Shellfish Care Guide - Smallest African Cichlids (2023)

African cichlids are some of the most colorful, exciting fish in the freshwater aquarium hobby, but many species often require aquariums of 55 gallons or larger. If you live in a bedroom or apartment with limited space, consider shellfish instead. As one of the smallest African cichlids available in the pet trade, they have the same fiery personality but condensed into a 2 inch (5 cm) package. Best of all, they can live in a 20 gallon nano tank.

What are shellfish?

In this article, we focus on shellfish native to Lake Tanganyika - the world's second largest freshwater lake in the East African Rift Valley. This ancient rift lake is extremely deep, so most of the animals live along the rocky shores where the water is highly alkaline and has tropical temperatures. This biodiverse environment is home to hundreds of unique species, such as cichlids, crustaceans and snails.

The shellfish of Lake Tanganyika get their common name from the snail shells they collect to breed and shelter. They prefer to useNeothauma tanganyicensesnail shells, which are about 5 cm in diameter. Due to this cap size, most shellfish in the aquarium hobby reach a maximum of 6 cm. Because of their small 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 to the front of the glass to beg for extra food.

Shellfish Care Guide - Smallest African Cichlids (1)

Neolamprologus multifasciatus (of veel)

(Video) Guide to African Cichlid Care

What Are the Different Types of Shellfish?The most readily available types to find online or at your fish store include:

  • Neolamprologus multifasciatus: Multis (or Multis) are the most common and smallest variety, known for their thin, vertical stripes and bright blue eyes.
  • Neolamprologue is similar: Similis look almost exactly like multis except their stripes go all the way to their eyes instead of stopping behind the gill plate.
  • Lamprologus ocellatus: There are different types of Ocellatus, but the gold variety is one of the most colorful. They are generally more aggressive than their cousins ​​and may need a little extra room to breed.
  • Neolamprologus brevis: Brevis have a stockier body shape (like the Ocellatus), as well as a blunt, bulldog-like face. A male and female mated together sometimes share the same shell, which is unusual among shellfish.

Are shellfish easy to keep?Yes, they are quite easy fish due to their small size, big appetite and ease of breeding. The most important thing to keep in mind is their need for alkaline water (see below).

How to Set Up a Shell Dweller Aquarium

Multis and Similis can be kept in aquariums 10 gallons or larger, while Ocellatus and Brevis do better in 20 gallons or larger. 20 gallon long aquariums are preferred because shellfish can make more use of the horizontal space rather than the vertical space. If you plan to add tank mates to the setup, you'll need a minimum of 29 gallons.

To best mimic Lake Tanganyika's shoreline, aim for temperatures of 75-80°F (24-27°C), pH of 7.5-9.0, and hard water with at least 8° (140 ppm ) GH. If you have softer water, addMiracle shellsofSeechem equilibriumas mineral supplements that increase GH. For filtration use onesponse filteror get onepre-filter spongeto cover the filter inlet tube, preventing baby fish and sand from being sucked in. Since shellfish like to burrow, add a minimum of 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) of sandy substrate, such as aragonite sand, which also helps raise pH and GH.

Shellfish Care Guide - Smallest African Cichlids (2)

(Video) How Often To Feed African Cichlids - (Juvie's & Adults) #shorts

Neolamprologue is similar

To reduce fighting between males, cover the sand completely with shells if possible, so you have a minimum of three shells per fish. You can purchase extra-large, food-grade escargot snail shells from online or specialty stores. It can also be helpful to use decorations or aquarium plants to block the line of sight so the males can't see each other either. Shellfish tend to uproot plants during their constant excavations, so look for plants that don't need a substrate and can live at a high pH, ​​such asjava fern,anubias, and lots of floating plants. Not only do plants look beautiful, but they also help improve water quality by consuming the toxic nitrogen chemicals produced from the fish's waste.

How many shellfish should I have?Get at least six fish of the same species to ensure you have enough males and females to start a healthy colony. Ideally, you should aim for at least two to three females for every male, but sometimes it can be difficult to sex juveniles. Adult males are generally larger and more aggressive than females

Which fish can you put with shellfish?Despite their small size, clams are considered semi-aggressive and can hold their own against larger 4-inch (10 cm) fish. Think of them as the chihuahuas of Lake Tanganyika cichlids. Since they occupy the lower parts of the tank, avoid getting bottom dwellers that disturb their territory. Also, narrow your search to species that can tolerate alkaline, mineral-rich water. For a 29 gallon tank, we kept them with African butterflyfish, viviparous fish, halfbeaks, and smaller rainbowfish. For a 55 to 60 gallon aquarium, we like to addCyprichromis leptosoma(sardine cichlid),Neolamprologus brichardi(lyretail fairy cichlids) and cliff dwellingsJulidochromiscichlids.

Shellfish Care Guide - Smallest African Cichlids (3)

(Video) Shell Dweller Care and Breeding Guide - Neolamprologus Multifasciatus

Julidochromis cichlids (like this Julidochromis marlieri) can make good tank mates for shellfish if you add a separate piece of rockwork for them to claim as their territory.

Do shellfish eat snails?Not in our experience. We have kept them with Malaysian trumpet, bladder and nerite snails without any problems. When a snail gets too close for comfort, a shell-dweller simply picks it up with its mouth and drops the snail into the opposite corner of the tank.

What do shellfish eat?

In the wild, they enjoy a mostly carnivorous diet of zooplankton, small invertebrates and other microorganisms. The adults aren't afraid to surface to get their meals, but the fry stay close to their cochlea and wait for the tiny, sinking food to pass into the opening of the shell. We carry ours a varied selection ofcrushed flakes,nano-pellets,baby artemia,micro worms, whiteworms and frozen bloodworms.

How to breed shellfish

Shell dwellers are great fun and easy to grow. As mentioned earlier, start with six or more fish and have at least three shells per fish. Then focus on feeding enough food while keeping the water quality high. The female will lure the male to her favorite shell, lay her eggs in the shell for the male to fertilize, then guard the eggs until the hatchlings hatch. The babies wait close to the opening of the shelllevende baby artemiaand other small foods to float by for them to eat. As they get bigger, the young will explore farther and farther from their carapaces until the mother finally kicks them out to make way for her next group. If for some reason the clams are not breeding, check the water parameters and consider adding more fish or clams to the mixture.

Shellfish Care Guide - Smallest African Cichlids (4)

(Video) The worlds most interesting aquarium fish: The shell dweller is ALSO the worlds smallest cichlid!

Two Lamprologus ocellatus fight for territory by lip locking

One thing to note is that it is almost impossible to get shellfish out of their shells. If you planthey breed for profit, skip the scales and instead use ¾" or 1" PVC elbows with an end cap on one end. When it's time to sell the fish, you can simply remove the end cap and pour the fish out for bagging.

Shell Dwellers are fascinating fish that will provide you and your whole family with hours of fun as you watch them dig holes, defend their territory and dart in and out of shells. If you have harder water and the space for a 20-gallon aquarium, be sure to try this beginner-friendly dwarf cichlid. Although Aquarium Co-Op does not ship live fish, you can check out our recommended list of online fish stores.

Buy live fish

(Video) Auratus Cichlid Care & Tank Set up Guide


What are the smallest African cichlids? ›

Neolamprologus multifasciatus are the smallest cichlids and the easiest to keep if you have limited space but still want to experience fascinating cichlid behavior. These tiny shell dwellers live in colonies and are a joy to keep.

What is the minimum tank size for 1 African cichlid? ›

The general rule is that individual African cichlids can be kept in a minimum tank size of 30 gallons. Smaller cichlid species can be kept in a 20-gallon tank, but it should be noted that this is not ideal for their long-term health.

What is the minimum tank size for 2 cichlids? ›

Most cichlids thrive in a minimum aquarium size bigger than 55 gallons of water. Some cichlids are very large and need a tank with 120 gallons or more, and there are smaller species that can thrive in a 20-gallon tank.

What is the least aggressive shell dweller? ›

In aquariums, Neolamprologus multifasciatus is not active and usually stays at the bottom of the tank. Compared to other shell-dweller cichlids, it is less aggressive.

What is the rarest dwarf cichlid? ›

Top of the Food Chain: "Cichlasoma" beani, A Rare Middle American Cichlid. Once quite common in the aquarium trade, the cichlid “Cichlasoma” beani is now one of the rarest, most desirable, and hardest-to-obtain cichlids on the casual cichlidophile's wish list.

Can a single cichlid live in a 10 gallon tank? ›

Did you know you can keep African cichlids in a 10-gallon aquarium? These tiny shell dwellers stay between 1 to 2 inches long, and as per their nickname, they dwell and raise their fry in snail shells.

What size are dwarf African cichlids? ›

Dwarf cichlids is the term used for all members of the cichlid family (Cichlidae) whose maximum eventual size does not exceed 10 cm. In South America this means the species of the genera Apistogramma, Apistogrammoides, Nannacara, Ivanacara, Laetacara, Dicrossus, Crenicara, Biotoecus, and Mikrogeophagus.

What size tank for dwarf cichlids? ›

A 10 to 20 gallon aquarium will suffice for a mated pair, however, larger aquariums allow for larger groups and/or additional tank mates. While Dwarf Cichlids are generally peaceful, males may quarrel over territory, especially if they have a mate.

Can cichlids live in small tanks? ›

Cichlids are a very diverse group of primarily freshwater fish that are known for their brilliant coloration and feisty personalities. Many of them require larger tanks to accommodate their size and territorial behavior, but several species are small enough to fit in a 29-gallon aquarium or less.

Do cichlids grow to the size of their tank? ›

No, this really is a myth. Fish come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, and studies on wild populations have provided the aquatic trade with huge amounts of information on what to look for in a healthy, fully grown fish.

Do African cichlids like planted tanks? ›

The large cichlids from Africa are not really suitable for a planted aquarium, though. Plants are sparse in their natural habitats, and in the aquarium the fish basically consider them food. Only hard-leaved aquarium plants such as Anubias stand a chance of surviving.

Can you put live plants in an African cichlid tank? ›

The fast-growing plants of the genus Vallisneria can be used in a cichlid tank as well. Vallisneria are typical background plants, which are planted into the substrate. Their leaves are robust, but not as hard as e.g. those of Anubias. They have found another way to compensate for predation: quick growth.

Is it OK to overstock a cichlid tank? ›

Overstocking will reduce targeted aggression. However, it does not change African cichlids behavior turning them into peaceful fish. There will still be plenty of fights and chasing in the tank but no individual fish can easily be singled out and bullied to death by more aggressive fish.

Do shell dwellers need sand? ›

Because shell dwellers love to dig, add least 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) of sand substrate such as aragonite sand, which also helps to raise the pH and GH.

What is the best bottom dweller with cichlids? ›

Plecos make amazing tank mates for cichlids because they're peaceful bottom-dwelling fish that help clean the tank. They eat algae and other debris off the aquarium walls and decorations, ensuring the tank stays clean and looks good. Plecos are also nocturnal fish, so they'll only be active when cichlids are asleep.

What temperature do shell dwellers like? ›

Temperature: 24–26°C/75–79°F. Water: Hard, alkaline: 7.8–9.0pH, hardness 15-25°H. Diet: Daphnia, Cyclops and flake foods work well.

What is the hardiest dwarf cichlid? ›

Water Parameters: Slightly acidic to neutral (pH 6.5-7.0) Safe for Planted Tanks: Yes. Foods: Bug Bites, Tropical Flakes, Bloodworms. One of the most peaceful and hardiest of the Dwarf Cichlids, Nanacara anomalas will make a great addition to any community tank 10 gallons or larger!

What is the most intelligent cichlid? ›

Tiger Oscar Fish

The Tiger Oscar is an African cichlid and is known to be a highly intelligent fish in the aquarium hobby. Oscars are fondly known by their owners as “water dogs” because they are interactive fish that act with purpose.

What is the most intelligent small fish? ›

Guppy Fish

Not only can guppies survive in many different types of water conditions, but they are also one of the smartest fish you can keep as a pet. According to a study published in Current Biology, guppies have a rudimentary ability to count!

How many cichlids should I put in a 55 gallon tank? ›

55 gallon African cichlid tank: Anything between 15 – 32 African cichlids. 75 gallon African cichlid tank: Anything between 15 – 42 African cichlids. 125 gallon African cichlid tank: Anything between 40 – 72 African cichlids.

How many RAM cichlids can you have in a 10-gallon tank? ›

A pair of rams can live in a 20-gallon community tank or in a 10-gallon breeding tank with no other fish. If you wish to keep two pairs of rams, increase the aquarium size to 40 gallons so that each set has enough territory.

How many African cichlids can you have in a 40 gallon tank? ›

The African Cichlid Tank

Subdominant males tend to range from yellow to light blue with faint barring. For a 40-gallon aquarium, we recommend getting 1–2 males and 4–5 females.

What is the smallest New World cichlid? ›

The smallest species, dwarf cichlids, can be found hidden deep in South American rainforests.

What do small African cichlids eat? ›

Many African cichlids, like Tropheus and Mbuna, primarily eat algae, biofilm and aquatic plants. These fish are meant to graze all day and have a really long intestinal tract so they can absorb as many nutrients as possible from food that has a lower fat and protein content.

Do dwarf cichlids need a heater? ›

Can cichlids live without a heater? No, cichlids cannot survive without a heater. African cichlids' primary origins are in tropical regions, so they need access to tropical water to thrive. An aquarium without a heater can be very cold, which is not ideal for your fish.

Can you mix dwarf cichlids? ›

Sharing is caring! Cichlids are known for belligerence and having an aggressive nature. However, it is possible to keep dwarf cichlids in a harmonious community setup, provided you choose the right species to live together.

What is the lifespan of a dwarf cichlid? ›

Lifespan. The lifespan of dwarf cichlids can vary depending on the specific species you are considering, however, for the most part Apistogramma tend to live anywhere between five and ten years.

What is the easiest cichlid to keep? ›

If there is one universally agreed upon beginner cichlid, it's probably the convict cichlid. These fish are incredibly hardy, breed readily, and are extremely prolific. If someone wants to experience all a cichlid has to offer, then these are the perfect fish.

Can cichlids live in a gravel tank? ›

Standard aquarium sand or gravel can be used, but crushed coral, coral sand or crushed oyster shell will help maintain the proper pH and alkalinity to support good health and color in your African cichlids. A 1" to 2" bed is best, as many species love to dig!

What is the most peaceful African cichlid? ›

Electric Yellow Cichlid is a peaceful representative of cichlids. Due to its small size and relatively calm nature, this cichlid is one of the best Malawi cichlids for beginners. Since they remain relatively small, it would be ideal for decorating an aquarium in the style of Lake Malawi.

Do cichlids like water changes? ›

Water Changes

A 15% water change 2 times per week is ideal, however once a week will suffice. This is extra important for an African cichlid aquarium besides the fact that they have high waste output and will help keep down your ammonia levels, it will also give you a more peaceful tank.

Do cichlids like a lot of water flow? ›

The answer is yes! African cichlids like water currents, but it's important to understand how it affects them before you add it to your aquarium.

Can cichlids go 3 days without food? ›

For Cichlid fry, they can go without food for 1-2 days. On the other hand, adult cichlids can quite easily go without food for 7-10 days, and in some cases up to a few weeks. Female African Cichlids go 3-4 weeks without eating while incubating their fertilized eggs in their mouths.

Are flakes or pellets better for cichlids? ›

Cichlids feed very enthusiastically on flakes, while pellets sink to the bottom where any other inhabitants (like catfish) can also get to them. The best option for you will depend on your tank setup and personal preference. You might even opt to use both pellets and flakes.

Can cichlids go a day without eating? ›

While a collection of large, healthy cichlids can easily go seven to 10 days without fish food, an aquarium full of baby fish will need to be fed after a day or two.

What is the best African cichlid for a small tank? ›

Kribensis. A favorite of many aquarists, these fish are a great choice if you're just starting out with cichlids. Kribensis aren't aggressive and don't require strict water conditions like others. They also make good tank mates and get along well with other non-aggressive species.

Do dwarf cichlids need caves? ›

While Dwarf Cichlids are generally peaceful, males may quarrel over territory, especially if they have a mate. Provide caves, grottos and overhangs for cover as well as a few flat rocks for spawning.

What fish are peaceful in a 15 gallon tank? ›

Cardinal Tetras (Paracheirodon Axelrodi)

A peaceful shoaling fish, again you want to keep a school of at least 6 in a 15 gallon planted community tank. They'll do well with tank mates like, dwarf gouramis, plecos, rasboras, zebra danio, and other tetra species or peaceful tropical fish.

How many RAM cichlids can you have in a 20-gallon tank? ›

A pair of rams can live in a 20-gallon community tank or in a 10-gallon breeding tank with no other fish. If you wish to keep two pairs of rams, increase the aquarium size to 40 gallons so that each set has enough territory.

What is the minimum tank size for shell dweller cichlids? ›

20-gallon long aquariums are preferred because shell dwellers can make more use of horizontal space rather than vertical space. If you plan to add tank mates to the setup, you will need for at least 29 gallons in volume.

How long does it take for a 29 gallon aquarium to cycle? ›

The cycling process usually takes six to eight weeks.

After about eight weeks, your ammonia and Nitrite levels should be acceptable (about trace levels), and you can add more fish. Do not add more fish until the ammonia and Nitrite levels have both dropped.

How many cichlids can I put in a 30 gallon tank? ›

You can keep four to six South American Cichlids in a 30 gallon tank. Cichlids are pretty social if kept in a proper environment. If they are kept in a spacious and comfortable tank.


1. Malawi Bloat - Is This Dangerous for Your African Cichlids?
(Tazawa Tanks)
2. Senegal Bichir Care Guide - Feeding & Size
(Palmer Aquatics)
3. The 7 Best Dwarf Cichlid Types 🐟
(Aquarium Store Depot)
4. My Favourite Tanganyikan Cichlid! - Neolamprologus Caudopunctatus Breeding & Care Guide
(Blake's Aquatics)
5. African cichlids Guide
(SarB Vlogs)
6. Beginner's Guide to Identifying African Cichlids


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