Hey, that’s my shrimp!

Neolamprologus furcifer. Photo from https://www.aqualog.de/.

As cichlid keepers, we’re all aware of aggression and the typical behavioral scenarios that promote it. Breeding, offspring defense, territory defense, and food competition are the main ones. And though we naturally associate these behaviors with adult or adolescent fish, fry exhibit aggression too.

A recent study published in the latest issue of Hydrobiologia shows aggression can begin very early in a cichlid’s life. In an experiment involving fry of Neolamprologus furcifer from Lake Tanganyika, it was discovered that early-stage fry (as young as ~2 weeks old) demonstrate sibling aggression. The study focused on the fry as they fed on small atyid shrimp. Most (frequency) aggression was observed among the fry between the ages of 4 and 6 weeks. While the severity of the aggression was not specifically tested, it was noted that the sibling aggression was non-lethal.

The study was performed in situ (meaning in Lake Tanganyika itself rather than in a laboratory) using several N. furcifer nests. The details of the study are pretty fascinating, if you’re interested. See the citation below for a link to the paper. It is a scholarly paper, so it may not be easily accessible.

Dynamics of sibling aggression of a cichlid fish in Lake Tanganyika. Satoh, S., Ota, K., Awata, S. et al. Hydrobiologia (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-018-3768-8.

Tanganyikan shell options

Two and half years ago, I posted about shell varieties for shell dwelling cichlids. I revisited that post today because many new cichlid keepers are unaware of what shells to use.

In addition to the shells pictured in that previous post, there is another shell that I’ve had good experience with –  Muffin land snail (pictured below). Compared to other shell options, these are quite large and dense (notice the thickness of the lip).

I have had both N. ocellatus and L. signatus select these shells when several other options were available.

Muffin land snail shell (Ryssota ovum). Photo by the author.

A couple of fish

I had a little spare time the other day and realized I hadn’t taken any photos of my fish in a while. So I dragged out the camera and decided to get a few shots of one of the 75g Tang tanks. The two photos below show one of my three A. calvus and one of my breeding pair of J. marlieri. The Julie is my adult male (note the slight nuchal hump). The calvus is one of two males (the dominant one). Yes, that is an adult Neolamprologus tretocephalus (five bar cichlid for those wanting the common name) in the background of the calvus photo. That’s the female of my pair.

Adult male Altolamprologus calvus.


Adult male Julidochromis marlieri.

How can I tell?

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself that question with respect to whether you have a female cichlid that is gravid, guarding eggs, or guarding fry. You don’t have to worry about her being gravid or having any fry if she’s in a tank by herself. She’ll need a male to fertilize any eggs she’s about to unload. Otherwise, the eggs will never develop.

If she shares a tank with a male of the same species (I’m not going to consider hybrids here), just watch her and see if she stays close to any objects in the tank, e.g., rocks, plants, ornaments. So what if your tank is heavily decorated and she’s simply disappeared? That usually either means she’s hiding from aggression, she’s sick, or she is in fact guarding eggs or fry.

Continue reading this post…How can I tell?

Got a fish that’s shell bound?

Breeding pair of Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell”. Female is in the shell; male is partially obscured behind the shell.

If you keep shellies and you have one that’s shell bound, there are several possible reasons. Fish use shells normally for two primary purposes – shelter and egg laying. If you have a fish that stays confined to a shell and it’s not a mature fish, you can rule out the latter.

Shelter seeking comes in two varieties – shelter from aggression and shelter for illness. A shellie being harassed will naturally seek an empty shell to avoid the aggression, but a sick or injured fish will also utilize a shell and will often go there to die.

If you have a fish that stays just inside the shell but faces outward, it’s most likely protecting eggs or fry. If there are fry, you’ll usually see them. You may also see the eggs. Many shellie species lay their eggs just inside the aperture.

Watch your shell bound fish and see how it behaves in or near the shell. If aggression is the cause, it will typically make regular attempts to back out to see if the aggressor or threat has disappeared. If the fish remains in the shell for long periods when no other fish are nearby and you’re certain it’s not protecting fry or eggs, there’s a high probability it’s sick or injured.

Learning and understanding the behavior of your fish is the best way to determine when your intervention is needed.

Join the American Cichlid Association!

Every so often, I write a post encouraging cichlid keepers to join the American Cichlid Association (ACA). It’s been a while since I wrote something about the association, so I thought I would take a minute to do so.

What is the ACA? It is the OFFICIAL cichlid-focused organization in the Unites States. It promotes and encourages cichlid keeping and conservation, activities that apply both to the hobby and to science.

Membership benefits are numerous and come with a nominal, annual fee. If you enjoy being a part of the wonderful world of cichlids, become a member. I’ve been one for years, and it has provided me the opportunity to meet some of the most committed and knowledgeable cichlidophiles in the hobby. In fact, the annual convention, a four day event, is the perfect place to meet fellow hobbyists, cichlid breeders, and other cichlid experts from around the world. Furthermore, the convention is the place to be to see hundreds of species of cichlids in one place. You even have the opportunity to purchase fish, either from other attendees or via the auction.

Visit the ACA website and see for yourself all that membership has to offer. I can’t encourage you enough to join. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Josh Cunningham interview

Josh Cunningham


After you’ve been in the hobby for a while, you will become familiar with some of the cichlid breeders who supply the hobby with fish. My interviewee this time is no stranger to the cichlid community. As an award-winning breeder of quality cichlids, a former president of Michigan Cichlid Association, and current board member of the American Cichlid Association (ACA), Josh Cunningham of Cunningham Cichlids also runs an online retail business.

Though I have never ordered fish from Josh, I’ve known about him for some time. I have seen some of his fish, and they are simply awesome. He is just beginning to give talks all over the country and will be speaking at his first convention, the Keystone Clash in Pennsylvania, September 14-16 on “The Evolution of my Fishroom and Breeding Setups for African Cichlids.” As part of my interview portfolio, I’m trying to increase the number of breeder interviews. I contacted Josh a few months ago and invited him to do an interview for the blog. Thankfully, he didn’t need any convincing. He graciously agreed and here we are.

Let’s get started.

Continue reading this post…Josh Cunningham interview