Some hobbyists insist on emulating the natural biotope from which their fish originate – blackwater tanks with lots of leaves, twigs, and such for CA/SA species. Or sandy bottomed tanks loaded with shells stacked on top of each other, like the Neothauma snail shell beds in Lake Tanganyika. Nothing wrong with that.
Then again, some hobbyists use everything in their tanks other than what the fish would naturally encounter in their endemic environment. This includes such items as PVC pipe, ceramic pots, porcelain ornaments shaped like pagodas (shout out to my friend Pam Chin).
Whatever your preference, your fish probably don’t care unless they’re FOs (wild caught). So where am I going with this post?
If you read my interview with Chris Carpenter below, you’re aware he likes his tanks to be as natural as possible. As a shell dweller enthusiast and expert, he’s not overly enamored with PVC elbows, which some shellie hobbyists use and have had good luck with. On the other hand, I suspect Chris is the type who would use whatever he could if it increased the probability of getting a hard-to-breed species to successfully produce some offspring.
It’s on that note that I mention a shell alternative, both natural and unnatural, that might give you some success. In the July issue of Cichlid News magazine, there is a great article about Nanochromis minor. That’s a nifty little dwarf species from the Lower Congo in West Africa. Written by Anton Lamboj, an expert on West African cichlids, the article mentions the use of a seed capsule, or pod, for breeding. He writes that his only breeding success came from using seed pods of the Cariniana legalis tree in South America. He suggests that the inside of the seed capsule might have some anti-fungal properties that protect the fish’s eggs. Nonetheless, these seed pods are no more natural for West African cichlids than PVC or ceramic. However, they aren’t artificial, and it seems they have proven to make a difference in successful spawns for these little fish.
If you keep dwarf or shell dwelling species, you might consider these seed pods. At least for N. minor, they’ve proven to be a good, non-manmade alternative to shells. Lamboj got his seed pods in Holland. NOTE: these pods are quite small, so only the smallest of cichlids will fit inside them.