Keeping Synodontis Aquarium Catfish

Updated on October 14, 2009

Most fish keepers like to have some bottom feeders in their aquarium. They can do a great job mopping up little pieces of food that larger, messier fish leave behind. Traditionally, this job has been done by the plecostomus, however catfish are starting to make a return to popularity in the hobby, and it is easy to see why.

With beautiful finnage and a relatively gentle temperament, synodontis catfish are omnivorous scavengers that will eat algae, pellets, flakes and even live food if they're larger than it. Some people regard synodontis as being rabid killers, but if kept with Malawi cichlids, or larger American cichlids, they do quite well.

There are many species of synodontis, some large, some small, some expensive and some relatively cheap. If you have at least a 20 gallon aquarium, chances are you can keep a synodontis catfish quite happily. You will need to ensure that you know exactly what species you are getting however. Many synodontis only grow to four inches, however some species can max out at well over two feet. There is a link to a common species guide at the end of this hub, I advise you to use it if you are interested in pursuing synodontis keeping.

I have a suspected hybrid Synodontis sharing an aquarium with a young Jack Dempsey, and aggression is fairly spread out between the two of them. For the most part, they leave each other alone, however it is not uncommon to see one or the other take a swipe at its tank mate. Both are quite guilty of random aggression, though it is generally not serious and involves a bit of bumping and pushing rather than serious attacks.

Smaller fish would not survive very long in this tank. If the Jack Dempsey did not attack and kill them right away, the synodontis would most certainly have a go after dark. Synodontis are nocturnal, so you won't see them out too much during the day and you should provide them cover to sleep under. Fake logs, or a rock cave are perfect for this. Also ensure that there is more than one hiding spot per tank. If you have just one, or if spaces are scarce, the fish will fight each other for them.

If you want to see more of your synodontis catfish, it may well be worth your time investing in a moonlight, a type of aquarium lighting that simulates the light of the moon. This allows you to see your fish properly when they emerge from their cave, which they will do because they think it is nighttime.

Synodontis are fairly good fish for beginners, they are hardy, which means they won't go belly up the first time you make a mistake. You will need to keep ahead on water changes though, and ensure that there is always clean water in the tank. If you don't already own one, invest in a liquid testing kit that tests for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and pH. It will prove invaluable to you in your fish keeping hobby and it will save lives if you use it.

For more information on various types of Synodontis Catfish, have a look at my Common Synodontis Species guide.


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    • mkellogg89 profile image

      mkellogg89 5 years ago from Elmira Ny

      Very cool, Ive actually kept a Synodontis Nigriventris (upsidedown catfish) in my aquarium for over two years now and I can second that the species is a great addition to my tank.