Origin and locale/variety: Lake Tanganyika, East Africa. Geographical variants seem to occur within the Lake, but these have not been well documented to date.
Size: A dwarf species, S. petricola is the smallest Synodontis found within the Rift Lakes. It rarely exceeds 3.5 inches in total length.
Sex differences: Both sexes are colored identically. Females grow slightly larger than males and will tend to be more rounded in body shape.
Aquarium behavior: One of the most charming inhabitants of any community aquarium, the S. petricola likes to have the company of its own species. It can coexist with much larger, more aggressive catfish and cichlids, yet does not molest even the smallest dwarf cichlids. In fact, it pays little attention even to well-developed fry of other species. We keep small-sized petricola together with fry in grow-out tanks. S. petricola, like its close relative Synodontis multipunctatus, tends to be much more active during daylight hours than are most catfish species. Like other Synodontis species, they do well with nearly all cichlids and do an excellent job of thoroughly scavenging leftovers.
Aquarium diet: S. petricola is not particular, dining on whatever the aquarist feeds his other fish. However, food which settles on the bottom is especially appreciated.
Observed spawning habits: Males will show great interest in females which are "rounded" and in obvious spawning condition, following them closely in an interesting and ongoing aquarium "chase". Actual aquarium spawns of the species are still rare, but have been accomplished. Reliable reports indicate that S. petricola has been spawned both as an egg-scatterer and as a parasite brooder. In the latter case, the fish interrupts the breeding activity of a mouth-brooding cichlid long enough to deposit its own eggs for the female cichlid to incubate in her mouth. The catfish eggs hatch earlier than the cichlid eggs, which serve as "first meals" for the developing catfish fry.
Other information: In today's market, the adult S. petricola offered for sale are nearly always wild-caught (F0) specimens. Young petricola have been readily available for only the past couple of years. They derive from breeding activity conducted on the shore of Lake Tanganyika itself and from a handful of skilled aquarists in the U.S. The petricola can be distinguished from S. multipunctatus by the broader white trim on the fins and by its darker, more olive-colored body coloration. At ARAF, we nearly always recommend S. petricola or one of its closest relatives for African community aquariums. (Additional information on this fish can be found within the article on our web site titled Synodontis petricola.)