Article by Francesco Zezza & George J. Reclos
purpose of this article is to give you an insight into the behavior of the
most common tankmate of African cichlids : catfishes. Being it a
Plecostomus sp., an exotic Scobiancistrus or a Synodontis species,
catfishes share some things in common. When placed in an African cichlid
tank with the correct (for the cichlids) water parameters, some of them
feel like at home (Synodontis sp.) while others have to adapt a bit,
especially those coming from the acidic, soft water of the Amazon basin.
Most of them are nocturnal fish and most hobbyists just expect them to
clean the glass of the aquarium from algae. That's about all an average
African cichlid addict knows about them - and he doesn't really care to
know more. Wrong. Those fishes are beautiful, very interesting and can add
to the overall look of the tank. Francesco has already given some
information in his very interesting article, the
pleco connection. As you can
read there, catfishes are not "decoration" objects, on the contrary (not
to mention that some of them are more expensive and rare than our
One of the issues that needs to be further
addressed is their territorial nature and their ability to exert
aggression not only against other catfishes but also other species if
provoked. Of course this is not the case with very small members like
Corydoras but larger specimens do not hesitate to attack and even chase
fully grown up African cichlids around a large tank. What's more, they
don't seem to forget easily. I have repeatedly seen my large (25 cm)
Glycopterichthys gibbiceps resting on a rock and suddenly, when the right
fish come close, start chasing it again. There is more than that, since
large catfishes (especially suckermouths) can cause severe wounds on
cichlids especially at night. You can read more about it in the relevant
article "plecos and African cichlids".
However, this aggression and territorially behavior is far more evident
between catfishes. This can be observed either between members of the same
species or between different species. It is said that once you see a
serious fight (even a bloody one) between catfishes you will immediately
classify your mbuna as "peaceful, community fish".
experience with aggression directed against conspecifics include the
endless chasing of my two Botia modesta or the homeric fights of the two
Glycopterichtys gibbiceps. Please note that another (extremely)
territorial and aggressive fish (although mainly against members of its
own species) is one of the best scavengers for African cichlid tanks,
Akanthopsis Choerorhynchus (horse-face loach). It is practically
impossible to have two survivors in anything smaller than a 500 liter
tank. My "dominant" horse face loach clearly showed me the right signs
from the very first day. A week later the second one was lying dead. When
I started my 1300 liter tank I added three of them - thinking it was big
enough. Wrong again.. One of them was found dead a month later. Two years
later, I was happy to see the remaining two loaches (although 1.5 meters
apart) after the lights went off.
As far as aggression
between different species is concerned, we don't need to go that far.. A
classic is the various species of Synodontis. I know of various setups
which contain only one Synodontis species. The happy owners only see
it after feeding and are absolutely convinced that this is a shy, peaceful
species. If you try to introduce a second Synodontis of the same species
in that tank, you will be surprised to find out that the tank in which
were keeping 50 mbuna without any problem is simply too small for two
Synos. It is true that more often than not, what happens in one tank
will not happen in another. Therefore the observations I make may or may
not apply in your tank. However, I have come to understand is that my four
(different) Synodontis species have formed two "pairs". Synodontis decorus
vs. S. notatus and on the other hand Synodontis angelicus vs. S. ocellifer.
During one of the usual fights between my two G.gibbiceps I was lucky to
have my camera ready.. Since the fight went on for more than half an hour
there was no need to hurry.. but better safe than sorry.
Catfishes use different "dogfight" techniques but the
result is the same.
See next page for more..