Neolamprologus similis is a shell-dwelling cichlid endemic to Lake Tanganyika where it is only known along the shores of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. N. similis is copper coloured with vertical white stripes running from the head to near the base of the tail. It can reach up to 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in total length. It is not a very popular freshwater aquarium fish.
This fish is monomorphic males and females are not visually different (males are bigger) and form small colonies or harems - depending on available space - in which the male fry are tolerated until they become active competitors of the male. Female fry are not only tolerated, but are eventually courted as mates. The females also are objects of interest to neighboring males and may be targets of theft.
The male of the harem goes to great lengths in protecting his territory from intruders (other males) and all members of the harem do their best (and it is much, considering their size) to protect the fry: similis will face fish as big as a Tropheus - if the latter become too curious - and will escape into their shells in a blink of an eye if the threat is deemed serious.
This section contains instructions, advice, or how-to content. (March 2017)
N. similis can be kept successfully in aquaria as small as 10 gallons (40 liters), but will do much better in bigger tanks, especially if it is monospecific; they will, however, thrive in a community tank if their tank mates are not much bigger than 4 inches (10 cm). Goby cichlids (genera Eretmodus, Spathodus, and Tanganicodus) are ideal Tanganyikan tankmates since they remain relatively small and mainly eat vegetation. The vegetarian genus Tropheus, on the other hand, while remaining relatively small, contracts the oft fatal "Malawi bloat" when fed on the high protein diet similis require. N. similis should not be kept with other shell dwellers — particularly Altolamprologus compressiceps "Sumbu shell", a predator — except when the territories are well-defined by rocks, mounds of sand, or plants.
The tank decoration should take into account N. similis' — habits. N. similis favor a sand substrate in the aquarium and benefit from having access to many empty snail-shells. An excellent go to shell for N. similis are the escargot type shells. Those shells are not only visually attractive and pleasing, but they also come in the perfect size. Rocks can be used as background, but are irrelevant to the fish, except in cases of intense aggression; in such cases, the cover provided by rocks often saves the expelled fish's life. Plants - either real or plastic - can also be introduced, but should be weighted, for this fish is an untiring digger, digging sand pits in which to hide its shells from predators and thieves.
In Lake Tanganyika shell dwellers use the Neothauma tanganyicense snail shell as their refuge. In the aquarium, any lightweight shell about the same size, such as a whale's eye shell or empty escargot shell, is acceptable to the similis, and much less expensive for the hobbyist. Having a variety of shell sizes is a good idea as it can allow fish that are smaller to stick with smaller shells.
N. similis accept almost any type of food, from standard Cichlid flakes to small pellets, but are far better with shrimp mix, live Artemia larvae, live mosquito larvae (red or black) or "Tanganyika Mix" are regularly provided.
This fish is reputedly easy to spawn. Clean, stable water, varied high quality food, minimum aggression, and a water change with the temperature one or two degrees above its normal will usually be enough to cause any fish to spawn, and Neolamprologus similis is no exception; indeed, once started, they will increase in number fairly rapidly. If the available space is adequate for only one harem, excess males must be removed before the harem's male injures or kills them.
Care must be given so that Neolamprologus similis does not crossbreed with the similar and closely related Neolamprologus multifasciatus. N. similis grow slightly larger than "multis", but the two species are more reliably identified by the following:
(1) N. similis stripes extend onto their heads, multis' stripes stop before the head.
(2) N. similis has broader brown stripes, making it seem a brown fish with beige stripes while N. multifasciatus seems a beige fish with brown stripes.
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