We have suspended shipping and orders until Jan 15, 2022! Thank you for a great year!

Shopify secure badge

Spotlight On Cuckoo Catfish (Synodontus Petricola)

Blake B

Posted on January 01 2020

Each species of African cichlid has its own unique charm, quirks, and of course beautiful coloration. As America’s premier cichlid purveyors and enthusiasts, we’re taking some time to speak in detail about some of the cichlid species we specialize in. Continuing our series of spotlight posts, this month I’m covering Synodontus Petricola, also known as the cuckoo catfish cichlid, a peaceful species from Lake Tanganyika.


Cuckoo catfish cichlids are a popular medium-sized species which resembled a catfish, and are exceptionally placid. Interestingly, it is one of the very few species to engage in what is called parasitic mouth-brooding, so that it finds other mouth brooders and lays its eggs among theirs. When its eggs hatch beforehand, the babies consume the eggs of the host-mother. Perhaps this is partly why they never needed to evolve a more aggressive temperament. 

Appearance and Behavior

Cuckoo Catfish are usually light brown and black in color, often with leopard spots, and have catfish-like whiskers, from which they derive their nickname. They can be anywhere from 1 - 4 inches long, and have downward facing mouths, which are useful for their feeding habits, typically scraping algae and small invertebrates from rocks and surfaces. It’s whiskers are also called barbels, and like other fish with barbels, they are actually a sensory organ, containing taste buds that help them to find food. 

As mentioned, these are known for being placid by cichlid standards, and so they are an ideal addition to an existing tank of other cichlids. Just be aware that if you are breeding mouth-breeders, their brood may be hijacked by any cuckoo catfish that are likewise breeding. Mutual breeding in the same tank is not advised. 

Care and Requirements

Originating in the cold hard waters of lake Tanganyika, synodontis petricola need water ranging from 73 to 79 °F, and 8.5 to 9 pH, and dim lighting. However, it is known for being a very adaptable species, in terms of water chemistry. In the wild, they dwell in rocky shorelines up to 30 meters deep, and so they are evolved to prefer rocky environments and do well with aquariums that have piles of rocks with caves, but also some open space to swim around. 

Young cuckoo catfish are more carnivorous, and they appear to grow more omnivorous as they get older. This means that you may be better off feeding the young ones shrimp and other meat-based foods, and more omnivorous foods to older ones, although these are not particularly picky eaters. 

Tank Community Needs

These are particularly easygoing cichlids, and get along especially well with other cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. They are best kept in groups of four or more, along with whatever other species you have in the tank. They can be bred either in pairs or in polygamous “flocks”, and when not brooding parasitically, will scatter their eggs around the tank.

More Posts

Search our store