has a base body color that is golden beige when
young, but this seems to get darker with age. The
body is covered with dark black blotches that are
randomly strewn across the body and head. Pectoral,
dorsal, and tail fins are black with a white margin,
although the dorsal fin's white margin is only on
the posterior of that fin. Their undersides are
creamy white, as are their six barbels. The upper
pair of barbels consist of two single stalks while
the lower four are comprised of four single stalks
with many cilia off of either side of each stalk
giving the feelers a feather-like appearance.
Fairly abundant in the lake, great schools can be
seen swimming at depths of 40 meters or more, where
the harsh cast of the sun is filtered to a dim light.
Once thought only nocturnal, a more appropriate
classification might be "light sensitive"
(Brichard, 474), which becomes apparent in the aquarium
as the species greatly appreciates the canopy lights
to remain off. A hardy aquarium inhabitant, S.
multipunctatus enjoy a variety of foods including
various flakes and pellets and also frozen meats
such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. A temperature
of 78 degrees Fahrenheit is adequate and large,
weekly water changes and efficient filtration are
needed as these fish produce a large biological
load when fed their fill.
with host fish, Haplochromis.
As has been
previously published, these catfish are parasitic
mouth brooders in that they, themselves, do not
mouth brood their fry, but procure the services
of a mouth brooding Cichlid.
was so cunning as to catch this feat on film. They
show a swarm of Synodontis multipunctatus bully
their way into the shallow breeding nest of a pair
of Ctenochromis horei. The unsuspecting Cichlids
attempt to continue spawning while driving away
the persistent catfish. Every time the female
C. horei would lay an egg, it would be snatched
up by the S. multis before she could
even turn around and pick it up. Meanwhile, the
catfish drop eggs or spray milt. They may even end
up eating some of their own eggs. In her haste,
the female Cichlid picks up whatever eggs she can.
The end result is the female Cichlid with a mouthful
of fertile Cichlid eggs AND catfish eggs. This is
how the fish behave in the aquarium, as well. I
have watched these fish spawn dozens of times now,
and every time it is just as interesting. It's
like watching a sport. Sometimes, one switches "teams"
and roots for a different side than usual
Cichlids! One can't help but feel sorry for the
Cichlid parents, as the fate of the Cichlid fry
is sealed if only one fertile catfish egg was picked
up. Within about 3 days, the S. multipunctatus
will hatch and begin devouring the Cichlid eggs
before they even hatch. Then, days later, when the
Cichlid fry do hatch, their lives are still in jeopardy.
The minuscule catfish grab on to their yoke sac
and suck them dry. Often, after stripping a Cichlid,
one will see both dead fry with no yoke sacs or
live fry with stress marks peppering the yoke sac
in the form of bloody areas. The voracious catfish
waste nothing, however, and once they are big enough
to eat the entire Cichlid fry, which is only another
few days, they will do so.
My breeding group of eight S. multi started
with a single fish I acquired a few years ago. A
got the other seven from Steve Edie. He had pieced
together the group over the years and had even had
one successful spawn in the past, but his interests
migrated to the Synodontis petricola and
as he began piecing his S. petricola colony
together, the S. multipunctatus spawning
effort was put on the back burner. After the
fish had hung around for almost a year with no spawning
activity, I strong-armed Steve into selling them
to me. This was accomplished by a combination of
whining, sniveling, and the occasional threatening
letter left on the old welcome mat. Then came ACA97
and the time was right. Steve wanted to open up
the tank space for all the little gems that would
accompany him home from Chicago. The trap was sprung
and I carted home the mob of Synos and put
them in a 75 gallon tank about a week before we
all headed north to the ACA97.
Now came the need for a host. Steve Edie and I theorized
that inexperienced breeders might be a more productive
alternative to an established breeding group because
they would never know breeding under any other condition
than the harassment of the Synos. I think Steve
also made some comment that, in a cleaned up version,
went something like "young breeders are like
teenagers, they're so "active" that they
will do it no matter what". So began the search
for a young, prolific species just reaching sexual
maturity. A little inquiring led me over to Ted
and Liz Rall's house where they, too, were clearing
tank space for possible convention purchases. Home
I went with thirty young adult Haplochromis sauvagei.
These fish were quarantined in a 20H. I also wanted
to sort out males and females. To accomplish this,
I waited for fish to spawn. As soon as a female
was packing, she was removed from the 20H and put
in the 75 gallon.
After I had moved about a dozen female Haps
to the 75 and fattened them up for a week, I moved
the three most dominant males from the 20H to the
75. Within two weeks, almost all the females were
packing and some S. multipunctatus breeding
activity was witnessed. Evidently, S. multipuntatus
can smell the breeding activity. Within seconds
after a male and female Hap start spawning,
Synos pour out of the 6 large igloos they
call home (similar to feeding time) and swarm the
area of courtship. Once they all get chased away
the first time, they are more timid about intruding.
Usually then only single fish or pairs dart in and
out trying to steal a plump, delicious Cichlid egg
snack. At 1/16" and dark beige, the Syno
eggs blend in well with the sand substrate.
I regularly see the Hap eggs drop, but have only
witnessed the Syno eggs dropped once. This
from a female Syno that is part of a pair
that seem to have a loose pair bond. Every time
courting begins and the caves empty, this female
can be seen cruising with her male swimming beside
her, trailing about half a fish length back.
fry are ghostly white when very small
After packing for one
week, the female Haps were stripped. Along
with over 40 Hap eggs were eighteen Syno
eggs. These eggs were very small, at 1/16",
when compared to the 1/8" Hap eggs.
Within two days, tiny white threadlike tails could
be seen off the catfish eggs/yoke sacs. To avoid
other fish biting at the fry through the bottom
of a breeder net, clear hard-plastic floating breeder
cages were employed. Fed three times a day on frozen
baby brine, the fry grew from 0.25" to 0.5"
in less than a week, at which time they began to
gain dark pigment on their ghostly white bodies.
Then one morning I awoke to find the breeder trap
void of all life without a trace. Apparently something
had gotten into, and out of, it in the night and
eaten all the fry, frustrating.
A week later, the breeder
traps were again full of Syno and Hap
fry. This time, the breeder traps were secured.
Again, the fry grew amazingly fast. The dark pigment
first appeared on the top of the head and then the
back and tail. Soon the entire fish was colored
in the golden beige base color with black dots cascaded
across the body. After about two weeks, the fish
were about 0.75". At this point, they
were receiving crushed flake food as well as the
frozen baby brine. At a size of about 1.25",
these fry were moved to a 10 gallon tank of their
own to free up the space in the breeder nets. I
have gotten into a cycle of stripping all the Hap
females every one or two weeks whether they
look like they are carrying or not. I have had a
few surprises when doing this. Occasionally a single,
but chubby, catfish will wiggle out into the net.
Yes, if one waits too long to strip, the Synos
have eaten all the Cichlid fry and turn to cannibalism.
Only the strong survive!
The next time I stripped, I liberated about 18 various
sized fry. With large batches of fry, they are split
into several breeder nets for their own safety.
I once witnessed a Syno that felt the baby
brine was too small a meal to waste its time and
went straight for another Syno within 5 minutes
after being stripped. There was nothing I could
do as I watched it swim around with another Syno's
head sticking out of his mouth. He had devoured
his sibling tail first! These cannibalistic tendencies
seem to be quenched if the fry are stripped young
and weaned immediately onto frozen baby brine. If
left in the Cichlids mouth to feast on Cichlid fry,
they learn that big prey equals full belly and,
therefore, that is their first pick if given the
choice between fry and baby brine. When weaned early
onto baby brine, I had no problems with conspecific
With the new batch of 18 fry, I started experiencing
high fry mortality, which was not an issue with
the first batch of fry. Initially, I blamed the
other Syno fry, but the bodies were not eaten.
Soon I was loosing fry every day or two. Within
a couple weeks, all the fry were deceased. I was
perplexed. I had been doing 30% to 50% weekly water
changes and had plenty of biological filtration
in the form of a Hagen Fluval 403 canister filter
and SeaStorm 240 fluidized bed filter. I deduced
it must be a water quality issue, however, after
ruling out all other possibilities.
I am on a well water system, so the thought of contaminants
in the well water crossed my mind. I do water changes
with water from a 55 gallon drum that I circulate
for 24 hours or more through a Magnum 350 canister
filter with micron cartridge. The micron cartridge
is to remove grit and the 24 hour circulation is
to aerate the water as well as let it naturally
come up from its out-of-the-tap pH of 6.5 to its
rock stable, naturally buffered 8.0 pH. The high
pH swing and stabilization is not surprising when
the waters hardness ranges from 330ppm to close
to 380ppm out of the tap! With this, it takes only
1.5 teaspoons of Kent African Cichlid buffer in
the 55 gallon barrel to raise and lock the pH at
8.6. I don't usually use carbon on any of my tanks,
as they get large weekly water changes. I saw a
change was needed. I replaced the micron cartridge
with the carbon holding insert and started carbon
filtering the water change water for 24 hours of
more before each water change. I also added
carbon to the middle compartment on the 75 gallon
tank's Fluval. The premature deaths ceased
immediately. From more experience with this tank,
it appears that it was not a contaminant in the
well water, but the amazingly heavy bio-load on
the tank that caused the deaths. Even with the large
water changes, the carbon is still used and changed
monthly on that tank. Since this additional mode
of filtration was added, no deaths have occurred.
first places the fry gain dark pigment is on their
head and fins, then their back.
In the wild, it is likely
that the Cichlid hosts have uninterrupted spawns
between the chaotic attacks by the catfish. In
the aquarium, the host fish have no such luxury.
It is, therefore, recommended that the host fish
be given a break from the pressure of defending
a spawning session in the form of moving the catfish
or the host fish to another tank where they may
spawn unmolested. Some breeders have two tanks
of hosts going at once and move the catfish from
tank to tank every 3 - 6 months, thus giving the
Cichlids a much needed break. Another alternative
is keep a supply of up-and-coming young breeders
available. I have chose this route. I keep as
many Hap fry as I can and grow them out
in other tanks. As soon as they reach spawning
size, they will be available as new hosts.The
investment of growing a group of Synodontis
multipunctatus to sexual maturity can be a
time and space consuming task, but can be well
worth it to witness the fascinating spawning technique
of the species. If time is an issue, purchasing
adult fish will shorten the wait considerably.
However one gets there, the reward of working
with this species lies within the unique spawning
technique that will stand out among all others.
Brichard, P. 1989. Cichlids and all the other Fishes
of Lake Tanganyika.T.F.H. Publications, Inc., pp.
Photo Credits: Chad