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Catfishes and Rift Lake African Cichlids

by George J. Reclos

This is not an article, not in the true sense of the word. I was motivated by Francesco’s article “The Pleco connection” and just wanted to add my personal experience with catfishes. Francesco is correct in what he states and this is really what you should know. However one thing was not emphasized enough : The Aggression and the Territorial nature of many of them. Most of us have come to think of catfishes as the gentle, quite, nocturnal fish which will eat the algae and any food leftovers and then get into its cave to let us enjoy our colorful cichlids. Nothing is further from the truth. Some of them are highly territorial and aggressive fish and this doesn’t refer to exotic species but to very common ones which are probably in your tank, too. Moreover some of them grow quite large (25 cm is an average size while even 50 cm doesn’t set a record) so their aggression can lead to serious problems. I have seen many times my Glycipterichthys gibbiceps and my Synodontis decorus chasing fully grown cichlids (like Nimbochromis venustus) all over the tank. And, believe it or not, the cichlid was desperately looking for an escape route. Synodontis angelicus is another species which, once it sets a territory, will fiercely defend it against any opponent. And I mean ANY opponent. This fish can be described as a beautiful terror – at least for other Synodontis species.

 

What makes things worse is exactly the fact that catfishes are nocturnal fish. They can move in the dark, eat in the dark and in general they can do whatever they like since our African cichlids will be like sitting ducks. And they can really do a very serious damage. Some time ago, I found a fully grown male Aulonocara stuartgranti mbenji seriously wounded and stressed to death in my 1300 liter tank. My first conclusion was that the Scieanochromis fryeri males were responsible for that. However, when I removed the fish from the main tank I was shocked. I have seen all kind of wounds related to cichlid fights, even deadly ones but nothing looked like that. The fish was literally eaten alive. The wounds were very deep and almost circular in nature. As you can see in the picture the fish wouldn’t have made it if it stayed in that tank for one more day. I placed it in a 35 liter tank and added an anti microbial agent along with a slime coat regenerator hoping for the best. However, the wounds were really very deep. Although careful handling of the fish helped us to avoid a secondary infection, the healing of the wounds is not processing as anticipated. I am not sure the fish will finally make it. A couple of years ago I had to remove a pleco from my goldfish tank when I saw it feeding on the slime coat of my goldfish. Slime coat was available all around it, the fish were really slow (even by catfish’s standards) so it preferred to feed on it. After observing the first wound I just had to remove him. In my 140 liter raising tank I have repeatedly seen a fully grown Mylochromis sphaerodon (sized 17 cm) swimming in panic, chased by a 20 cm pleco. Those fishes were the only inhabitants of that tank and there were many hiding places for the “nocturnal” pleco which decided to become the boss in broad daylight. And yes, it made it. After some time, the cichlid allowed the catfish to feed first (!!)

So next time you see a fish almost totally eaten or with very serious wounds don’t [necessarily] blame your other African cichlids. It could well be your catfish !

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