Name: Neolamprologus hecqui
Origin: Lake Tanganyika (Africa)
Although Fishbase, Konings, and other fairly good authorities list this species as Neolamprologus hecqui, most owners and shops refer to it as Lepidiolamprologus hecqui, and this may well become the name. That genus is also used for its close relatives N. meeli> and N. boulangeri. N. kungweensis, though a likely relative, is rarely if ever called Lepidiolamprologus kungweensis. One of the largest shell-dwelling species, though by no means near the heft of a large male N. callipterus, hecqui have a build that bespeaks their power. When this fish bites your fingertips, looking for a treat - you feel it. And they have a wide mouth with bass-like jaws, so they can actually grab onto a finger while their smaller cousins, like the nippy L. ocellatus can only snap and fall away. As this biting behavior might imply, hecqui are by no means shy once they've settled in. They aren't stupid, either - if a net is coming after them, they'll certainly duck into a shell or a cave - but the owner can expect them to be out and about most of the time. Arguments are frequent within groups but, other than a pair or harem defending fry, the worst harm they'll generally inflict is keeping a small male from eating. Extra males should be removed; they'll be easily recognizable because of the way they cower in the upper corners of the tank.
Feeding is straightforward. Hecqui are primarily carnivorous, though very opportunistic; they'll happily pull snails right out of their shells and eat them, they'll learn to take food from your hand, and they'll knock any fish out of the way that tries to eat their food. One of the best aspects of the larger shell dwellers like hecqui is that they can be kept with fish that are generally too aggressive to be shellie-safe. Hecqui and its relatives can generally be kept with N. leleupi, the larger Julidochromis species, and even larger fish - provided, of course, that each species has plenty of room and no reason to harass the other unduly. A good rule of thumb with aggressive rockdwellers is to leave at least 15 cm of empty sand space between the rocks and the shells, so neither species is inclined to infringe on the other's territory. A pile of rocks functioning as a "visual barrier" is, sadly, the opposite of the right idea - the rockdwellers will consider it an extension of their territory and defend the area around it - right into the hecqui's space.
Hecqui is a very changeable fish when it comes to color and patterning. Based on substrate color, rank, mood, and breeding condition the mottling patterns can appear or disappear. A darker substrate can muddy the patterning but a light substrate will tend to keep the fish pale, so a compromise is best - either a mix of black and white or a shade of brown. The species also has a distinctive violet irridescence in certain lights - if the fish tilts toward the light or if a flash is used with a photo, it will show up. When upset, frightened, or defending fry, the fish, particularly the male, will develop its most bold patterning, which is quite stunning if you like that sort of thing. But as with any cichlids, patterns are just the icing on the cake - the behavior is what makes them interesting.
Hecqui is typically a harem species, though it can live in pairs - the females tend not to be happy about sharing, and their territorial needs are large enough that it's best to let the fish work out the best arrangement. The female will protect her shell or shells more directly, but the male will hover nearby or above, claiming the entire area. He is very adept at keeping other species away without (once they understand him) much force. Indeed, they are effective enough at guarding their territory that they can often keep fry safe from very effective fry-eaters like Julidochromis species.
Sexing hecqui is not simple. With the youngest, there's no real way of telling except that the largest will tend to be males and the smallest will tend to be females. As they age, the size difference becomes apparent; males are big, hefty fish. Females have size but not the same bulk or look. At adulthood, size is the most telling factor but not the only physical difference - the facial shape, as with almost every species of shell dweller, is a tell. Males have massive jaws for their size and a bump over the nose; the female's profile is much straighter.
Breeding is fairly straightforward. Size at maturity, like full size, is larger than the usual shell dwellers. Females should be more than 3 cm and males 4-5 cm before they are successful, though some enterprising pairs may start younger. Fry are more numerous than with other species, not least because the female is larger and can hold more eggs. Fry hatch and emerge from the shell on about the same schedule - one or two days to hatching and about five before they swim well enough to leave the shell. Within a few days of that they have developed the same camoflauge capabilities as their parents, and can blend in extremely well. They are adept swimmers and as excited about their food as any adult hecqui.
The ideal staple fry food is precisely what they'd get in the wild: scraps of anything and everything their parents are eating. Feed a high-quality pellet often and in small amounts and let the parents do the feeding, but also remember that crushed pellet or flakes can be eaten from the first week onward. Other good fry foods include freshly hatched brine shrimp, decapsulated eggs of same, cyclops, microworms, vinegar eels - the typical carnivore treats.
Water for hecqui is the same as any Tanganyikan species; warm, alkaline, hard, and very clean. The current can be high; hecqui are strong swimmers and will appreciate the extra oxygen. As a larger species they need plenty of space. Provide at least a 75 cm tank but larger is a good idea. Height is immaterial except that it allows subdominant fish to the upper reaches, so "breeder" type tanks, long and wide and low, are perfect, allowing plenty of territory space. Hecqui is a much less common species of shelldweller than the ever popular multi, occie, and even L. boulangeri, its close relative. But this fish has a charm all its own and is worth seeking out.
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