Better go looking if you don’t see someone….

Unsexed Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell”. This is not the aggressor described below, but a “temporalis shell” in another tank. Photo by the author.

Anyone who follows the blog knows I’m partial to dwarf cichlids since that is what I keep, which includes shellies. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I purchased some fish way back in the spring of this year. Included in that purchase was a group of five Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell.” These are wonderful little fish, but I find them to be extremely territorial for their size. This may be more a product of the small space I’ve kept them in (20g longs), but that’s a post for another day. Though the little fellas only get about 2.5″ long, they just simply don’t like being around conspecifics of the same gender. IMO, they’re more aggressive than ‘Lamprologus’ ocellatus.

I have kept and bred their much larger cousins, Telmatochromis temporalis, which are equally aggressive. I have posted numerous times about these fish, including my breeding female, which happened to be one of the most fecund female cichlids I have ever bred. This larger variety is easy to sex once they reach near adulthood. Males are significantly larger and quite thick. They remind of me little bulldogs. You can search the site if you want to read those posts. Anyway…..

Of the five sp. “temporalis shell” I purchased back in the spring, I only have two left. The other three were lost to aggression. I discuss the most recent death below. These little jewels are difficult to sex when they’re small and they don’t grow super fast. I had originally quarantined them all together in a 20g long. After losing one to aggression within the first two months and then finding one with a missing tail, I knew this would be dicey. I moved “tail-less” into a separate tank, leaving what I thought, based on behavior, might be a trio (2m and 1f). I was hoping I could witness two of them pair off so I could remove the lone male. I never got the chance. I found one of the trio badly beaten, removed it to a hospital tank, but it died in less than 24 hours.  

Fast forward and I thought I now had a segregated breeding pair. There was some chasing and some cornering, but then I would see them together a lot. As I did my evening feeding the other night, I noticed that I didn’t see one of the pair. Though a 20g long is pretty small, their tank contains numerous caves, a single large shell, and a 4″ pvc t-tube with caps on each end. After about five minutes of not seeing one of the fish, I went searching (this comes from intuition, which you newcomers to cichlids will learn over time). Sadly, I found it inside one end of the t-tube, headfirst, and dead. This tells me it was trying to escape aggression. Sigh!

The photo in this post is not the T. sp. “temporalis shell” culprit I discuss above. The photo is of the sp. “temporalis shell” I had to segregate after its tail was almost completely chewed off. I was able to save it, and the tail has grown back nicely. Note the prominent nuchal hump. This fish is only about 1.75″ long. I don’t know whether it is a male or female. I couldn’t get a picture of the aggressor from the lone pair because it is very shy and will dart into cover when I get too close to the tank. But rest assured, it looks nearly identical to the one in the photo above.

If sp. “temporalis shell”  exhibits sexual dimorphism the same way their larger cousin does, I’ll have to wait until the two I have are older AND hope I have one of each sex. Right now I just have no idea because they’re the same size.

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