Catfish of the Month Right Arrow November 1999

Moustache Catfish, Membran-skægmalle (Denmark) - Synodontis membranaceus   (Geoffroy - St. Hilaire, 1809)

Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded November 01, 1999.

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 fishis 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.

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