My interest in shell dwellers started when I began exploring the smaller species of theLamprologus genus. These fish initially caught my fancy because of the limited amount of tank space that I have. I started out keeping Lamprologus like L. leleupi, L. cygnus, and L. brichardi.These are roughly three to four inch fish and are quite adaptable in medium sized community setups (55 gallon tanks). They will even spawn and defend a territory in a community situation, although having two fish reserve 40 percent of a 55 gallon aquarium may not be your idea of a proper use of tank space. It was not mine. And therefore, my pairs usually ended up in 10 or 20 gallon aquariums.

As I explored the genus Lamprologus, I found information on the various shell dwellers. These really interested me. I liked their size and was fascinated by the shell dwelling. All the other fish seemed to like rocks. These were different. However, they were not as available to me as the other Lamprologus species. So I started with the likes of L. leleupi etc. But the search was on.



At the American Cichlid Association (ACA) convention in Louisville, Kentucky I found Lamprologus ocellatus “Gold”. They were small but I got the guy’s last seven fish. That was the start of my shell dweller experience which continues today. They are interesting fish, can be kept in a ten gallon aquarium, and, last but not least, they are Cichlids (I am a self professed Cichlidphile). What more could you want?

The fish documented here are all from Lake Tanganyika. They are also all from the genusLamprologus. Neothauma tanganyicense snail shells are their houses when they are in Lake Tanganyika, but really any shell will suffice. On vacation, at the beach, I am constantly on the lookout for shells. I usually find a few and buy a few. New shells are always needed. I like to give the fish a choice of shells and let them pick their favorite. I will usually put half a dozen shells in a tank with a pair.

The male is usually the larger fish between himself and the female. Adults generally range in size from one to two inches in length. The eggs are laid and fertilized in the shell. Their fry are quite small but will readily accept newly hatched baby brine shrimp.

These fish are somewhat aggressive (after all, they are Cichlids), but they are small fish and the area which they stake out is also rather small. This diminishes the aggression to the point where it is easily managed. However, it is not unusual for one of my L. ocellatus to nip my arm when I have it in the aquarium near its shell. It doesn’t hurt, but rather surprises you. They are small, but they are still Cichlids. In general, a breeding pair can be housed in a ten gallon aquarium. As with all fish, some individuals are more aggressive than others. I have had males harass female and vice versa. It depends on the individual fish.

Below is a list of shell dwellers to which I have been exposed and a brief note on each one.

Lamprologus ocellatus

Lamprologus ocellatus

I have kept a “Gold” variety of these fish since 2002. I bought seven fry at the ACA Convention at Louisville as mentioned above. I kept them in a twenty gallon aquarium with some other Cichlids until one day I noticed that one fish was keeping really close tabs on a particular shell. I hoped for the best and moved this fish (smaller and therefore the female) and a close-by male to a ten gallon tank. I was rewarded with fry in a couple of days. This female and various males produced fry for about three years. Recently, she passed away and I now have several other pairs that I am hoping will duplicate her successes.

Lamprologus multifasciatus

Lamprologus multifasciatus

I have only kept these fish for about a year. They are quite handsome fish and seem to adapt well. Mine are quite prolific, causing me to thin out the tank every several months. I am keeping them as a colony and they seem to do quite well in that context. I started out with probably two pairs and about seven shells. Now I have seven pairs and seven shells. At the first sign of potential trouble they head straight into their shells and are quite difficult to extract. This is probably the reason that you see them at auctions in the plastic bag with the shell.

Lamprologus brevis

Lamprologus brevis

I bought a pair of “Sunspot” brevis a couple years ago. Unfortunately, they died on the trip home. Recently, I purchased six “Kigoma Bay” brevis and they are all safe and sound in a ten gallon tank in my fish room. These are quite attractive fish. I have high hopes for these fish and feel really fortunate to get these guys.

Lamprologus caudopunctatus

Lamprologus caudopunctatus

These are not technically shell dwellers, but they are small and will use a shell to spawn (I have also had them spawn in caves). I have had the “Red Dorsal” variety of these fish for quite a long time and they are one of my favorites. They are good looking fish with a bright blue eye and a orange fluorescent dorsal fin. The body is light colored with a blue sheen. They will spawn in a community setting and kept fry out of harms way. I once had a pair defend and keep fry for four weeks in a 55 gallon tank full of other fish.

Lamprologus meeli

Lamprologus meeli

I kept these fish for about a year. I started with six and after a death and a couple of jumpers I was down to three. I did not gather much information on these guys, as they never spawned for me. I think I ended up with all males. They did, however, seem to be on the larger side of average for shell dwellers.

Lamprologus kungweensis


I just bought some of these at the 2006 Spring Auction. They are really nice looking fish. They have basically a silver body with black bands or spots. The sides of their bodies are sprinkled with many fluorescent blue spots and they have a small gold cap above each eye. The unpaired fins are edged in black. I started them out in a ten gallon by themselves, but they are now in a 75 with a host of other Africans. The bigger tank has certainly helped them color up and become more outgoing.

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