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Hi there, new here.

I've been keeping fish for a while, and I'm actually the proud parent of a horde of bettas (separate tanks or divided and one sorority). I know they aren't compatible, I'm just going to introduce myself a little so I don't seem like such a lurker, lol.

I LOVE my bettas - but I'm itching for more, and not so much as in MORE in the sense that I want more bettas. I want more out of the experience. Currently, my fish tanks are planted, one is a low-tech CO2-injected system with nice lighting, traditional dirt/gravel substrate what have you. My divided tanks and smaller tanks aren't as...complete as my sorority tank. I LOVE my sorority tank, it transfixes me and I could watch it for hours, because there's no plastic divider in between, just killing the view of the interaction between my fish, the whole aquascape - all of it.

I want more out of it, I guess. Kind of like when I upgraded from my point-and-shoot camera to my D90 DSLR - I just ached for something bigger, more challenging, more satisfying. That's how I feel with my tanks, currently.

So I visited the bookstore today, and picked up several books about different tropical fishes available. I could walk up and down the aisles of any fish-store, and ask the (probably wrong) salesperson for information, and be told wrong. I needed a place to start. One of the books was "The 101 Best Tropical Fishes" by Kathleen Wood. (I liked her book on freshwater plants, lol.)

In it, I came across information on the Agassiz's Dwarf Cichlid, which the book states can work well in a 5 gallon tank. My bettas aren't even in five gallon tanks, so I'm going to rule that out, especially since it's also recommended that you stock it with one male for every three to four females. If the fish are 1.5" in length (per this book, the web says they range from .75" to 2.50"), then 5 x 1.5" = 7.5" of fish, which ( - and while I don't subscribe to this rule, I'll reference it -) breaks the "One gallon per inch of fish" rule. Definitely asking for trouble, if these fish do need such careful water quality - such a small tank would probably have a hard time maintaining a cycle, nonetheless when it's seemingly overstocked. And the fish wouldn't have much space to move around.

These are beautiful fish! I'm not even sure the cichlid is for me. I joined the forum because the web is full of interesting information but there's nothing like actually witnessing someone's failures and successes in real-time (like via a thread). And certainly nothing like getting information from other fishkeepers, especially fishkeepers with a passion for their specific breed.

I'd like a species tank, not so much a huge community tank. I'll probably end up with some dither fish, depending on the species I go with. Not a huge concern.

While researching the Agassiz's Dwarf Cichlid, I came across some information on Neolamprologus multifasciatus or "Multies." I'm just going to clarify here, because I'm not 100% sure, and this is my cheat sheet of information gleaned from several sites, mkay?

-Needs empty shells*, at least 1-2 per fish, though more wouldn't harm anything.
* -- Shells are usually neothauma tanganyicense, though these are usually quite expensive. A safe alternative is the whale's eye shell or an empty escargot shell. The key is that it be lightweight, and large enough to "more than house" the fish and fry.

-Requires a temperature range between 74* and 79*. Raising the temperature (just like with bettas) 1-2* temperature increase can induce spawning behavior.

-The fish require a pH of exactly 8.6, and prefer hard water. The water should have ammonia and nitrites near zero, but absolutely no nitrates. If nitrates are found while testing, perform a water change.

-The fish can do well in a 10-gallon tank, though the colony may soon outgrow the space.

-The fish requires slow-moving water, almost as if it were stagnant. Not a lot of movement, attempt to baffle any filter.

-The fish prefers a sandy substrate. To save money, use sandbox sand, instead of super- expensive petstore sand. Using a darker-colored sand can reduce stress in the fish.

-You can mix in some rocks and gravel with the sand, but the majority of that substrate needs to be sand for the "shell pit." (I don't know what it's called?)

-These fish are better with plastic plants (sad!), but if the fishkeeper is dead-set on a planted aquarium, it should be sparse and to the sides and back of the tank or sporadically placed throughout the tank. The plants should be thick-leafed plants.

-Female Multies build a "pit" around their shell-homes ranging from three to four inches in diameter, which they guard fiercely - especially during breeding times. The male also build this "pit" around his shell, but his "pit" has a diameter of six to eight inches. He also guards his harem's shells, his harem, and pretty much anything else he feels like guarding if it's "his."

-Male Multies are more prone to "biting the hand that feeds" during cleaning, regardless of if he is breeding or not.

-They are very much "bottom dwellers" with their shells, and don't usually swim more than six or seven inches from the bottom of the tank, or above their shells.

-While the fish will "claim" the shells, they feel free to MOVE from shell to shell, and will build a new "pit" for each. Other fish may come by and take over the newly-moved fish's shell, and "re-decorate" to his/her liking.

-Because these are territorial, semi-aggressive fish, other bottom-dwelling fish may find themselves bullied, especially when breeding. Thus, it's best there are no other bottom- dwelling fish - even other cichlids.

-These fish look very much like neolamprologus similus, the main difference being that multifasciatus is mostly white with beige stripes, whereas similus is mostly beige with white stripes. They are very close in size and behavior otherwise, though they are not compatible in a tank ecosystem.

-These fish are carnivores, usually eating insects and other little goodies in their natural biosphere. In an aquarium, they are best fed flake food, freeze-dried food, frozen-food, and occasional live food. They are known to eat baby snails, if available.

-When a breeding has been successful, young males must be removed or the father will view his own son as a threat, and potentially injure or kill him. Daughters are considered part of the harem, and will later become brides.

So now that I've paraphrased my chicken scratch, I just want to ask a few things. First - is all of that correct? If not, could you please tell me what was wrong with any of it? OR, what is "more correct" in your experience?

And some questions -- I suppose these questions apply to more than just the multifasciatus species of the fish. I guess I'm asking for all of the shell-spawning, shell-dwelling cichlids. I like their smaller size (I read there are supposed to be 3?-ish super-small species of this type, and that is what I'm looking at.)

While many sites say 10 gallons would be OK, looking at the tank portion of this forum I see that there have been few to no ten gallon tanks set up for cichlids. What is the recommended tank size for a fish of this size, to support a colony? How fast will a colony grow, for future reference?

This site labels these fish a "2" on the ease-of-care range. "1" is apparently very easy. Are these hardy fish? Do they have any special needs? Do they need any water additions (like tannins, blackwater extract, etc)? Do they need salt added to the tank in any way? (Even in small doses - or is this like with bettas, where salt is more a "medicine"?) Do they need a bubble-maker for additional oxygen? Are they a low-light or high-light fish? (Like, which do they prefer?)

How much of their time do they spend IN the shells? All of it? Some of it? Only when threatened or breeding?

It said to go with plastic plants, per a few sites (there are 4 x-es, so 4 sites said plastic plants were the best bet, if any). I realize they dig a bit in the sand, that's awesome. BUT... ONLY plastic? I love live plants, and while I'm willing to part with them for the right fish, I just want to clarify that live plants and these teeny little fish don't do well. If you CAN have live plants, what are some good suggestions? I've never had a sand tank before, so I'm not sure what would thrive in this substrate. Could you use dirt, sand, gravel, AND rock? The dirt more for the plants, maybe just along the edges (lol, of course it'll probably move a little but hey).

As I just said, I don't have any experience with sand. Is siphoning very different, or do you simply need to be more careful? Do you remove all of the shells first? I read the article on this site "Unshelling Shell Dwellers." Do you find you have any algae problems - in which case, do you clean the shells? It was also said that most of the time, you can be unaware that your fish are actually breeding until the fry become free-swimming outside of the shells. What happens if you're cleaning, and you disturb a shell that has fry in it? I understand these fish are more protective/aggressive when breeding - would you be able to tell by mamma- fish comin' out to snack on you, telling you, "No, don't move my shell!"? Of course, they live in their shell - how do you get all the fish poo out of the shell? Is there a specific cleaning product, or just water and some light elbow grease (if needed)?

Is it much different when it comes to filtration? Or do you just throw on a pre-filter? I have several of those - I have some HOB filters, and some internal filters, and it could apply to either. What type of filter is the best to use - HOB, internal, canister (if you say these fish need 125 gallons to start out with, and require a canister filter, I am telling you now that's super-outta budget and you need not answer any of the other questions because I'll skip the cichlids, lol), etc? Not for filtration results - I've got that down, I prefer HOB for the majority of my fish and only because I can't afford a wet-dry or a canister filter (and on my small-ish tanks, either would have been overkill - LOL). I'm asking - what type of filter disrupts this fish's environment the LEAST to provide the most natural, healthy environment FOR THEM? Which have YOU had the most luck with - what was the model, the size tank, and why?

With these fish, what is a good dither fish? Do they need a dither fish, to "coax" them out of their shells a little more? Or can they have just a mid-level fish with them - in which case, which do you recommend? What are the best tankmates?

Where would you get any of these shelldwelling species? Just ordering them in? Any places anyone has had any specific luck with? What is the average price?

I've had community tanks before, but they were more... variations of guppies, mollies, platys, cardinal tetras, neon tetras, glowfish, etc. I'm more familiar with those, but these fish are so fascinating. If I end up moving away from cichlids, it'd still be wonderful to know this information, which is why I am asking. Again, I know very little about cichlids, and a lot of this is probably super-common knowledge, so I apologize for the explosion of questions. I won't actually be investing in a tank or anything for a while, and then there's always a matter of cycling the tank. Between these questions getting answered, and me picking a tank and getting it set up, I'll have had plenty of time to do research and familiarize myself with the species and requirements. I'll be able to tell if this is the fish for me or not. I just want to have a good idea of what I'm looking at before I dive into something that's far beyond my abilities, I guess. Don't wanna provide a lackluster environment, or fail to know as much as possible about something I'm considering investing in. That seems so impersonal, but I think it's the best/only way to word it.

If you answer even just some questions, and the next reader answers another set of questions, that's fine. I don't expect someone to answer every single question, lol. I'd love it, but it's not expected. Who wants to answer questions for some random new girl who doesn't even own the fish yet? (I would, if it were for bettas, but that's besides the point - most people don't ask questions, and when they do it's certainly not THIS many!) Any input anyone has, I really appreciate. There's no cichlids book at any of my local bookstores (I checked this afternoon, after my initial research - a drive all the way back into town)...

Thank you! For any information/input! :fish:
 

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First, they do not require exactly 8.6 ph. They do like hard alkaline water, but most people keep the water at 8.2 - 8.3 because it is easier to keep it stable there. You should read more about this in the library section here there is an article on water chemistry.

They can be kept in a 10g, but I think they're better off in a 20 long, with a HOB filter, sand, and escargot shells.
 

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Water in a fishtank should never have ammonia or nitrite. It's impossible to have 0 nitrates without either plants or a constantly cycling water change. You'll have nitrate. Just keep it low. If you have ammonia or nitrite, you've got problems.
 

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Some additional info. These "notes" I'd say are questionable:
  • Multies like more than 2 shells per fish...5-6 has been suggested.
    Raising temp does not stimulate spawning...you will wish they would stop. Maybe a water change.
    Stagnant water, no.
    Biotope would have no plants at all.
    There is no pit, female multies will like a shell in the middle of the bottom of a layered pile.
    I'd choose New Life Spectrum Cichlid Formula over all those food suggestions.
Regarding your questions:
  • They are in the shells when guarding eggs or threatened only.
    No dithers are required.
    See Reviews so Cichlid-forum can keep vendor discussions out of the forums.
    HOBs are fine for a 10G or 20G
    Dirt and sand layers will be mixed by the fish digging, try anubias and java fern instead attached to rocks on your token rock pile.
 

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I've had fish since childhood. Of all of the fis I've had, the three most interesting species in my order of preference are n. Pulcher, discus, and bettas. You've already covered bettas. Any cichlid that you choose will be an interesting choice. Considering my experience with n. Pulcher, I'm quite anxious to try a shell dweller next. As with most others on this forum, space for more tanks is the only thing stopping me.
 

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By the way, you might want to check my post in this section that is titled, "My first foray into cichlids. "
 

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For planting my shell dweller tank this is what I have done (and I didn't invent this I saw several examples of this online before I did it).

I have small slate pieces stacked to form a retaining wall about 2-3" from the back of my tank. This wall holds the substrate required for the plants. I used what my LFS had on hand for planted substrates. Turns out it is black in color and rather large.

I set up a 2" deep bed of this substrate within the boundaries of my retaining wall. I then topped it with 1" of sand over it. I filled the rest of the tank with 3" of sand.

I placed the majority of my shells within the sand substrate.

When I introduced the fish it became clear that the breeding harem and dominant male claimed the prime sandy real estate with the other fish rejected towards the plants. So I just dropped a couple shells back there for their peace of mind. Yes, they dug up and mixed the plant substrate some but it isn't bad at all really. Not much creeps over the retaining area I developed in my tank.

If you click on my "tanks" link near this post you can see my tank and some other details. I went low tech on my plants for ease of use. They are thriving and I probably need to start pruning again soon.
 

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Also dont limit your self to multis check out the profile section there are all kinds of shellies. Multis being the easiest i think from what most ppl say. Brevis are pretty interesting and dont require alot of space once they form a pair and several others that take more time since there a little more aggresive.

Also there are other species that can work in a 20L if you go that route cant think of the names off the top of my head since i myself just started in with Tangs but came across quite a few sutiable for that size of a tank that live in the rocks and spawn in shells just do some research and ask away you will find out pretty quick if your idea isnt a good one haha :thumb:
 

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I agree check out the other shellies, but Multis are one of the best choices for small tanks. I have had multis three desperate times and I seem to always come back to them. The colony dynamic is really interesting.
 

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When I set up my multi tanks I use shells only, no sand. I use small sea shells for the base and whales eye shells on top. I block off a corner of the tank with cichlid stones, the plastic kind with holes in the middle, holes facing inwards. I fill that corner with sea shells and whales eye shells also. This gives the colony rejects a little area of their own, the cichlid stones give them extra hiding places away from the dominant male. When I sell/trade, these are the multies I offer up. I tie anubias and java fern to rocks, shells, driftwood, actually, whatever I have on hand. I don't like using shells in multi tanks, when they dig and cover their shells, it makes a messy looking tank, and destroys the plants.
 
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