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Watch your stocking levels!! These fish are going to get quite large, and especially with having them mixed, more aggressive as they mature. The more decoration you can get into that tank the better. A healthy African cichlid tank has more decoration than fish.
One idea for a catfish that is cool and won't get overly large is the upsidedown cat: http://www.aquahobby.com/gallery/e_Synodontis_nigriventris.php
 

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Yes, the upside down catfish are the best cats to put with cichlids. Not only are they compatible with aggression levels (the cichlids tend to leave them alone) but they also require the same water params... come from the same habitat/environment.
Be careful with a pictus with African cichlids... pictus prefer softer water, cichlids prefer harder water. Pictus also have a different temperment, and stress much much easier than the upside down cats and other synadontis species. Pictus are prone to ick, synadontis are quite hardy. As the cichlids mature, if they harrass or pick on the pictus, it doesn't have much of a chance.
The upside down cats are also one of the smallest species in the synadontis list, so won't get too large when full grown.
 

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We've always kept the upsidedown cats with the africans in the harder water, never had a problem. Whether they are wild or captive bred will be the determining factor, and most on the open market these days tend to be captive bred.
 

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Synodontis species range in sizes up to 1 foot in length, the upside down cat is one of the smallest. How you select the species should be gauged according to space in the tank, and how large of a tank you will end up in.
I don't promote overstocking a tank and then "thinning them out later" because many times there is nowhere to go with the extra fish. (unless you're planning to upgrade to a large enough tank when needed)
Most LFS's won't take in many fish anymore, they are hard to relocate and can get expensive to care for until a home is found. Africans breed quite easily, so the higher the stock in a tank, the more issues you invite later when the fish mature.
Before stocking too heavily, you may want to contact your LFS to be sure they are willing to take the fish you plan to get rid of. If you don't, you may find you will get stuck with them, and end result, you'll need to purchase a larger tank or deal with the many issues of an overstocked tank, including dead fish.
 

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bolty, thinning out the stock in a tank is only an option if you have somewhere to go with these fish later, after they've grown and most LFS's won't take them due to lack of space and at that size being harder to resell.
This is not something anyone should count on being able to do unless they check with the LFS FIRST, or intend to move up into a bigger tank to hold them all later.
With africans, most of them will average 5 - 9 inches each... (unless they are shell dwellers)
 

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bolty, where are you located? Releasing a fish into the wild, especially not a native habitat is highly illegal, and depending on the environment and the weather/seasons, can also be quite cruel to the animal. Here on the board we cannot suggest to anyone that letting a "pet fish" go in a natural waterway is ok, because we could then be held liable by the laws as much as the person who does it.
I don't know what specific laws are where you are located, but here, the DNR can take nearly everything you own if you get caught doing something like that, plus they fine you and there is mandatory jail time.
Plus, laws aside, it screws up a natural habitat with a possible "invasive" species should it breed. Something like african cichlids could quickly become invasive if the environment is suitable.
 

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Most of the synodontis species tend to be more nocturnal, though I've noticed that once they settle in, they tend to be out as much as any other catfish. Sometimes increasing the number in their group will help. The more shelter/territory you provide the more you are likely to see them. When they don't feel they have to "go hide" because they feel sheltered while out, they spend much more time out and about.
Due to the spine in the dorsal, they are difficult for the other fish to consume completely, so if it were the case of the cichlids "eating it", you'd at least find bones or partial body. Try feeding around the time the lights go out, and see if that doesn't help, also.
 
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