To date, there are at least two calliurus morphs. One hails from Mpimbwe and is properly named the "Giant," while the other is found through out the lake and is much smaller. Males of the regular variety only grow to about 7 cm while Giant males can reach sizes of 11 cm and grow much faster than the regular males. Females of both varieties max out at 4 or 5 cm. They are mild mannered, and are perhaps, the most gentle of the shell dwellers. They are rare in the hobby for a number of reasons but principally because they are difficult to breed. I attribute this difficulty to their gentle disposition. They should be given a roomy tank with very easy going tankmates. If you treat this shellie right, they are sure to please!
Neolamprologus calliurus is different from many of the other Tanganyikan shell dwellers in that they prefer the intermediate zone where the rocky shoreline gives way to the open, sandy bottom. They also inhabit a deeper clime, 5-20 m down. But what makes this shellie so different than others is that while the females take up residence in their shells full-time, the male hides out in nearby rocks, guarding his territory (and females) from invasion.
Small males and adult females rely upon empty snail shells for protection and the females use them as nursery to raise their young. Adult males are forced to find protection among the rocks because within a yearís time, theyíve outgrown the shells and are too large to fit in them. N. calliurus is a harem breeder, so its best to keep them in ratios of at least 1 male to 3 or more females. With a single male, a small group could be maintained in a 30-gallon aquarium. Females do not tolerate each other but, interestingly, the male will control the aggression between them.
Females should be given two shells each. Neothauma or Escargot shells work well, but whatever shell you use, it should not be larger than a ping pong ball. This is necessary to ensure the female some respite from the male. A sandy substrate with rocks piled in a corner or along the back is essential. Live plants make great tank mates. First of all, N. calliurus wonít damage them and secondly, subdominant males will take up residence in them. If you decide to keep more than one male, divide the tank in two with a rock pile and plants and then deposit shells at both ends of the aquarium. Suggested tank mates include Cyprichromis species and some of the Xenos. Whatever you do, don't keep this fish with N. brevis. They are very closely related and often confused, despite their distinct behavioral differences. If N. calliurus is kept with other shell dwellers, try to set up territories at opposite ends of the tank to avoid constant conflict.
Even though calliurus are often mistaken for brevis and vice versa, there are some tell-tale characteristics, of which the hobbyist should be aware. First of all, calliurus are much larger (brevis max out at 5 cm). calliurus also have a distinctive yellow neck spot and altogether lack the vertical stripes on the body. Their bodies are more gray than brown. Furthermore, their lower jaw protrudes more, such that "fangs" are visible. Female calliurus are small and yellow-bellied and also have the prominent neck spot, but lack the fin extensions of the male. The most distinctive trait for calliurus is their "lyre tail," which contrasts with the truncated, rounded tail fin of the brevis. Notwithstanding, don't rely wholeheartedly upon the "lyre tail" feature as there are some variants that push the envelope on this defining difference.
Mating begins as the female entices the male to her shell. Courting proceeds in typical fashion with both male and female doing a lot of flashing and displaying of the fins. The female will stay close to her shell, making lightning-like movements around it in an effort to attract the male. This courtship ritual may last up to an hour before the female finally gives the male the signal by entering her shell. She will then deposit a clutch of eggs, which the male eagerly fertilizes.
But, because the male is too large to follow the female in, he is forced to fertilize the eggs from the mouth of the shell. Courtship resumes, and this process may repeat itself several times. The end result of it all being 100-150 eggs!
The female will keep close watch over the eggs, rarely sneaking a bite to eat, until the young emerge from the shell. The male also keeps vigil over mother and fry, but is not permitted to get too close. Within three days, the eggs hatch but you wonít see fry emerge for at least another week after this time. At that point, itís important to start feeding them a baby brine shrimp.
In the wild, N. calliurus feeds on crustaceans, insects, and zooplankton. In captivity, itís important to feed them adequate protein matter. A combination of brine shrimp flakes and Spirulina flakes are what I recommend, with an occasional live or frozen treat. □