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L. ocellatus is indigenous to Lake Tanganyika, one of the great rift lakes of Africa—landlocked seas, so to speak—where isolation and unique environmental conditions have led to a wealth of aquatic biodiversity and the vast differentiation of species, each with a unique niche within the lake. Lamprologus ocellatus, sometimes commonly referred to as the frog-faced cichlid (for its aforementioned protruding eyes and sloped forehead), is certainly no exception.

This species inhabits the littoral regions of the lake where fine sand beds or muddy bottoms are strewn with the empty shells of the native snail, Neothauma tanganyicense. It has evolved over time to utilize these shells for the purposes of dwelling and breeding, hence the common name “shell dweller.” It is an interesting facet of evolution to behold, for just as a hermit crab might abandon a shell that has grown too small, L. ocellatus will similarly move to shells of increasing sizes until it finds one fitting of its adult size. Unlike a hermit crab, this shell dweller will defend its abode much more fervently, not retreating into its spiral shelter at the sign of an intruder, but flaring its fins and nipping at species several times larger than itself. It will also attack the occasional gravel vacuum or stray hand, as firsthand experience has shown, with nipping, at times, vicious enough to draw blood! Now, this is no small feat, for the species itself maxes out at around 2 inches (5 cm) with females being slightly smaller, typically measuring in around 1½ inches (4 cm). 

L. ocellatus is typically colored a mottled gray with a dazzling patch of iridescent blue on its side. Its dorsal and anal fins, depending upon the individual, are lined with white, orange, or a combination of the two. There’s also a stunning gold variety of the species that possesses a luminescent soft-yellow body in conjunction with the blue patch as opposed to the ordinary dappled gray. The species is rather streamlined, possessing protruding eyes and a sloped forehead, all hinting at its benthic lifestyle.

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