Two ways that you, as a cichlid keeper, can truly understand the behaviors of your fish are through observation and experience. The longer you keep certain species, the better acquainted you’ll become with their behavior. Over time, your intuition will guide you. Trust it!
Twice in the past week I have recognized unusual behavior of two different fish – a ‘Lamprologus’ ocellatus and a Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell.” They do not occupy the same tank.
I have a lone Telmat in a 20g long. For cover, the tank contains several clay caves, tubes, some pvc, and a single Muffin land snail shell. The other day I fed the Telmat but it didn’t come out to eat as usual. I made a mental note and went on with the other feedings.
The next day, I noticed that one of my group of occies was nowhere to be seen during their feeding. I also made a note of that.
The day after not seeing the Telmat, it still wasn’t coming out. Though its tank is tightly covered, there is an opening where water flows from the HOB filter. I wondered if it might have jumped out through that narrow gap. I searched the floor and couldn’t find it. The next day, I began removing everything from the tank that it could be hiding in (and that I could fully see inside) in order to visually confirm the little Telmat was NOT in the tank. That included everything, even the large muffin snail shell (see photos below). I took it out, looked as far inside as I could see, and then put it back in the tank. Everything else was left out of the tank. The next morning I slowly peeked in the fish room and looked in the tank. The Telmat was cruising around, clearly trying to figure out what happened to all its hiding places. Phew!
As for the missing occie, I thought it unusual but I knew my group (five fish) was a mix of sexes. They’re still young, and I could only definitively sex two of them – a male and a female. The missing wasn’t one of those two. Based on behaviors, territories, etc, I concluded the missing fish was probably a female. And as a result, I concluded that she was probably in a shell laying eggs or guarding them. I have seen them do this in the past for at least a day or two. The occie tank, a 30g long, also contains three Julidochromis dickfeldi, two of which are a breeding pair. You can see that tank below. There are plenty of shells in this tank for the occies, and the breeding pair of julies occupy the end with the rock pile.
I had a bad feeling about the occie after the 2nd day, so I decided that I would give it one more day before I would go looking for it. Sadly, the next day I found it lying dead on the sand, clearly having been dead for at least 24 hours based on its appearance. My intuition said that not seeing it after a couple of days was bad news…and I was right. I didn’t believe the Telmat had jumped out either, so I trusted my instincts that it was inside the shell. I was correct on that one too. I have found that my intuition is right way more than it is wrong, but that comes with years of experience.