Synodontis multipunctatus

Synodontis multipunctatus. Photo by Mario Rubio García
(CC BY 2.0)

Synodontis multipunctatus, aka cuckoo catfish, is a parasitic brooder that uses other fish to raise and protect their offspring. S. multipunctatus exploits Lake Tanganyika mouthbrooders by swooping in and laying its own eggs while the female cichlid is picking up her own eggs. The female cichlid will then continue to carry the parasitic eggs; who in turn hatch early and eat the developing cichlid offspring. In some cases, the female cichlid will protect the S. multipunctatus fry even after they've been released.

A new study published in Science Daily shows a link in the coevolution of Synodontis multipunctatus and cichlids from Lake Tanganyika. Researchers raised both S. multipunctatus and cichlids for the study. Cichlids included species from Lake Tanganyika and species from other waters where S. multipunctatus is not found. The results of tests showed cichlid species that coevolved with S. multipunctatus were more likely to avoid picking up parasitic eggs than cichlid species not from Lake Tanganyika. Coevolved cichlids were also more likely to learn to avoid S. multipunctatus, while species from other waters didn't learn. The tests appear to show that the coevolution of the cuckoo catfish and Lake Tanganyika cichlids has resulted in an evolutionary ability to identify and learn that is not found in other cichlids. For more details on the study visit ScienceDaily.