Cichlids are well known for their interesting behavior, and they generally make great aquarium inhabitants. Unfortunately, many cichlids are large fish with complex territorial interactions. They often require large aquariumswithexpensiverockarrangements to keep them from harming each other, making them impractical for many aquarists. Neolamprologus multifasciatus arethesmallest cichlids and the easiest to keep if you have limited space but still want to experience fascinating cichlid behavior. These tiny shell dwellers live in colonies and are a joy to keep.
The Tanganyikan shell-dweller
N. multifasciatus are native to the world’s
longest lake, Lake Tanganyika, located in
East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. These tiny
fish have dark-gray vertical stripes on a
cream-colored body with gray fins. They
make their homes in the discarded shells
of Neothauma tanganyicense, a freshwater
snail also found in the lake. The lake floor
is sandy, and the water is very hard. Multis
live in relatively peaceful shell colonies,
which is one of the reasons they are so easy
to keep in the home aquarium.
Multis need water
temperatures of 75° to
81°F with a pH of 7. 8 to
9.0, and the water should
be hard. They also need a
sandy substrate and plenty
of shells. Males can be
up to 2 inches in length.
Females are smaller at
about an inch. A 10- or
20-gallon aquarium is
sufficient for their needs.
My colony is kept in a
20-gallon high tank. Like
many other cichlids, they do better when they
are a little overcrowded. Due to their small
size and shy nature, they do not compete well
for food, especially with other larger cichlids,
so they are best kept in a species tank.
I use full-spectrum florescent lights and
a nutrient-rich plant substrate, which suits
their need for a small-grain substrate and also
allows me to plant Java fern and Cryptocoryne
wendtii. Both plants are hardy enough to
handle the basic pH, and C. multifasciatus
have no interest in eating them.
Over time the hardness of the water will
deteriorate the leaves of the Java fern, but I
still like to add plants to a cichlid aquarium.
In addition to making it look nice, they will
help maintain the water quality. I pull any
leaves that have eroded whenever I do a water
change. The plants continue to produce new
growth despite the harsh conditions.