How to Setup a Shell Dweller Cichlids Tank?

Are you wondering where you should start if you own a shell dweller? You shouldn’t be anymore, because we’re going to give you all the tips and tricks you’ll need in order to set up a great tank for your shell dwellers.

These fish are not too demanding. It’s relatively easy to set up a tank and care for them, even if you don’t have too much experience with them.

Neolamprologus similis 1.4-1.8 inches (3.5-4.5 cm), Lamprologus ocellatus 1.4-2.4 (3.5-6 cm), Neolamprologus brevis 1.6-2.4 inches (4-6 cm) are all small and relatively easy to care for.

But there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when setting up the tank. You need to consider the size of the tank, because you’re likely to be keeping many shell dwellers in the tank.

Also, having a good filter and a good heater matters a lot, because the fish will need to live in proper water conditions.

We’ll also tell you what substrate to use, what shells you’ll need to buy, and what sort of aquariums work best for shell dwellers.

So get ready to dive deep, and learn how to setup a shell dweller cichlids tank easily.

Aquarium Size

First, we need to say a few words about the aquarium size for these fish.

These fish are quite small; normally, they won’t grow larger than 2.5 inches in size, so you won’t need a very big tank. But if you’re intending to keep several of the dwellers in the tank, then you will need a tank of at least 15-20 gallons to be able to support many of the comfortably.

However, with shell dwellers, the size of the tank is not as important as the bottom surface of the tank. This is important because these fish are most likely to be roaming on or near the bottom of the tank, so you need to make sure they have enough space in these areas.

They need to be comfortable because they will like to swim around the bottom and hide in the shells that you should put inside the tank.

Also, another thing to consider is how many males you intend to keep. Ideally, you should keep only one male per square foot, while you should only keep 2-3 fish at most per 10 gallons of water. The best way to do that is to keep a male for every 2-3 female fish.

If you have a small tank, you should start with two or three fish, and then build from there.

Aquarium Setup

One thing to keep in mind is that you won’t need a very tall aquarium, because these fish are likely to stay near the bottom of the tank.

The only thing to make sure of is that the tank will support enough water for all the fish in the tank. That’s an important thing, because fish need enough space to live comfortably, but you should not compromise on the water capacity, even if you opt for a lower tank.

Most of the time, these tanks should be a bit wider and a bit lower, because that’s the best way to ensure the fish are getting enough space near the bottom of the tank. They won’t leave that bottom area.


A very important aspect of a good shell dweller aquarium are the shells. These are very important because the fish need a refuge, and the shells are a place where the fish will spend most of their time in the tank.

I recommend the following shells from Amazon, because they are selected and good quality.

These are good because they are not too big, but also not too small for the tank. They also provide a good shelter for the fish, and they are packed with 3 dozens of shells together in the package.

This will be enough for your entire tank most probably, even if you have a larger tank.

These are extra-large, meaning the fish will be able to hide comfortably inside, even if you have slightly larger shell dwellers.

But they should be comfortable enough if you have smaller fish. Alternatively, you can opt for a smaller size of these shells if you think these are too big.

Good Filter

No fish tank is complete without a good filter, and you should ensure your tank has one, too. But another important aspect is that you also don’t overfilter your tank. You need to choose a filter that’s just right for your tank size.

If you have a 20-gallon filter, then I recommend AquaClear Fish Tank Filter.

This is a very versatile filter that will help you clean the water in your tank, and is especially good if you have a 20-gallon filter. It’s an inexpensive filter, too, so you won’t have to worry too much about your budget.

But more importantly, it’s a very effective filter that will help you take care of larger portions of the tank. It requires little to no set up, and is a powerful filter that’s definitely worth the price.

You’ll also get a lifetime warranty with the filter and you’ll need to change the filtration media from time to time to keep the filter ticking along.

Good Heater

Another very important aspect of your tank should be the heater. You should make sure the heater is strong enough for the tank, and that it will be able to sustain a high enough temperature in the tank.

Shell dwellers need a relatively high temperature in their tank. Ideally, it should be between 75 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit (24-27 degrees Celsius). So it might be hard to keep the temperature at that point if you have a lower temperature in your room.

If you need a good heater that’s also not too expensive, then I recommend the Orlushy heater. It’s a very inexpensive heater that will help you get the job done.

It’s capable of heating tanks of up to 30 gallons, so if you have a 20-gallon tank, this heater is ideal.

Also, it will heat up to 93 degrees Fahrenheit, which is fantastic because the fish need a lower temperature than that. Plus, you will be able to see clearly what the temperature is on the screen.


So, what substrate should you use in the tank?

I recommend that you only use sand for these fish. That’s because they will swim near the bottom, and this sort of substrate is ideal because it won’t harm them, and it’s also very soft. It’s ideal for shell dwellers.

I’ve always liked this sandy substrate, because it’s high quality and it will last you for long, and it’s also quite easy to clean.

How to Breed Shell Dweller Cichlids?

So now you’ve got your tank all set, you will need to start thinking about other things, such as breeding. If you don’t know how to breed these fish, then you need to read this.

Once the tank has the right water parameters, it’s relatively easy to breed these fish. If you have a male and a couple of females, then the breeding should occur naturally and without much of your help.

You should be aware though, that these fish can produce a lot of fry, so you might want to limit the amount of breeding done in the tank.

Other than that, another challenge that presents itself to breeders is how to raise the fry. You see, these fish are already very small, be the fry is even smaller. There comes a problem of how to feed the fry without putting too large pieces of food into the tank.

Sometimes, the mother will feed the fry on her own, but sometimes, you might need to add food for the fry. Try to find very small pieces of food and feed them.

Are Shell Dwellers Aggressive?

Normally, shell dwellers are not aggressive, especially the females.

However, aggression might happen between male members of the family, and they might start to fight with each other. The good news is that you can prevent it easily.

The best way to do that is to give them enough space in the tank. If each male has their own shell and they have enough space, they won’t fight. Ideally, you should put 3-5 shells per male to avoid the aggression.

Can You Keep Shell Dwellers with Other African Cichlids?

Yes, you can, but you will need a taller aquarium in this case. That’s because other African cichlids will need more space in the upper areas of the tank to swim around, and you will need to provide that.

But the fish should get along well, though. It’s also quite easy to keep them together because they have similar requirements when it comes to parameters. Just make sure the water conditions are great and that you clean the water regularly.


Shell dwellers are interesting creatures. They like to swim near the bottom, and they like to hide within shells to protect themselves. Setting up their tank takes some thought, but it’s quite easy once you read this article.

Also, here is a great video about how to care for shell dwelling cichlids:

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *