Are shelldwellers community-safe?

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A reader asks what size aquarium would be needed for his shelldwelling cichlids.

Is it possible to keep any of the shelldwelling cichlids in a standard community tank? I have hard water in my area and the pH is 8. My tank is 120cm in length with a sandy substrate and I currently keep rainbows, mollies, X-ray and Lemon tetras and Bronze corys.

If a community tank isn’t suitable, what size aquarium would I need to set up for them, and what fish could I put in with them for the upper levels?

J. PATRICK, VIA EMAIL

Jeremy replies: Yes, on paper it is possible, although they may take pot-shots at any bottom dwelling fish, such as Corydoras, which they will see as a threat to their shell and substrate territories. 

It would be far better to set up a tank just for them instead. Opt for something of 60 l upwards, with a similarly high pH, a deep, multi-grained substrate and lots of empty apple snail or escargot shells. Add more shells than fish, and they will move them around to suit them. 

Neolamprologus brevis.

I’d recommend you choose one of the following species: Neolamprologus brevis, N. multifasciatus or N. ocellatus. 

If you go for Neolamprologus brevis or N. ocellatus, try to select a pair from the dealer’s tank —males are much bigger and more dominant, with females being petite, with much smaller tails. If you can’t sex them, buy a group, but you can expect a pair to kill off the others if you don’t remove them or provide dozens of extra shells for them to hide away in. I’ve seen males drag rivals out of shells by their tails. 

Neolamprologus multifasciatus is much smaller, however, and you could keep a group of six of these, even in a 60 l tank. 

I would leave any other fish out in tanks of less than 120cm in size. Then Cyprichromis could be added to swim in the upper layers, and in a Tanganyikan biotope tank of that sort of size you could even add Julidochromis and Neolamprologus brichardi fairy cichlids too.