Upside-Down Catfish: Care, Breeding, Diet & Behavior

The Upside-Down Catfish, scientifically known as Synodontis nigriventris, is a strange yet well-known species that has been loved by aquarists all over the world. The remarkable Upside-Down Catfish beautifully swims upside down as its name suggests. The species has existed for generations, and depictions of them may be seen on ancient Egyptian tomb walls dating back thousands of years.

The fundamental hypothesis behind this behavior is that the fish employs this swimming position to swiftly locate food. Because it swims in an upside-down orientation, the Upside-Down Catfish prefers to live on the underside of logs and under huge leaves of plants, much like it does in its native habitat.

The binomial names were given to the Upside-Down Catfish because of its jaw shape and dark stomach coloration. The fish is also known as a blotched upside-down catfish because of its speckled look.

When housed in a group in an aquarium, the fish behaves best. The Upside-Down Catfish, like other Catfish breeds, prefers to hide during the day and become active at night.

Upside-Down Catfish Overview

Upside-Down Catfish Overview

Family: Mochokidae
Origin: Central Africa
Temperament: Peaceful
Size: 4 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons
Diet: Omnivore
Care: Easy
pH: 6.0 – 7.5
Alkalinity Levels: 4 – 15 dGH
Temperature: 72°F – 79°F


The Upside-Down Catfish may be found in densely vegetated riverbanks. In Central Africa, it is mostly found in the Republic of Congo and Cameroon.

Physical Features

These fish may grow to be up to 3.5 inches long at their largest. They have an opaque body covered with dark brown spots of various sizes. Because these fish like to swim upside down, their undersides are darker in color than those of other fish. The dorsal side of fishes is usually darker than the ventral side to help them conceal from predators. The ventral side of the Upside-Down Catfish, on the other hand, is black, indicating that the fish’s color has evolved as a result of their protracted upside-down position. This provides them with the advantage of camouflage when they are searching for food at the water’s surface.

The Upside-Down Catfish, like other Mochikidae members, has a scaleless body, a large adipose fin, massive eyes, a forked tail, and three barbel pairs. In compared to their male counterparts, females have larger bodies and seem lighter in color.

Even though these fish are known for swimming upside down, you may see them swimming properly when they are hunting for food at the aquarium’s bottom. Their odd swimming patterns appear to be normal rather than a symptom of illness because to their remarkable physiology.


The Upside-Down Catfish may survive up to fifteen years in a well-equipped aquarium.


The Upside-Down Catfish is one of the most peaceful members of their genus, and may be kept with most other fish of a similar temperament, but should never be kept with aggressive fish.

They spend the most of their time in the lower section of the tank, occasionally swimming to the surface for a breath of fresh air or if there is no food available elsewhere in the aquarium. They fit in so well in an aquarium full of logs because of their dark coloration that they are virtually undetectable when moving or resting in the fish tank.

The Upside-Down Catfish can stay in one posture for hours within an aquarium. They can, however, execute barrel rolls and acrobatics if properly taught. Another peculiar trait of these fish is that they are unaffected by the dorsal light response, which is the tendency of most fish to tilt their bodies towards artificial light.


The Upside-Down Catfish hunts for food under the undersides of huge leaves and logs in the wild, but in the aquarium, they eat insects at the water’s surface.

Because these fish are omnivores, you may give them any type of food, from dry to frozen. They enjoy dried bloodworms, fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, sinking pellets, tubifex, frozen blackworms, and other similar foods. They also eat algae that grows on plants and ornaments in aquariums. As a result, these fish can effectively manage algae in planted aquariums.

Make sure you give your fish a variety of foods, including bug larvae, to keep them healthy.


The success rate of raising these fish in captivity is still quite low, and the majority of Synodontis nigriventris are still gathered from the wild.

Although the exact age of sexual maturity of the Upside-Down Catfish is unknown, a few aquarists who have had experience breeding these fish have indicated that they become fertile at the age of three years.

The species only breeds in the wild during the rainy season, when they migrate to flooded places. The change in water temperature and pH is likely to trigger spawning. As a result, it is advised to stimulate water change inside a tank by introducing cold water, which might kick-start the reproductive process. The optimal water temperature is approximately 27 degrees Celsius, and the pH should be around 7. Aquarists utilize hormone injections to encourage spawning since the odds of reproduction within a tank are slim.

The fish will lay their eggs in a depression in the substrate or in little caves in the aquarium. That is why, in order to enhance your chances of reproducing, you should keep both in your tank.

If you have the good fortune of being able to breed the fish in an aquarium, your female Upside-Down Fish will deposit up to 450 eggs at a time. Within 3-4 days, the fry will begin free swimming in an upright position. After around 50 days, the fry will be swimming in the traditional upside-down position.

Water conditions

It will be quite simple to care for your Upside-Down Catfish in a well-equipped aquarium. An aquarium with at least 30 gallons of water and a 30-inch tank hood is required for a completely grown-up fish.

Despite the fact that temperature is not an essential component, the Upside-Down Catfish thrives in a tank with water temperatures ranging from 72 to 82 degrees Celsius. It requires gentle to somewhat hard water with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.

It’s important to remember that these fish are sensitive to nitrates, which is why maintaining a proper water balance is so important. If the water is well-oxygenated and changed on a regular basis, your fish will stay healthy. The Upside-Down Catfish prefers a strong water current, which powerheads can readily provide. To keep your fish healthy, you need change the water and offer sufficient filtration on a regular basis.

Because your fish love to live on the underside of leaves, a tank with thickly vegetated regions would be ideal for them. So, with plenty of driftwood, rocks, and ornaments, a well-planted aquarium with the finest refugium light can keep your fish happy and active. Also, because these fish prefer to hide during the day, having caves in your tank is a must. Having a number of hiding spots and shelters, such as castles, snags, and other structures, will also keep your fish from fighting. You can acquire a suitable light for the tank to get a clear view of their night activities.

One thing to keep in mind is that you may need to be especially cautious when netting or transporting this fish since its fins are extremely pointed and can cause damage. You should also avoid putting any sharp objects in your tank since their barbells are quite sensitive.

Upside-Down Catfish Tank Mates

The Opposite of Upside-Down Catfish are a gentle species that can live alone in a tank, but they flourish when kept in a group with other fish. Small schools of fish should be preserved, with a minimum of four fish each group. You may give your fish the courage to come out of hiding by keeping them in a school. They can coexist peacefully with other fish.

Other peaceful species can be effectively combined with your Upside-Down Catfish, but avoid animals that are large enough to devour your miniature fish.

These little fishes may be eaten by any aggressive fish, and the pointy fins can become lodged in the eater’s throat. Similarly, they may demonstrate territorial behavior and devour tiny species in the aquarium, despite their peaceful demeanor. Because your Upside-Down Catfish might battle with other species of its kind and eat on smaller fish, it’s best to have only identically sized species in an aquarium, especially at night.

Tank mates for Upside-Down Catfish include:

  • Dwarf cichlids
  • African tetras
  • Small mormyrids


The Upside-Down Catfish are lovely fish that would make a wonderful addition to any aquarium with other tranquil fish.

This is the ideal pet for someone who like unusual things. Their distinctive swimming stance, combined with their gorgeous coloration and ease of adaption to any environment, make them a perfect aquarium companion.