Catfish of the Month Right November 1999

Synodontis membranaceus
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.

Down Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific Name Synodontis membranaceus  (Geoffroy - St. Hilaire, 1809)
Common Names Moustache Catfish
Membran-skægmalle (Denmark)
Type Locality Nile River, Egypt.
Synonym(s) Hemisynodontis membranaceus, Pimelodus membranaceus, Synodontis guentheri
Pronunciation sin oh don tiss - mem bran ass ee uss
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. membranaceus referring to the skin membranes on the maxillary and mandibular barbels.
Down Species Information
Size 500mm or 19.7" 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.

As 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 Synodontis batensoda but a quick look at the barbels will sort them out. In S. batensoda only the maxillary are membranous and to a lesser degree than in S. membranaceus.
There is continuing debate as to whether this fish belongs in Synodontis or within a separate monotypic genus Hemisynodontis. Over the years, its placement has moved back and forth between the two genera. The most recent osteological study (Pinton & Otera, 2010) placed this species within Synodontis, observing that there are no reliable osteological traits that warrant breaking Hemisynodontis apart from Synodontis.
Sexing Unknown
Down Habitat Information
Distribution Africa: Chad, Niger (including the Bénoué), Senegal, Gambia and Volta basins; also the Nile in northern Africa.
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)

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IUCN Red List Category Least Concern, range map and more is available on the IUCN species page. Last assessed 2020.
pH 6.5 - 7.5
Temperature 22.0-25.0°C or 71.6-77°F (Show species within this range)
Down Husbandry Information
Feeding In 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. User data.
Furniture A solitary cave is all that is required for this fish.
Compatibility Peaceful 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 Tankmates Although 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.
Breeding Unreported.
Breeding Reports There is no breeding report.
Down Further Information
Reference Poissons du Nil v. 1 (part 1), pp [312], Pl. 13 (figs. 1-2).
Registered Keepers There are 20 registered keepers, view all "my cats" data.
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There are 11 records of this fish being seen, view them all.
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Last Update 2020 Oct 05 14:15 (species record created: 1999 Nov 01 11:22)

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