Breeding cuckoo catfish
breeding Synodontis multipunctatus - cuckoo catfish


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Breeding Synodontis multipunctatus - cuckoo catfish

Synodontis multipunctatus is called the Cuckoo Catfish due to its peculiar breeding behavior. Instead of caring for their own eggs, they use mouthbrooding cichlids. The offspring will not only be cared for by the cichlid; since Cuckoo Catfish larvae grows faster than cichlid larvae and will actually use cichlid offspring as food. In some cases, there will be no cichlid eggs or larvae since the Cuckoo Catfish parents ate all the cichlid eggs before the cichlid has any chance to pick them up.

This intricate relationship between Cuckoo Catfish and cichlids naturally makes breeding Synodontis multipunctatus a bit complicated, since you must provide them with suitable breeding, mouthbrooding cichlids. It is however far from impossible and for those willing to devote time and energy to the project, the success rate is actually very high.

Synodontis multipunctatus  – introduction

Synodontis multipunctatus is an African catfish native to Lake Tanganyika where it inhabits muddy bottoms down to at least 100 m. The largest known wild specimen was 27.5 cm in length. The temperature in the aquarium should be kept between 21 – 25°C and the hardiness in the dH 15-35 range. The pH must be alkaline, from pH 8.0 to 8.5.

Synodontis multipunctatus is a zoobenthos feeder and snails make up its staple diet. It also needs some vegetable matter in its diet to stay healthy. In captivity, they are not fuzzy eaters and they readily accept frozen food. Synodontis multipunctatus is a nocturnal species and should therefore ideally be fed when the aquarium is dark. The need plenty of hiding spots in the aquarium since they want to stay hidden during the day.

Keeping Synodontis multipunctatus is growing increasingly popular, but finding fully mature adults can still be tricky. You may therefore have to purchase young specimens and raise them yourself. 

Choosing a cichlid host

The safest bet is of course to choose a cichlid species from the same habitat as Synodontis multipunctatus, but this is not mandatory. Successful breeding has for instance taken place with Haplochromis sauvagei as host fish, even though this species is native to Lake Victoria. The most important thing is that both species appreciate the same conditions and will not eat or fight each other. It is of course a good idea to pick a cichlid that easily spawns in captivity, or even one that you have managed to successfully breed yourself in the past.

The breeding aquarium

A 100 L aquarium will be enough to breed Synodontis multipunctatus and the set-up can be quite simple. Decorate the aquarium and get the necessary equipment just as you would for non-breeding Synodontis multipunctatus, and then add a few terra cotta caves. Do not expect instant breeding; the fish needs some time to familiarize themselves to the new home.


You will need to condition both Synodontis multipunctatus and the host cichlid to coax them into breeding. Synodontis multipunctatus should be fed plenty of meaty foods. This is especially important for the females.


You know that spawning in imminent when the cichlids begin to display courting behavior. This will trigger the male Synodontis multipunctatus and he will keep a watchful eye over the male cichlid at all times. When he believes that spawning is at hand, he will fetch his female partner and she will take a look at the situation. The female can then either leave and hide somewhere, or decide to breed. If she chose the second alternative, the male will chase her around a bit until the cichlids start to spawn. When the cichlid female releases her eggs, the Cuckoo Catfish couple will rush in and release and fertilize their own eggs. They will often eat all the cichlid eggs. The cichlid will of course believe that the eggs are cichlid eggs and pick them up.

Fry development

Synodontis multipunctatus larvae normally hatch after 48-72 hours. If the cichlid managed to pick up any cichlid eggs at all, eggs and/or larvae will be promptly eaten by the Cuckoo Catfish larvae. Cuckoo Catfish larvae can also retort to cannibalism. If provided with a nutritious diet, Cuckoo Catfish fry can be 13 mm long within two months.

Fry food

Baby brine shrimp is a good first food when breeding Synodontis multipunctatus. Gradually give your fish bigger and bigger brine shrimp as they grow. Larger specimens can also be given chopped up bloodworms. Ideally feed your fry several times a day instead of just 1-2 large feedings.

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Synodontis multipunctatus - cuckoo catfish