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 on 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.

Read moreJosh Cunningham interview

Multiple species spawning in a community tank?

Yes, it happens all of the time, but sometimes it’s not very easy to accomplish without some forethought and effort. If you want to try and get multiple species to spawn in a community tank, here are three things that I’ve learned that will facilitate the phenomena.

  • The right species

Closed environments introduce stressors that fish don’t experience in the wild or stressors they don’t experience as frequently. Many species don’t share the same body of water or the same area within a body of water. Furthermore, certain noises, confined space, the presence of people, and less than ideal water parameters are additional stressors. Cumulatively, these stressors can have a significant impact on the physiology of the fish, not the least of which is its willingness to breed. Even a female’s fecundity may be impacted by such stressors.

Read moreMultiple species spawning in a community tank?

Dr. Todd Streelman interview

 Dr. Todd Streelman

Several months ago, I came across some studies on African cichlids that I thought were intriguing and I thought you, the reader, might also be interested. I reached out to the man behind this research and asked him if he would be willing to do an interview for the blog. Thankfully, he agreed.

Dr. Todd Streelman is Professor and Chair of the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech as it’s more commonly known). With degrees from Bucknell and University of South Florida, Dr. Streelman did his post-doc work at the University of New Hampshire. His research focuses on the relationship between genotype and phenotype in wild vertebrates, using African cichlids as a research model. 

For more information, visit the Streelman lab website.

Can you describe your lab’s fish room for the readers?

Our fish room was redesigned as part of a new building on Georgia Tech’s campus in 2015. The room currently consists of ~70 40-gallon tanks and 6 20-gallon tanks (all on a recirculating system) and a separate brood rack. Custom design by Tecniplast. The cichlid room sits within a larger animal facility.

Read moreDr. Todd Streelman interview

A survival success story

Telmatochromis sp. “temporalis shell”. Photo by the author.

Experience is the best teacher. I don’t lose as many fish now as I did when I first started in the hobby. Personally, losing a single fish, no matter the reason, hurts.

Keeping cichlids can be a risky proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. I won’t get preachy and extol the importance of learning about the fish you keep before you keep them. Nonetheless, you will experience losing fish whether you’re an expert or not.

When I’ve encountered a sick or beaten fish, I’ve always made an effort to save them. However, more often than not, I’ve been unsuccessful. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve done something wrong, the fish was too far gone, or maybe both. Regardless, I feel I have a responsibility to try.

This post is about one of those successes.

Read moreA survival success story

A fish timeout

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I increasingly encounter social media posts where fellow hobbyists have moved an aggressive fish to a separate holding tank or “pen” within a tank. These hobbyists then claim that the “***hole” fish has been moved into “timeout” because he is beating up on other fish.


Unfortunately, what the hobbyist is unknowingly accomplishing is 1)potentially inducing greater stress on that isolated fish and 2) “punishing” that fish for something it’s instinctually predisposed to do.

Cichlids, as a rule, are territorial and protective fish. As such, they exhibit behaviors that are construed as aggression when they’re largely defensive in nature. Yes, and some species are much more bellicose than others.

The notion of “punishing” a fish for something it’s naturally born to do is silly, frankly. Good fish keepers shouldn’t introduce fish into an environment that is going to exacerbate natural aggression.

When hobbyists take on the responsibility of keeping fish, they need to understand the innate behaviors of the species they keep and what the risks are. Doing otherwise disrespects both the hobby and the fish themselves.


My aquarium equipment

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I am sometimes asked what aquarium hardware I use. Most hobbyists have particular brands that they are loyal too, and I am no different. However, I purposely don’t confine myself to one specific brand, even though I may prefer one brand for specific needs. But I also like to try different equipment. Let’s face it, all mass produced aquarium equipment suffer from quality issues. Like any other products, some are good and some aren’t.

Read moreMy aquarium equipment

It might be a troll…and a deliberate lie

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If you’re an experienced cichlidophile, no need to read further. This post won’t help you much because you probably already know this. If you’re new to fish keeping and cichlids, keep reading.

Online resources for fish keeping are plentiful. The beauty of them is that they’re easy to access and free. The ugly part is that they’re rife with bad information put there by bad people. Sure, people make mistakes and sometimes put up information that they honestly believe is correct but isn’t. That’s not the people this post is about. No, this post is about those who purposely put up incorrect information for no reason other than to be an irritant or cause other people problems. In the social media world, they’re called trolls and they come in many flavors.

Read moreIt might be a troll…and a deliberate lie

A change of scenery = change in behavior

A little over four weeks ago, I made an online order for some new Tangs. Specifically, I ordered some Altolamprologus compressiceps “Kasanga gold head,” Lamprologus ocellatus, Lamprologus signatus, and Julidochromis ornatus – all juveniles. They came from Anthony Stissi of Staten Island Cichlids.

The signatus and compressiceps were quarantined together in a 20g long. I just moved them to a 75g. My what a difference the move to a larger tank has made in their behavior. I expected the juvenile compressiceps to be a bit skittish and shy…and I was right. Each time I came into the room where the 20g was, they would scramble and hide. They wouldn’t even come out to eat while I was present. Now in the 75g, they are out and about regularly. Even my approach to the tank doesn’t affect them. They happily eat as I stand and watch. The behavior change from the move was instantaneous.

The signatus, which I didn’t really expect to be very shy, also seem more gregarious in the 75. L. signatus are quite curious little fish that enjoy checking out the scenery. Though not quite as outgoing as ocellatus of the same genus, signatus are still pretty bold for such a diminutive species.

The moral to the story…sometimes a simple change of scenery can make a big difference in the behavior of your fish.