Catfish of the Month Right Arrow November 1999 • Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded November 01, 1999

Moustache Catfish, Membran-skægmalle (Denmark) - Hemisynodontis membranacea   (Geoffroy - St. Hilaire, 1809)

Common names don't come more descriptive than this. The moustache catfish has won many fans over the years. Indeed, many aquarists and catfish fans speak fondly of this endearing species. This popularity is due to the animals comical "moustached" appearance and equally appealing, quirky nature.

The "moustache" is actually an unusually wide membrane which is present right along the length of the fishes maxillary barbels. In an adult fish this is almost a centimetre wide. The fish is one of a few belonging to this family of catfish (Mochokidae) that spend a varying amount of their time upside down. Thus the fishes underside and, in the case of the moustache catfish the barbels, are a dark colour where they are usually a light shade in normally orientated bottom dwelling fish. Inversion in this species seems mostly limited to feeding at the surface but in the aquarium they tend to prefer following hard surfaces, such as rocks and roots, unless the lighting is very dim indeed. This would suggest that in the wild the fish is most active during the hours of dawn and of dusk.

It is when feeding that this fish becomes most visible. It usually spends idle time lurking in a dark refuge during the day. This reclusive behaviour is immediately forgotten when food enters the aquarium and the moustache catfish will start frantically tramping it's barbels while sweeping the substrate trying to locate morsels of food. This frenetic behaviour puts one in mind of a moth caught in the spell of a midnight lamp. Certainly the fishes methods of finding food are very effective, it will find food no matter where it is in the aquarium and gorge itself until it seems fit to burst.

Occasionally this species is offered for sale very young, maybe arond 1 inch in length. At this size the fish has an interesting large spotted stress patterning which fades to the standard dull brown when the fish is settled and disappears entirely once they fish grows.

Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.

Jump to next section Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific NameHemisynodontis membranacea  (Geoffroy - St. Hilaire, 1809)
Common NamesMoustache Catfish
Membran-skægmalle (Denmark)
Type LocalityNile River, Egypt(?)
Synonym(s)Hemisynodontis membranaceus, Pimelodus membranaceus, Synodontis guentheri
Pronunciationmem bran ass ee uss
EtymologyHemisynodontis: From the Greek hemi, meaning half, and synodontis. membranaceus referring to the skin membranes on the maxillary and mandibular barbels.
Jump to next section Species Information
Size 280mm or 11" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.
IdentificationAs very small fish (less than 30mm) these fish are patterned with a few large spots on their body. These fade quickly with growth. Can be confused with Brachysynodontis but a quick look at the barbels will sort them out. In Brachysynodontis only the maxillary are membranous and to a lesser degree than in Hemisynodontis.
Jump to next section Habitat Information
DistributionTropical Africa - Nile basin, Chad, Niger, Senegal, Gambia & Volta River
African Waters, Nile (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Nigeria Waters, Niger (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Chad (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Sénégal (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Gambia (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Volta (click on these areas to find other species found there)
Show it on a map (Click the map-icon to show/hide map of species distribution)
pH6.5 - 7.5
Temperature22.0-25.0°C or 71.6-77°F (Show species within this range)
Jump to next section Husbandry Information
FeedingIn nature this fish feeds mainly on plankton but this is well substituted in the aquarium by frozen brineshrimp and daphnia which are eaten in huge quantities.
FurnitureA solitary cave is all that is required for this fish.
CompatibilityPeaceful and not too anti-social with other catfish excepting other members of it's own family. Youngsters appear sociable to each other but become quarrelsome with age.
Suggested TankmatesAlthough able to be kept with more sedate fish, boisterous Central American cichlids are an ideal mix for this fish as their messy eating habits provide plenty of food for the catfish. A good community fish for the larger tank.
Jump to next section Further Information
Registered KeepersKeeping this species? Why not .
(1) Dave Rinaldo, (2) Silurus, (3) Chrysichthys (k: 3), (4) jippo (k: 4), (5) dayglowfroggy (p: 2), (6) oliv67, (7) Junttis (k: 3), (8) syno-kev, who also notes: "my largest syno member in y collection it is approx 1 foot long and 15 years old bought from a former owner who needed the tank space.", (9) arapaimag (k: 2), (10) tutters187, (11) zipper, (12) richb (k: 2), who also notes: "I got the fish from a local aquarium store when it closed. They are old fish and one is blind. Both are over 12" total length. For their size and mass, they eat smaller foods so it is a bit of a challenge keeping weight on them. They are currently in a 360 gallon aquarium.", (13) Jools (k: 2), (14) lasteeves, (15) Shipmonkey, (16) chalamala, (17) Long Barbels.

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Breeding ReportsNone.
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Last Update2009 Dec 20 05:00 (species record created: 1999 Nov 01 11:22)

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