Neolamprologus brevis

Neolamprologus brevis is a small lovable shell dweller from lake Tanganyika. There are several different geographic variants of this species, some variants are among the most beautiful of the Neolamprologus genus.

These are one of the easier shellies to sex once you’ve figured out how despite what many articles say. Once they are sexually mature the difference can be quite obvious.

    1. There is a large size difference between adult males and females and also juveniles of the same age males are nearly twice the size as females.
    2. This feature is one of the most distinguishable to tell when you have a group together. The males stripes on the caudal peduncle (tail base) are much more pronounced and bolder than the stripes on a female.
    3. The male has a much more faced up (sort of like an Altolamprologus mouth) mouth than females. The male has a much more rugged and angry looking face while the female has more delicate features.


Tank SetupN. brevis is a very unique cichlid. It is the only fish in the whole cichlid family that you can successfully breed an adult pair in a 5 gallon aquarium. How ever I suggest you only put a bonded pair in a 5 gallon.

A 10 gallon can be home to 2 adult pairs of N. brevis. This can be done successfully but not without the occasional scuffles and split fins. I prefer a 20 gallon long for 2 pairs of Brevis. The extra floor room makes a big difference and in a 20 long there is displaying but very rarely an actual fight between the pairs.

Like all shell dwellers sand is the ideal substrate. If gravel is too large it can prevent them from doing what comes natural to them. To be able to burry their shell like is prefered by shellies they need sand. They can get injured moving large pieces of gravel.

Most shellies are notorious diggers, giving many of the new world cichlids and even mbuna a run for their money in the digging department. Shellies will dig for days to make their territory just the way they like it. They shoot the sand out of their mouth and dig vigorously brushing their body against the sand.

But unlike most shellies N. brevis is not much of a digger. The sand in their tank stays fairly level often times they dont even burry the outside of their shells. This makes N. brevis one of the most plant friendly shell dwellers.

As with all shellies shells are required. A good rule is 2 or 3 shells for every shelly. This allows more hiding places and more territories which will minimize disputes. Be sure to get a shell that your shelly fits comfortable in and is not too small. Also avoid shells that have too many spirals which a shelly can get injured in.


FeedingN. brevis is a carnivorous eater and should be given lots of meaty foods. Try not to feed too many dry foods especially to wild caught specimens. They love live daphnia and live brine shrimp, which they would very much appreciate as an ocasional treat. Frozen foods are good as well such as frozen blood worms and brine shrimp. They need some veggies as well. Spirulina based pellets or flakes, or frozen spirulina should be fed to them. They also appreciate the ocasional peeled pea or piece of spinach. Also a high protein cichlid pellets should be given on a regular basis.

Temperament and compatibilityN. brevis are about the most peaceful shell dwellers around. They cannot hold their own and will often be picked on by larger more robust Lamprologines in a Tanganyikan Community set up. Large robust fish like N. brichardi, N. leleupi, and larger Altolamprologus species will bully these little guys.

Here are some compatible species:

Cyprichromis spp.

These fish are small and peaceful and will not bother shell dwellers since the Cyprichromis school (and even breed!!!) in the upper levels of the tank. The shell dwellers are only concerned with the bottom of the tank.

Altolamprologus sp.

Sumbu dwarf: This is like a miniature shell dwelling A. compressiceps. You get all the enjoyment of having Altolamprologus with your tiny shell dweller without the possibility of it one day trying to eat him. This species rarely exceeds 3″ and is somewhat docile. But be warned he’s still an Altolamprologus so don’t expect to see the Brevis fry if you don’t remove them. Just like their larger congeners, THEY LOVE FRY!!!!!!!

Julidochromis Transcriptus

This is the smallest of the Julidochromis species only reaching 2½” / 5-6 cm. They make good tank mates for Brevis.

Neolamprologus cylindricus

This is one of the more peaceful of the larger Neolamprologines.

BreedingUnlike other shell dwellers N. brevis is strictly monogamous. Pairs form easily and seldom guard a territory of more then 10 square inches around their shell, usually a bit smaller like 6 square inches. This is a smaller breeding territory for any shell dweller or for any substratum spawning cichlid ever.

A sign that a pair has spawned is when the male and female begin to share the same shell. They almost always share the same shell during spawning but there have been reports exempt to this rule.

If your Brevis are to breed you must be careful to disturb the tank as little as possible. Shell dwellers need it calm and quiet if they are to breed. Even more so in Brevis case. You should try to cut back on water changes to every 2 to 3 weeks, as to not stress the parents or the fry which can die at the snap of a finger when stressed. This is also why you must make sure to keep the water chemistry very stable for fry.

The care for the fry is much like that of the monogamous substratum spawners of America, except for the fact they start out in a shell. N. brevis guards their breeding territory more fiercely than any other shell dwellers, attacking anything that comes into the small area around their shell.

Also like most of the monogamous American cichlids you cannot keep the fry with Brevis forever like you can with most other shell dwellers can. They will eventually decide to spawn again and unlike their shell dwellers cousins they fiercely attack and kill (or eat depending on the size but not usually) their previous brood in order to make room for their new brood. This is much like the American cichlids this is one of the reasons why I like to call them the “mini Tank Busters”.

N. brevis is my personal favorite cichlid. They are like miniature Oscars in terms of personality. They have great color patterns and are easy to breed. Hold the smallest territories than any other cichlid. And they are the most peaceful shell dweller. They are a great fish for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. They are a great choice for someone who wants a big personality and wants to breed cichlids but have limited space.