African Bumblebee Catfish, Nyong Syno, Zwerg-Synodontis (Germany) - Microsynodontis batesii   Boulenger, 1903

Article © Heok Hee Ng, uploaded May 01, 2003.

Once again we welcome in a Catfish of the Month article from Heok Hee Ng. Think of the family Mochokidae and the hugely popular Synodontis immediately comes to mind. However, there are several other genera of mochokid catfishes that are equally, if not more delightful, as aquarium fish and this month, we examine one such fish, Microsynodontis batesii.

Often mistakenly called the Nyong Syno (after its collection locality, the Nyong River in Cameroun), a more suitable common name for M. batesii would be the African bumblebee catfish, after the bold yellow and the brown pattern of the fish. After all, we already have an Asian and a South American bumblebee cat, so why not an African bumblebee?

The African bumblebee cat looks very similar to one of the more elongate Synodontis species, but the key difference is in the shape of the caudal fin: all Microsynodontis have truncate (squared off) or emarginate (very gently forked) caudal fins whereas all Synodontis have deeply forked caudal fins. Furthermore, Microsynodontis are much smaller fish than Synodontis: M. batesii is the largest species at 85 mm SL. They are MICROsynodontis after all.

There are four species of the African bumblebee cat: Microsynodontis batesii, M. christyi, M. lamberti and M. polli, M. christyi being considered a synonym of M. batesii. However, ongoing research indicates that M. christyi may be a valid species and has also shown the existence of numerous undescribed species.

The problem in the recognition of different species of the African bumblebee cat lies partly with color, which can undergo considerable change between juveniles and adults of the same species. For instance, the juvenile color pattern of M. batesii consists of a reticulate and somewhat spotty pattern of brown and yellow, to be replaced by a pattern of yellow bars in the adult. The African bumblebee cat can be distinguished from other Microsynodontis encountered in the aquarium trade (most notably the undescribed species from Nigeria) in having a much more elongate body. Microsynodontis polli, occasionally encountered in the aquarium trade also has an elongate body, but has a much longer caudal fin and lacks the distinct yellow bands of M. batesii.

My love affair with the African bumblebee cat began (as is the case with many of you, I'm sure) with a picture in a book. I finally had the chance to acquire my wish fish (not one but two species of Microsynodontis at that) after years of patient waiting. African bumblebee cats do best in water conditions similar to those for riverine Synodontis (soft, acidic water) and like many of their larger cousins, it is a very shy and retiring fish, and plenty of hiding places should be offered. However, they are particular about water parameters and seem particularly susceptible to fungal infections.

Feeding is never a problem as they will readily take all manner of prepared and frozen foods with gusto (it was pretty fun watching my smaller Microsynodontis zip around like nervous bundles of joy during feeding time). They swim with a sinuous, undulating motion (probably because of their longer bodies) unlike other mochokids, but like some Synodontis, the African bumblebee cat will occasionally swim upside down in search of food.

A very attractive catfish that has been somewhat underrated, the African bumblebee cat may not be easy to come by, but is a rewarding catfish that is certainly well worth the wait.

Microsynodontis sp. This is the undescribed species of Microsynodontis from Nigeria. Note the stockier, deeper body than M. batesii.
Microsynodontis polli Adult Microsynodontis polli. Note the longer caudal fin and the lack of distinct yellow bands.
Microsynodontis polli Juvenile Microsynodontis polli showing a more spotted coloration.

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

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