| Tigers in Snail Shells
my!: Lamprologus signatus
By Zack Wilson
I was always told that you appreciate
things more when they cost you something, when youve got something
personally invested in them. Ive usually found this to be true.
My Lamprologus signatus have made themselves a definite exception to
the rule. Theyve got the big shelldweller personality with uncommon
good looks to boot, making themselves one of my favorites, and I didnt
pay a dime for them!
Since I became interested in the shelldwelling cichlids
of the African Rift Lake, Tanganyika, Ive had the opportunity
to try out the majority of the species. They all display pretty similar
behavioral patterns and many have a very similar appearance as well.
They are interesting and charming little fish, but once youve
kept one, youve pretty much kept them all. Not so with L. signatus.
Now how I came to have this unique new species was by
doing what I should have done earlier in my hobby. I had just joined
the ASG (Apistogramma Study Group), and in the following issue my name
and a short bio appeared. In my description I indicated an appreciation
for the little African shelldwellers. This was apparently an instant
bonding key for fellow member, and he quickly offered to send me two
pairs of signatus along with a few Apistos I was paying for. I figured
What the hey, why not. My other shelldweller colonies were
pretty much self-maintaining at their rabbit-like numbers and I wasnt
doing much, plus why turn down free fish. I could use something new
to try, and I hadnt even heard of Lamprologus signatus yet. So
a few days later I got some free fish in the mail.
They were beautiful. The Apistos were nice too, but the
signatus were what really caught my eye. I hadnt seen anything
quite like them before, certainly not in a shelldweller package. The
males had beautiful iridescent rainbow colors in all of their fins,
and a bold pattern of tiger stripes running through their body and dorsal
fins. The females were rather plain looking, except for a pretty pink
hue to their bellies; a nice touch. This was something else I wasnt
used to. Usually with my shelldwellers I had to wait for size differences
to make the sexes apparent, but these guys were actually colored differently.
Aside from color differences, they also have a more unique body shape.
Rather than the short, robust, almost froglike appearance of many of
the shelldwellers, the signatus have an elongate, torpedo-shaped body.
This all gave the appearance of a very different, very attractive little
fish unlike the others I had worked with. I was impressed. I would continue
to be impressed.
Initially I stuck both pairs in a 30 gallon aquarium with
a bunch of Neolamprologus speciosus which werent doing much for
me. I liked the meleagris better for the money. I didnt have any
other liquid rock tanks opened up at the moment, so they had to make
do for the time being. They thrived and pigged out and grew a little.
I observed them from time to time, a little extra since they were new
acquisitions. They were already showing their personality. The two pairs
were pretty interchangeable at that point, and all four seemed to work
together to commandeer one end of the tank for themselves. They were
greatly outnumbered by the speciosus, but they didnt let that
discourage them. But that spunk and bravery isnt unusual for a
shelldweller. Theyre a pretty rough and tumble crowd. It wasnt
until they got down to breeding that many of their unique characteristics
After a while a decided it was time to give the signatus some space and also time to move on from the speciosus. Neither were
producing fry in this situation, so I moved the speciosus into a growout
tank with some Haplochromis fry of about the same size. The signatus loved this and instantly took over the remainder of the tank. This proved
to be too little space for these guys though. They had decided they
were ready to breed, and one pair really wanted their space. They began
to constantly harass the other pair, and in particular the other female.
I had another 10 gallon hardwater tank open at the time, so in the losing
pair went. With the housekeeping taken care of, the remaining pair went
to work. They inspected every shell and tried them all on, finally deciding
that they were all good enough. I never could figure out if they had
a central shell, or where they spawned. Fry finally appeared a short
while later; lots of them. I was used to seeing 7 or 8 fry pop up here
and there at short intervals with my other shelldwellers. There must
have been 30-40 little signatus swimming about when I found them. They
were all obviously from the same spawn. The fry utilized the majority
of the territory, spreading fairly evenly over about half of the 36
tank. The parents both guarded them diligently and glided amongst their
young. The fry did very well on a diet of freshly hatched baby brine
shrimp and crushed flake food. They grew very quickly and by 60 days
free-swimming they were approximately 1 long and already sexable.
The males were developing their tiger stripes and the females
cryptic markings had faded away. At this stage they continued to stay
in a lose school. During these two months the parents continued to watch
the young very attentively and made no further spawning attempts. I
found this strategy very different and enjoyable, more reminiscent of
Ive very much enjoyed having these guys and continue to watch their interactions with fascination. Im content just to watch them glide about and show off their rainbow colors. Lamprologus signatus has proven itself to me to be a very interesting and slightly more unique member of a personable little group of fish. Even though they didnt cost me anything, I hold them as a valued part of my collection.
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