April 16

Upside-Down Catfish Care, Size, Aquarium Mates


Upside down Catfish

Scientifically known as the Synodontis nigriventris, the Upside-Down Catfish are an unusual yet extremely famous species that have been admired by aquarists all across the globe. As the name entails, the extraordinary Upside-Down Catfish gracefully swims upside down with ease. The species exist for centuries, and you can find their images in many ancient Egyptian tomb walls dated thousands of years back.

The general theory that goes with this behaviour is that the fish uses this kind of swimming posture to find food quickly. As in the natural habitat, the Upside-Down Catfish dwells on the underside of the logs and under large leaves of plants because when it swims in the upside-down position, such areas become easy to access.

The Upside-Down Catfish was given the binomial names due to their jaw formation and dark stomach colouration. Also, as it has a spotted appearance, the fish is called a blotched upside-down catfish.

The fish shows the best behaviour when kept in groups in an aquarium. Similar to other Catfish breeds, the Upside-Down Catfish also like to hide during the day time and gets active at night.

Upside-Down Catfish Natural Habitat

The Upside-Down Catfish resides in riverbanks that have dense vegetation. It is generally found in the Republic of Congo, and Cameroon in Central Africa.

Physical Features of Your Upside-Down Catfish

These fish can grow to a maximum size of up to 3.5 inches in length. They have an opaque coloured body which is covered with different sized blotches in dark brown colour. As these fish tend to swim upside down, their underside has a darker colour, which usually is not the case with other fish. Typically, the dorsal side of the fishes is darker than the ventral side so that they can hide from the predators. But, with the Upside-Down Catfish, the ventral side is dark, which indicates that these fish have adapted the colour due to extended upside-down posture. This gives them the benefit of camouflaging when they are dwelling at the water surface in search of food.

Similar to other members of the Mochikidae family, the Upside-Down Catfish too have a scaleless body, a big adipose fin, huge eyes, a forked tail, and three barbel pairs. The females have large in comparison to their male counterparts and appear paler in colour.

Even though these fish have the habit to swim upside down, you may find them swim normally, especially when they are searching for food at the bottom of the aquarium. It’s because of their stunning physiology that their unusual swimming habits seem reasonable instead of being a sign of any sickness.

Upside-Down Catfish Life span

In a well-equipped aquarium, the Upside-Down Catfish can live up to fifteen years.

General Behaviour of Your Upside-Down Catfish

Considered as one of the most peaceful members of their genus, the Upside-Down Catfish can be housed with most of the other similar temperament species but should never be grouped with aggressive fish.

They mostly dwell in the lower part of the tank and occasionally swim to the surface for a gulp of air or if there is no food anywhere else in the aquarium. Due to their dark colouration, they blend so well in an aquarium filled with logs that it makes them invisible when they are either moving or resting around in the tank.

Inside an aquarium, the Upside-Down Catfish can remain in one position for hours. However, if trained, they can perform barrel rolls and acrobatics as well. Another unusual behaviour exhibited by these fish is that they are least affected by the dorsal light response, which is the habit of typical fishes to tilt their bodies towards artificial lighting.

What can you feed to your Upside-Down Catfish?

In the wild, the Upside-Down Catfish search for food on the undersides of large leaves and logs, however in the tank they feed on insects at the water surface.

These fish are omnivores so that you can feed your fish with any food from dry to frozen ones. They can happily eat dried bloodworms, fresh veggies including cucumbers; sinking pellets, tubifex, frozen blackworms, etc. They also feed on the algae which form on the plants and decorations in a tank. This way, these fish become efficient algae controllers for planted aquariums.

To maintain the good health of your fish, ensure that you feed them a variety of food which includes insect larvae as well.

    Breeding Your Upside-Down Catfish

    As of now, the success rate of breeding these fish in captivity is almost negligible, and most of the Synodontis nigriventris are still collected from the wild.

    The approximate age of sexual maturity of the Upside-Down Catfish is still not sure, however, a few aquarists who have been fortunate to get success in their breeding stated that these fish become reproductive at the age of 3 years.

    In the wild, the species breeds only during the rainy season where they move to the flooded areas. The alteration in the temperature of water and pH likely to initiate spawning. Therefore, within a tank, it is recommended to induce water change by adding cold water, which can start the breeding. The ideal water temperature should be around 27 degree Celsius with a pH of about 7. As the chances of reproduction within a tank are very less, aquarists use hormone injections to induce the spawning process.

    In the tank, the fish will lay eggs either on the substrate in a depression or in small caves. That is why you should have both in your aquarium to increase the chances of breeding.

    If you are lucky enough to be able to breed the fish in an aquarium, then your female Upside-Down Fish will lay a maximum of 450 eggs at a time. The fry will start free swimming in an upright position within 3-4 days. Later, after a period of approximately 50 days, the fry will swim in the typical upside-down posture.

    The Right Water and Aquarium Conditions

    In a well-equipped aquarium, you will find it extremely easy to take care of your Upside-Down Catfish. For a fully grown-up fish, you need an aquarium that is at least 30 gallons in size equipped with a 30-inch aquarium hood

    Even though the temperature is not a critical factor, but the Upside-Down Catfish does well when housed in a tank with a water temperature between 72 to 82 degrees Celsius. It needs water which is soft to mild hard, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.

    You have to remember that these fish are susceptible to nitrates, which is why it is imperative that you maintain a healthy water balance. Your fish will remain healthy if the water is well-oxygenated and changed regularly. The Upside-Down Catfish prefer powerful water current, which can be easily achieved with powerheads. You need to renew the water and provide proper filtration regularly to ensure good health for your fish.

    Your fish would appreciate a tank that is densely vegetated areas as they prefer to dwell in the underside of leaves. So, a well-planted aquarium with the best refugium light with lots of driftwood, rocks, and decorations can keep your fish happy and active. Also, as these fishes like to hide during the day, having caved in your tank is highly recommended. Having a lot of hiding space and shelters, including castles, snags, etc. will also ensure that your fishes will not engage in fights. To have a clear view of their night activities, you can get an appropriate light for the tank.

    An important thing that you should always consider is that you may need to be extra careful while netting or moving this fish, as they have very sharp fins which can lead to injuries. Also, as their barbells are very sensitive, you should avoid any sharp object in your aquarium.

    The suitable aquarium mates for your Upside-Down Catfish

    The Upside-Down Catfish are very peaceful species that can reside in a tank alone; however, they thrive when grouped with other fishes. The fish can be kept in small schools which should be maintained in a group of a minimum of four fishes. By keeping your fishes in a school, you can give them the confidence to come out of hiding. They can happily dwell with other peaceful fishes.

    You can successfully combine other peaceful species with your Upside-Down Catfish, but make sure to avoid species that are large enough to eat your dwarf fish.

    Any aggressive fish may attempt to eat these small fishes, and the sharp fins can get stuck in the eater’s throat. Similarly, even though they are very calm, but they may exhibit some territorial behaviour and eat small species in the tank. Especially at night, your Upside-Down Catfish can fight with species of its kind and prey on smaller fishes, so it is better to only house identical sized species in an aquarium.

    The ideal Upside-Down Catfish tank mates can be:

    • Dwarf cichlids
    • African tetras
    • Small mormyrids


    The Upside-Down Catfish are beautiful fishes that certainly make an excellent addition to any aquarium which has other peaceful species.

    If you are someone who likes things that stand out of the ordinary, then this is the perfect pet for you. Their unique swimming posture, coupled with stunning colouration and easy adaptation to any condition makes them an ideal pet for any aquarium enthusiast.


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