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Neolamprologus similis


Cichlidae. Subfamily: Pseudocrenilabrinae


Endemic to Lake Tanganyika.


It inhabits areas around the shoreline with a soft substrate, where the empty shells of snails collect.

Maximum Standard Length

Male to 1.8″ (4.5cm). Female to 1.4″ (3.5cm).

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

A tank measuring 18″ x 12″ x 12″ (45cm x 30cm x 30cm) – 40 litres is big enough for a pair. A larger space is needed if you want to keep a colony of these.


Provide large open areas of fine sand, to which is added plenty of empty snail shells (see breeding section below). Add more shells than there are individual fish. This species prefers a shallower substrate than most other shelldwellers, as it is not a great digger.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 75-81°F (24-27°C)

pH: 7.5-9.0

Hardness: 8-25°H


Live and frozen varieties should form the bulk of the diet. Dried foods are usually accepted, but should never be fed exclusively.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

A territorial species that will defend its shell and surrounding small territory with real venom. It can be combined with other species that inhabit other areas within the aquarium, though. Good tankmate choices include small rockdwellers such as Neolamprologus brichardi or smaller species of Julidochromis and open water species such as Cyprichromis. If a number of fish are kept, it will form a colony. If keeping it in this type of situation, make sure there are lots of shells and try to keep more females than there are males.

Sexual Dimorphism

Not easy to sex when young but adult males are considerably larger than females. Males may also develop a small nuchal hump as they mature.


Quite easy. Shell brooder. It may breed in the community tank but if you want to raise a full brood of these, a separate tank should be used. Set it up as suggested above. Provide plenty of snail shells, as the females will lay their eggs in these. Escargot shells are a good choice and can be obtained from most decent delicatessens. Water should be hard and alkaline with a pH of around 8.0-8.5 and a temperature of 77-80°F. Keep several females per male and spacing the shells out a little. This helps to reduce aggression between males. Males may also spawn with multiple females if they are available. Condition the fish on a varied diet of live and frozen foods.

Females will attempt to catch the attention of males by displaying at the entrance of their chosen shells, which they bury until only the entrance is visible. When a male is sufficiently interested, the female swims into the shell where she deposits her eggs. When she has finished, she begins to back out of the shell at which point the male releases his sperm. This is ‘sucked’ into the shell by the action of the exiting female, thus fertilising the eggs. Alternatively, if the shell is large enough the male may enter it before releasing his sperm.

After fertilisation the male plays no further part in brood care and is no longer welcome in the female’s territory. The female sits on the shell, covering the entrance and fanning the eggs with her fins. These hatch in around 24 hours, becoming free swimming at around the 6-7 day stage. The fry now start to make forays away from the shell, venturing further and further as they grow. Eventually they are evicted by the female after another fortnight or so.

The fry are big enough to accept brine shrimp nauplii or microworm once they become free swimming. It is probably better to remove them to a separate rearing tank at this stage to ensure the best survival rate. Although the parents do not usually harm them other fish in the colony may eat them.

NotesTop ↑

N. similis is one of the less frequently seen shelldwellers in the hobby but has no less personality than its cousins. The territories it establishes are very small, usually measuring no more than 6″ across, but they are defended vigorously. The tiny fish will even bite hands or fingers that invade their ‘personal space’! It can be distinguished from the similar N. multifasciatus by the presence of additional barring on the head and neck and also in this species the stripes appear to be light in colour while in multifasciatus they appear dark.

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