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Neolamprologus tretocephalus - Male

Spawning Neolamprologus tretocephalus

Neolamprologus tretocephalus is a beautifully black and white, vertical barred fish with blue highlights to the unpaired fins. Coming from Lake Tanganyika, these fish desire clean, hard, alkaline water, with pH levels up to 9.0 not uncommon in nature. Sometimes referred to as “Dwarf Frontosa” (Conkel, 1996), these 5 barred fish may grow to six inches, with four inches being a common size. They are often confused with Neolamprologus sexfasciatus, which is a similarly colored fish with six, not five, black bars. N. sexfasciatus also grow larger, sometimes reaching nine inches.


Trets, as they are commonly called, make their living on the vast mixed rock and sand beds o the Great Rift-Lake, feeding on snails and other mollusks. Wild caught Neolamprologus tretocephalus have larger heads and jaw structures than their tank raised cousins due to this diet of crushed snails. In the aquarium, Trets thrive on a good flake food diet, supplemented with quality pellets and frozen foods. I don’t feed any of my fish live foods except for baby brine and the occasional garden worm. Trets need a lot of good food to grow and spawn, but their water must be kept clean. I’ve kept them in pH as low as 6.0 with no ill effects, but they don’t like old water. I change 50-75% of their water every two weeks, replacing with warm (75-80F), alkaline (7.4-8.0), slightly salty (1 tablespoon / 5 gal) water.

Breeding pair

Neolamprologus tretocephalus can be very difficult to obtain as a pair, as they are quite aggressive to conspecifics. I started with a group of small 1″ fish (numbering 8), in a mixed community tank of 30 gallons with other rift lake cichlids of a similar size. As they reached 2 to 2-1/2″, 1 moved my first group of (now) 5 fish into a 40L (48x13x16) setup with a mixed oyster shell and #3 gravel over an undergravel filter. A small foam block power filter hung on one end. Along with the Trets, I had 6 Kamba Bay Tropheus moorei, 10 large Green Tiger Barbs, and a 4″ pair of Labeo cylindricus. I changed half their water every two weeks and started feeding frozen foods. Within 2 months, the largest fish (male) had paired up with a medium size female, who was much smaller in the head and paler in color.

Neolamprologus tretocephalus

Neolamprologus tretocephalus

The spawn

The pair took over a 5″ flower pot with the bottom knocked out, standing upside down, which I had pushed down into the gravel. The male, much heavier about the head and “shoulder” (pectoral) region, excavated all the gravel from the pot. The female started spending more and more time in the flower pot, until finally she did not emerge for almost a week. When she did, she was surrounded by a cloud of three or four hundred fry. The father, who had kept everyone away from an 8″ area near the pot, suddenly became super aggressive, and pushed all the cichlids into about 12″ of space at the far end of the tank.

The barbs were pushed around, but allowed much closer to the nest and swam freely around the male’s enlarged territory. The fry grew well on live baby brine and crushed flake food. After three weeks, I pulled about 3/4 of the remaining fry, about a hundred in number. The fry that I had left with the parents grew faster than the fry that I had removed for about three more weeks, then vanished. The parents spawned again less than a week later, with similar results.

New attempt

The next time I tried Trets, my girlfriend raised three up from 1″ fry to over 3″ in a 55 gallon community tank containing 5 Yellow Labidochromis, a 5″ Distochodus sexfasciatus, 2 Hypancistrus zebra, 2 “Starry Night” Ancistrus, 12 assorted Clown Peckotia types, 10 large Tiger Barbs, 4 large Daffodil Brichardi, and 6 Combtail Gouramis. The tank was heavily planted, with a x-large foam filter and a big outside filter. Gravel was #2 natural, with a small amount of clam shells in a bag in the filter. Water was changed every 2 weeks, and the pH runs 6.5-7.5, at about 72-78F.

One Tret was killed and we were left with two fish with fairly slender bodies, pale blue fins, wide white stripes. I had a wild 4″ male I had picked up, and he was introduced into the tank after a major water change and tank rearrangement. More than six months went by before the male took up housekeeping with the smaller fish, again in an upside down flower pot. We waited a month, but no fry. I finally decided to move all three fish into a 20L (30xl2xl2) set up with an undergravel filter covered with shell gravel and a small corner filter. I added ten small (1″) Tiger Barbs, lots of rock cover, and two teaspoons of Tropic Marin Malawi-Tanganyika Salt. Within a day the larger female Tret was pushed into an upper corner, with her fins badly chewed.

The remaining pair often confronted each other with an open mouth, but no damage was done to either. The fish had their choice of two flower pots and a Rino Cave, which is a sealed clay pot about 4″ around by 2″ high, with the entry hole designed for particular species, such as a high, narrow hole for Altolamprologus compressiceps, a 1/2″ round hole for Neolamprologus leleupi, or 3/4″ elliptical hole for species such as Neolamprologus pulcher ‘Daffodil’. The cave I used was a Daffodil cave, which the female loves, but is just a bit too small for the male’s liking. (He preferred a slate cave over the left of the Rino Cave). The following morning, I discovered about 75 whitish eggs laid on top of the undergravel plate in front of the Rino Cave and near to the front of the male’s cave. The female hangs over them, occasionally examining them for dirt and fungus, as she fans water over them using her pectoral fins. The eggs hatch in 2 to 2-1/2 days, with the young free swimming within five days.

Neolamprologus tretocephalus with newly hatched fry

Neolamprologus tretocephalus with newly hatched fry

Mixed Aquarium

Tretocephalus can be kept in mixed community tanks of many types, not just with other Rift Lake species. While aggressive, they’re not usually vicious to anything but conspecifics. However, aggressiveness increases dramatically while breeding, and catfish especially may be viciously attacked, and either killed or maimed. I once kept a school of twenty large wild adults in a hundred gallon tank, and when breeding behavior finally started all hell broke loose, with several Trets and Plecos trashed badly. When not spawning, Trets are a beautiful addition to a cichlid collection, and can be successfully integrated into many community tanks. Appropriate additions to a Tret tank would be clown loaches, redtail or rainbow sharks, large rainbows such as New Guinea Reds, most barbs, large danios, and many other similarly sized fast moving fish.

First publication: The Daphnian, Boston Aquarium Society 1999
Source: aquarticles.com (no longer available)

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