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David Marshall
Title: Not So Angelic(us)

Summary:  A chance encounter with a hybrid Synodontous sp. at a local fish store sets David investigating the Eastern European origins of  a whole new class of fish.
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Date first published:  August 2007
Publication: Ryedale Reporter, Ryedale Aquarists Society, England
Reprinted from Aquarticles:

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Mail two printed copies to:

David Marshall,
16 Potter Hill,
North Yorkshire
YO18 8AA
And one copy to:
#373 - 5525 West Boulevard
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6M 3W6


Text by David Marshall
(Ryedale Aquarist Society) Photographs as credited




We begin our article with a look at two species of Synodontis that are very popular in the aquarium hobby.

Synodontis angelicus

The Polka-dot catfish occurs naturally in the Malebo (Stanley) Pool area of Zaire. Colour varies with populations from those that have dull grey bodies speckled with white spots through to those whose bodies are a brilliant jet black and adorned with spots of the brightest yellow. Although the majority of textbooks still give 20cm (8") as the maximum size attained by these fish, specimens greatly in advance of this size are known. These fish are lively and boisterous in temperament.

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Hybrid 1 - Synodontis angelicus
Photograph by K.A. Webb (A.A.G.B)

Synodontis schoutedeni

The Marbled catfish originates from the surroundings of the Cameroon stretch of the Congo River. There is much variability in the colour pattern between individuals. Generally the pattern can be described as being of a brown or black background with waves of yellow or white in the foreground. This fish also attains a size of 20cm - but often less in aquaria.

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Hybrid 2 - Synodontis schoutedeni
Photograph by Arthur Kenworthy (Otley A.S.)

The Hybrid

During the autumn of 2006 a local aquatic retailer, who knows of my passion for 'all things Synodontis' told me that he had ordered a Synodontis angelicus, through a Czech Republic aquarium fish consolidator, for a fellow 'good customer'. The 'angelicus' arrived with a note informing the retailer that the available fish was actually a cross between angelicus and schoutedeni. The retailer had hoped to keep this fish long enough for me to see, but the person who ordered it accepted delivery straightaway, being highly satisfied with this beautiful hybrid.

A few weeks later, and at a different outlet, my eyes were drawn to a label that proclaimed 'Synodontis species'. When the beautiful little fish emerged from its favourite tube I realised that it was something different and the patterning of the fins (clearly angelicus) and foreground white waves on the body (clearly schoutedeni) gave away the hybrid identity. The assistant quickly had it caught and 'bagged' for me.

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Hybrid 7 - Angelicus x schoutedeni hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Frisby (Wyke Show Society)


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Hybrid 6 - Angelicus x schoutedeni hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Frisby (Wyke Show Society)

On arriving home the angelicus hybrid, as I refer to it, was placed into a 60x30x30cm aquarium with a Synodontis petricola x nigrita hybrid, small Mystus gulio, several young Ancistrus and 2 male and 5 female Dutch Pearl Mouthbrooders (themselves a hybrid specie of Oreochromis) from my 4th generation of these lovely fish.

As the photographs show, the body of my angelicus hybrid has a typical young angelicus shape with fins to match. The foreground shows no spotting, but has a lovely bright white (sometimes taking on a golden hue) schoutedeni pattern.

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Hybrid 5 - Synodontis petricola x nigrita hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Kenworthy

I have no idea as to exactly what the young angelicus hybrid was fed with in Eastern Europe, but with me it would only eat vegetable-based flaked foods (as can be the case with both wild caught and aquarium bred Synodontis decorus). Today this little beauty takes all types of flaked foods, granular foods, catfish pellets and small pieces of both prawn and Thai crabstick.

Growth has been on par with a young schoutedeni. In behaviour 'his' actions are less boisterous than angelicus and he hides away much less than can be expected from schoutedeni. Now in a 90x30x30cm aquarium, and in more mixed company than when 'he' first arrived, he is not a complete model of good behaviour, but is more placid than many of the Synodontis hybrids of Eastern European origin.

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Hybrid 3 - Angelicus x schoutedeni hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Kenworthy


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Hybrid 4 -Angelicus x schoutedeni hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Kenworthy

Talking with several aquatic retailers revealed that all of the first 'batches' of this angelicus hybrid were identical in colour pattern etc. to the fish in my care, but the situation is now changing with a whole range of patterning showing through in new 'batches'.

How is the hybrid created?

There are many accounts of Synodontis from the African Rift Valley lakes spawning in aquaria but sadly, and probably with the exception of eupterus and nigriventris; very few accounts exist of aquarium spawnings of riverine species. Schoutedeni is one of several riverine species (which also includes alberti, atterimus and ocellifer), which will, however, reproduce very easily through a process of hormone stimulization. In the past, several attempts were made to reproduce angelicus, itself of riverine origin, in this way, but until very recently, success was very limited. It would appear, therefore, that more success is gained through making an angelicus x schoutedeni cross and this would make strong economic sense as from the little we know about Synodontis breeding in Eastern Europe the fish breeders find the fry of crossed Synodontis are much stronger and healthier (as is the case with mongrel dogs) to raise than those of a single species spawning.

Little wonder then that on ethical grounds the production of hybrid Synodontis is a very thorny issue that causes great differences and debate among Aquarists'. Personally I feel that there is a need to catalogue as many of the hybrid Synodontis (which is not a 'one person project' as some seem to appear in one area of the World and not in others depending on where a particular consolidator has customers) as we can; some 'species' Ice (an ocellifer variant) and the brightly coloured njassae crossed with 'Czech pardalis', seem to arrive with us as 'one time only shipments' and it is not to say that the production of any form of hybrid fish will continue in the long term?

Finally I do not think that anyone looking at the photographs that accompany this article could argue that the angelicus crossed with schoutedeni hybrid is not a beautiful fish.

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Hybrid 8 - Angelicus x schoutedeni hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Frisby


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Hybrid 9 - Angelicus x schoutedeni hybrid
Photograph by Arthur Frisby