Text by David Marshall
Photographs of Synodontis robertsi and angelicus by Kevin Webb
Photograph of Synodontis alberti by David Marshall
In our 'hobby' Synodontis robertsi is usually sold under its
scientific name as opposed to the common names of Robert's Synodontis
and Large blotch Synodontis. In the wild this fish hails from
Central Congo, Lukeria and the Egobe river system.
Synodontis robertsi is a member of the Mochokidae family. The
Mochokidae lack the protection of body scutes (which you will
know through Corydoras) so nature compensated by the provision
of a continuous bony shield that runs from behind the eye to
the dorsal fin spine that deflects all but the hardest blows
from the teeth and bills of aquatic living mammals and fishing
Although I have heard no reports of a robertsi squeaking (backed-up
by the fact that squeaker does not appear in the common names
quoted above) when removed from water this is a secondary defence
system among the majority of Synodontis species.
As with all Synodontis the pectoral fin spines are a 'wonder
of nature'. Very sharp they also afford protection (watch your
fingers) while recording growth like the rings of a tree. The
pectoral fin bone of each Synodontis species is different so
becomes a 'signature tune' allowing ichthyologists, once the
flesh is removed, to tell the true identity of species which
may look alike to the naked eye.
A fact file on the Planet Catfish web-site describes the body
pattern of our subject specie as 'giraffe-like' and although
I go along with this the pattern of dark brown and white varies
greatly among individuals (as readers who know the more commonly
seen Synodontis angelicus will be familiar) going from crop
circle markings to bars as in Synodontis brichardi. The body,
which can reach a maximum size of 16cm, has a raised appearance
like that of Synodontis contractus - with whom large 'alberti
eyes' are also shared.
Considering the likeness to Synodontis contractus, which has
plainer and bland body colours in comparison, there is little
wonder that one can be offered for sale as the other. The body
colours of Synodontis caudalis (forked caudal lacking in robertsi)
and certain colour variants of Synodontis schoutedeni (smaller
eyes and more yellow colour in body) also lead to these two
species occasionally offered for sale as robertsi.
To see both the likenesses and differences between the mentioned
species visit the fact files and photographic galleries on both
the Scotcat and Planet Catfish web-sites.
Before moving onto aquarium care we must note that our subject
specie can be very delicate and one which, despite great care,
sometimes never settles into aquarium life literally dwindling
away. This is often signalled by the onset of lethargic activity,
at which time the robertsi will sit close to the front of the
aquarium and find a spot from which the only movement will be
tiny rocking motions.
The roots of such demise are often:-
1. A failure to feed. Robertsi can go on 'hunger strike' following
exportation, which also occurs with certain 'L' numbered loricarins,
and once out of the eating habit may never resume this vital
practice. If you are on good terms with your local retailer
always ask to see a robertsi feed prior to purchase.
2. The shock of 'new water'. Because of their delicate nature
robertsi need to be placed into a well established aquarium,
with excellent filtration, in which only minimum water changes
Aquarium care begins with a minimum sized aquarium of 60x30x30cm.
The aquarium should be well filtered with a pH between 6.2 and
7.5 and temperature in the range of 23 to 27 C. For décor
well plant the aquarium and provide shelter in the form of Mopani
wood, broken plant pots (which should have smooth edges as the
skin of robertsi is softer than it first appears) and small
ceramic pipes. Medium-sized African characins make good companions.
As robertsi are a Riverine species they should not be kept alongside
Rift Valley cichlids. When eating they will take small living
foods and commercial flakes.
Taking the contractus and alberti (Albert's catfish) likenesses
very seriously it may well be that, like these two species,
robertsi does not have the long natural lifespan, sometimes
in excess of 20 years, that is enjoyed by a number of Synodontis
including the well known decorus (Clown squeaker) and eupterus
Sadly there are, as yet, no reports of robertsi reproducing
within the confines of aquaria. Field reports suggest that distinct
pairs form, during the Congo rainy season, and that, in open
water, dark coloured eggs are scattered over the available substrate.
As a final point we must mention that Synodontis robertsi are
not always readily available so their price in aquatic retail
outlets can be very high - in some cases topping that asked
for Synodontis angelicus.