Information, Catfish, Freshwater fish, Species, Squeakers and upside-down catfish

Cuckoo Catfish (Synodontis multipunctatus)

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by Jason Matthews



Welcome to our article about the Cuckoo Catfish, a rare and fascinating type of fish sure to catch the interest of everyone who enjoys keeping pet fish.

The following sections provide a ton of fascinating information about this species, whether you are a novice or an experienced fishkeeper.

Everything you need to know to care for your Cuckoo Catfish effectively will be covered, from its history and appearance to its behavior and tank conditions.


Scientific Name: Synodontis multipunctatus
Common Names: Cuckoo catfish
Life Expectancy: 10 years
Adult Size: 15 cm (6 inches)


HabitatLake Tanganyika & Congo Basin
Care LevelModerate
Tank LevelBottom
Minimum Tank Size100 gallons
Water pH6.0-7.5
Water Temperature22-26°C (72-79°F)
Water Hardness4-12 dGH
Tank MatesPeaceful fish, larger tetras, barbs, gouramis

Fun Fact Corner

A fun fact about Cuckoo Catfish is that they can change color depending on their environment and mood. They can do this by adjusting the pigmentation in their skin cells. This means that in the wild, they may be able to blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators, and in captivity, they may change color to match the colors of their tankmates or the color of the tank itself. This ability to change color is one of the things that makes the Cuckoo Catfish such an exciting and unique species to keep as a pet.


The Cuckoo Catfish, also known by its scientific name Synodontis multipunctatus, is a catfish native to the Lake Tanganyika in Africa. It is a freshwater fish that can be found in a variety of habitats, such as rivers, streams, and lakes. The species is known for its distinct coloration and patterning, which can vary depending on the specific location where it is found.

It’s important to note that this species is not regarded as endangered despite being scarce in the wild. However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which governs the international trade of specific species that are thought to be in danger of extinction, keeps an eye on its exchange.


The Cuckoo Catfish is known for its unique and striking appearance. To swim gracefully through the water, it has an extended body form and a laterally compressed body. Scutes, a collection of bony plates that coat the body, serve as a defense against predators. The fish’s coloration can vary depending on the location where it is found, but it is generally dark brown to black, with a series of white to cream-colored spots on its body. The caudal fin is always forked, silver in appearance, and has a black stripe running along it.

This kind of fish is named for its elongated dorsal fin, one of the species’ most distinguishing characteristics, and has a distinctive “cuckoo” shape. The dorsal fin often has a succession of white or cream-colored dots and is dark brown to black in appearance. This distinctive fin is a unique characteristic of the species, making it easy to identify.


The Cuckoo Catfish is a relatively small species, with adults typically reaching a maximum size of around 8 inches (20cm) in length, though some individuals can reach up to 10.8 inches  (27.5cm)  in the wild. This makes it a great option for those with smaller aquariums, as it does not require a large tank to thrive.

It’s also important to note that cuckoo catfish develop rather slowly; it can take several years to reach their full size. As a result, they can be kept in smaller tanks for longer, but as they get bigger, they will require more space.

It’s important to note that when keeping Cuckoo Catfish in captivity, they must have enough space to swim and explore. A general rule of thumb is to provide at least 20 gallons (75L) of water per fish. This will ensure that the fish has enough room to swim and explore and provide adequate filtration and oxygenation.

When adding a Cuckoo Catfish to your tank, it’s essential to consider the fish’s possible adult size and make plans appropriately to ensure you can provide a healthy habitat for your fish.


Like many other fish species, the Cuckoo Catfish displays significant characteristics between males and females. However, it can be challenging to differentiate between the sexes without a close examination.

Compared to females, males often have shorter, rounder, and more elongated dorsal and pectoral fins. Furthermore, the ventral fins of males are often thicker and more pointed. Additionally, men are typically more colorful than women.

In addition, mature males have a characteristic “bumpy” forehead, which is not present in females. This is caused by an accumulation of fatty tissue, which is used as an energy reserve during breeding.

Despite these distinctions, it’s important to note that sexing the Cuckoo Catfish can be challenging and that it’s not always possible to differentiate males from females simply by looking at them. As a result, keeping a group of Cuckoo Catfish and using their behavior to determine the sexes if you intend to breed them is preferable.

It’s essential to note that Cuckoo Catfish are not a sexually dimorphic species, which means that males and females look alike, and it can be hard to tell them apart by just looking at them.


The Cuckoo Catfish is an excellent addition to a community tank because it is often calm and non-aggressive. They like exploring their surroundings and are enthusiastic swimmers. They are nocturnal fish, which implies that daytime hiding places are crucial because they are most active at night.

Fish like Cuckoo Catfish are typically timid and may spend most of their time hiding. It’s crucial to provide them with many caves, rocks, and other hiding places. When the tank is quieter, they will emerge to explore and feed at night.

They are also referred to as “schooling fish,” meaning they like to live in groups in the wild and will feel more at ease in captivity if housed in a group of at least three other fish. If they are kept together, they will be less timid and bolder, active, and engaged.

It’s essential to note that Cuckoo Catfish can be sensitive to water conditions. Hence, it’s vital to maintain the tank water in optimal conditions and to perform regular water changes to keep the water clean and healthy for them.


Cuckoo Catfish (Synodontis multipunctatus) are peaceful, small catfish popular in aquariums. They are also known as multi-spotted catfish or cuckoo synodontis.

Cuckoo catfish get along with most other peaceful fish that aren’t too small to be considered prey. Here are some tankmates that can complement cuckoo catfish:

  • Other catfish: Cuckoo catfish can coexist with other peaceful catfish like Corydoras or Kuhli Loaches.
  • African Cichlids: Cuckoo catfish are from Africa and can live comfortably with African Cichlids like Malawi or Tanganyikan Cichlids.
  • Peaceful schooling fish: Cuckoo catfish are usually peaceful towards other non-aggressive fish. Some examples are tetras, rasboras, and guppies.
  • Livebearers: Cuckoo catfish can also be kept with livebearing fish like platies, mollies, and swordtails.

It is important to note that compatibility can vary depending on the specific individuals and the size of the aquarium. Make sure to provide enough hiding places and spaces for each fish to minimize aggression and stress.

Tank conditions

When it comes to tank conditions for the Cuckoo Catfish, it’s essential to provide them with an environment that mimics their natural habitat. This species is native to the rivers and streams of Southeast Asia, which means they are accustomed to warm and tropical conditions.

Cuckoo catfish prefer water that is between 72 and 82°F (22 to 28°C) and 6.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Although they can handle a wide range of water hardness, it’s better to keep it moderate, between 5 and 15 dGH.

Remember that cuckoo catfish are delicate to changes in water quality, so it’s crucial to keep the tank in the best possible shape. It means routine water changes and utilizing a high-quality filter to maintain the water’s cleanliness and health.

When it comes to decor, it’s essential to provide plenty of hiding spots, such as caves, rocks, and other structures, to mimic their natural habitat. Cuckoo Catfish are active swimmers, so providing them with enough swimming space is essential.

It’s also worth noting that Cuckoo Catfish are not picky about lighting, so providing moderate lighting is fine. Cuckoo Catfish are territorial, so keep them in a single pair or small group.


The Cuckoo Catfish is an opportunistic feeder, meaning it will eat a wide variety of foods. They eat small crustaceans, worms, and insects in the wild. They will accept a wide range of foods in captivity, including:

  • Live and frozen foods such as blood worms, brine shrimp, and daphnia
  • Pellets and flakes
  • Vegetable-based foods such as blanched spinach and cucumber
  • Algae wafers

Being nocturnal and more active at night, cuckoo catfish should be fed at night or early in the morning. Providing a varied diet is essential to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients and keep them healthy.

Overfeeding can result in poor water quality and support the spread of disease. Additionally, it’s vital to keep an eye on how often they eat and modify the quantity of food accordingly.


When it comes to breeding Cuckoo Catfish, it can be challenging as they are known to be difficult to breed in captivity. However, with the right conditions and a bit of patience, it is possible.

A large tank with lots of hiding spots, water between 78 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 are requirements for breeding cuckoo catfish. Providing them with a high-quality diet is essential to ensure optimal health.

It’s important to remember that cuckoo catfish are not sexually mature until they are about 4-5 inches long. Once they reach maturity, they are known to form pairs and will often spawn in caves or other hiding spots.

The key to successful fish breeding is to mimic the fish’s natural habitat and environmental factors as precisely as possible. This includes providing them with a spacious tank with plenty of hiding places and the proper water temperature and pH.


When it comes to diseases, Cuckoo Catfish are generally hardy fish and are not prone to various illnesses. However, as with any fish, it is vital to maintain good water quality and provide them with a healthy diet to keep them in optimal health. 

Ich, often called white spot disease, is one of the most common diseases to which Cuckoo Catfish may be susceptible. The fish’s skin develops small white spots due to this parasitic infection. It is essential to treat this disease as soon as it is noticed, as it can quickly spread to other fish in the tank.

Fin rot is another disease to look out for, caused by poor water quality and manifested by frayed or disintegrating fins. It is essential to maintain good water quality and address any issues with the tank’s filtration system to prevent fin rot.

It’s important to note that Cuckoo Catfish can also be prone to bacterial infections, which can be caused by poor water quality or dirty tanks.


Jason Matthews

My name is Jason Matthews, and welcome to my website. When other kids were bragging about how their dog could sit and roll over, I was bragging about my latest Betta Fish and the cool sea castle I just added to his aquarium. 

Jason aquariume

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