Synodontis Catfish – Care, Types, Tank Mates & Full Details!

The Synodontis catfish, a distinctive freshwater species, fits perfectly into diverse aquarium settings. Originating from Africa, these fish are primarily found in the central and western regions of the continent.

Their natural habitat includes the biodiversity-rich lakes of the Great Rift Valley, a home to numerous vibrant species, many of them being cichlids.

Synodontis catfish are often the centerpiece of biotope aquariums designed to mimic African aquatic environments. However, they can adapt seamlessly to other habitats.

Boasting a high resilience level and minimal maintenance requirements, these catfish have much to offer to aquarium enthusiasts.

Their striking appearance adds to the Synodontis catfish’s appeal, making them a favorite among fishkeepers.

For seasoned fishkeepers and beginners alike, the Synodontis catfish offers an enthralling blend of fascinating behavior and resilience, making it a highly desired species for aquarium enthusiasts.

This in-depth guide provides comprehensive information about caring for Synodontis catfish, covering crucial aspects such as their diet, size, tank requirements, compatible tank mates, and more.

Table of Contents

Quick Stats About Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis Catfish Appearance

What makes Synodontis catfish a truly captivating spectacle in an aquarium is their distinctive appearance. Among the more than 120 unique species of Synodontis catfish, a common aesthetic thread exists, with each species presenting an intriguing display of nature’s design.

These bottom dwellers boast a sleek, shark-like silhouette that stands out against other freshwater species. Their bodies typically exhibit a spectrum of gray to brown hues.

One of the most notable aspects of their physical appearance is the pattern of large, dark spots distributed across their bodies. These spots serve as a natural camouflage, allowing them to blend seamlessly into the shadowy depths of lakes and rivers.

Unlike many catfish species, Synodontis lack traditional scales and are devoid of armor. But don’t let their seemingly vulnerable appearance fool you.

They come equipped with sharp, spiny pectoral and dorsal fins, which are capable of inflicting substantial damage. This feature is particularly noteworthy for aquarists when handling these fish.

Of all their physical traits, perhaps the most prominent is their whiskers. Synodontis catfish exhibit three pairs of fleshy barbels protruding from their mouth corners.

These whiskers play a vital role in their relentless search for food.

Natural Habitat of Synodontis Catfish

To ensure the best care for Synodontis catfish, understanding their natural habitat is essential. These fish are natives to Africa, with the highest population density in the central and western parts of the continent.

Their primary habitats are the lakes located in the Great Rift Valley. These water bodies house a rich diversity of colorful species, with a sizable population of them being cichlids.

In their natural settings, Synodontis catfish thrive in the sandy bottoms of lakes and rivers, making burrows and searching for food.

Their love for burrowing calls for a careful selection of substrates in your aquarium, with fine sand being the ideal choice.

Origin and Distribution

The Synodontis catfish have carved out a considerable geographical footprint for themselves. Originating in the diverse aquatic ecosystems of Africa, these catfish have spread across the globe, thanks to the pet trade.

They are an ideal pick for biotope aquariums designed to emulate the natural conditions of African water bodies.

Yet, their resilience enables them to adapt to a variety of habitats, expanding their reach far beyond their native terrain.

Growth, Size & Lifespan of Synodontis Catfish

When it comes to size, there is a notable variation among Synodontis catfish. While some cease their growth upon reaching four inches, others can stretch up to a foot in length. The average size for captive Synodontis catfish, however, is around eight inches.

As far as their lifespan is concerned, a well-cared-for Synodontis catfish typically lives between eight to ten years.

This lifespan, of course, isn’t guaranteed and can be influenced by various factors such as diet, tank conditions, and overall care.

Aquarists must strive to emulate the ideal conditions to ensure the longest and healthiest life for their Synodontis catfish.

Understanding the Synodontis catfish in terms of their appearance, natural habitat, origin and distribution, and growth patterns is crucial for anyone interested in adding them to their aquarium.

By addressing these vital aspects of their lives, we can provide the best care possible for these unique creatures, ensuring their well-being, longevity, and overall vibrancy.

Synodontis Catfish Behavior and Temperament

Synodontis catfish are known for their nocturnal nature. During daylight, they usually prefer staying hidden in caves or burrows. But as night falls, their active personality comes alive. They enthusiastically explore their surroundings, displaying an interesting mix of curiosity and caution.

Temperament-wise, they exhibit a peaceful demeanor. However, they can display territorial behavior, particularly if they feel their personal space is being invaded.

Keeping this in mind, it’s crucial to provide ample hiding spaces in the tank, to avoid any potential conflicts.

Types of Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis catfish are a diverse group of fish known for their unique patterns and nocturnal behavior. There are over a hundred known species within the Synodontis genus, each with its distinct traits and quirks.

For this article, we’ll focus on five notable types that aquarists frequently keep as pets.

Synodontis Nigriventris: The Upside-Down Catfish

The Synodontis nigriventris, popularly known as the Upside-Down Catfish, is a favorite among aquarists. What sets this species apart is its unique behavior of swimming upside down, especially when foraging for food.

They grow to about 4 inches and flaunt a beautiful dark brown body with white or yellow spots.

Synodontis Angelicus: The Angelicus Catfish

Next, we have the Synodontis angelicus or Angelicus Catfish, a striking species with a black body and white spots, giving it a star-studded appearance.

They can grow up to a foot long and have a much more triangular body compared to other Synodontis species.

Synodontis Eupterus: The Featherfin Squeaker

Synodontis eupterus, also known as the Featherfin Squeaker, is another popular choice for aquariums. With their long feather-like fins and a unique ability to produce a ‘squeaking’ sound when stressed, these fish are truly a sight to behold.

The Featherfin Squeaker can grow up to 8 inches in length.

Synodontis Petricola: The Pygmy Leopard Catfish

The Synodontis petricola, or Pygmy Leopard Catfish, is one of the smaller members of the family, only growing to about 3.5 inches. They have a light body covered in dark spots.

Despite their size, they are just as hardy as their larger cousins.

Synodontis Ocellifer: The Ocellated Synodontis

Lastly, the Synodontis ocellifer, or the Ocellated Synodontis, is recognized by its unique ocelli (eye-like) spots and grows to around 9 inches. Its large spots on a dark body create an intriguing pattern that captivates many aquarium enthusiasts.

These types of Synodontis catfish provide a glimpse into the diversity of this genus. From their unique patterns to their intriguing behaviors, Synodontis catfish are sure to bring a touch of the extraordinary to any aquarium.

Just remember, proper care and an ideal tank environment are essential for them to thrive.

Synodontis Catfish Tank Setup

Setting up a tank for Synodontis catfish involves careful planning and execution.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to create an environment that will make your Synodontis catfish feel at home.

Tank Size

The size of the tank depends on the specific Synodontis species you have. On average, a tank of at least 30 gallons is suitable for these fish. However, if you have a larger species, you may need to opt for a 50-gallon tank or more.


Synodontis catfish love to burrow, so the substrate is important. A soft, sandy substrate is ideal as it allows the fish to dig without injuring themselves. Avoid using sharp or coarse gravel, as it may harm the fish.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Incorporating natural decorations like rocks, driftwood, and plants can mimic their natural habitat. More importantly, these provide much-needed hiding spots for your Synodontis catfish, allowing them to feel secure.

Water Parameters

Synodontis catfish prefer water with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 and a temperature range of 72°F to 82°F (22°C to 28°C). Regular water testing is crucial to ensure these parameters remain consistent.

Filtration and Aeration

A strong filtration system is key to maintain water quality. This species is tolerant of different water conditions, but poor water quality can lead to health issues. Adequate aeration is also vital to replicate their natural fast-flowing habitat.


Since Synodontis catfish are nocturnal, they prefer low-light conditions. So, it’s best to keep the lighting in your tank subdued. A dimly lit aquarium also encourages them to come out of their hiding spots during the day.

Tank Mates

Choosing suitable tank mates is essential. They get along well with other species of similar size that are not overly aggressive. Some good tank mates can be cichlids, tetras, and larger gouramis.


Synodontis catfish are omnivores. A balanced diet of high-quality pellets, flakes, live, or frozen foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and vegetable matter will keep them healthy and active.

Their intriguing behavior and easy adaptability make them an engaging addition to your aquatic family.

Synodontis Catfish Tank Maintenance

Maintaining a healthy environment for Synodontis catfish involves more than just a well-setup tank. Regular maintenance is key to keep your fish active, healthy, and thriving.

Let’s dive into the details.

Water Changes

Regular water changes are essential to ensure a healthy habitat for your Synodontis catfish. Ideally, aim for a 25-30% water change every two weeks.

This process helps keep the water clean and free of harmful waste products, while also ensuring the essential nutrients in the water don’t deplete.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Over time, algae and waste can build up on the tank walls and decorations. This buildup not only spoils the aesthetics of your aquarium but can also adversely impact water quality.

Regular cleaning of the tank walls, substrate, and decorations helps maintain a clean environment. Use a soft brush or an algae scraper to clean the tank and its decorations gently.

Filter Maintenance

The filter plays a crucial role in keeping the tank’s water clean and suitable for your Synodontis catfish. Regular filter maintenance ensures efficient operation and avoids potential health issues for the fish.

Clean the filter parts in tank water that you’ve set aside during a water change to preserve the beneficial bacteria. It’s also advisable to replace the filter media as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Monitor Fish Health

Lastly, always monitor your Synodontis catfish’s health. Regularly observe their behavior, eating habits, and physical appearance. Any changes could be a sign of illness.

Look out for signs like loss of color, lethargy, loss of appetite, or spots on the body. Prompt action can often prevent minor issues from becoming major problems.

Keeping a Synodontis catfish tank is a commitment, and regular maintenance is a significant part of that commitment.

By adhering to these maintenance guidelines, you can create a safe and healthy home for your Synodontis catfish. And remember, a clean tank leads to happy, healthy fish!

Acclimating Synodontis Catfish

Just like moving to a new home can be stressful for humans, transferring Synodontis catfish to a new tank can be a challenge for them as well. Acclimating Synodontis catfish to a new environment is a gradual process, requiring a mix of patience and care.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Slow Introduction: When introducing Synodontis catfish to a new tank, allow the unopened fish bag to float in the tank for about 15-20 minutes. This allows the water inside the bag to gradually match the tank’s temperature, reducing thermal shock risk.

  2. Gradual Mixing: After the initial phase, open the bag and add small amounts of tank water to it. Continue this step for about 30-40 minutes. This method helps the fish to slowly adjust to the tank’s water parameters.

  3. Safe Transfer: Once the fish are acclimated to the water temperature and parameters, use a net to gently transfer them into the tank. Avoid adding water from the bag to your tank to keep potential contaminants out.

Remember, patience is crucial during this process. Hurrying may lead to stress and health issues for your new Synodontis catfish.

Synodontis Catfish Diet and Feeding

Synodontis catfish are not picky eaters, but providing a balanced diet ensures they thrive and live a healthy life.

Here’s a detailed feeding guide:

Balanced Diet

Synodontis catfish are omnivores. This means they enjoy both plant-based and meaty foods. Offer a balanced diet including:

  • Quality Flake or Pellet Food: This should form the staple of their diet. These foods are nutritionally balanced and ensure your fish get the right nutrients.

  • Vegetables: Supplement their diet with blanched veggies like peas, spinach, or zucchini. These provide necessary fiber and minerals.

  • Live or Frozen Foods: Treat your Synodontis catfish to live or frozen foods occasionally. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, or daphnia can add variety and essential proteins.

Feeding Frequency and Amount

Feed your Synodontis catfish once or twice daily. Offer enough food that they can consume within 2-3 minutes. Overfeeding can lead to water pollution and health issues.

Night Feeding

As Synodontis catfish are nocturnal, feeding them in the evening or night aligns with their natural feeding habits.

Watch Their Eating Habits

Regularly observe your catfish’s eating habits. Changes in their feeding behavior can be early signs of health issues.

Remember, while Synodontis catfish are not finicky eaters, their nutritional needs should not be overlooked.

A varied and balanced diet helps maintain their health, color, and longevity.

Synodontis Catfish Tank Mates

Synodontis catfish, known for their peaceful nature, can coexist with various species. But remember, a tank mate’s size, temperament, and water conditions play a critical role in compatibility.

Here are some of the best tank mates for your Synodontis catfish:

  • Cichlids: Robust fish like African Cichlids make excellent companions. Their robust nature and similar water condition requirements make them ideal.

  • Bichirs: These ancient fish, with their moderate temperament, get along well with Synodontis catfish.

  • Barbs: Choose larger Barbs, such as Tiger Barbs or Rosy Barbs, as their active nature makes them fun companions for Synodontis catfish.

  • Gouramis: Peaceful Gouramis, like Blue Gouramis or Pearl Gouramis, can share a tank comfortably with Synodontis catfish.

  • Rainbowfish: Known for their vibrant colors and peaceful nature, Rainbowfish can add beauty and harmony to your Synodontis catfish tank.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Equally important as finding good tank mates is knowing which ones to avoid. Keep your Synodontis catfish away from:

  • Small Fish: Tiny fish, like Guppies or Neon Tetras, may become unintended snacks for Synodontis catfish.

  • Slow Swimmers: Avoid sluggish swimmers or fish with long, flowing fins, like Angelfish or Discus, as they might be bothered by the active Synodontis catfish.

  • Aggressive Fish: Keep aggressive species, like Red-Tailed Sharks or Flowerhorn Cichlids, separate, as they may bully your Synodontis catfish.

  • Invertebrates: Small crustaceans, like Cherry Shrimps or Dwarf Crayfish, are at risk of being eaten by Synodontis catfish.

Breeding Synodontis Catfish and Fry Care

Breeding Synodontis catfish in captivity can be challenging but rewarding.

Here’s how you can approach it:

Breeding Environment

Synodontis catfish breed better in large, well-decorated tanks. The presence of caves or hiding spots provides the privacy needed for spawning.

Gender Identification

Females are generally rounder and larger than males. However, identifying gender can be tricky and often requires an expert eye.


In the wild, Synodontis catfish spawn during the rainy season. Thus, replicating these conditions with cooler water changes can trigger spawning.

Egg Care

Females lay eggs in hidden areas. It’s best to remove other fish at this stage to prevent them from eating the eggs.

Fry Care

Once the eggs hatch, provide a diet of infusoria or liquid fry food until they’re large enough to consume baby brine shrimp.

Remember, breeding Synodontis catfish requires patience and dedication. Their unique breeding style offers an interesting experience for those up for the challenge.

Signs of Stress in Synodontis Catfish

Keeping your aquarium a stress-free zone is crucial for the well-being of your Synodontis catfish. It’s equally important to spot potential health issues and know how to address them.

Here, we’ll discuss these factors and provide additional tips to maintain a healthy aquarium environment. Spotting stress in your Synodontis catfish is the first step towards resolving potential problems.

Here are common signs of stress:

  • Unusual Swimming: If your catfish swims erratically or hides more than usual, it may be stressed.

  • Loss of Appetite: A stressed catfish might eat less or show no interest in food.

  • Changes in Appearance: Look for signs like faded colors, clamped fins, or damaged scales.

  • Altered Breathing: Fast or labored breathing can indicate stress or poor water conditions.

Common Health Issues and Treatments for Synodontis Catfish

Like all fish, Synodontis catfish can experience health issues. Some common problems and their treatments include:

  • Ich: This is a common disease causing white spots on the fish. Increase the tank temperature gradually to 30°C and consider medication if the condition persists.

  • Fin Rot: Damaged or fraying fins can be a sign of fin rot. Clean the tank and treat the water with an antibacterial medication.

  • Bloat: Overfeeding can cause this condition. Fasting the fish for a day or two and then offering a fiber-rich diet can help.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

For a thriving aquarium, consider these tips:

  • Regular Monitoring: Check the water conditions and the health of your fish regularly.

  • Avoid Overcrowding: Maintain enough space for each fish to swim freely.

  • Proper Feeding: Ensure a balanced diet and avoid overfeeding.

Should You Get a Synodontis Catfish for Your Aquarium?

Synodontis catfish can be an excellent addition if you seek a unique, active fish to liven up your aquarium. They’re hardy and relatively easy to care for, making them suitable for beginners and experienced aquarists alike.

However, remember to provide them with the right conditions and companions for them to thrive.

With proper care and attention, your Synodontis catfish can be a delightful inhabitant of your aquatic ecosystem.

Conservation Status of Synodontis Catfish

The Synodontis catfish are, thankfully, not currently under any direct threat.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has not listed these robust species on their Red List, primarily due to their wide distribution and the lack of significant decline in their numbers.

However, like any aquatic species, they may be indirectly impacted by water pollution, habitat destruction, and the effects of climate change.

Availability & Pricing

Synodontis catfish are generally available at most local pet stores, with a broader variety available in specialized fish shops. The price of these unique catfish can range widely based on their size, type, and age.

On average, you can expect to pay between $10 to $30 for a juvenile. Rarer species or larger adults may command higher prices.

Frequently Asked Questions About Synodontis Catfish

1. How long do Synodontis catfish live?

With optimal care and a healthy diet, Synodontis catfish can live for up to 15 years.

2. Can Synodontis catfish live with other fish?

Yes, they are generally peaceful and can coexist with similarly sized, non-aggressive fish species.

3. What do Synodontis catfish eat?

They are omnivores and thrive on a diet that includes a mix of high-quality pellets, flakes, and frozen or live foods.

4. How big do Synodontis catfish get?

Most species grow between 5 to 10 inches, but some can reach lengths of up to a foot or more.

Wrapping It Up: The Synodontis Catfish

In conclusion, the Synodontis catfish is a unique and lively addition to any home aquarium. Their hardy nature, coupled with distinctive behaviors and appearances, make them a favorite among aquarists.

Whether you’re a novice to the world of fishkeeping or a seasoned expert, with the right care, your Synodontis catfish can thrive and become a star attraction in your aquarium.

Remember to monitor their health, maintain good water conditions, and ensure they have a balanced diet for a healthy, vibrant, and active Synodontis catfish.