N. caudopunctatus is a dwarf cichlid from Lake Tanganyika. It has a silvery-beige colored body, accented only by a distinctive, goldish-orange dorsal fin and blue eyes. Its tail fin and flanks have pearly spots that are visible if the light hits them at the correct angle. These spots that spatter the tails of both males and females have earned it the name caudopunctatus, meaning "spotted tail."
Despite being a monomorphic species, there are a few subtle traits that can help you distinguish males from females. Males will usually attain a length of 3.5 inches (9 cm) while females are significantly smaller at 2.5 inches (6.5 cm). Males also tend to show a slightly more intense coloration than the females. In addition to their larger size, males can also sometimes be differentiated from females by the presence of red on the upper, outer edge of their tail fins. Males are certainly more aggressive than their counterpart, unless she is tending to eggs or fry, in which case, neither the male nor other tank mates are allowed too close to her or her territory.
This species is only found along the Zambian coast, at a depth of just 6 feet. In the tank, they need rocks to provide crevices for shelter and for a spawning site. If shells are provided, it’s possible they may use these as spawning sites, even though they won’t live in them like true shell-dwellers. Upside-down clay pots work well as spawning sites too. Just be sure to enlarge the drain hole to accommodate both the male and the female.
One attribute that makes N. caudopunctatus particularly pleasing is that it is constantly patroling the tank with its fins erect, as if permanently on display. Not only is it quite active, but it’s also a rather peaceful cichlid species. It frequently flares its fins at conspecifics, but these episodes are almost always more out of show than out of malice. When this fish gets excited or stressed, dark, vertical wedge-shaped bars become more distinct along the top portion of its flank. These make a nice contrast to its usually plain, yet beautiful, creamy-silver body. Because of their small size, a matched pair can be kept successfully in a 20-gallon tank.
As already mentioned, in the wild, N. caudopunctatus lives over a sandy substratum. Sand is likewise recommended as the substrate of choice for the aquarium. They enjoy playing with the sand, sculpting it and moving it around – not as much as true shellies do; nevertheless, they do their fair share of restructuring.
Courtship and spawning begins by the pair preparing a nest. Once a secluded spot has been selected (usually near a rock unless using a flowerpot or shell), they will begin digging a hole. They then proceed to dig a hole in the center of the sand pile created by the excavated sand, creating a semi-circular rim around the entrance of the secluded spawning site. Needless to say, spawning is a secretive affair. The female will attach her eggs to either the sides of the flowerpot/shell or against the rock next to the nest. The male is then banished and she takes up vigil over the eggs, constantly fanning them with her pectoral fins.
Broods number between 40 and 60 young, with hatching occurring after just 72 hours. Fry become free-swimming 8-10 days post-fertilization. Young should be fed their own specialized entrée of fry food, including Daphnia, Cyclops, or freshly hatched Brine Shrimp. Crushed flake food is accepted after about two weeks of development.
In the wild, their natural food consists of invertebrates and zooplankton. Adults greatly appreciate Cyclops, Mysis, Daphnia, or Brine Shrimp in addition to a good quality flake food. □