Biotope: All 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 the lake.
Tank: the main point to consider is 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 the substrate) 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).
TIP: 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.
Tankmates: 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) is available here.
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 left.
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 than twenty.
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 fry.