Neolamprologus multifasciatus, also known as “multis” or the multi cichlid, are a type of shell dwelling dwarf cichlid native to Lake Tanganyika in Africa. Their species name “multifasciatus” means multiple bands, referring to their striped appearance. Neolamprologus is a diverse genus of cichlids, with some 40+ species recognized.
Multis are not known for being colorful fish. They are a grey-ish color with dark brown stripes/bands and the slightest hint of gold in the fins. Multis start out mostly grey and gain their stripes as they age. What they lack in color, however, they more than make up for in interesting behavior.
Because multis are one of the smallest cichlids in the world, a small group can easily be housed in a 10 gallon aquarium. To accommodate a bigger colony, however, a 20 gallon or larger aquarium is recommended. Multis appreciate a sandy or crushed coral substrate to dig around. They also require empty snail shells to thrive, as they lead their lives centered around the shells as shelter and breeding grounds.
Since they are native to one of the Rift lakes in Africa, multis appreciate a stable, warm temperature. Ideally, they should be maintained between 75-82 degrees fahrenheit. A good, reliable heater is a must for these animals.
Multi cichlids require very hard water to thrive. Adding crushed coral will help boost the general hardness and maintain a higher pH, as will the addition of buffers. Multis should be kept between 7.5-9.0 pH. Although, aiming for a pH of 8.0+ is ideal.
To maintain a multi cichlid’s aquarium, it is recommended you do weekly water changes of 25-50% and monthly filter maintenance. Monthly maintenance includes rinsing the bio media/sponges in treated tap water (to avoid killing the beneficial bacteria). If you are using chemical media such as carbon, this should be changed out once a month as well. Water changes are best done with a gravel siphon to pull any hidden debris out of the substrate. You want to be careful not to mess with the overall structure of the substrate, as this may stress out the multis more than necessary. Whenever water is changed, make sure the clean water going into the aquarium is a similar temperature and to treat it with a dechlorinator if you are using tap water.
Although best maintained in a species-only setup, multi cichlids can be mixed with other Tanganyikan fishes in a larger aquarium. Species such as Julidochromis, Cyprichromis, Callochromis, etc., can get along with multis given enough space to spread out. You may want to construct rocky areas separate from shells to give them a sense of territory.
As stated above, these fish are among the smallest cichlids to exist. Males get slightly bigger than females, but not by much. They max out at around 2.” Females only get about an inch and a half.
Multis are carnivorous fish and feed on insect larvae and crustaceans in the wild. In your aquarium, you should feed them a quality carnivorous flake (such as Josh's Frogs Brine Shrimp Flake) as well as a small sinking cichlid pellet. They will also eat frozen fare such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia with gusto. Fry appreciate live baby brine shrimp and microworms.
Males and females of this species are virtually indistinguishable. However, when full grown, the male will be the bigger of the two sexes. This is really the only way to tell them apart.
Multis are a harem-breeding, shell dwelling cichlid. This means one male will breed with multiple females, utilizing empty snail shells to house their eggs/fry. For best breeding success, you will want to make sure to have at least 2 shells for every multi cichlid in your aquarium. Little has to be done to trigger breeding; when well fed, these animals will reproduce readily. Once they start breeding, they often do not stop, producing many fry. Other fish may prey on the babies, but the adult multis usually leave them alone.