Sunday, 4 March 2012

Synodontis grandiops

Every now and again the aquarium shops in Cairns offer Synodontis multipunctatus catfish for sale. S. multipunctatus are from Lake Tanganyika, and are best known for their habit of brood parasitism - laying eggs amongst the eggs of mouth brooding cichlids to have the eggs mature and hatch in the cichlid's mouth. The catfish fry then eat the cichlid eggs before heading off into the world.

Back in 2006, scientists looked more closely at the species, and realised they were in fact two species, differing markedly in size. The larger species (to 25cm) retained the S. multipunctatus name, while the smaller species (to 12cm) was named S. grandiops. Aquarium shops haven't caught up, and still sell both as S. multipunctatus or "cuckoo catfish". It's very hard to tell small specimens apart, so you end up with a bit of a lucky dip situation. One guide is the size of the eye - it's larger (up 80% of the snout length) in S. grandiops. Due to the variation in each species, this isn't always a great guide. I did see a large S. multipunctatus on sale at Dinki Di a few years ago, before they moved, so they're definitely around.

Synodontis grandiops
I've bought nine juvenile specimens, one from Cairns Aquariums before they closed, and the others in two purchases from Aquarium World Cairns. The latter included a special order from the distributor which included a couple of wild-caught specimens. All nine have turned out to be S. grandiops. It's not a great sample size, but I suspect most of the S. multipunctatus you see in our shops are similarly mislabelled. Don't be put off though. They're a great fish - very busy and going into overdrive when feeding time arrives. They seem hardy, and are anything but picky when it comes to food.

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