Name: Lamprologus stappersi/meleagris
Origin: Lake Tanganyika (Africa)
One of the difficulties of this species is its ever-changing nomenclature. More commonly known as Lamprologus meleagris, the debate on which is the correct synonym - or if, indeed, they are separate species - rages on. At this point stappersi is viewed as correct, but the genus poses another problem - according to a number of ichthyologists, "Lamprologus" should not be used for Tanganyikans. Given the confusion, it's no wonder the common name is gaining popularity - the Pearly Ocellatus.
As the name implies, stappersi is part of the ocellatus subgroup of shelldwellers, along with L. speciosus, the Black Ocellatus, and a few lesser-known fish. They have the shape and some of the attitude of "occies," but are rather more subdued. While they can be kept in Tanganyikan communities many owners have found that, unlike the aggressive, robust occies, they may be excessively stressed by active tankmates, even non-threatening ones like danios. Any stappersi kept in community tanks should be watched for stress coloration, excessive hiding, and particularly any unusual slimming.
Sexing is difficult. Among fish of the same age males are noticeably larger and often the spots in their tails form more recognizable stripes, but for the experienced stappersi keeper, the face is a much more obvious giveaway. The female's face is shorter, her face steeper, and her mouth smaller; the males have a larger, bulldoggy head. Coloring should be ignored; when riled, females can be as colorful or more so than males, and subdominant males are paler than accepted females.
The species can be kept as a pair or harem; however, single pairs cannot always be kept alone, as the male may injure the female with no other outlets for his aggression. And, the female may endanger the male when she's protecting a brood. A better setup would include either additional females to form a harem, or a similarly-sized male to distract both members of the pair. Plenty of room should be allowed for territory; a 30” or larger tank is ideal, especially once this relatively prolific species gets spawning.
The stappersi tank has very few requirements, most the same as those of other fish: water, heat, a filter. However, they also need shells to live in. There are assorted sources for shells. Craft stores often carry turbos of assorted types which can work well; look for unpainted shells with a diameter between one and two inches and a round opening. Turbo shells can also be found at pet stores, often sold for hermit crabs. Escargot shells are light enough for the shellies to move easily and are an ideal shape and size; any gourmet store or upscale grocery can get them, and if not, a French restaurant can be a good source. Less common "shells" include PVC elbows with a cap on one end or small clay pots with holes punched in; however, by using these alternatives the owner denies him or herself the chance to watch the fascinating shell-arranging behaviors of the fish. Stappersi and its ocellatus relatives are particularly gifted diggers; used to spread-out shells, they’ve become adept at burying all but the opening of a chosen shell if given enough sand to finish the job. Shells should be spread out. While it’s important to provide enough to reduce aggression, at least two or three per fish, serious shellpiles are not this fish’s natural habitat, and may lead to extended territoriality.
Stappersi are not choosy about their food, and are somewhat more likely to adapt to surface-feeding than some of their shyer shellie cousins. But as bottom-dwellers, they prefer sinking foods, particularly good-quality cichlid pellets. Pellets are the best staple diet because the "crumbs" left by the adults are among the first foods for young fry, long before the owner knows they exist.
Breeding is fairly simple once the fish are mature; however, that takes a bit of waiting. Like many Tanganyikans, stappersi take their time growing up and this should be expected of their fry as well. The female, before and after spawning, will extensively dig and pile sand around a chosen shell, often a shell small enough to allow her entry but which doesn’t leave room for anything to pass her. She lays the eggs inside and the male fertilizes them, often just as she emerges so the milt is sucked into the shell by the vacuum caused by her exit. The fry hatch within a few days but remain in the shell for as much as a week. Often before they finally venture out the female digs a small “nursery pit” in front of the shell, probably to create a sort of boundary for their hopping travels. This is extended into a deeper "moat" until the fry are able to leave that, at which point the female may return the shell to its "default" mode, half-buried.
Because the fry are such slow growers, keeping them fed and warm is imperative, especially the first few months. Multiple daily feedings, a slightly elevated temperature, and frequent water changes help keep them growing, if not at oscar-fry speed, certainly fast enough to allow them all of their future growth potential. Females will typically kick fry out of their territories within the first month, but the fry are rarely in danger from even unrelated stappersi, and the male (who inhabits a separate territory from the female) may take over guarding them. Fry have the adult pattern, not including the "pearls" from the time they're free-swimming, and the parents' ability to change that color. The can blend into light sand or the dark interior of a shell, effortlessly. Fry are quite benthic (not unlike adults!) but strong swimmers when they decide to leave the substrate.
Stappersi may be slightly more demanding in terms of space and planning than other shelldwellers but they are perhaps the most beautiful species of shellie found in the lake. No stappersi owner could possibly regret owning a breeding group of the stunning Pearly ocellatus.
I have 2 pairs of these guys in a 40 L for now. They are still quite small and they are getting along fine. I noticed these guys are not as easily frightened as other shellies and these guys are much more active.
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