Synodontis Catfish Care Sheet

Synodontis catfish

Last updated on September 17th, 2022 at 02:16 pm

Synodontis catfish are one of the most popular species of African catfish, and they are also the largest genus of fish in the catfish family. These freshwater fish are native to the rivers and lakes of Africa, but they have been bred in captivity since at least the mid-1800s. They’re now one of the most common types of aquarium fish available, as well as being popular with anglers who enjoy catching them with live bait or artificial lures.

You might have heard of Synodontis catfish before, but chances are you’re not quite sure what they are or how to care for them. They are unique fish that can look different depending on their species or strain, so it’s important to get as much information about your specific kind of fish as possible before purchasing it from your local pet store.

If you’re interested in getting into fishkeeping but don’t know where to start, consider keeping Synodontis catfish in your home aquarium! These hardy African catfish are popular freshwater aquarium fish due to their beautiful and unique patterning. They’re also relatively easy to care for, making them an ideal choice if you’re just starting out in the hobby of keeping fish.

Here is some information about caring for the Synodontis catfish and the best way to keep this particular species of fish healthy and happy in its tank environment!

Origin and descriptions

Synodontis catfish

Synodontis is a genus of fish in the family Mochokidae native to Africa. Species include such popular aquarium fish as Synodontis mossambica, Synodontis ornatus, Synodontis multipunctatus, and so on; some species are also farmed on a commercial scale as food or bait fish in some areas of Africa and Asia.

More than 50 recognized species are currently placed in Synodontis, although many authorities recognize only about a third of that number.  Even among those listed here, the delineation between various species (and their identification) can be difficult: several described forms may represent nothing more than color variations or sexual dimorphism within single populations, while others may represent genuine but previously unrecognized species-level distinctions.

Species profile

The Synodontis catfish is one of hundreds of species of catfish belonging to the family Mochokidae. The name comes from Greek and means barbels with teeth, referring to these fish’s pectoral fins. Originating in Africa, there are many subspecies that make up an estimated 80% of all fish kept as pets.

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They thrive in warm water ranging between 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit, which they use as a defense mechanism against predators such as larger cichlids. However, they may still be eaten by larger cichlids, so it is important to keep your pet tank away from their territory if you have them. They will enjoy hiding under ledges or on decor at night but generally spend their days swimming around in search of food.

These fish are omnivores, with a diet that consists of plant and animal matter. They enjoy eating algae from rocks or driftwood in their aquariums. In captivity, they’ll also eat meaty foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia. Many experienced hobbyists recommend adding spirulina flakes to your synodontis catfish’s food once or twice per week.


The first thing to consider when setting up your new home is whether or not you’ll be housing only one fish or multiple. Synodontis catfish are social creatures that require at least one companion, and should not be kept singly in an aquarium as they’re prone to anxiety and stress. Also, keep in mind that these fish can grow quite large over time; if you don’t have a tall tank (20 gallons per inch of length), it may not be worth purchasing them.

Synodontis catfish size

They can grow up to 10-20 cm (4-8 inches) in length.

Synodontis catfish tank size

The minimum recommended tank size is 20 gallons (76 Liters).

Tank set up

A 20-gallon tank is usually sufficient, although these fish can be kept in smaller tanks and they can actually thrive. Still, most experts suggest an aquarium of at least 30 gallons if you plan on keeping more than one synodontis catfish. These fish tend to be secretive and may spend much of their time hiding; therefore, if you wish to see them frequently, it’s best that your tank has multiple areas where they can hide.

It should also have rocks or other decors with a little bit of open space between objects so that your fish can move around without being seen all day long. Keep in mind, though, that while they do enjoy curling up into tight spaces when they sleep or feel threatened by another animal (or person), they are also capable swimmers who will happily glide through your water column throughout the day.

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As far as filtration goes, protein skimming is almost always necessary because of how messy these fish are—they love scavenging for dead insects, leaves, and food items that sink to the bottom of your tank—and some type of filter will help keep those extra particles from building up quickly. For basic maintenance, weekly water changes are ideal.

Synodontis catfish tank mates

You can keep Synodontis catfish with other peaceful fish, such as other catfish, but you will need to provide them with enough space. Many aquarium owners like to house their African catfish with similar-sized Central American cichlids or Rift Lake cichlids. You’ll also need to avoid keeping these fish with aggressive species that may bully them and steal their food, such as large barbs or characins (like neon tetras).

Some good tank mates are other African catfish, tigerfish, redtail splitfins, weather loaches, and some mollies.

You can also house your fish with fast-moving species such as danios or rainbowfishes (like rummynose tetras)

These should be peaceful fish that will not harass or bully your African catfish. When you decide on which species of fish you want to keep with your catfish, always do your research first. Never mix different species of fish together without doing extensive research beforehand!

Synodontis catfish breeding


Keep pH levels high around 7.5, and hardness between 4-12dH. The water temperature should be maintained at 78 degrees F or higher. In addition, there should be plenty of hiding spots available in rock work or PVC pipes since these fish will spawn in them. You can trigger spawning by raising water temperature during warm months, and reducing it when cooler season sets in.

Adding peat to your aquarium will also stimulate breeding. Like many other livebearers, female Synodontis catfish carry eggs before they’re fertilized by males; once she drops her eggs (in open nests), you’ll have fry in about a week after that. Sow fry into smaller aquariums containing plenty of floating plants for refuge.

Synodontis angelicus (Polka dot synodontis)

Once fry grows to one inch long, give them baby brine shrimp three times per day. After they are an inch long, feed half-strength flakes twice daily. These fish reach sexual maturity within their first year, but won’t breed until they are much older.

Are Synodontis catfish aggressive or peaceful?

Synodontis catfish are, for the most part, peaceful fish that can be kept in community tanks, but they can be aggressive towards each other.

Always buy at least two of your fish so that they have another creature in their habitat with which they can bond. This will help reduce aggression and make them feel safer. Never place two of the same species together though as they will fight endlessly and destroy each other’s fins.

Synodontis catfish care

Synodontis catfish

Caring for a synodontis catfish can be difficult as they require an environment that resembles their natural habitat. They also need consistent feedings of bloodworms and sinking pellets. A 20-gallon tank is recommended, with subdued lighting and plenty of places to hide. It is not uncommon for synodontis catfish to be kept in community tanks because of their peaceful nature.

However, care should still be taken to provide more hiding places than there are fish; one male per three females is ideal. Avoid overstocking your tank and make sure each fish has its own place to sleep at night. Because these fish grow quite large (some species reach upwards of 10 inches), very large tanks are required if you wish to house multiple fish in your home aquarium!

Synodontis catfish food

Synodontis catfish are bottom feeders, so they should be kept in an aquarium with sand or gravel at the bottom. If you’re keeping your fish in an aquarium without plants, you should give them a diet rich in proteins like sinking pellets and frozen foods.

In addition, you can also supplement their diet with fresh vegetables (zucchini slices or peas) every once in a while. It is important that food does not float on top of the water because it will create more work for your fish. When feeding them, remember: A fat happy fish is a healthy fish!

Featherfin Squeaker (Synodontis Eupterus)

Water parameters

Synodontis catfish

The water conditions in which you keep your synodontis catfish can have significant effects on its behavior and health. You will want your catfish tank to be as closely approximated to their natural habitat as possible, with low levels of pollutants and high levels of oxygen being important factors. These parameters are typically found in well-maintained lakes and slow-moving rivers.

In nature, most catfish reside in freshwater lakes and rivers. In captivity, they require water that is soft and slightly acidic; a good rule of thumb is to maintain an aquarium with at least 10 gallons of water per inch of fish.

Water hardness should be maintained between 5-15 dGH (dissolved gas hardness), and pH between 6.5-7.0, but ideally around 7. 0. Of course, it’s not possible to monitor exactly what’s going on inside your fish tank on a moment-to-moment basis—but you can certainly keep these parameters within safe ranges by performing regular weekly water changes (10%-25% per week) and testing on a monthly basis.

Synodontis catfish lifespan

This fish species can live for 8-10 years.

Parasites and diseases

There are several catfish diseases, but they are rare in properly cared-for tank environments. Some of these diseases include hole-in-the-head and velvet disease. Hole-in-the-head is characterized by white spots on your fish’s head, which eventually turn into holes. Velvet disease looks like little white dots all over your fish’s body; it spreads quickly and is fatal if not treated immediately.


Synodontis catfish should not be housed with predatory fish like lionfish, else they’ll become food to those larger fishes.

Types of synodontis catfish

There are many types of synodontis catfish, some common ones are: