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 Synodontis petricola  Mathes, 1959

his is one of the smallest of the Lake Tanganyika Synodontis and it also one of the prettiest from the Lake. There are a few varieties with small and large spots that abound in different parts of the lake with trade names such as S. petricola sp."Dwarf" and S. petricola sp."Large or "Giant". The paper by Wright, JJ and LM Page (2006) goes a long way to sorting this out.

Synodontis petricola

It is very similar to the other popular Syno from the same Lake, the 'Cuckoo Cat'., Synodontis multipunctatus but petricola has white edgings to all its fins, especially the leading ray to the dorsal, whereas Synodontis multpunctatus has the rear end of the dorsal fin, white only and has larger eyes. The closest relation, in colour pattern anyway, is Synodontis polli, but the spots on its body are larger and tend to be more irregularly rounded and it usually has a darker body colour and a longer snout. The make-up of the teeth on these two species also tells them apart, S. petricola: 31-32, S. polli: 36-43. You don't tend to see S. polli very often, so mistakes are few and far between. Another close relative is Synodontis dhonti, but only the juveniles of this species have spots and not when adult and it will be very rare if we ever see this species due to the ongoing unrest in the Congo.. 


A more recent noticeable similarity from the paper by Wright, JJ and LM Page (2006) is the look-a-like Synodontis lucipinnis which grows smaller has larger spots on the head and differs from S. petricola by the absence of a pore beneath the humeral process which is present in S.petricola. These two species can be difficult to tell apart, especially as juveniles.

Synodontis petricola at between 6-7 weeks old.

The picture above depicts young Synodontis petricola at between 6-7 weeks old.

The genus Synodontis sports three pairs of barbels 1pair: maxillary, 1 pair: outer mandibular and one pair of inner mandibular barbels that are branched (filaments). There are only three species that have filaments on their maxillary barbels as well as the mandibular, and they are,
S. clarias, S. decorus and S. flavitaeniatus. The barbels on the Lake Tanganyika species tend to be white.

One aspect of identifying similar body pattern Synodontis, and is often overlooked, is the shape of the humeral process, the bony structure that adorns the head of the Synodontis genus. Below are a few shapes that could help you identify the Lake Tanganyika types.

S.petricola = Humeral Process1
S.multipunctatus = Humeral Process2
S.polli = Humeral Process3
S.dhonti, Juvenile = Humeral Process4
S.dhonti, Adult = Humeral Process5
                1. Synodontis petricola
                2. Synodontis multipunctatus
                3. Synodontis polli
                4. Synodontis dhonti(Juvenile)
                5. Synodontis dhonti (Adult)

Synodontis petricola
is quite a peaceful species and will only eat or harass other tankmates if they are much smaller than them as they forage round the tank at night, and if you do see them for sale, and you can match their water constraint, snap them up because you won't be disappointed.


Teeth 31-32. Skin on head is rough. Gill openings do not extend beyond the level of the pectoral fin spine. Humeral process is triangular, elongated and pointed.

Head and body brownish, slightly lighter on the underside, the entire body and head (including the adipose fin) is covered with numerous blackish spots which are irregularly rounded, often confluent, and are smaller on the head and sometimes in the ventral region. Dorsal, pectoral, ventral and anal fins dark from the base, with their edges whitish. Caudal fin with a broad dark band in both lobes continuing to the margins, above and below these bands is whitish.

Keeping Synodontis petricola as with the other Lake species tends to be a little diverse from your run-of-the-mill Syno's as water parameters are different with the p.H. tending to be on the alkaline side, and they are best housed in a large tank ( 3ft or over ) with Cichlids from the Rift Valley Lakes with a coral substrate, or tufta rock, to keep the p.H. up if you are in a soft water area. The most success with this species usually lies with Rift Valley Cichlid enthusiasts who add this Syno to their collection for something different.

Contrary to popular belief this is also an egg scatterer as well as a a Cuckoo spawner like Synodontis multipunctata and a few other Rift Valley Synodontis. There are two articles on the breeding of this species in the ScotCat breeding articles page. First is by a fellow Scottish aquarist titled, The Spawning and Raising of the Pygmy Cat; Synodontis petricola. The other is by two American brothers titled Spawning Synodontis petricola.

In their native habitat they live on a crustacean diet of snails as do other Lake Tanganyika catfish and will do well in the aquarium on a diet of frozen foods such as shrimp, brineshrimp and mysis. They will also accept tablet foods and a good quality flake food.

Synodontis: Ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile (Cuvier 1816).
petricola: A dweller among rocks.


Sands D; A Fishkeepers Guide to African & Asian Catfishes.
Baensch; Aquarium Atlas 3.

Wright, JJ and LM Page (2006) Taxonomic revision of Lake Taganyikan Synodontis (Siluriformes: Mochokidae). Florida Mus. Nat. Hist. Bull. 46(4):99-154.
Seegers, Lothar; The Catfishes of Africa. A handbook for identification and maintenance. Tetra Verlag GmbH. 604p.

Photo Credits
©  Hippocampus Bildarchiv

Bottom Image: Danny Blundell
Factsheet 046

Synodontis multimaculatus
Common Name:
Pygmy Catfish
Africa: Lake Tanganyika
11.5cm. (4½ins)
22-25°C (71-77°F)    
7.5 - 9.0
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                                                                                                                                  Factsheet 46= updated December 16, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top