Catfish of the Month Right November 1996

Synodontis angelicus
Polka Dot Syno, Angel Squeaker, Englemalle (Denmark), Perlhuhnwels (Germany), Polkadot Squeaker - Synodontis angelicus   Schilthuis, 1891

Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded November 01, 1996.

I first saw this fish in a book called "The Complete Home Aquarium", which is sadly, now out of print. This was my first larger fish book and it accompanied me on many visits to fish shops with pretty much anyone I could talk into accompanying me (I was just a little to young to wander around the city unescorted). This book has long since gone the way of all flesh, but I can vividly remember within it a photograph that showed our Polka Dot and a Pyjama Catfish (Synodontis flavitaeniatus) sitting together on a rock. At this time there was no such thing known to the hobby as Galaxy or Gold Nugget Plecs and the polka dot colouration was very unusual. Then, only the Spotted Talking Catfish (Agamyxis pectinifrons) and juvenile Tropheus sp. (Tanganyikan Cichlids) were possessed of anything close to a polka dot colouration. Along with the then extreme rarity of these fish, this kept the price limit well out of my (pocket money's) reach. This photo of these two fish together became near legend amongst my young fishkeeping friends. As time passed I often thought that I would dearly like a copy of that book, only in 2003 did I find an old copy at an aquatic auction.

Anyway, back to a time when I was in my mid teens, I walked into a local fish shop and for sale were a number of Synodontis that I had never seen alive before. These included S. alberti, S. afrofischeri, S. brichardi, S. decorus and S. longirostris. And there, side by side in two tanks were a Polka Dot catfish and a Pyjama Catfish. I tore my eyes away from these beautiful fish to fearfully look at the price. The fishes price had dropped ten fold since my initial enquiry years ago. Working part-time (still being at school) and had slightly more capital at my disposal, I bought the Polka Dot there and then and asked the dealer to keep it until I could mature a tank. The friend with me at the time bought the Pyjama Cat. What excitement followed as we jabbered effusively on the bus ride home!

This black and white angel I bought was only about 1½ inches long and was kept at this size in a community aquarium with largish tetras, Corydoras and, I think, Banjo Catfish (Bunocephalus sp.). It thrived and was transferred to a South American Cichlid tank where it grew to 4 inches. It got along well with Clown Loaches (Botia macracanthus) and the Thread-Fin Cichlids (Acarichythys heckelii) present. To this was later added some Demon Fish (Satanoperca daemon) and a Blue-Eyed Plec (Panaque sp.). I resolved a bitter dispute between the Blue-Eye and the angelicus by adding another large cave for the Blue-Eye who was not keen on cohabitation whatsoever! All lived peacefully for around 2 years when I moved the tank and sold most of the fish.

The picture left shows a particularly well marked young fish. Some specimens I have seen possess more yellow than white spots and the dark colour can range from dark grey through an inky purple to midnight black depending on mood, health, age and sex of the individual. The images shown here demonstrate how the colour pattern can vary between individuals, all are adults showing a greatly differing number of spots yet maintaining the solid black basic colour. Perhaps even diet and water conditions affect the darkness of basic colour? Finally, a sub-species S. angelicus zonatus is mentioned and pictured in some older literature. This fish has white vertical bars in addition to the polka dot pattern such as the fish shown below. Currently this regarded as invalid and that it is merely a colour variety and not deserving of sub-species status. In my experience I would go further and say it is only exhibited on young fish. As they age the stipes thicken and split like amoeba into increasingly regular, circular spots.

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

Down Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific Name Synodontis angelicus  Schilthuis, 1891
Common Names Polka Dot Syno
Angel Squeaker, Englemalle (Denmark), Perlhuhnwels (Germany), Polkadot Squeaker
Type Locality Kinshasa, Stanley Pool, upper Congo River near Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Synonym(s) Synodontis angelica, Synodontis angelicus zonatus, Synodontis tholloni, Synodontis werneri
Pronunciation sin oh don tiss
Etymology According to Cuvier, Synodontis is an "ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile". It is apparently not derived, as often reported, from syn-, together and odous, tooth, presumed etymology of the lizardfish genus Synodus and in reference to the closely-spaced lower jaw teeth of both genera. This specific epithet literally means from the angels or messengers.
Down Species Information
Size 550mm or 21.7" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.
Identification All species in the genus Synodontis have a hardened head cap that has attached a process (humeral process) which is situated behind the gill opening and pointed towards the posterior. The dorsal fin and pectoral fins have a hardened first ray which is serrated. Caudal fin is always forked. There is one pair of maxillary barbels, sometimes having membranes and occasionally branched. The two pairs of mandibular barbels are often branched and can have nodes attached. The cone-shaped teeth in the upper jaw are short. S-shaped and movable in the lower jaw. These fish produce audible sounds when disturbed rubbing the base of the pectoral spine against the pectoral girdle.

Some specimens possess more yellow than white spots and the dark colour can range from dark grey through an inky purple to midnight black depending on mood, health, age and sex of the individual. The images shown here demonstrate how the colour pattern can vary between individuals, all are adults showing a greatly differing number of spots yet maintaining the solid black basic colour.
Sexing First lay the fish in your hand with its head toward your palm and the tail toward your fingers. Hold the dorsal spine between your middle and ring finger so the fish is belly up and you won't get stuck (Which by the way, hurts like crazy!). The genital pore is in a small furrow of tissue (in healthy fish) and will be obstructed by the pelvic fins. Pull down on the tail gently to arch the fishes spine and the pelvic fins will stand and the furrow open to display the genital pore and the anus of the fish. The male has a somewhat ridged genital papillae on which the spermatoduct is on the back side, facing the tail fin. A gravid female will also show an extended papillae but the oviduct is on the ventral side of the papillae (And may also show a little redness if really gravid). A thin or emaciated female will have just two pink pores, the oviduct and the anus.
General Remarks Fishbase states the SL at 550mm which appears erroneous. The German common name, Guineafowl catfish, is worthy of note and is in reference to the body patterning shared by both species. Sadly, the catfish does exhibit a neon and red coloured head.
Down Habitat Information
Distribution Africa: Congo basin (except in central forest).
African Waters, Congo (click on these areas to find other species found there)

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IUCN Red List Category Least Concern, range map and more is available on the IUCN species page. Last assessed 2009.
pH 6.0 - 8.0
Temperature 23.0-27.0°C or 73.4-80.6°F (Show species within this range)
Other Parameters A hardy fish that can adapt to most conditions.
Down Husbandry Information
Feeding Omnivorous. This fish is not a fussy eater and even foods like cucumber and spirulina discs are nibbled at. Frozen foods will be greedily accepted and bring on good growth. User data.
Furniture Needs a cave to call home. Like most riverine Synos favours arching overhanging structures and large broad leaf plants. Prefers rocks to bogwood.
Compatibility Peaceful, but not delicate. Able to defend itself.
Suggested Tankmates Most larger community fish that are not timid or likely to compete for refuge.
Breeding Unknown, but thought to be an egg scatterer.
Breeding Reports There is no breeding report.
Down Further Information
Reference Tijdschrift der Nederlandsche Dierkundige Vereeniging, Ser. 2 v. 3, pp 87.
Registered Keepers There are 103 registered keepers, view all "my cats" data.
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Spotters Spotted this species somewhere? Click the binoculars!
There are 25 records of this fish being seen, view them all.
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Last Update 2022 Sep 26 04:25 (species record created: 1996 Nov 01 11:22)

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