Spawning Synodontis petricola

Harold & Derek Walker

he spawning of different species of Synodontis catfish used to be quite rare a few years ago. While in the last few years more and more people are having great deal of success breeding different Synodontis catfish. There is a wide variety of these catfish available throughout the hobby and some are rare and more expensive than the others and they also come in different sizes. Some can exceed several feet in length while others only reach a few inches, thus bringing us to the Synodontis petricola. This Syno comes from Lake Tanganyika in Africa and this species will only reach about three to four inches in length. Some people believe that this is a dwarf species of Synodontis but since we have not seen or heard of any larger Synodontis petricola, we do not call them a dwarf species.


Synodontis petricola


There have been few reports on different ways of spawning Synodontis catfish. One way is to use some sort of host fish just like the Synodontis multipunctatus. Synodontis petricola can and have been spawned using this method although we have not had any success with the host fish, we were able to breed them a different way. In order to do this all you need is a large flowerpot, a clear plastic bowl (2-3" tall) and some blue or black marbles, the darker the marbles the better, black is the best for this. You do not want to have too big a gap between the bowl and the sides of the pot. To set it up, fill the bowl up with the marbles, be sure to fill it so the marbles are slightly higher than the bowl. With the flowerpot make a large enough hole so the Syno's can swim in and out and it works best if you do this on the side of the pot. After you have done this, invert the flowerpot over the bowl with marbles in it and if you can, it is best if you have two of these made so you can swap them out when checking for eggs. Once you have conditioned your fish for spawning then put this in the tank, it will be used for the spawning site. Conditioning Synodontis petricola for breeding is fairly easy, from the research we gathered when we bought our petricola, we have learned that live black worms work the best. We have fed them other food such as flake and frozen, although they accepted the flake and frozen foods, they did not relish it. 

Our conditioning program consists of live black worms in the morning and at night while feeding spirulina flake in the afternoon, also three times a week we would substitute live white worms for black worms. They like white worms as much as they did the black worms. You can find the live black worms at some of your local petshops. Water chemistry is not a real big deal as Synodontis can live in almost anything as long as the change is not too drastic. Since the Synodontis petricola`s come from Lake Tanganyika they thrive when you mock their natural habitat. Personally we try and keep the pH somewhere between 8.3-9.0., keep the temperature set at 82*F. We do a 50% water change every 7 to 10 days and I had these petricola in a 75-gallon tank. The tank itself was bare bottomed with only a Whisper 3 for filtration and in the daytime the tank would get a lot of sunlight and the Syno`s would not come out of hiding at all during this time, not even for some food. At night we would leave the light off on the tank but we could still see them pacing the bottom in search for any food.

Now that you have everything it is time to try and breed the Synodontis petricola. First thing you want to do is condition your fish, you`ll notice when they are ready by looking at the females. In the females mid section you`ll notice that at spawning time it will become swollen with eggs and we also noticed that when the female is ready, the males have become slightly aggressive towards her. As soon as they are ready, place the flowerpot with the marbles in the tank, you will have to keep a close eye on the tank. Since you can't see through the pot, you will have to know when to pull the bowl of marbles out, this is why we have two bowls of marbles. When we need to check we just pull it out and stick the new one in. Because the Syno`s are spending a lot of time in the pot, the bowl gets real dirty so we change the bowls out twice a day. When the spawning process began we were lucky enough to be home at the time. We were getting ready to feed the them when we noticed that all of the catfish were in the pot. We grabbed a flashlight and shined it in to the pot and we could see some eggs floating down towards the marbles. Both male and female will swim in circles around the inside of the pot and as they swim around it sort of creates a whirlpool. As the eggs are laid the male is releasing his sperm at the same time and the movement of the water forces most of the eggs as well as the sperm to the center. Eggs from the first spawn that were in the center of the bowl were all fertile and the ones that ended up around the outside, (towards the wall of the bowl) only about 30% hatched out. Synodontis petricola eggs hatch out in about 48 to 78 hours, from my first spawn we had over 200 eggs. We placed all them into egg tumblers and unlike the S.multi, Synodontis petricola fry grow rather slowly. We had some S.multi fry that were only one month old that were twice as big as the petricola at four months of age. From what we know Synodontis petricola will only reach about 3/4 to an inches in the first year and it might seem a long time to raise a fish but keep in mind they only reach 3-4 inches. 

We separated the fry into 3 different 5-gallon tanks and they were fed a variety of foods. We fed them newly hatched brine shrimp as well as frozen brine and we also feed them with some microworms and some spirulina flake. We tried to use cyclopes which is high in protein but the food floats on the surface and most of the catfish stay at the bottom or hide by the sponge filter. The baby catfish have healthy appetites, so we were feeding them 4 to 5 times a day. Every 5th day I would replace half the water and to see a lot of Synodontis swimming all over the tank in a big school is really a site to see. If you ever get a chance to breed any Synodontis catfish you will enjoy it very much. Just remember to do your water changes.

We would like to thank Gerald Miranda of the Rhode Island Aquarium Society for his help on caring and breeding of Synodontis petricola.

Photo Credit: ©  Hippocampus Bildarchiv






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