The Fish Files: Synodontis Petricola


Synodontis Petricola, also known as the pygmy leopard catfish, is a catfish which grows to a length of approximately 4 inches. Native to Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Africa, this species is rare and highly sought amongst aquarists.

Syno Petricola are renowned as the most peaceful of the Syno species, and with their inquisitive nature, they benefit well from stimulating décor. Housing them in a Lake Tanganyika biotope setup is advised; giving plenty of open water for swimming and using rock arrangements to form caves for exploration.  Dim lighting will encourage the fish to be more sociable.

Fish Keeping Information






Name Origin


Synodontis: Ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile

Petricola: A dweller among rocks.


Care Level




Fish Size


This species grows to a length of 10.2 centimetres (4.0 in)


Water Temperature


75-82°F (24-28°C)






Water hardness


10-35 dH


Aquarium Size Required


36″ x 12″ x 12″ (90x30x30cm) – 80 litres


Gender Differences


Females more round in shape and a darker colour


Sinking pellets, although will also benefit from frozen and live foods




Should only be kept with larger Tetras, Barbs and Gourami in a community set up that like harder water quality.  Ideal tank mates with most Cichlids, especially African Mouthbrooders


The Synodontis Petricola is light brown in colour and is covered in numerous, irregular dark brown spots, often smaller in size on the head and ventral region. Its ventral, pectoral, dorsal and anal fins have white tips and a darker base. The Petricola has a humeral process which is trilateral and elongated and its gill openings do not cross the pectoral fin spine.


Synodontis Petricola are very inquisitive and friendly fish, and it is ideal to keep them in groups of 3-4 or more as when kept singularly they can be very cautious, preferring to hide amongst rocks and caves.

They make great tank mates for appropriately sized rainbowfish, livebearers and water cichlid communities, particularly mouthbrooding Rift Lake species. Whilst Synodontis Petricola have a peaceful temperament, it is recommended not to house them with fish that are too small, as they may be mistakenly taken for food.


They will reproduce quite commonly in aquaria. Whilst largely an egg scatterer in open waters, this species is unusual in that it is one of the few fish known for a breeding method known as 'Brood Parasitism'.  The Syndontis Petricola time their spawning to coincide with African Mouthbreeders and lay their eggs amongst the African Cichlids’ spawn. As the catfish eggs hatch, the young fry consumes the mouthbrooders’ eggs and are protected by the unsuspecting cichlids.

When bred in captivity, the most effective breeding process is to raise all the eggs in a separate breeding tank. It is also recommended that the adult fish are removed from the fish tank once spawned to prevent egg predation. Whether spawned in pairs or flock spawning, they should be provided with ample frozen and live feed.