Text and photograph by David Marshall
As our subject specie did not come about through the trials
and tribulations of natural selection, but as the direct result
of hybridisation techniques employed by Eastern European fish
breeders, Synodontis 'species' black pebble will become the
first non-affiliated member, as (unless there is the same mistake
which may have given a hybrid specie validity as Synodontis
galinae) it will never receive the accolade associated with
scientific naming, of the Mochokidae family we have discussed.
Synodontis 'sp' black pebble was first seen in the U.K. during
the summer of 2004. How long it will remain available is questionable
as some hybrid Synodontis, e.g. the cross thought to be between
Synodontis pardalis 'aquarium variant' and S. multipunctatus
the Aqualog people labelled 'hybride?' ('super new black spot'),
remained obtainable for long periods whereas others, e.g. the
'sport' of Synodontis ocellifer sold as 'sp' ice, seem to arrive
here as 'one off' shipments.
What we have with 'sp' black pebble is a wonderfully patterned
fish whose black body markings, set against a grey background,
are a real mixed bunch of shapes and sizes that form a pebble,
and a quite psychedelic, effect. The human creators have kept
the species crossed to form this effect, a closely guarded secret
but as there are many similarities, in particular the body shape
of youngsters and the fin and body colours of adults, to Synodontis
aterimus (Bokuma syno catfish), and seeing how a number of catfish
enthusiasts already believe that aterimus forms part of the
make-up of Synodontis serpentis 'aquarium variant'(which looks
very different from photographs of the 'wild form), it is a
likely bet that this fish was used somewhere down the line?
So could aterimus and serpentis 'aquarium variant' have been
crossed to form this 'new fish'? Probably but both are less
stocky in build and more arched in appearance than my sub-adult
black pebble has become. As you will see from the accompanying
photograph the dorsal of black pebble has thickened first rays
and is highly raised with a sickle extension to the top lobe
of the caudal.
This had me wondering if Synodontis eupterus (Featherfin catfish),
commonly bred in both Eastern Europe and the Far East, could
account for both the build and dorsal as a second possible species
component but, unless there is a gene restraint, this probably
led me down a false trail as the skin covering the dorsal rays
of black pebble is solidly set, and lacks filaments, whereas
that of eupterus always appears to have been stretched over
these rays like the body of a kite over its framework.
Of a stronger dorsal framework, and with the same extension
to the caudal, we have Synodontis nigrita (in particular those
seen as Synodontis 'sp.' Zaire), again widely bred in Eastern
Europe and often seen in the U.K. as a stunted version, and
the spotted pattern of this fish against a black background
could account for some of the dark colour seen in black pebble?
Sadly we may never know the true make-up so all we can do is
just enjoy this particular fish for its shear beauty and as
Synodontis aterimus reaches an average size of 10cm we will
make this our guide for black pebble - in 15 months my fish
has grown from 3 to roughly 9cm.
My black pebble is at home in a 90x30x30cm aquarium that has
a pH7 and a temperature of 28 C. The aquarium is well planted
and has many cave structures but 'he' is rarely found in any
of these and likes to hide in the shadows. Flaked food, Thai
crabstick, catfish pellets and pieces of prawn are all taken
with great gusto. Various Synodontis species, a large Zulu perch,
Tilapia, a Polypterus and a large Sucking loach share 'his'
home and very little problems between the occupants are seen
Although I doubt that it would be possible for a pair of black
pebble to reproduce in aquaria (and have heard no reports of
this happening with any of the other hybrid Synodontis that
have been available in our hobby) we cannot totally discount
the possibility that our hybrid, which either came about through
a natural crossing(s) of two or more Synodontis species or through
clever clinical manipulation of eggs and sperm (the 'hybride?'('super
new black spot') could be a substrate x cuckoo spawning creation),
could be fertile - remember that we were told that Asian red
parrot cichlids would never reproduce naturally but a large
number of such spawnings have been recorded.
Should such a spawning occur it is very likely that, as with
aterimus, a pair bonding will form in which the female will
scatter her eggs over the substrate with the male following
quickly behind in order to fertilise as many of these eggs as
In conclusion Synodontis species black pebble is a fish whose
make-up we are uncertain of but one which, despite any ethical
worries, is another welcome addition to the aquarium hobby.