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Hemisynodontis membranaceus (Geoffrey-St.Hilaire, 1809) 

his Mochokid is instantly recognisable by the very large maxillary barbels bearing a black membrane, from which its scientific name is derived, refering to the presence of a membrane on the barbels of this Synodontis.

Hemisynodontis membranacea


In its native habitat this Syno spends a good bit of its time inverted at the water surface scooping up zooplankton and phyloplankton with its maxillary barbels, but in captivity it doesn't seem to do this as much as the food is probably readily available at all depths.

The genus Hemisynodontis is Monotypic (contains only one species) and there is a school of thought from some authors that it should be reclassified into the Synodontis genus. The main difference between the two genera of Hemisynodontis and Synodontis is the number of gill rakers. The Synodontis genus has between 7-33 and our Factsheet for this month, Hemisynodontis, has 59-65. That is a big difference along with the mandibular teeth with Synodontis 6-90, versus Hemisynodontis 8-16.

Hemisynodontis membranaceeus
not a colourful fish by any means with its grey/brown body colour and somewhat darker belly region, but it does have a charm all of its own when you see it out cruising the tank looking for its next feed.

Hemisynodontis membranacea

Above can be seen the impressive looking barbels on this species bearing a black membrane

Mandibular Teeth; 8-18, usually 9-14. Wide membrane bordering the edge of the maxillary barbel, which is the one originating from the upper jaw. Body with large adipose fin is short and deep. Caudal fin forked. Gill rakers 59-65.

Adult: Ground colour of head; dark grey. Dorsal region and flanks; light to dark grey. Ventral region; dark grey to black. Dorsal and adipose fins; light to dark grey. Maxillary barbels; with a wide black membrane along their whole length. Mandibular barbels; with small black membranes on the ends.
Juvenile: As per the adult but with ill defined blotches on the body and with round dark spots on the rayed fins which form a more or less regular transverse series.

It is a peaceful and hardy fish even though it does grow quite big, but I have found that it really is a gentle giant. Do give it a decent size tank and I would suggest a 4ft being the minimum with an aquascape consisting of rockwork or pipes for it to retire too, and large plants such as Giant Valis (Vallisneria gigantea) that grow partly along the water surface, and then you could witness this ‘Synodontis’ eating in its inverted position.

Not recorded, but the females are somewhat fatter and bigger than the males.

The usual feeding for Synodontis species, being good quality flake food, tablet food, frozen bloodworm, shrimp and prawns.

Hemisynodontis: Hemi = half; Syn = together; odon, odontos = tooth.
membranaceus : Refers to the presence of a membrane on the barbels of this Hemisynodontis.

Northern Area Catfish Group; Information Sheet 01
Burgess, W.E. 1989 An atlas of freshwater and marine catfishes. A preliminary survey of the Siluriformes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune City, New Jersey (USA). 784 p.

Photo Credits
Danny Blundell
Factsheet 019

Pimelodus membranceus, Synodontis guentheri, Synodontis membranceus.
Common Name:
Moustache Catfish
Africa: Chad, Niger (including the Bénoué) Senegal, Gambia and Volta basins; also the  Nile in northern Africa.
35.5cm. (14½ins)
22-26°C (71-79°F)   
6.5 - 7.5
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                                                                                                                                 Factsheet 19= updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top