Synodontis Multipunctatus – The Cuckoo Squeaker

synodontis multipunctatus

Last updated on September 16th, 2022 at 02:57 pm

Aquarists call it Synodontis multipunctatus, Cichlid keepers know it as Cuckoo Catfish and fish lovers call it the Cuckoo Squeaker. Regardless of what you call it, Synodontis multipunctatus is an entertaining fish to keep in your aquarium. Despite being only slightly larger than most bottom-dwelling plecos and loaches, this catfish will tirelessly chase after large cichlids, Gouramis, and even fast-moving tetras that enter its territory.

Pronounced sin-oh-DON-tis mul-ti-PUNK-tatus, Synodontis multipunctatus is one of about 125 species of Synodontis catfish that can be found in Africa. These fish are native to the Congo River Basin in Central Africa where they can be found in lowlands, pools, and swamps with vegetation.

The Synodontis multipunctatus is not actually a Synodontis at all but rather the only species of Genyochromis in the family Mochokidae. The Genyochromis species of cichlids are native to Africa’s Lake Tanganyika and some parts of rivers draining into the lake such as Lake Kivu, the Ruzizi River, and the Malagarasi River.

Origin and description

synodontis multipunctatus

Synodontis multipunctatus is a medium-sized species of catfish that is closely related to Synodontis angelicus. Like many other Synodontis, it originates from West Africa, in countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

In Africa, it is known under a variety of names including cuckoo catfish or cuckoo squeaker due to its peculiar habit of mimicking other fishes through rapidly repeated clicks. An easily distinguishable feature of Synodontis multipunctatus is its white-spotted underside which can make them appear counter-shaded (normally dark at top and light at bottom).

However, unlike most counter-shaded animals (such as sharks) they are not particularly well camouflaged but actually use their bright colors to communicate with one another. When out of the water, they use lateral compression to create blooms, making themselves look even bigger and more threatening than before. This behavior is also used during mating when males fight over territory and compete for females.

Although Synodontis multipunctatus has been discovered in a number of places since its discovery it has long been regarded as quite rare among hobbyists due to difficulties in finding them at appropriate sizes for transport.

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Species profile

synodontis multipunctatus

Synodontis multipunctatus is a species of catfish in the genus Synodontis. It was described by Fitzinger in 1826, originally under the genus Mochichthys. It inhabits Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique.

Males can reach up to 70 centimetres (28 in) while females are slightly smaller at 61 cm (24 in). Its natural habitats are rivers, freshwater lakes, freshwater marshes, and inland deltas. It is not considered a threatened species by the IUCN.

This pickerel-like fish has furrows above its eyes with large nostrils on each side that flare outward when it feeds; its upturned mouth allows for greater suction when feeding; it also has very large scales over its gill openings.

Habitat and distribution

A freshwater fish endemic to Lake Tanganyika, Synodontis multipunctatus is distributed in small schools in open water areas of Lake Tanganyika and is absent from river mouths. It occupies depths ranging from 40 to 160 meters (130 to 520 feet) during daylight hours but it has been observed as shallow as 10 meters (30 feet) at night.

Smaller fish can be found shallower than larger ones. This species requires a certain amount of openness in its habitat because it feeds on benthic invertebrates that live near or on sand or mud bottoms. At least in part due to its habit of schooling with other cichlids, there appear to be more males per female than what is typically seen with other cichlids.

Synodontis multipunctatus size and weight

The cuckoo catfish is a medium-sized fish, growing to about 8.5 inches (21 cm) in length. This fish can be very heavy with males weighing up to 1.8 lb (0.8 kg). This species has a slender body and a deep, flattened belly and head.

When compared to other African catfish, it also has longer dorsal and anal fins, as well as larger eyes which give it more of an appealing look than its cohorts have.

Synodontis multipunctatus tank size

The minimum recommended tank size is 30 gallons. They can be kept in smaller tanks, but they will outgrow them quickly, and it may cause undue stress on both you and your fish. 50 to 75-gallon tanks are perfect for a small group of multipunctatus, with 30 to 40 gallons being sufficient if you have a school of smaller specimens. Bigger is always better when it comes to Synodontis multipunctatus, though!

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Tank set up

This species of catfish is native to river and lake systems in West Africa and Central Africa. In these environments, they live in sandy substrates at depths ranging from a few inches to 40 feet. In captivity, they can be kept in tanks as small as 30 gallons but will generally do best in larger settings with plenty of open swimming space.

They are fairly undemanding fish when it comes to water parameters; pH from 6.0 – 8.0 and dH from 5 – 20 will be suitable if well maintained regularly. Keep in mind that, while they are typically found in clear waters, aquarists have observed them living successfully in more turbid conditions as long as there is no heavy accumulation of silt or detritus.

Adding live plants is also highly recommended as they provide both hiding places and additional cover. A standard aquascape containing medium-sized rocks, driftwood, and some open swimming space should make a perfect environment for keeping your multi-spotted goby happy!

Synodontis multipunctatus tank mates

If you’re keeping Synodontis multipunctatus (commonly known as a cuckoo squeaker) with other fish, choose species that are less aggressive and/or peaceful by nature. Good tank mates include smaller gourami, rasboras, danios, and loaches.

Synodontis multipunctatus breeding

synodontis multipunctatus

As far as breeding requirements go: your water quality will be more important than most other aspects. Your dH (degree of hardness) range should be somewhere between 10 – 25. Temperature can vary anywhere between 74 – 82 degrees F but I would recommend keeping it at 78 degrees with a pH of 7.0 – 7.5.

Since your baby synodontis multipunctatus are so small, they have very sensitive gills, you need to provide strong aeration through powerheads and/or airstones by providing them with additional oxygen being pumped through their environment.

Lastly, cover your aquarium! And what’s even better? Put some fake plants over the top so no light gets in! You’ll also notice as you age, these fish may become less tolerant of each other; however, don’t be discouraged!

After all, when haven’t siblings ever fought? Regardless, just keep them well-fed and most importantly, ALONE; if multiple males are kept together odds are only 1 male will get to mate due to how aggressive these guys tend to be.

Channa Maculata (Blotched Snakehead)

Finally, once you see some sort of nest has been created (probably made out of Java moss), simply put your female(s) back into their own smaller tank then wait a few weeks before introducing some decent sized juveniles back into the main family tank after about 4 weeks post-hatching.

Are they aggressive or peaceful?

Despite their small size, cuckoo squeakers can be aggressive when placed in an aquarium with larger fish species. They are best suited for ponds, where they have plenty of room to swim and grow without worrying about predators.

Synodontis multipunctatus care

synodontis multipunctatus

In a community tank, as long as they have enough swimming space and hiding places, they are easy to care for. They will eat almost anything but it is recommended that you feed them live foods such as daphnia or brine shrimp.

As with all other bottom dwellers in your tank, you will want to make sure that no substrate is present in their tanks. An established aquarium will work just fine for these fish since they can tolerate higher water temperatures and low oxygen levels, which are often found in many home aquariums.

What they eat

In their natural habitat, Synodontis multipunctatus primarily eat worms and aquatic insect larvae. If you’re keeping them in a tank, though, you should try to replicate that diet as closely as possible by feeding them live food like bloodworms or blackworms. They will also eat finely chopped-up feeder fish (like rosy red minnows) and high-quality flake food.

Water parameters

Proper water conditions are very important when keeping cichlids. Since they come from Africa, they require soft to medium-hard water, with a pH between 7.0 and 8.0, a water temperature of 24 to 26 degrees C (75 – 78 degrees F), and KH 3 – 6 dH.

Substrate should be small-grained sand with a few rounded stones to break surface tension in open areas of a sandy substrate. If your local water company tests your water, try to find out if it is neutral or alkaline and adjust accordingly.

This can usually be done by adding one-tenth of a teaspoon of baking soda for every two gallons of fresh water put into their tank or pond for each day that you plan on keeping them in captivity before placing them in there; after twenty-four hours, you should test your aquarium’s or pond’s pH again to see if any adjustments need to be made.

Synodontis Catfish Care Sheet

While captive-bred specimens will acclimate better, wild-caught ones may take some time to adapt but eventually will get used to these parameters. Do not add salt to an African cichlid’s environment unless it naturally has an extremely high saline level like Lake Malawi.

Synodontis multipunctatus lifespan

The average lifespan of synodontis multipunctatus is 8 to 10 years. On average, you are looking at about a ten-year life span for your cuckoo squeaker. Some have been recorded to live as long as 15 years, however, these are quite uncommon.

Parasites and diseases

Many Synodontis spp. are susceptible to infection by various types of flagellates and nematodes, including some that cause columnaris disease. These diseases may affect a fish’s appearance (e.g., red lesions in the mouth, gills, and fins), behavior (e.g., lethargy), or mortality rates; in extreme cases all three.


Synodontis multipunctatus are very small and are at risk of predation by larger fish. There have been accounts of larger predatory fish such as African cichlids capturing and eating smaller Synodontis multipunctatus, although there is not a lot of empirical evidence to back up these claims.

If they are to be placed in an aquarium with large predatory fish such as African cichlids, it is advised that an extensive amount of hiding places be provided so that they can escape when necessary.

Do they make great pets?

synodontis multipunctatus

Yes, with a peaceful, active demeanor and their love of fish, Synodontis multipunctatus (the cuckoo squeaker) is an excellent choice for those looking to add a low-maintenance pet to their home. After all, these suckermouth catfish will eat just about anything that fits in their wide mouths. What they lack in personality they make up for with ease of care.

Key facts about Synodontis multipunctatus

Found in Africa from Cameroon to Uganda, north, and south of Lake Tanganyika. A large species with a maximum length of up to 16 inches (40 cm). Synodontis multipunctatus feeds on worms, insects, and other small invertebrates as well as scavenging on dead fish.

Multi-punctated refers to rows of tiny spots along its body, giving it a dotted appearance. Slow-moving freshwater catfish rarely venture into saltwater and are a very popular aquarium fish all over the world. They are also commonly known as cuckoo squeakers due to their unique sound when removed from the water.