Synodontis Catfish: Care, Size, Tank Mates & Food

As aquarium enthusiasts, we all want to create a beautiful and healthy ecosystem for our aquatic pets.

One fish species that fits the bill perfectly is the Synodontis Catfish.

These African natives are incredibly versatile and easy to care for, making them popular among aquarists.

Interestingly, they lack traditional scales but can tolerate a wide range of water conditions, making them ideal for beginners still learning about aquarium maintenance.

In this article, we will dive into everything you need to know to properly care for your Synodontis Catfish, including feeding habits, tank requirements, breeding behavior, and more!

Species Summary

Synodontis is the most expansive genus of mochokid catfishes, and it stands out as the largest genus among the ten genera and 190 species in the Mochokidae family.

Within the Synodontis genus, there are more than 131 distinct species.

They are a delightful species found in abundance in the lakes of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, home to many vibrant cichlid species.

These fish are well-suited to biotope aquariums that mimic their natural environment and are also very resilient and easy to care for.

Not to mention, they boast an eye-catching appearance that makes them a popular choice among aquarists.

It’s not hard to see why these African natives have captured the hearts of so many.

If you’re looking for a unique addition to your aquarium, Synodontis catfish are an excellent choice!

They are quite hardy and simple to care for, while their unique look will add a touch of captivating beauty to your home.

Appearance Features


With a flat belly and shark-like silhouette, the Synodontis stands out among other fish, sporting gray or brown-colored skin with large dark spots that blend perfectly with murky waters.

However, color variations do exist within the species.

Some Synodontis catfish have bright white accents around their fins, while others have natural shading on the upper half of their body.

The Synodontis catfish also has unique anatomy that sets it apart from other fish.

Unlike most species, it lacks traditional scales and armor for protection.

Instead, it relies on spiny pectoral fins and a sharp dorsal fin to ward off predators.

Additionally, its distinguishing features include three pairs of fleshy barbels protruding from its mouth to assist in hunting for food.

Lifespan Expectancy

Maintaining the perfect habitat is crucial to ensure a lifespan of eight to ten years for these unique fish, as they can suffer from health problems when neglected.

To maximize lifespan and help them age gracefully, here are some tips for health maintenance:

  1. Keep water conditions in check: Synodontis catfish can tolerate a range of water conditions, but it’s important to maintain consistent parameters such as temperature and pH levels within their preferred range. Regular water changes and testing will prevent stress-related illnesses and keep the environment clean.
  2. Provide a balanced diet: These fish aren’t picky eaters, but a varied diet of commercial pellets, frozen or freeze-dried foods, and vegetables will provide the essential nutrients they need to thrive. Overfeeding should be avoided as it can lead to obesity and other health issues.
  3. Avoid overcrowding: Synodontis catfish prefer to stay in groups of at least 4-5 fish, but too many tank mates or a small living space can cause stress and aggression. Ensure the tank size is appropriate for the number of fish in it.

By following these longevity tips, you can ensure that your Synodontis catfish live a happy and healthy life for many years!

Average Size

If you’re considering adding a Synodontis catfish to your aquarium, it’s good to know that they can vary in size from just four inches to a foot long!

That being said, eight inches is the norm for captives.

It is the average size, and most captives fall within this range.

This means tank decoration and size comparisons should be carefully considered before adding this species to an existing community.

The growth rate of these fish is relatively slow, so it’s important not to overstock the tank with other fish or plants that may inhibit their growth.

The weight range of different species also varies greatly, with some being much heavier than others.

It’s important to research the specific type of Synodontis catfish you’re interested in and ensure your tank is suitable for its potential size and weight.

These unique fish can thrive in a home aquarium with proper care and attention for many years.

Caring for Synodontis Catfish

When caring for Synodontis catfish, one of the most important considerations is tank size.

These fish require a minimum tank size of 20 gallons, but larger tanks are preferable if you keep them with other fish.

In addition to size, pay close attention to water parameters and set up the tank properly to ensure your fish remain healthy and happy.

Common diseases and illnesses can also be a concern, so it’s important to stay vigilant and address any issues promptly.

Tank Size Requirements

For a happy and healthy school of these versatile fish, consider a 50-gallon tank or even bigger to create a multi-species aquarium.

These catfish need ample space to swim around and explore their environment.

They’re not too overwhelmed with abundant space, but they can be slightly shy initially.

To make them feel comfortable, provide plenty of hiding spaces such as aquarium decorations like caves, driftwood, and rocks.

When setting up your Synodontis catfish tank, it’s important to consider filtration options to keep the water clean and clear.

A good filter can handle the size of your tank and the number of fish you plan on keeping.

Additionally, substrate choices should mimic their natural habitat by using sand or fine gravel for digging.

Lighting requirements should also be considered since these fish are nocturnal and prefer dim lighting conditions during the day.

Providing adequate space and a proper tank setup will ensure your Synodontis catfish thrive in their new home!

Water Parameters

Creating the perfect environment for your fish can be easier by replicating their natural habitat and maintaining specific water parameters.

Synodontis catfish are native to Africa, so keeping their tank conditions similar to those in African biotopes is important.

Maintaining parameters such as water chemistry, pH levels, and hardness is crucial for the health of these fish.

To ensure optimal conditions for your Synodontis catfish, aim for a temperature between 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with around 75°F being ideal.

The pH level should be kept between 6.5 to 7.8, and water hardness should range from 4 to 15 KH.

These fish are adaptable and can thrive in standard tropical conditions.

However, creating an environment miming their natural habitat will make them feel more at home and promote overall well-being.

Setting Up the Tank

To set up your tank for these versatile and hardy African fish, use fine sand as the substrate and add shelter structures like driftwood and rocks for hiding spots.

It’s important to mimic their natural habitat as much as possible to ensure they feel comfortable.

Additionally, avoid live plants that Synodontis catfish can easily uproot.

Instead, opt for faux root structures or another decor anchored to the tank’s glass.

Consider a canister or hang-on-back filter with a moderate flow rate for filtration options.

Strong water currents can stress out these bottom-dwelling fish.

As for lighting choices, remember that Synodontis catfish are nocturnal and prefer dimmer lighting during the day.

Consider covering their hiding spots if the lights in your room are too bright.

With proper aquarium decor, substrate recommendations, filtration options, and lighting choices, you can create an ideal environment for your Synodontis catfish to thrive in.

Common Diseases & Illnesses

As with any pet, preventative measures are key in keeping them healthy.

Maintaining good water quality is important by performing regular water changes and monitoring ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.

Additionally, providing a varied diet and avoiding overfeeding can help prevent digestive issues.

If your Synodontis catfish falls ill, various treatment options are available depending on the diagnosis.

Common symptoms of bacterial infections include lethargy, loss of appetite, and discoloration or lesions on the skin.

Parasitic infections may present as scratching against objects in the tank or visible parasites on the fish’s body.

Fungal problems often appear as white or gray patches on fins or skin.

To properly diagnose these conditions, it may be necessary to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in aquatic animals or take a sample of tank water for testing at a local pet store or laboratory.

Food & Diet Habits

The key to keeping these bottom-dwelling fish healthy is to provide a varied and balanced diet that includes commercial pellets, frozen or freeze-dried foods, and even vegetables.

Synodontis catfish are omnivores with an insatiable appetite, so offering a mix of foods to meet their nutritional requirements is important.

The base of their diet can be commercial pellets specifically designed for catfish.

Sinking varieties are ideal as they ensure the food makes it down to the fish before other tank mates eat it.

These pellets should provide all the essential nutrients for healthy growth and development.

Frozen or freeze-dried foods work well for these catfish too.

They have feeding preferences for bloodworms and tubifex worms but will also appreciate vegetables such as squash and cucumber.

It’s important not to overfeed them; only give them enough food they can eat in two minutes during their feeding schedule at dusk hours when they come out of hiding.

Popular food choices include brine shrimp, krill, daphnia, algae wafers, spirulina flakes, and more.

By offering a variety of foods regularly, you can keep your Synodontis catfish happy and healthy while preventing health issues caused by imbalanced diets or overfeeding.

Behavior & Temperament


You’ll notice that these fish prefer to hang out in groups, swim together and avoid aggressive behavior while staying hidden during the day and scavenging for food at night.

Synodontis catfish are nocturnal creatures who like to spend their days hiding in the shadows of your tank.

They’re not picky eaters, so they’ll scavenge for food along the bottom of your aquarium floor, feeding on commercial pellets, frozen or freeze-dried foods, and even vegetables.

Their shoaling behavior is a key characteristic of their temperament.

They enjoy being around other fish and will often stay close together as a group.

This socialization helps protect them from any aggressive tendencies they may have toward other species in the tank.

Provide plenty of hiding spots throughout your aquarium to keep these fascinating creatures happy and healthy.

Ideal Tank Mates

To create a thriving and peaceful underwater ecosystem, consider adding compatible species like rainbowfish or denison barbs to your Synodontis catfish tank.

These fish are similar in size and temperament, making them excellent tank mates for the Synodontis.

Since these catfish tend to stick close to the bottom of the tank, it’s best to choose fish that occupy the middle and upper parts of the water column.

This way, everyone has their own space!

Here are some other potential tank mates that could work well with Synodontis catfish:

  • African cichlids: These colorful fish are native to the same bodies of water as Synodontis, so they make great companions.
  • Bristlenose plecos: Similar in size and behavior, these plecos won’t compete with Synodontis for food or territory.
  • Gouramis: Peaceful and easygoing, gouramis can coexist peacefully in a community aquarium.
  • Giant Danios: Active swimmers that stay towards the top of the water column, giant Danios add color and movement without bothering your catfish.

With any new additions to your aquarium, monitor social behavior closely.

While Synodontis catfish aren’t particularly aggressive towards other fish (unless they mistake them for food), everyone must get along.

Aim for a group size of at least 4-5 fish per species so they feel comfortable and secure in their environment.

Breeding Behavior & Challenges

Breeding the Synodontis catfish intentionally can be challenging due to the lack of known triggers.

Still, their cuckoo-like breeding habits and tendency towards cannibalism make for an interesting process.

These fish have a nasty habit of laying their eggs in the center of cichlid spawns; the cichlids are then tricked into raising the catfish’s offspring as their own.

It’s a truly remarkable feat of adaptation and deception.

Cichlids in the tank can trigger spawning habits, as they will lay eggs that the Synodontis catfish will readily consume.

However, once the catfish lay their eggs, moving them to a separate tank quickly is important to avoid retaliation from the parent cichlids.

The baby catfish mature faster, and within a few days, they turn their attention to unhatched cichlid eggs or even newly hatched fry.

This cannibalistic behavior is part of what makes breeding these fish such a challenge.

While it may not be easy to breed Synodontis catfish intentionally, their unique reproductive behavior makes it an intriguing process for those willing to take on the challenge.


The Synodontis catfish is an excellent addition to any aquarium due to its easy care and hardy nature.

They’ll thrive for many years if you provide them with a suitable tank and companions.

Just be aware of common health concerns and watch for any signs of illness.

With their unique appearance and interesting behavior, Synodontis catfish will surely become a favorite among aquarists everywhere.

So, add one (or more!) to your tank today!