Species Article: Catfish

Synodontis multipunctatus

by Jerry Miranda

Synodontis multipunctatus is a popular Synodontis catfish, particularly among aquarists keeping and breeding Cichlids from Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi. Synodontis multipunctatus are from Lake Tanganyika and to this day I have never had them spawn with any mouth brooding Cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. Perhaps I have never had the right pair of fish. I have kept multis with T. moorii, C. frontosa, and O. Ventralis, just to name a few, all of which are from Lake Tanganyika. Some people have reported that Lake Victorian Haps work well but I can not keep Lake Victorian Haps alive for long enough to find out if they will work for me or not! I have found that Lake Malawi pairs and groups of 1 male and 5 or 6 females work best for me.

From what I have read, heard, and now know from experience with spawning Synodontis multipunctatus is that it is not an easy fish to spawn. It is a hit or miss situation, mostly miss! Synodontis multipunctatus are eggscatters, and in all reported cases that I know of, the fry are found in the mouth of a host fish, which is always a female mouth brooding Cichlid. Synodontis multipunctatus are what most people call "Cuckoo breeders" or "parasitic spawners". This means a pair of multipunctatus needs a pair of mouth brooding fish to hold and care for their eggs until they hatch. The multis never know if they were successful in their spawning efforts to carry on their species, or do they?

When a pair of mouth brooding Cichlids are spawning, a pair of multipunctatus will swim through the spawning site, and eat some of the host fishes eggs and deposit their own eggs in their place. Then, if all goes well, the mouth brooding female will pick up and incubate the eggs of the multipunctatus. However, there are many variables that will influence the mouth brooding female picking up the eggs and then carrying them to fullterm!

After I had found my first baby catfish in a female Deep Water Haps mouth (a Lake Malawi mouth brooder), I started to watch these fish very closely to see what was going on. How did that little catfish get in this female Haps mouth? The next time the Deep Water Haps were going to spawn, I was right there and so were the multis! During the first pass though the spawning site the catfish ate any eggs that were laid by the spawning Haps. During the next pass that the cats made though the spawning site 20 or so eggs were laid and not one was picked up by the host fish. During the next pass, I was ready with a turkey baster in hand! Now, would you call me a "Cuckoo breeder" using a turkey baster to collect eggs?

Sure enough it happened again, 20 or so more eggs were expelled. This time I was able to collect 18 eggs and the host fish didn't even try to pick up a single one. Did she know that these eggs were not hers? Could she tell by size, color or by the number of eggs? The eggs were later placed in a strainer to hatch. All the eggs hatched and I was able to raise all but one of the fry to adulthood. The start of my second generation was well on its way.

I have seen and recorded on video, multis "exploding" a hundred or more eggs at the spawning site of a pair of mouth brooding Cichlids with not one of the eggs being picked up by the female Cichlid. Most of the time the eggs would become "snacks" for the other fish in the tank. I have seen multis expel 10 to 20 eggs at a time and repeat this 5 to 8 times during the spawning of a pair of mouth brooders. My best hatch of catfish, in one mouthful was 53 cats and no Haps!

I have also seen and recorded on video, spawning female mouth brooders picking up Synodontis eggs, and then ejecting the Synodontis eggs through her gills and only holding her own eggs! Are our Cichlids smarter then we think? Can the Cichlids tell the different in the size of the eggs and eject only the smaller multi eggs?

This is why I have built a trap to collect these eggs, which would otherwise be lost.


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