Shell Dwellers Which Naturally Co-Inhabit an Area

Q&A about cichlids in community tanks

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Shell Dwellers Which Naturally Co-Inhabit an Area

Post by mrtangtank »

Hi, Pam!

I'm a long-time freshwater hobbyist who recently caught the cichlid bug, and now I'm (for all appearances, endlessly) hooked! As this question falls several months into the 2020 COVID-19 epidemic, I've had little success ordering quality cichlids, as air cargo is down in my area, which means I've had all the time in the world to do my research! (I currently have a 55 gallon up and ready for my first Tanganyikans.) With that being said, I've been able to find almost everything I could want on the Internet—information regarding size, temperament, and general compatibility—everything except a source of information regarding what species certain cichlids are naturally found alongside in the wild! (Call me crazy, but I would have thought that to be a topic of great interest for hobbyists trying to mix species in as most natural a way as possible!)

With that being said, I wonder whether you've ever observed two or more species of shell dwellers sharing the same nest or shell bed.

My question is prompted in part by the fact that general wisdom says not to mix shell dwellers, and yet I've come across certain diving videos in which dwarf compressiceps may be seen living amongst N. multifasciatus, who tolerate the former due to its ability to keep certain predators at bay. Likewise, in other footage callipterus are observed allowing vittatus to take up residence in their shell nests—a topic which I see you've even touched on previously in this forum! With these two examples in mind, I can't help but wonder what other symbiotic relationships exist between shellies in the lake, and whether such relationships might be a determining factor when trying to set up a community tank with multiple shell dwellers. (And who better to ask than an experienced African diver?! :wink: )

So what do you think? Have you observed any other shell-dwelling species sharing the same nest or niche? Would you ever be comfortable attempting to keep shell dwellers together? If so, which ones would you try?

Thank you so much! I look forward to many years of enjoyment in the cichlid hobby, and I'm grateful for experts like yourself whose time in the field affords so much knowledge to hobbyists like myself!

Eagerly awaiting your reply!

Zachary (MrTangTank) :)
Pam Chin
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Re: Shell Dwellers Which Naturally Co-Inhabit an Area

Post by Pam Chin »

Hi Zachary,

Right here on Cichlid Room Companion you can look up a species, and there is a tab for location, and click on that and then there is a tab for species found at this location. But, keep in mind, just because these fish are found all at one site, does not mean they would be compatible. The fish are all found at different depths and many never cross paths. So it really takes a little more research. Also keep in mind that most of the shell dwellers are the same genus, so it is more likely they would cross in an aquarium. So I think your general wisdom is on track!

Altolamprologus compressiceps is not a true shell dweller, it only lives in shells in the lake where it is forced to, so that particular population may not be as large size wise as A. compressiceps found in the rocks, but it is the same fish. When you keep it in your aquarium and it is not restricted to a smaller habitat, it grows to the normal size. Telmatochromis vittatus is not shell dweller either it is really an egg stealer and fry eater and finds good groceries near the shell beds.

Personally I have not seen many shell dwellers in the shell beds in the lake, since they are found much deeper than I go, I just snorkel.

I think it is really hard to have a cohesive Tanganyikan Community, but one way to start is only one species per level in your tank. One on the sand, one in the rocks one in the mid water. If you have more than one, then they are competing for same territory and it doesn’t always end well. 3 different species for a 55 gallon tank is about right. I would get at least 6 - 8 of each.

Good Luck and I hope you enjoy your Tanganyikan Cichlids, thanks for the kind words!

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