Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons (38 Litres)
Care Level: Easy
Water Conditions: 7.5-9.0 pH and Hard to Very Hard
Temperature: 73-81 °F (23-27 °C)
Maximum Size: 2.2 inches (5.5 cm)
The Neolamprologus brevis is a small, shell dwelling cichlid. It is found only in the waters of Lake Tanganyika in Africa, and is quite popular in the aquarium hobby. While it isn’t the most colorful fish by any stretch of the imagination, it’s fascinating behavior more than makes up for its lack of colors.
In Lake Tanganyika, it inhabits relatively deep water along the shoreline, and is always founds in areas with soft substrate and plentiful snail shells. Due to the extremely hard and alkaline waters of Lake Tanganyika, snail shells break down very slowly, leaving the bottom of the lake littered with thousands of shells.
Because of the plentiful shells, many shell dwelling fish, or shellies as they’re called in the hobby, inhabit these shells. Neolamprologus brevis are one of these species, and they both inhabit and breed in shells.
Neolamprologus brevis stay relatively small in the home aquarium, and most will grow to a maximum of 2.2 inches (5.5 cm) in the length. The males are always larger than the females, and most females will only grow to about 1.6 inches (4 cm) in length. A well-cared for Neolamprologus brevis can live up to ten years, though eight years seems to be the average.
Neolamprologus brevis are undemanding when it comes to their housing, and a pair can quite easily be housed in a 10 gallon (38 litre) aquarium. With that being said, it’s generally better to provide them with at least a 29 gallon tank. This species breeds regularly, and you may soon find a smaller tank overflowing with fry.
While they are a very territorial fish, their territory is limited to a small area around the shell that they claim. Because of this, they can be kept with mid or top dwelling fish, that won’t encroach on the area around their shells.
It’s very important to provide this species with a soft substrate and it’s best to avoid gravel in their tank. They are notorious diggers, and sand is generally agreed upon to be the best substrate for this fish. You should provide at least two inches of sand, since they will tirelessly dig and rearrange the substrate.
Also, it should come as no surprise that a fish referred to as a shell dweller fish, needs to be provided with numerous shells in their aquarium. You should always provide more shells than fish, and if enough shells aren’t provided, you may experience some aggression in the tank.
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In the wild this fish primarily feeds on plankton, and while this diet can be difficult to recreate in the home aquarium, it will accept a diet composed of live and frozen foods. While some are known to accept prepared fish foods, this shouldn’t form the bulk of their diet, and many will refuse to eat dried food.
The live foods most readily accepts are bloodworms, mosquito larvae (illegal to culture in some areas), daphnia, blackworms and copepods. They will eat similar frozen foods, and will greedily accept frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia and blackworms.
Neolamprologus brevis can be difficult to sex when they are young, although the males will always be larger than the females. If possible, it is best to provide more females than males, but this is not a requirement for breeding.
They are quite easy to breed to the home aquarium and will often breed on their own even in a community tank. For best results, a dedicated breeding tank should be set up, and you can expect significant loss of fry if they are kept in a community tank.
To ensure breeding, the water must be hard and alkaline, and it is recommended to raise the temperature close to 80 °F (27 °C) for breeding. They should also be conditioned on a diet of high quality live food prior to breeding, but frozen food can be substituted if you don’t have access to live food.
They breed in shells, so the breeding tank should contain plentiful shells for them. You can often purchase snail shells online for reasonable prices, or you can even find them for free at places that serve escargot. Just make sure to thoroughly wash them, before placing them in the breeding tank.
Make sure when you’re setting up the breeding tank that you provide lots of space around the shells. If the shells are placed to closely together in the breeding tank, it may cause aggression between the fish. Quite often the female will partially bury the shell before breeding, so it’s important to place the shells properly at the beginning, since disturbing them can reset the whole process.
When a female is ready to breed, she will attempt to lure the male over to the shell that she has claimed. After she has caught the male’s attention, she will deposit her eggs in the shell, and the male will release his sperm just outside of it. Though with larger shells, the male will sometimes enter the shell completely to release his sperm.
After the male has released his sperm, it will play no further part in the fry rearing. Often the female will drive him away if he doesn’t leave of his own accord. Neolamprologus brevis females show a high level of parental care for their fry, and they will guard and fan their eggs until the fry become free swimming. The fry will stay close to the safety of the shell for several weeks, until female eventually evicts them.
The fry can be fed baby brine shrimp, or microworms after they are hatched. They can also be fed any of the commercially available foods on the market, though these tend to be less effective than the live options.
After they are hatched, the fry can be removed from the tank, or they can be kept with the parents. While not unheard of, predation of the fry by adult fish is rare.