The Mustard Catfish
ust over two years ago, while looking
through the stock tanks at Frisby Aquatics in Hull, I came
across a tiny Synodontis offered for sale under
the 'species' tag. At first glance the resemblance of bodily
features and colour pattern to those of Synodontis schoutedeni
indicated that here we had a colour variant of this
well known Congo species. Going back for a second look convinced
me that the dorsal pattern was a little different so as
a 'Synodontis nut' I made the purchase in the hope that
I would have what would be, to me, a 'new species' to study?
Upon arriving home I placed the little
beauty into a 36x12x12" aquarium in the company of
Jade-eyed cichlids, Plecostomus, Anabas and various Doradids.
This aquarium has a pH of 7 and a temperature of 24 C. The
little Synodontis disappeared into the shelter
of a ceramic plant pot, which he diligently defended, and
would only be seen at feeding time when quick dashes from
cover were made in order to grab flake and sinking pellets.
It would take 12 months, and much growth, for this fish
to gain the confidence of coming out into the open and what
a transformation! By now the body was stockier built and
more rounded on top than that of schoutedeni.
The body colours change with mood and light but most often
are seen as a dark brown-black background with turquoise-brown
markings on the foreground. These markings, which run into
the thickly set adipose, resemble fluffy clouds and oxbow
lakes. As these fish grow so the belly region brightens
with brown-yellow colouration coming to the fore.
At this stage a thick white lateral line was clearly visible
but now this has become covered by black-brown skin. The
head has a shield very much like that of Synodontis
nigrita. The first ray of the dorsal was thickened
but it was not until I was able to take some vague digital
photographs that a proper view of the fins could be gained.
From the patterns already mentioned
my thoughts, backed-up by textbook and internet information,
had turned to Synodontis albolineatus
as the identity of this lovely fish. Now the photographs
finally convinced me that this was the case. The first fused
rays of the dorsal are so thick that they resemble bone.
In these dorsal rays we have six broken bands of dark brown
spots that, in a left to right formation, number 5,5,4,3,3,2.
Similar peacock patterning occurs in the remaining fins.
So what do we know of Synodontis albolineatus?
This fish, which reaches a total length of 95mm, is small
by Synodontis standards. It is endemic to the Madjinga
River system of the Djova region of Gabon. When this fish
was first discovered the alcohol-based preservative changed
the colour pattern of the type specimen to such a degree
ichthyologists working on a possible identification believed
they were looking at a second population of Synodontis
batesii with only notes made by the collectors finally
convincing them otherwise. When the ichthyologists cleaned
the flesh from the pectoral fins they found that the remaining
bone had a shape that resembled that of a seahorse. The
holotype specimen resides in the Musee National d' Histoire
Naturelle de Paris.
Due to the foreground body colours aquarists' in the U.K.
gave this fish the common names of Mustard catfish, Mustard
Synodontis and Mustard squeaker (due to the fact that these
fish squeak when removed from the water).
From my own observations this fish is much less volatile
in nature than Synodontis schoutedeni although
it will look after itself and defend a territory. Potential
enemies receive small nips for their trouble. My albolineata
grew to full body length in under two years.
As far as breeding is concerned no information has come
to light. I suspect that pairs will spawn in the flooded
grasses that occur during the rainy season as the Majinga's
banks are broken and flood neighbouring forest areas.
At this time there are micro-organisms and insect larvae
in abundance for the fry to gorge upon. The resulting
youngsters grow very quickly so that they are strong enough
to survive in river channels as the flood recedes.
The Mustard catfish is a beautiful fish well worth the
searching of aquatic retail outlets to find.
Images by the author
Written for the Ryedale
Reporter, Ryedale Aquarist Society, England
close inspection and further investigation we are led
to believe that this specimen has actually turned out
to be Synodontis