/dining room with full sun all day, is this part of the problem, or is it too many fish? PLEASE HELP ME!!
    Linda Johnson

  12. avatar

    June 17, 09
    Linda get two large plecostomus about 3 inches long. They are harmless to the other fish. They will take care of slime. If you also have lighting on the tank during the day, shut it off. That’s it. Good luck

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About Jose Mendes

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That Fish Place’s resident “Cichlid Pro.” In addition to working at TFP for 13 years, Jose’s been breeding Cichlids for over 14 years and has produced over 200 different species. Jose is the man to question for everything cichlid. Check out Jose’s work in the article: Keeping and Breeding African Cichlids in Small Aquariums, and his many other contributions on cichlid husbandry, behavior, and his personal experiences with keeping cichlids from across the globe.