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Cuckoo Catfish (Synodontis Multipunctatus) Care Guide

Synodontis multipunctatus or cuckoo catfish is one of the most famous catfish popular among aquarists for a while. If you want to add a medium-sized bottom-dweller with an adorable appearance and behavior, then you should look no further.

It’s a schooling fish that would amaze you when kept in a group in a species or community tank. If you’re interested in keeping cuckoo fish, get through our guide about tank setup, care, feeding, tank mates, and breeding tips below.

Species Overview

Level of CareMedium
TemperamentSemi-aggressive, peaceful in a group of three
Life ExpectancyUp to 15 years
Size10 inch
Tank Size50-gallons or larger
Tank EnvironmentWide range of water parameters. Prefer warm and slightly acidic water conditions
Tank MatesKept in a group of three(minimum) Same-sized cichlids

As a member of synodontis, cuckoos have general characteristics but they have different colorations and patterns. Before shopping one from an aquarium store, you better comprehend the species. Choose wisely and carefully how you’d take care of them in a species or community tank.


Cuckoo or Synodontis multipunctatus is a catfish species largely found in the African region.

While it might have originated from Lake Tanganyika, Cuckoo catfish are widely found in The Democratic Republic of The Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, and Burundi. Today, they have been consistently imported and bred in the aquarium and developed its popularity among aquarists.



Cuckoos have silver-colored and forked caudal fins with black stripes. They have serrated, hardened first ray tier dorsal and pectoral fins while the head cap is also hardened.

It also shares the special-sounding character that manifests when they’re stressed or threatened.

You can identify males with higher dorsal fins while female fish typically have plumper bodies. These appear similar to other Synodontis species but have different details in coloration and patterns.


When it comes to coloration, the Cuckoo catfish is a transformer. You may find them having a gray, white color that gradually transforms to brownish and goldish color as they’re aging.  They have unique black spots that differentiate them from other catfish.

Behavior & Temperament

Despite their adorable experience and behavior, Cuckoo catfish have calm dispositions that make them a great community species. Furthermore, they typically eat extra food materials in the tank community.

They have an outstanding ability to clean the aquarium and prevent build-up in the substrate as they would dwell on them throughout time.

They have big eyes situated on the edge of the skull. With a barely arched back body, the front body is oblate and elongated from the edges. They have a giant mouth on the backside of the pinnacle.

You can find them having three pairs of mustaches in the populated environment. In general, they have shiny-colored spots on their skin. The actual coloration would depend on the particular species.  Cuckoos have comparable fins with other catfish.

They love to eat anything that fits in their mouth including snails, insects, small fish, and even vegetation.

Synodontis multipunctatus faceshot

Tank Conditions

Resembling their natural habitat, these prefer aqua landscapes with many hiding places including dense plants, caves, and bogwood.  They prefer finer gravel or sand for the substrate. With a proper tank setup, you can expect your Cuckoo catfish to live longer and healthier.

Tank Size

When bought as juveniles, you may get them in size of two inches that make a 15-gallon tank adequate.

However, they can grow up to 9-10 inches which makes you resize the aquarium tank for up to 50-gallon on the assumption no new Cuckoo catfish was added to the tank.

A 50-gallon tank is a reasonable size to invest in if you want to keep a group of 5-10.

Water Parameters

They can generally tolerate a wide range of water conditions. However, it’s still important to keep the pH range of 6.0 – 8.0 with the hardness somewhere between 8-12dH. Maintain the warm water temperature of 77 to 81 to prevent them from being stressed out in colder water.

Tank Setup

Cuckoo catfish closeup

The aquarium must be spacious while a robust plantation is needed to create a shady area that Cuckoo catfish like the most.

More roomy swimming space in the front of the tank is preferable for better viewing. They prefer to be kept in a smaller group of 5 fish in a species or community tank.

You’d need to install efficient filtration with robust performance because these are voracious eating species.

The bio-loads would be considerably high so doubling your filtration is advisable with proper aeration to keep the tank well-oxygenated.

Regular partial water changes are very important to maintain a low level of nitrate.

They prefer subdued lighting with a shady water environment and many dark crevices. You better use the blue-moon lighting instead of the brighter ones.

If you use an internal heating machine, be sure to cover it properly to prevent Cuckoo catfish from burning inside it.

While these are peaceful, they could be aggressive and territorial when kept in the rivalry between two fish.

That’s why a group of three fish is the minimum requirement if you want to keep them in a species or community tank.

The territorial nature is somehow compensated for when they’re kept in bigger groups.

You need a larger tank to keep a group of Cuckoo catfish to provide them with roomy swimming areas and maintain their territory.

The subdued lighting allows you to observe the aquarium at night. However, you’d likely find them schooling more often in the daylight.

These are generally adaptable and resilient to an aquatic environment However, some external factors may make them susceptible to infections and disease.

The most common health issue or ailment experienced is when they confront stressful situations.

At this point, you better remove all distractions or elements that can degrade the environment.

Poor oxygenation due to aerator failure can cause stressful situations that make your catfish hardly breathe. Tailed Cuckoo catfish typically shows dulled coloration responding to this very situation.

Keep the water heater, filtration, aeration, and other systems in the tank properly working. Check regularly on their functions and performance. Some infections like the ones that strike fins can be caused by the failure of these systems.

Tank Mates

Cuckoo catfish are better kept in a group of a minimum of 3-5 fish to keep in the species or community tank.

The tank mates of different species must be larger than two-inch so they can’t prey on them. Similar-sized fish like Livingstonii cichlids or medium-sized peaceful species could have been the criteria for the best possible tank mates.

These have been widely popular to live with cichlids in the same tank. They may use these cichlids as host parents for their eggs later.

These make an adorable union of three famous natural habitats: Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria, and Lake Malawi.

Food & Diet

Cuckoo catfish love snails very much and it could be the main staple for your catfish. However, you must ensure that the snails are free from parasites and obtain them from a reputable supplier. You can vary their diet with prawns, bloodworms, and special catfish pellets.

It’s tempting to keep adults with small tetras but your catfish would easily eat them.

Some frozen meaty foods are advisable like Mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and bloodworm.

Cuckoo catfish are generally omnivorous as they’d also enjoy the algae wafers, shelled peas, courgette, cucumber, and other vegetables.

Don’t overfeed them to keep their well-being. Since they take everything you offer and won’t stop eating,

you’re responsible for a reasonable diet. Use two-time feeding and provide foods that they can finish within two minutes to prevent them from bloating which becomes a common issue.

You better avoid all kinds of floating foods but use some sinking foods like pellets, tablets, or granules specially formulated for catfish.

Choose the high-protein meals for your Cuckoo catfish. Keep the small proportion of live foods or these would turn into a pure predator.

Balanced their diet with vegetables and plant-based meals. Still maintain the proportional portion to prevent uneaten foods from decaying and contaminating the water environment. Arranging fasting days is also advisable to prevent bloating and possible ailments.

Breeding Guidelines

When breeding, it’s essential to keep the nitrate levels as low as possible. Keeping Cuckoo catfish with cichlids is the best decision if you have a vision of breeding. It’s because mouthbrooding cichlids are perfect host parents for Cuckoo catfish larvae that enable them to grow faster.

These can be bred with brood parasitism and egg scattering. Without mouthbrooders, female would lay their eggs in the substrate or caves you’ve prepared. You need to research and learn more about both methods to increase the chances of successful breeding.