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Synodontis Catfish: Complete Care Guide

Synodontis Catfish: Complete Care Guide

If you’re looking for new fish to add to your aquarium, the Synodontis catfish is one of the best options. They’re popular among fish lovers, and caring for them is simple and satisfying. 

The Synodontis catfish, also known as “synos,” are popular among freshwater aquarium enthusiasts due to their unique appearance, peaceful nature, and ease of care. These fish are indigenous to Africa and can be found in various habitats, such as rivers, lakes, and swamps.

If you’re thinking about adding this species to your tank, it’s critical to understand their needs and how to care for them properly so they acclimate and live happily. In this comprehensive care guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about keeping Synodontis catfish happy and healthy.

Tank Requirements for Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis catfish are relatively large, so it’s crucial to provide them with a spacious tank. They measure an average of 24.4 centimeters (9.6 inches) in size, with the smallest measuring around 4.4 centimeters (0.9 inches) and the largest being around 80 centimeters (31.5 inches).

A minimum tank size of 30 gallons (113.6 liters) is recommended for a single Synodontis catfish, and you should add an additional 10 gallons (38 liters) of tank space for each additional Synodontis you plan to keep. Keep in mind that these fish are active and enjoy swimming, so the bigger the tank, the better.

Furthermore, Synodontis catfish are generally considered a slow-to-moderate growing species, taking an average of two years to grow to maturity, with smaller species growing faster than larger species. Their growth rate, however, also depends on the living conditions and the care given to the fish. This includes the water condition, the feeding, and the environment in which the fish lives.

Tank Size

Synodontis catfish require enough space to move around comfortably, so a small school of Synodontis catfish should have about 50 gallons (189.3 liters) of tank space.

If you don’t have enough room for a 50-gallon (189-liter) tank, try to provide at least 30 gallons (113.6 liters) and have a maximum of three fish in it.

If you need help with what to get, this Tetra 55 Gallon Aquarium (available on is an excellent place to start. It includes a net and a 200W heater to keep your fish warm in the tank.

Synodontis catfish thrive in a tank with plenty of hiding spots and hiding places. You can provide these fish with hiding spots by adding caves, PVC pipes, or even overturned clay pots to your tank. These fish also enjoy resting on flat surfaces, so consider including some flat rocks or ledges in your tank.

Water Conditions in the Tank

Although Synodontis catfish are relatively adaptable to water conditions, they do have some special requirements. These fish prefer a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5 and water temperatures ranging from 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (around 24 to 28 degrees Celsius).

It’s essential to maintain a consistent temperature and pH level in your tank to keep your Synodontis healthy and comfortable. You can regularly monitor the temperature and pH levels of your tank with a thermometer and test kit, respectively.

You can also introduce a weak current and a sandy bottom in the aquarium. This helps give the fish an illusion of the wild and makes it feel more comfortable. 

A good rule of thumb for filtration is to select a filter that can turn over the water in your tank at least four times per hour. This will aid in keeping the water clean and oxygenated. Regular water changes are also recommended to remove any excess waste or buildup in the tank. Aim for a 25% water change once a week or a 50% water change once every two weeks.

Feeding and Nutrition for Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis catfish are omnivorous, meaning they will eat both plant and animal matter. In the wild, these fish feed on a variety of foods, including algae, insect larvae, worms, and plant matter, so feeding them in your home aquarium shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Here are some foods you can feed Synodontis catfish:

  • Dry pellet or granulated foods
  • Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and other small insects
  • Fresh vegetables, such as blanched spinach or cucumber
  • Blackworms, earthworms, and other small worms

It’s important to note that Synodontis catfish are notoriously greedy eaters, so keep an eye on their food intake to avoid overfeeding. 

Feed your Synodontis a small amount of food twice a day, and remove any uneaten food from the tank after a few minutes to prevent it from decomposing and contaminating the water.

Behavior and Tankmates

Synodontis catfish are generally peaceful and can make good tankmates for various other fish. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these fish can grow quite large, so it’s important to choose appropriately sized tankmates that are not too small, as the Synodontis may accidentally injure or eat them. 

In some cases, these fish can be territorial and fight other tankmates for better hiding spots. When they conquer a location, they make it their home until they’re ‘dethroned’ by another tankmate. If you have many of them in one tank, consider using a larger tank with more hiding spots.

Some suitable tankmates for Synodontis catfish include:

  • Other peaceful catfish, such as Corydoras or Loricariids
  • Characins such as tetras, danios, and rasboras
  • African cichlids
  • Barbs
  • Livebearers
  • Plecos

Synodontis catfish can grow quite large, and as they mature, they may become aggressive towards smaller or more timid tankmates. It’s also a good idea to have a variety of hiding spots available in the tank, as they like to have a place to retreat and feel safe.

It’s also worth noting that they are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night. They may be less active during the day and spend a significant amount of time hiding or resting. This is completely normal behavior for these fish and is not cause for concern.

Important Facts About the Synodontis Catfish

The Synodontis is a genus of more than 130 species of catfish under the family Mochokidae. It’s native to Africa’s Great Rift Valley freshwater lakes, particularly Lake Tanganyika, which is the world’s largest freshwater lake, accounting for approximately 16 percent of all freshwater.

The genus spread its species from the Great Rift Valley to a variety of habitats, including the Nile River basin, the Congo River basin, and the Chad basin. This is primarily due to their hardiness and adaptability, which allow them to adjust to any new freshwater environment.

Over time, Synodontis catfish have spread worldwide, particularly in the aquarium trade among fish keepers and hobbyists. They are now considered a widespread species but continue to inhabit freshwater habitats such as rivers, streams, swamps, lakes, and dams.


Thanks to their unique appearance, you’ll easily recognize a Synodontis catfish when you see one. Their appearances vary slightly between species, but they all have a characteristic elongated and slightly flattened body shape.

Perhaps their most distinguishing feature is their large, protruding eyes which are set on the upper part of the head, giving them a wide range of vision. In addition, they have a large, broad mouth with fleshy lips, which is well adapted to their planktonic feeding habits.

The coloring of Synodontis catfish varies greatly depending on the species, but they are typically mottled or speckled with brown, black, and gray shades. Some species have distinct markings such as spots, bars, or stripes, whereas others have a more vibrant or distinctive pattern.

However, in some cases, catfish may begin to turn white due to stress or a change in environment.

Here’s a YouTube video to help you easily identify the different species of Synodontis catfish with ease:

Health and Lifespan

Synodontis catfish have an average lifespan of eight to ten years, but some have been recorded to live up to 25 years. The lifespan, however, depends on living conditions, environment, and feeding habits. 

Those in the wild notably live shorter than their aquarium counterparts. With proper care, nutrition, and tank conditions, some even live for over 15 years.

Breeding and Raising Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis catfish are not known to breed easily in the home aquarium, but it is possible with the right conditions. These fish are known to reproduce by external fertilization

When the female is ready to breed, she will lay a batch of eggs on a flat surface, and the male will fertilize them by spraying sperm over them. The female will then pick up the eggs in her mouth and carry them until they hatch, which typically takes about three to four weeks.

Here’s a video that explains the breeding process in greater detail:

To breed Synodontis catfish, you must provide them with a spacious tank with plenty of hiding spots and flat surfaces. It also helps to feed your Synodontis a varied diet to ensure they are in good health. 

Once the eggs hatch, they will be free to swim and feed on their own. At this point, you can start giving them small amounts of high-quality dry or frozen foods.

Breeding Synodontis With Cichlids

Cichlids are a popular tankmate for Synodontis. These two can get along and cohabit in the tank without much difficulty. Because cichlids are mouthbrooders, having them in the tanks makes breeding Synodontis catfish easier.

One of the main problems with breeding Synodontis catfish with cichlids is that they have different spawning habits. Cichlids are aggressive when breeding and may perceive Synodontis catfish as a threat, making it difficult for the catfish to breed successfully.

One way to overcome this challenge is to keep the catfish and cichlids in separate tanks and only introduce the catfish for breeding purposes. This can help reduce the cichlids’ aggressive behavior and allow the catfish to breed without interruption.

Alternatively, you can keep a group of catfish and cichlids in the same tank. This can help to diffuse aggression, but it also necessitates a large tank with plenty of hiding spots for the catfish.

Common Synodontis Catfish Diseases and How To Treat Them

At one point, Synodontis catfish, like any other fish, may get sick. It’s a big challenge for pet owners since fish aren’t like any other animals, and diagnosing them can be twice as difficult. 

Here are some of the most common diseases a Synodontis catfish might catch and how to go about them.

  • Ich: Also known as white spot disease, Ich is caused by a parasite called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Symptoms include small white spots on the skin and fins, as well as lethargy and loss of appetite. It can be treated with over-the-counter medications, but it is vital to maintain good water quality and hygiene to prevent re-infection.
  • Swim bladder disease: This condition causes the fish to have difficulty swimming and maintaining proper buoyancy. It can be caused by poor water quality, overfeeding, or injury. It is treated by improving water quality and making sure the fish are not overfed, but in some cases, antibiotics are needed.
  • Fin rot: This is a bacterial infection that causes the fins to become frayed or dissolved. It is usually a result of contaminated water or an injury. It can be treated with antibiotics and by improving water quality.

These are just three of the most common diseases your fish is likely to catch, but there are many others to look out for as well. If you have any concerns, you should consult your vet as soon as possible. Fish are not as tough as other animals and can succumb to even minor illnesses.

Wrapping Up

Synodontis catfish are a one-of-a-kind and intriguing addition to any freshwater aquarium. With proper care and attention, these fish can make excellent pets. They’re relatively simple to care for as long as you feed them correctly and keep the fish tank clean.

They’re fascinating to watch, but they’re relatively inactive during the day, so keep that in mind if you want an active fish to watch during the day.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...