I read somewhere that one of them digs a bit less so that the plants don't get quite as damaged. Do the different breeds have different temperaments?
1st let me commend you for researching and asking questions before throwing some fish in a tank.
Now to your questions about temperament, tank mates, plants etc.
How much difference is there between the type of shellies?
There is a difference in size and temperaments. For instance, Lamprologus callipterus, a shell-spawner. The males at 5" are far to big for shells but they collect them for females (sub 2") to spawn in. There are community/colonial driven species like Multifasciatus/Similis & less communal tank species (depending on tank size/number of shells) like the pugnacious Ocellatus. There are also a lot of opportunistic shell-dwellers. These guys are not shell obligate, preferring cave/crevices, but will use shells if they are around. Here are some examples: L. caudopunctatus, N. leloupi, L. kungweensis,
In general shell-dwellers defend there main shells. Some are more aggressive about it and need considerations if you plan on putting them in with other fish. Neolamprologus boulengeri & N. Ocellatus come to mind.
I can't stress enough how the tank setup influences the personalities of these fish
. For example to much rock and they wont dig and stay pretty still. While others move their shells into rock crevices to hide them. The substrate defines their digging potential & tank-mates define how shy or aggressive they are.Tank-mates
- In general dither fish are a good idea. They will make the shellies more comfortable/confident. Some do better with mid-water/top-water fish around while others do not and will feverishly defend there territory from other fish. That said you can add non-Tanganyika fish to your tank if they can handle the high pH & hardness. Be vigilant not to add fish that will prey on shelly eggs or juveniles. Catfish for instance can be sneaky night time predators. Altolamprologus calvus & compressiceps are know fry snatchers too. Shells
- There are various land snail shells that will work & can be found online. Helix pomatia shells (escargot) are a very popular and easy to acquire. Also apple snail shells work if sized right. 1-2" shells are perfect for shellies. Males need a couple 2" shells as they are generally larger than females. As far as quantity, the more the better, Multifasciatus for instance prefer shell piles. If I had to give a minimum then 5 per fish. Do not use salt water shells. They are heavier/thicker and cant be moved as easily. Defeating a shelly's behaviors. Also if your substrate is sand, it then allows for smaller shell-dwellers to dig under the shell to rotate it how they want. Substrate
- To each their own really. I prefer to keep my tanks maintenance & chemistry simple. So agronite has helped alot. It raises your pH to African Cichlid appropriate levels, buffers the tank so it stays stable and get the hardness up too. So all you have to do is dechlorinate your tap water (if its hardwater) and thats it. Agronite comes in many forms: Crushed coral/shell fragment size (1/4" pieces), coarse sand (Carib Sea Afrikan Cichlid mix), sugar fine sand, and super fine oolitic agronite sand (Top Fin Oolitic Agronite sand). Oolitic sand has spherical grains that are non abrasive to small fish. It is however very very fine and very easy for your shellies & filter to push around fyi.
If you dont want to use agronite based substrate then I recommend putting some in your filter so it can keep your water chemistry right. Then use any non-buffering substrate you want. Stay away from any amazonian/South American types as they will fight your beneficial agronite.Water
- I will keep this simple. If you have hardwater then great. Just dechlorinate it and use aragonite. If your water is soft grab some Tanganyikan buffer from Seachem. Then end. Plants
- Shellies dig so put your plants in strategic areas where they wont touch them. Not all plats will survive or do well in African Cichlid water. I've found the following do fine: Java ferns, Anubias (all sizes), Vallisineria (corkscrew, jungle & tiger val), Sagittaria subulata (it just stays small), Parrot Feather (illegal in some states) & Hyacinth (illegal in some states). If you are going for a shallow tank I recommend researching semi-emergent & deep water margianl plants. They prefer their roots below water and the rest growing above water.
*note about myself*
I breed various shellies exclusively. I used to breed South American Cichlids and some others.
I want nothing more than to spread knowledge & get people setup up with fish that they can realistically care for.
So if you want feel free to PM me and I will give you my number if you wish and we can discuss your concerns and options. In short, I like discussing fish & here to help if I can.