Name: Lamprologus ocellatus
Origin: Lake Tanganyika (Africa)
One of the most common and beautiful of the shelldwellers, 'Lamprologus' ocellatus comes in a variety of forms. The beautiful gold variant, which can range into a strong orange or, unfortunately, down to a muddy, jaundiced shade is the most common, but there are also "blue" or "purple" types and a yellow-finned variety. Black ocellatus and pearly ocellatus are not the same species, though; they're L. speciosus and L. stappersi, respectively.
Occies are quite territorial and, ounce for ounce, a dangerous fish indeed. They think nothing of biting the hand that feeds them, so it's a good thing their mouths are so tiny! The fire and spunk of this species would be very difficult to handle if they were larger but is merely an endearing, fun trait in a 6 cm cichlid. This ability to take care of themselves makes them a good shelldweller for the appropriate Tanganyikan community tank; they can protect themselves and their territory from larger fish without posing much of a danger. Occies, like other shelldwellers, need hard, alkaline, clean, warm water. Unlike some other species, they also need a good bit of space; each territory may be 30 cm or larger in diameter, so an 80 L tank or larger should be provided for a small harem. This is not a colonial species, but fry are generally tolerated well.
Occies are, with experience, quite sexable based on facial shape. This is often difficult to see for the new occie-keeper, but the basics of it are that the female's "snout" is much shorter, with a sharper slope from eyes to mouth and smaller lips. The best way to see this difference is to start with photos of identified occies. Using good side-view shots, trace the shape of the face on both males and females; the difference should be readily visible and this understanding can be transferred to live fish (or, more easily, other photos). Females are also brighter in most cases. However, it's still the best policy to start with six juveniles and let them choose for themselves who stays and who is ostracized.
Occies aren't difficult to breed, when provided with clean water, good food, and a bit of privacy. The last is more difficult to provide, as this species is incredibly entertaining to watch, but the occie owner will often return from a vacation to find a new, unexpected cloud of fry hiding in their mother's shell. Eggs are laid and then fanned by the mother, who may stay inside the shell for a few hours but more commonly sits on its edge, wagging her pectoral fins to gust oxygenated water in to the eggs and, after a day or two, the newly hatched fry. Fry may not emerge from the shell for a week, at which point the mother will construct a small pit to keep them from straying too far. She enlarges the pit as their swimming ability grows, until it can no longer contain them. Slow-growing, the fry should be given every opportunity for a step up on size: multiple daily feedings, warm water, and plenty of water changes. When pampered, their growth may be surprisingly fast and the parents will certainly appreciate the stepped-up care, as well.
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