Shell Dwelling Cichlids

4 Best Tank Mates for Shell Dwelling Cichlids in 2022

Shell dwelling cichlids, often known as shellies, are little, cute fish that live at the bottom of Lake Tanganyika in Africa. These cichlids are named for the fact that they live and spawn in snail shells. They occupy thousands of snail shells and create huge territories on the lake’s bottom.

A little fish must develop aggressive behaviors to defend its territory and ward off intruders in order to thrive in an unforgiving environment like Lake Tanganyika. As a result, keepers must use caution while selecting tank mates. The four best tank mates for shell dwelling cichlids are listed below.

4 Best Tank Mates for Shell Dwelling Cichlids

1. Clown Loaches (C. macracanthus)

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  • Size: 4.5 inches (12 cm)
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Minimum tank size: 100 gallons (113 liters)
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

Clown loaches are bottom-feeding, semi-aggressive fish that like to hide. These fish have four barbells at the mouth and are a gorgeous black and tan color. The clown loach, like the cichlid, prefers concealment and will seek out tiny rocks and crevices. If you provide the clown loach with ample hiding spots, it will be less likely to become aggressive in defending its area, leaving the shell dwelling cichlids to enjoy its shells.

2. African Red-Eyed Tetra (A. spilopterus)

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  • Size: 4 inches (10 cm)
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Minimum tank size: 50 gallons (189 liters)
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Many species, particularly shell dwelling cichlids, find the African red-eyed tetra to be a good tankmate. Tetras can grow to be quite huge, although they are normally peaceful in large tanks. The African red-eyed tetra will avoid conflict with other fish if you give them an adequate place to swim and hide and establish territory. Because this fish isn’t finicky about what it eats, you can spread out a variety of food sources across the tank to prevent food guarding.

3. Pleco (H. plecostomus) – Best for Small Aquariums

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  • Size: 24 inches (60 cm)
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Minimum tank size: 20 gallons (75 liters)
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Passive

The pleco is a popular aquarium fish because it eats algae. The pleco, as a bottom feeder, will spend most of its time eating tank algae and keeping your tank clean. The pleco is unlikely to fight the cichlid for territory or food because it focuses on feeding and swims in tiny regions.

4. Red Tail Shark (H. plecostomus)

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  • Size: 4 inches (10 cm)
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Minimum tank size: 75 gallons (283 liters)
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

The red tail shark is a stunning and elegant fish with a semi-aggressive personality, making it an excellent addition to any cichlid aquarium. The majority of these fish are gentle, although they do have strong territorial borders. Shell-dwelling cichlids have comparable temperaments but varied territorial inclinations, allowing them to establish their own boundaries and avoid fighting. Provide greenery and pebbles for your shark to make it comfortable for the sake of harmony.

What Makes a Good Shell Dwelling Cichlids Tank Mate?

Bottom feeders, concealing fish, and other semi-aggressive fish are the best tank mates for cichlids. Tankmates can hide in caves, driftwood, and other hiding places to avoid conflict and establish territory lines. Because cichlids prefer to stay towards the bottom, high-water fish are also a good choice. Choose fish from the same or nearby geographic location and habitat, if possible.

Where in the Aquarium Do Shell Dwelling Cichlids Prefer to Live?

Shell dwelling cichlids are among the smallest cichlids on the planet, and they hide under shells to survive in open water. These fish will build large “shell towns” in the wild to live in. It’s preferable to have a range of shell sizes and varieties in different areas in your tank so your fish can pick the one they like best at any particular time. If you’re not planning on adding any high-water tank mates, a short, long tank with plenty of bottom room is a good option.

Water Parameters for Shell Dwelling Cichlids

Shell dwellers can be found all along the coastline of Lake Tanganyika, including the Republic of Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, and Zambia. With alkaline water and temps around 75°F, this freshwater lake is huge and deep. Shell dwelling cichlids, as a result, like hard, alkaline water with a pH of 7.8 to 9 and a hardness of 15 to 25, which closely resembles the natural environment. The temperature should be between 73 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.


Shell dwelling cichlids are among the world’s tiniest cichlids. The male can grow to be 1.5 to 2 inches long, while the female can grow to be 0.75 to 1 inch long. Cichlids are suitable for tiny aquariums due to their modest size, requiring only about 10 gallons. However, if you intend to raise a variety of species, a larger tank is recommended.

Aggressive Behaviors

The cichlid’s natural home, Lake Tanganyika, is a harsh expanse of open water for little fish. Cichlids are courageous and aggressive in order to adapt to this environment. As a show of intimidation and hostility, cichlids have been known to approach divers and get in their faces, even nipping.

In captivity, the cichlid is just as violent and may nip at its owner, albeit as a little fish, it is unlikely to cause much harm. The cichlid may nip fins or battle for territory with other fish, which is why it’s crucial to find tank mates who can live in harmony with the cichlid or set clear limits. Another way to reduce aggression is to provide plenty of space and hiding locations for the cichlid and its tankmates.

3 Advantages of Having Shell Dwelling Cichlids Tank Mates in Your Aquarium

In a shared tank, 1 inch of fish per gallon of water is the standard guideline. Fish health issues and territorial conflicts can arise in overcrowded tanks, but what happens if there aren’t enough fish? Tankmates provide various advantages to your cichlid, including:


Many fish species like to live and travel in groups, which is known as schooling. Fish in captivity should have at least one other tank mate for company and interaction. When left alone, certain fish experience sadness and lethargy.

Natural Environment

When it comes to aquarium design and décor, you want to create a habitat that is as close to your fish’s native home as possible. Cichlids would be found in the wild with a variety of different fish and invertebrates, including predators. While you don’t need to turn your home into a tiny Lake Tanganyika, giving your fish a few tank mates provides them the social structure of their wild counterparts.

Ecological Harmony

Bottom feeders that consume algae are some of the greatest tank mates for cichlids, helping to maintain the tank clean and in ecological balance. Algae is beneficial for keeping bacteria in your aquarium stable and reducing nitrogen, but too many algae can deplete the oxygen in the water. Your fish will become sick and possibly die if they don’t get enough oxygen. Bottom feeders assist both you and the cichlid by decreasing tank care responsibilities and keeping the cichlid’s environment clean and oxygenated.

Fish to Avoid with Shell Dwelling Cichlids

Shell dwelling cichlids don’t have many possibilities for tank mates due to their aggressive attitude and territoriality. It’s impossible to name all of the species that should be avoided, but any small, docile fish will have a hard time dealing with the cichlid’s aggression and won’t be able to fight back. Cichlid tankmates must be large enough to hold their own or similarly aggressive and territorial. However, having additional aggressive fish in your aquarium can lead to fights, so keep a close eye on your aquarium’s dynamics.


Cichlids that live in shells are little but powerful fish. Cichlids are notorious for their aggressive and territorial disposition, making them difficult to manage in a communal tank. Though many species can be good tank mates for shell dwelling cichlids, it’s crucial to research each fish’s needs, offer ample room, and introduce new fish gently to minimize conflict.

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