Background Information:

A Lake Tanganyika cichlid, Telmatochromis vittatus are an open water species, usually found at depths of 16-65 feet, in the vicinity of rocky areas. Although shy, they can be a territorial species, but they can be kept successfully with other small to medium-sized Tanganyikan cichlids as long as the tank is large enough. Ideally, they should be kept in a Lake Tanganikan biotope setup, with a sandy substrate and piles of rocks arranged to form caves. An alternative to this could be flower pots or snail shells which would provide shelter for breeding purposes.


Adult males tend to be slightly larger than females and have a more slender shape; when pairs form, they have been known to mate for life. The pair will spawn very secretively in a cave or shell, with the female laying her eggs on the wall or roof. The female will remain in the cave, tending to the eggs while the male guards the area around the cave. But brood care is short-lived, with the adults losing interest in the fry once they are free swimming, so it is best to remove the fry and grow them out in a separate tank.

My Experience:

I had about half a dozen adult Telmatochromis vittatus that I kept in a 40 gallon long tank, with a gravel substrate and 15+ shells/caves/flowerpots. This tank was located in my home office, about 8” off the ground on a stand underneath my 55 gallon.

For more than a year I saw no sign of breeding; every time I walked into the room they would all swim into their shells and I had no idea if any of them were pairing off. So I decided to put them in a smaller tank, at eye level, where I could keep better track of them.

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At the time of transfer, most of them swam into their shells, so I just took them shell and all and put them into a prepared 10 gallon aquarium, leaving ½ of the shells behind in the 40 gallon.

I watched the adults for about two weeks with little results. The smaller adults (females) were tucked in their shells, peeking out on occasion and the larger adults (males) were nearby, guarding their territory. Then, one day I looked at the 40 gallon tank where they all came from, which was now inhabited by (5) five L002 plecos and I saw movement, it was a baby vittatus! And then I looked again and there was another and another, and another; before I could blink I noticed that the floor of the tank was just covered with fry! If I had to guess, I would say there were over 100 shelly vittatus fry! Over the next few weeks I fed them 3-4 times per day and watched in amazement as they grew and were left unharmed by the L002’s.

Meanwhile, back in the 10 gallon, pairs had formed among the adults and fry were emerging from their shells. But as I stated above, the brood-care was short lived and the fry did not survive, likely they are being eaten by their parents or other vittatus tank mates.

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