Catfish of the Month Right February 2009

Synodontis pleurops
Bug Eyed Syno, Gabel-Fiederbartwels (Germany), Pukkelhovedet Skægmalle (Denmark) - Synodontis pleurops   Boulenger, 1897

Article © Richard Broadbent, uploaded February 14, 2009.

A man on a mochokid mission, Richard Broadbent enthuses over this months featured species.

This species is relatively easy to identify, (albeit it is seen in the trade far less frequently than ten years ago). Key identity features include the very large eyes set far apart on the broad head. The body colouration can be extremely variable ranging from greyish yellow to pale brown or drab olive with even greater variation in body markings such as mottling, vague spotting or stripes but there will always be dark longitudinal caudal fin lobe stripes in the large sickle-shaped tail. As is usual with riverine Synodontis, juveniles are more attractively patterned than adults. David Sands (in CotW Volume 2), records that juveniles have been offered for sale as S. flavitaeniatus, which at the time was a rare and expensive species. Thankfully there should be no confusion currently and prices are roughly similar for these species nowadays. The mouth is small in comparison to other species which have similar adult sizes 325mm TL with a very small adipose fin. The humeral process is short, wide and blunt.

Within the last year this species has been available in the UK on a number of occasions at 2” SL and hopefully it will remain available to catfish keepers as it is an excellent catfish to keep and a good introduction to the world of Synodontis. It is relatively unfussy as to water conditions and will eagerly consume a wide variety of foods. It can be kept with other cats & mixed synos with few problems - I have only heard about one incident of intra-syno aggression. In my experience, I have found it to be a true ‘gentle-giant’.

It is a hardy fish but is delicate in its movement and feeding unlike a lot of other synos. Many times I have watched mine slowly trace its path along the edge of a rock, daintily nibbling at algae or consuming the tiniest morsel: slow and precise with effortless grace. Tank set-ups are not difficult; standard rockwork or bogwood for concealment, some open space for swimming - a 48x15x18 would be ideal, maybe with a shoal of congo, alestes or brycinus tetras. Winkelmann (2001) succeeded in breeding S. pleurops but I can find no further documented accounts. Pictures of larval development can be seen in the excellent Seegars, “The Catfishes of Africa” book. Clearly there is further opportunity for a dedicated hobbyist with this species.

In summation, this definitely a species I'd have no hestiation in recommending if you have the opportunity.

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 pleurops  Boulenger, 1897
Common Names Bug Eyed Syno
Gabel-Fiederbartwels (Germany), Pukkelhovedet Skægmalle (Denmark)
Type Locality Stanley [Boyoma] Falls, upper Congo River, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pronunciation sin oh don tiss - ploo RAWPS
Etymology According to Cuvier, Synodontis is an "ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile". It is not derived, as often reported, from syn-, together and odous, tooth, presumed etymology of the lizardfish genus Synodus and refers to the closely-spaced lower jaw teeth of both genera. 
Down Species Information
Size 325mm or 12.8" 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.

A very distinctive Synodontis easily identified by its large head, large eyes, relatively long, highly forked tail and dainty little mouth. The basic colour pattern is silvery white overlaid with brown-black markings, but there is considerable variation between individuals. Some specimens are spotted while others are striped. The distinctive markings of juveniles fade somewhat in adults.
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.
Down Habitat Information
Distribution Africa: Congo basin except Luapula system and Lower Congo.
African Waters, Congo, Upper 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 More tolerant of slightly acidic pH than many other Synodontis species.
Down Husbandry Information
Feeding Omnivorous, but more interested in algae and vegetable matter than meat. Tends to be out-competed for food if kept in the company of more aggressive Synodontis species. User data.
Furniture Ample hiding places should be provided. The fish likes to cling to the sides of the aquarium rather than lying on the substrate, so dense Vallisneria and tall driftwood are to be recommended.
Compatibility A peaceful, somewhat skittish fish that can nevertheless hold its own in boisterous company.
Breeding Not reported in the aquarium.
Breeding Reports There is no breeding report.
Down Further Information
Reference Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Series 6) v. 20 (no. 119) (art. 50), pp 423.
Registered Keepers There are 21 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 2023 Jan 12 05:45 (species record created: 2009 Feb 14 00:56)

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