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Multies live in large colonies in the shell beds left by the lake's native Neothauma snails. This natural shell bed habitat is what the aquarist should be aiming to replicate when setting up an aquarium for Neolamprologus multifasciatus.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus

N. multifasciatus male
N. multifasciatus male

Several species of dwarf African cichlids make their homes in shells. Collectively, they are known as Shell Dwellers. The species that I keep is Neolamprologus multifasciatus, often referred to as "Multies". These fish come from the sandy, rocky bottom near the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Africa. Multies live in large colonies in the shell beds left by the lake's native Neothauma snails. This natural shell bed habitat is what the aquarist should be aiming to replicate when setting up an aquarium for Neolamprologus multifasciatus.

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika from Space - NASA Image
Lake Tanganyika from Space - NASA Image

Lake Tanganyika is fascinating for a variety of reasons. It is the largest of Africa's rift lakes, the second deepest lake in the world, and it holds about 16% of the world's available fresh water. Tanganyika is home to at least 250 species of cichlids, plus other fish that are not part of the cichlid family. It is also home to dozens of species of freshwater snails and bivalves. The water in Lake Tanganyika is notoriously hard and alkaline. The PH is about 9.0, and the water is very high in calcium. Temperatures at the surface range from 75 to 84 degrees (F).

Setting up a Tanganyikan Shell Dweller Aquarium

Multi tank
40 gallon Multi tank

Aquarium Size for Shell Dwellers

N. multifasciatus are small cichlids: the largest males may reach 5 centimeters, while females usually top out at 2.5 cm. This diminutive size makes them a good choice for a smaller aquarium. The minimum tank size I would recommend is 10 gallons. Anything smaller will be subject to rapid fluctuations in water parameters. A 10 gallon tank could hold 1 or 2 breeding groups (6-12 fish). Use a 20 gallon long or similar high surface area format tank to show off their colony breeding behavior. Personally I keep them as the only species in a 40 gallon breeder. The large surface area provides space for about 60 shells.

Substrate for Shell Dwellers

To see Multies at their best, the aquarist should aim to recreate the conditions of their ancestral lake. Start with a relatively deep sand substrate, mixing in crushed coral or aragonite to ensure there is plenty of calcium present to keep the water buffered and the PH high. N. multifasciatus are diggers. They pick up sand in their mouths and spit it out, building hills and burrying their shells so that only the entrance is visible. I recommend a substrate depth of 2-3 inches to give them plenty of space to dig.

Snail Shells for Shell Dwellers

Neothauma Mollusks
Neothauma Mollusks

Of course, one of the most important additions for shell dwellers is the shells! In the lake they live in the discarded shells of Neothauma snails. But these snails are only endemic to Africa and the export of their shells is tightly controlled. If you are able to find legitimate Neothauma shells, expect to pay a high price. Instead, most Multi keepers use escargot shells that are commonly sold for cooking. They are very close in size to the Neothauma shells and very affordable. You will want 1 shell per adult fish, keeping in mind that these fish live in colonies, with each male guarding a small territory of 5-7 shells and their resident females.

Don't worry about aquascaping the aquarium before adding your shell dwellers, as they will move the shells and the substrate as soon as they move in. Just toss the shells in and spread them across the bottom. The fish will move and bury the shells very quickly.

N. multis over shell bed
N. multis over shell bed

Water Parameters for Tanganyikan Shell Dwellers

In order to keep the water appropriately hard and alkaline I like to use the Seachem line of Cichlid Lake Salts and Tanganyika Buffer. These products should only be added to new water during water changes, as they do not evaporate out over time. You will need to do some testing to determine the hardness and alkalinity of your water in order to dose correctly.

Although N. multifasciatus come from a lake with a 9.0 PH, don't put too much effort into chasing that PH value. Unless you find wild caught specimens, most fish will be able to adapt to a PH closer to 8.0. Stability and consistency are more important than precision. Always be careful when adjusting PH and test the water before and after you add buffering products to prevent large swings.

Temperature for Tanganyikan Shell Dwellers

Temperature should be at the lower end of the lake's range (below 80 degrees F), as N. multifasciatus actually live at depths of 50-100 feet below the surface. I keep mine at 77 degrees F and they do very well at that temperature. Anything between 75 - 80 degrees fahrenheit should be acceptable.

Filtration for Shell Dwellers

I run an Aquaclear hang on back filter on my Multi tank. I recommend using an intake sponge to prevent fry from being sucked into the filer. A canister filter or sponge filter would both be viable options as well. Any form of filtration will work, as long as you are performing regular water changes. Your preferred maintenance routine should determine the filter you use.

Breeding Neolamprologus Multifasciatus

N. multifasciatus over shell bed
N. multifasciatus over shell bed

Shell dwellers are one of the easier fish to breed as long as you are providing them with clean water and the right conditions. Males will compete for control of a harem of several females. Breeding takes place in the shells and the fry will be born inside of a shell. Feeding a good variety of quality frozen and live foods will usually stimulate breeding. I like to offer live or frozen baby brine shrimp, microworms, krill flake, and spirulina flake. Live daphnia, frozen cyclops, or any similar food will also work.

The first sign of breeding activity is usually a group of small fry poking their heads out of a shell. The fry will be able to eat microworms, crushed flake, and live baby brine as soon as they are big enough to leave the shell. They will remain within a couple inches of their home shell for the first few weeks of their life.

Eventually you will end up with more fish than shells, which is the limiting factor on the size of the colony. At this point some fish should be removed and rehomed to avoid over crowding. Fortunately Multies are typically an easy fish to get rid of due to their small size and amazing behavior.


About Melanotaenia Praecox

Known commonly as the Neon Dwarf or Praecox Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia Praecox are a small, colorful rainbow fish from New Guinea. They are an interesting schooling species that is best kept in larger groups of 8-10+, with at least a 1:1 ratio of females to males. An excellent community fish, they do well in peaceful setups that are heavily planted.

I keep 20 dwarf neon rainbows - 10 males and 10 females - in my 90 gallon rainbowfish community tank. The neons share this aquarium with other larger rainbowfish species and they get along with everyone. Praecox are active swimmers and will go after most foods pretty aggressively once they're settled into the aquarium, which makes them fun to watch.

Sex can be easily determined based on size, body shape, and fin color when the fish reach adulthood. Both males and females will have shiny, iridescent blueish bodies. Adult male Praecox have red fins, while females have orange/yellow colored fins. Males will also have a larger, taller body shape with a more pointed head while healthy adult females will be smaller than the males.

Male and Female Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish
Male and Female Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish

Setting up a Breeding Tank

Breeding Aquarium
Breeding Aquarium

A breeding aquarium for Melanotaenia Praecox should be kept 73-82°F (23-28°C), and at a PH slightly above 7.0.  As in most cases, aiming for stable parameters is better than aiming for perfection. A tank with a sponge filter is ideal for this because the fry of this species are incredibly tiny at birth.

Dwarf neons are egg scatterrers, so the ideal setup is a bare bottom aquarium with a large portion of java moss or a spawning mop.  I have used both as egg laying substrates and the fish readily spawned in both the moss and the mop.

The purpose of the spawning mop is to give the eggs a safe place to stick to that can be removed and transferred to a rearing tank if desired. You can make your own spawning mop using wool string, or buy them pretty inexpensively.

Selecting and Preparing Breeding Stock

Before moving fish into a breeding tank you'll want to make sure you have a few healthy, well fed adult specimens ready to breed.  As with any fish, a high quality diet consisting of a good variety of live, frozen, and dried foods is ideal to get them ready to breed.  Females need to eat well to produce lots of eggs, and males will display their best colors and breeding activity when well fed.

Look for males with a nice tall body and colorful fins.  Females should be grown out and well fed before being selected for breeding.  I have had good success just selecting one pair and placing them in a breeding aquarium together. 

The pair may take a couple of days to settle into the tank before they start to show breeding behavior.  The male will display for the female and the two will swim through their chosen spawning site, which should be a spawning mop or moss portion.  Eggs will be deposited over the course of a few days, so dont pull the pair out as soon as you see eggs.

Praecox Eggs
Praecox Eggs

Praecox eggs are very small so they can be challenging to spot. Once the pair has spawned, they can be removed from the breeding tank and the eggs will hatch within a week. You can also carefully move the spawning mop or moss with the eggs on it into a fry growout tank with a sponge filter.

Caring for M. Praecox Fry

When dwarf neons hatch they are tiny.  Like, crazy small - less than half a centimeter.  Because they are so small these fry need very fine powdered fry foods, cultured infusoria, or live microworms to feed on.  I would recommend having a combination of very small foods ready before your fry hatch.  Even newly hatched baby brine shrimp will be too large for newborn M. praecox to swallow.

After a week or two on starter fry foods the young should be large enough to take baby brine shrimp, which you should know how to hatch yourself if you want to breed fish.  Baby fish should be fed multiple times a day for optimal survival.  They have very short digestive systems and no accumulated body mass to live on, so they need to eat frequently.

Young M. praecox

M. praecox fry should eat readily and will put on some decent size in just a few months if well fed.  These fish are amazing to watch in large schools, so successful breeding is very rewarding.


Many people know of pothos as a hardy houseplant, but its also popular among fishkeepers for use in sumps, overflows, hang on back filters, refugiums, and aquariums. Adding a pothos plant to your aquarium is a good way to reduce nitrates and give it a more natural look.

Fish waste (ammonia) is transformed into nitrates by the bacteria in your filter. Nitrates are harmful to fish and need to be removed from the aquarium, typically through water changes. In nature, plants perform this function by absorbing nitrates. While a single pothos plant will not absorb enough waste for you to skip any water changes, it will help to reduce these excess nutrients.

Pothos Growing up PVC
Pothos vine Growing up PVC

How to add Pothos to Your Aquarium

You can find pothos (in the US) for sale at most local garden centers, any store that carries houseplants, or on Amazon. Once you've purchased a plant, you can either add the whole plant to your aquarium - after removing it from the soil - or take cuttings from it. One healthy mother plant can produce dozens of cuttings. I have been taking cuttings from the plant shown below for several years. The vines eventually grow back after being cut.

Pothos Plant
Pothos Plant

Pothos is also known as devil's ivy because it is so difficult to kill. The stem can be cut and inserted directly into water. After a few days, white roots will sprout from the stem and grow down into the water. This works even in a glass of tap water, but pothos plants grow much quicker in an aquarium where they have access to lots of nutrients.

Pothos does not require much light to grow, so you don't need to have a light shining directly on it unless you have it under a cabinet or in some other very dark location. The leaves will turn to face any nearby light sources as the plant gets established.

Pothos growing behind matten filter
Pothos growing behind matten filter

I secured the plant pictured above using a suction cup with a clip for airline tubing. This is a good way to hold the vine in place inside your aquarium. You can also insert a stem into a hang on back filter, an overflow or breeder box, or build your own DIY container to hold pothos plants.

Pothos roots in overflow box
Pothos roots in overflow box
Pothos roots in overflow box
Pothos roots in overflow box

More Info on Pothos in Aquariums

There are lots of examples on YouTube of how people are using Pothos in their aquariums. I recommend starting with the one below from Aquarium Co-op.

Odin Aquatics isn't affiliated with any YouTube channels