Cuckoo Catfish by Andrea Watts
Common Name: Cuckoo Catfish
Scientific Name: Synodontis multipunctatus
Size (cm) M/F: 15/17
Habitat: Cuckoos originate from Lake Tanganyika in east Africa. They inhabit the rock rubble areas and venture over the sand in search of food and spawning cichlids.
Temperature Range: Not particular, range between 22C - 26C
Min. Tank Requirement: As with most fish, cuckoos prefer a large tank, decorated with rocky outcrops and open sandy areas. It is essential to arrange the rockwork in such a way as to provide caves for these mainly nocturnal catfish. The water parameters should reflect those of the Rift Lake region i.e. pH of 8.0 9.0 and relatively hard water. If breeding is desired, Malawi mouthbrooders need to be present.
Diet: Primarily an insectivore, cuckoos enjoy a varied diet that includes frozen blood worm, brine shrimp, shrimp pellets, fish-based food and flake. They also relish snails.
Breeding: The breeding behaviour of these fish is quite unique. As the common name suggests, they require the services of other fish in order to produce young. As with most Synodontis spp., sexing these fish is relatively straightforward. Although identically coloured, males tend to be smaller and normally have longer pectoral spines. It is usual to see a short papillae close to the males vent, whereas the female has a blunt fleshy vent. Cuckoos swim amongst spawning cichlids, eating their eggs and depositing their own. The eggs are then picked up by the mouthbrooding female cichlid (whom is none the wiser) and the resulting fry are raised with her own.
The catfish hatch much earlier than the host fry (3 days) and their growth rate is phenomenal. Within the first few days of hatching, the well developed kittens start to eat the other eggs in the cichlids mouth. My first spawn of these fish is still one of my greatest fish breeding joys. I was amazed at the growth rate. The catfish went from eggs to fully formed miniature versions of their parents inside of three weeks. Personally I have found that taking the eggs from the host cichlid and artificially tumbling them, results in larger numbers of fry. However, inexperienced fishkeepers should not try this method.
The best food for the newly hatched fry is cichlid eggs. Failing this option, artemia and finely chopped bloodworm is readily accepted. There is also a tendency for the young kittens to cannibalise each other. To avoid this, I devised a way of keeping the fry separated from each other until they were about three weeks old. I modified a fishing tackle box and utilised the separate partitions (which I drilled holes through and lscreened off with flyscreen patches to aid water circulation) as mini homes for the fry. A chunk of polystyrene was added for flotation.
I found that groups of at least 6 fish resulted in spawns. My personal success has involved the use of C. moorii, G. acei and Ps. elongatus as host fish. Other successes include the use of N. venustus, Ps. lombardoi, L. caeruleus, A. burtoni and Ps. saulosi. Generally speaking, cichlids that produce large numbers of small eggs seem to work best. After a few spawns, the host cichlids become aware of the catfishs intentions and spawns dwindle. Therefore it is necessary to move the catfish in with a new group of fish periodically for the continuance of successful spawnings.
Temperament/Notes: I have found these catfish to be slightly territorial towards each other and have witnessed severe harassment of females where group numbers have been small. Ideally at least 6 (preferably more) of these fish should be kept together to avoid one-on-one aggression. They tend to be much more active during daylight hours than most catfish species and once seen, a school of S. multipunctatus interacting in an aquarium, is a sight not to be forgotten.