Synodontis Robbianus (Russet Synodontis)

Synodontis robbianus

Last updated on September 3rd, 2022 at 04:14 am

Synodontis robbianus (also known as the russet synodontis) is a species of fish from the family Mochokidae. It has red spots all over its body, with the exception of its bottom and gills, which are white.

The Russet Synodontis is one of the most popular freshwater fish in the hobby. In fact, it’s probably one of the first fish that most beginner aquarists will encounter, since it’s relatively easy to care for and affordable to purchase. It’s not difficult to see why this fish has become so popular among both beginners and experienced hobbyists alike, but there are still quite a few things that beginners don’t know about this attractive freshwater fish.

Uncovering the mysteries of the Synodontis robbianus can be difficult, but with this guide, you’ll know all you need to know to keep your pet happy and healthy. There are many different species of synodontis, each with its own unique care requirements and personality traits, so it’s important to take the time to do your research before picking one out. Fortunately, this guide will help you do just that!

What is a Synodontis robbianus?

A Synodontis robbianus is a member of the fish family Mochokidae and was given its species name in honor of George Clifford Huggins, an American zoologist. A russet synodontis, also known as a common synodontis or forktail catfish, can grow up to 5.4 inches (13.8 cm) in length.

Males and females are similar in appearance; both have brown fins with black spots on them. The spine-like barbells at their snouts give synodontis robbianus catfish their name. When threatened, they will often open their mouths to show off these barbels and make themselves look bigger.

Origin and descriptions

Synodontis robbianus

The synodontis robbianus is a small, dwarf cichlid native to Central Africa. It typically grows no larger than 6 inches in length and has a life span of approximately five years. Like many other African freshwater fish, it was introduced into European fish markets during colonial times, where it quickly grew in popularity among hobbyists as a beginner-friendly species.

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They’re often sold under their scientific name, synodontis robbianus, but can also be found under their common names russet synodontis, redfin mojarra. They get their name from their body coloration: males are rusty orange with black markings along their fins and dorsal fin; females are brown with lighter orange patterns that resemble eyespots.

Species profile

The synodontis robbianus has a brownish-orange body with white and black spots. The fins are clear, while the head is more yellowish. This small catfish grows up to 5.4 inches in length and makes an excellent choice for a smaller aquarium; it’s very peaceful and shouldn’t be housed with large or aggressive fish.

A 20-gallon tank should house one fish comfortably, but you can keep two if there are plenty of places for them to hide from each other. An ideal setup also includes a sandy bottom and driftwood (also known as bogwood), which provides shelter for your catfish. If you decide to go with driftwood, make sure it isn’t treated with tannins that could damage your fish—soak new wood in dechlorinated water overnight before adding it to your aquarium.


The synodontis robbianus hails from the cross and lower rivers of Nigeria, Africa. Inhabiting soft, silty substrates at depths of 20 feet or more, they often shelter themselves within caves and rock crevices.  Their water chemistry should mimic their natural habitat, a pH range between 7.0 and 8.0, with an ideal temperature in the range of 72 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended by experts.

Synodontis robbianus size

This species of fish can grow to a maximum size of 5.4 inches (13.8 cm) in length.

Synodontis robbianus tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for Synodontis robbianus is 20 gallons (76 liters)

Tank set up

The tank should be a 20 gallon breeder tank, or more, with an under-gravel filter. The under-gravel filter is recommended because it will keep detritus from accumulating in the substrate and help prevent disease outbreaks in your fish. Breeder tanks are preferable because they allow you to get larger fish and they have more room, so you will not have as many territorial conflicts among your fish.

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It is recommended that you purchase a divider or build a custom one so that you can give your fish some privacy if necessary. Your water temperature should be kept between 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit. You will want to make sure that you do a large water change every week or two by vacuuming out approximately 10% of your total water volume at a time, making sure there is still good circulation in the tank while doing so.

Synodontis robbianus tank mates

Synodontis robbianus are typically non-aggressive fish but can become territorial when space is limited and may nip fins of less aggressive tank mates.

Some good tank mates include tetras, peaceful bottom dwellers like Corydoras, small catfish such as rummynose or fatheads, and dwarf cichlids from Lake Malawi like Lamprologus brichardi or Paratilapia polleni.


Synodontis robbianus

While male and female synodontis robbianus can be kept together if they are introduced at a young age, they usually don’t breed successfully in captivity. However, when breeding is successful, the small fry will be born live and look similar to their parents. The fry does not reach sexual maturity until around 2 years of age.

If you want your fish to reproduce in captivity, it’s best to purchase a group of one male and three or more females. You should also plan on purchasing an extra aquarium for raising offspring because female russet synodontis are very protective over their eggs and fry. Filtration should also be adequate because adult males have been known to eat the newly hatched fry.

Also, note that some species of Synodontis are territorial and shouldn’t be kept with other types of cichlids. In fact, hobbyists have reported trouble keeping them with other types of African dwarf cichlids in general as well as rift lake cichlids. They may work fine with less aggressive South American dwarf cichlids such as Altum angels though.

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Are Synodontis robbianus aggressive or peaceful?

Like most synodontis, they are peaceful community fish. They will fight with their own kind and different species of fish, but not usually anything else. As long as there is room in your tank for multiple specimens, you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping more than one adult russet synodontis together.

Synodontis robbianus care

Synodontis robbianus

Synodontis comes from two Greek words that refer to small teeth. This refers to their unique tooth-like fins. Also known as Lesufi or catfish, these fish are a great addition to any community tank. They can be kept with other peaceful community fish, as long as they are in larger schools. The minimum tank size is 20 gallons and up; however, 75 gallons is best for one school of five or more fish.

Synodontis robbianus food

The diet of your synodontis robbianus should consist of high-quality cichlid flake food. Pellets made by companies such as Omega One and New Life Spectrum work well, although some hobbyists prefer to supplement with live foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia.

Note that while they can be trained to accept frozen or freeze-dried foods, these types of fish are picky eaters and their diets should be supplemented regularly with fresh vegetables. Leafy greens like spinach or watercress make an excellent addition to their meals. This fish does not tolerate salt well; you may provide some supplements in freshwater without worry, but if you do choose to add salt it should be done so sparingly.

Water parameters

Synodontis robbianus

The water should have a pH 6.0-7.5 Hardness 3-15 dH, a temperature of 22-27°C (72-81°F). The Robust Usipungu is a peaceful, undemanding fish that easily adapts to a variety of water conditions from cool, filtered well water to acidic, basic water conditions. As long as it’s not exposed to excessively dirty or uncycled water and has access to food, it will thrive in a wide range of natural waters.

Synodontis robbianus lifespan

They can live up to 10 years or more with good care and perfect water conditions

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Parasites and diseases

This fish is susceptible to a variety of diseases and parasites that can severely impact its health. These include bacterial infections, fungal infections, and protozoan infections. Water conditions must be pristine in order to prevent these from impacting your fish.

Because they are so sensitive, it’s best to quarantine any new fish before introducing them into an established tank; you may also need to treat all other fish with medication if your new one brings any illness or parasites into your system.

It’s important to keep up with routine water changes; as long as you maintain clean water, you should have no problems with disease or parasites. Do not overfeed these fish; excess food will cause more issues than usual because their digestive systems are very sensitive.


The synodontis robbianus is likely to be eaten by larger fish, such as cichlids and barbs. As always, avoid placing a new fish in with an existing tank of fish, no matter how well it’s been established that both sets are capable of cohabiting peacefully.

Do Synodontis robbianus make good pets?

Yes. Although they are shy fish, Synodontis robbianus can be tamed and are commonly kept as pets. They need an aquarium that is at least 20 gallons with plenty of space to roam. It’s important to note that they do not mix well with other species, so keeping them with other fish is not recommended.

When it comes to time to feed them, they will eat most meaty foods including pellets, brine shrimp, bloodworms, and algae wafers.