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Neolamprologus similis
'Big-Eye' Lamprologus, Zebra Shelldweller

 Age of Aquariums > Freshwater Fish > 'Big-Eye' Lamprologus - Neolamprologus similis

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Neolamprologus_similis_1.jpg (8kb)
Photo Credit: Molly Leonard

Name: Neolamprologus similis
Origin: Lake Tanganyika (Africa)

Size Tank pH Temp
6 cm 40 L 8.0 26C


This small shelldweller is named for its "similarity" to the more common N. multifasciatus. One common name for the species is "Big-Eyed Multi" but it also goes by Zebra shelldweller and, more commonly, just similis. The two species are, however, easy to tell apart with a little preparation. First, the multi appears to have dark stripes on a light body, while similis are the opposite. Second, similis have a few additional stripes over their necks and heads. However, the supposedly defining "big eyes" appear no larger in similis than the other species. The two are not as similar in personality. Although similis is considered to be a colony fish, it is less friendly to conspecifics than multis are. In a small tank, a pair is a safer bet for peaceful cohabitation than a trio of harem. For a colony, a tank of 75 liters or larger will allow for several females and will soon fill with fry. According to rumor, Similis are not especially prolific but most of the fish seem to have missed the memo. Sexing is difficult. Among fish of the same age males will be noticeably larger and sometimes bear better-defined tail stripes. Older males develop small nuchal humps. There are behavioral and color differences but these translate more accurately into hierarchical distinctions than gender shifts.

The similis 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 3 and 5 cm 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, which range from digging trenches, building sand "walls", and pushing shells across the tank to spitting sand into rivals' shells and turning shells to some preferred alignment. Of course, on gravel, the fish cannot dig well either. Although they can be kept on gravel, the fish so much prefer a fine sand it is to be heartily recommended.

Similis are not choosy about their food, except that they prefer not to eat from the surface. Bottom to middle-dwelling fish, they like sinking pellets as well as most frozen and live foods. 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 all too easy. On occasion, skipping a water change can induce spawning, but of course failing water quality will certainly harm the eggs, so a balance should be struck. The female will excavate around her shell such that the opening faces upward, and will lay her eggs inside. The male then hovers over the opening and spurts his milt inside. The female may stay inside for hours or days, depending on her level of obsession and dedication, fanning fresh water to the eggs. They hatch within a day or two, but may stay inside the shell for as much as a week, feeding on bacteria and infusoria within, as well as the bits of pellet dropped by their parents. Growth, as with many Tanganyikan cichlids, is fairly slow, but within a few months most of the fry should be heading towards 1 cm and showing perhaps more yellow in their fins than the parents do.

Although somewhat less common than other small shelldwellers, similis are industrious, personable, and terrifically photogenic shelldweller, quite worth the small tank and bit of attention they require.

Contributed by Molly Leonard

N. similis are attractive shellies. The males are normally larger than females. Males also have an extra line running over the forehead as the female lacks this extra line. Males will also form a small hump at the forehead. I have two pairs. When in a 75 L tank the two males did not get along, now they are in a community 225 L and doing fine together. They dance around in circles when trying to mate and it seems they have gotten my 4 Black Calvus in the mood. Finally $$$.

Contributed by Jesse Camacho

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