Upside Down Catfish: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding, & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

Upside Down Catfish are one of the most fascinating and beautiful species of tropical freshwater fish out there. They are highly recommended and sought after by experienced aquarists and enthusiasts as well. Moreover, they can even be raised by beginners, which adds to their demand.

These catfish have a unique appearance and behavior, and it is also easier to take care of them. Therefore, it is no surprise why most people want them in their tanks.

If you are looking to keep them in your home aquarium, but are a little skeptical, there is no reason to worry.

This helpful guide covers everything you need to know about caring for your Upside Down Catfish, and you will also learn about their habitat, water requirements, diet, tank mates, breeding, and much more.

Species Summary

Upside Down Catfish are interestingly named, and they have the scientific name Synodontisnigriventris. They are quite quirky and have a behavior that some people might find strange and unusual. They get their name from the fact that instead of swimming upright, they swim upside down!

Yes, these fish swim upside down, which often misleads people to believe that they have died. Normally, fish who have passed away float on their backs. Therefore, you shouldn’t be alarmed if you see Upside Down Catfish floating like this.

Life SpanUp to 15 years
Color FormBrown and black spots
Care levelEasy
CompatibilitySimilarly sized species
SizeUp to 5 inches
Tank SetupFreshwater with caves and driftwood
Minimum Tank Size30 Gallons

These catfish are suited to swimming bottoms-up, and they spend most of their time near the surface of the water or at the depth of the driftwood.

Upside Down Catfish are native to Central Africa, unlike several species of catfish that are native to the South American region. You can find them mostly in the Congo River Basin, particularly near Basonga, Cameroon, and Kinsasha.

Another interesting thing is that most of the fish you will find have been caught in the wild.

These catfish are popular all over the world in the aquarium community. Due to their striking appearance, resilience, adaptability, and peaceful temperament, they will be a wonderful addition to your tank.

Plus, you have our guide to refer to whenever you are stuck.


On average, the maximum lifespan of Upside Down Catfish is around 15 years. They have a relatively longer lifespan as compared to other species of catfish. This also means that they require a long-term commitment, and they aren’t for people who will release them into the wild after some time.

Although 15 years is the maximum lifespan, nothing can guarantee that they will live up to this time. Just like other tropical freshwater fish, their lifespan is affected by poor water conditions and an unbalanced diet. Most factors can significantly reduce their lifespan.

Therefore, it is your responsibility to take care of their water quality and habitat. You will also have to regularly maintain the tank and stay on top of their care requirements in order to keep them healthy and happy.


Upside Down Catfish have a similar appearance to several other species of aquarium catfish. Their profile is also similar, and they have three pairs of barbels on their face. Moreover, they have semi-transparent fins loaded with sharp rays.

These rays act as a defense mechanism for the fish and help them ward off larger and more aggressive fish.

Moreover, these fish can inflict considerable damage to other fish in the tank, as well as their owners if they aren’t careful. So, you should also be careful while handling them inside the tank.

They have a large dorsal and adipose fin, as well as a forked tail. You will notice these fins flattening when they are swimming in the water, and they will pop up when they feel intimidated.

When it comes to their color, Upside Down Catfish have quite a neutral appearance. They have brown spots and splotches all over their body, and the colors vary in shades, thus creating a wonderful camouflage effect. There are also black spots along with the brown ones.

These catfish also have a unique underbelly, which is relatively lighter than the rest of the body. Even if, the fish are dark in coloration, their belly is quite prominent. It also ensures that they are well-hidden and camouflaged in the wild.


The average size of Upside Down Catfish is between 3-4 inches in length, which makes them one of the smaller species of catfish. Therefore, you can easily pair them with other similar-sized species of tropical fish.

Moreover, the size of these catfish is influenced by the level and quality of care they receive, as well as the water and tank conditions. If you don’t pay attention to the water conditions, they might not even reach their maximum length.

Upside Down Catfish Care

As mentioned above, caring for Upside Down Catfish is quite easy, as they are peaceful and easygoing species. They are hardy and adaptable in different conditions and aren’t fussy about their environment or diet. Therefore, you can consider them to be low-maintenance catfish.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can simply put them in a tank and forget about monitoring or maintaining the ideal conditions. There are several ideal care guidelines that you must remember in order to keep them healthy and happy.

Let’s have a look at the different care aspects for Upside Down Catfish.

Tank Size

When you have decided to bring Upside Down Catfish to your home, remember that you need to have a minimum tank size of 30 gallons. Although some aquarists have raised them in tanks as small as 10 gallons, we normally discourage you from doing so, especially if you have to keep more than one fish.

The smaller tank can cause problems for your fish, especially as they get older. These catfish require a lot of free space to roam around comfortably.

When you place them in a 30-gallon tank, you will be able to keep them in a small group, and it will give them enough space to swim around without feeling stressed or cramped.

Water Parameters

Another integral component of Upside Down Catfish is the water parameters that need to be followed. In order to keep them healthy and make them feel at home in captivity, you should replicate the conditions from their natural environment.

Since they hail from Central Africa, their habitat is similar to other catfish that are found in South America and Asia. They are used to thriving in warm waters teeming with vegetation. You will also have to keep an eye on the water hardness and pH levels in the tank. These catfish like soft and neutral waters.

To start with, keep the water temperature between 72°F to 82°F, whereas the pH level should be 6.0 to 7.5. Moreover, the water hardness should be between 4 to 15 dGH. Another thing you need to know is that these catfish are highly sensitive to high levels of ammonia and nitrate in the water.

If have you have a large multi-species tank, the nitrate and ammonia levels would go up quickly.

Therefore, you will need to invest in a strong and high-quality water filter and also perform weekly water changes. You should take out a quarter of the water every few weeks in order to keep the ammonia and nitrate levels at bay.

What to Put in Their Tank?

After the water parameters, you also need to consider setting up their tank in a way that mimics their natural habitat and makes them feel at home. Since these fish swim upside down, they feed on the matter and food found underneath rocks, caves, and plant leaves. Therefore, you should keep a sufficient amount of these in the tank.

You should also place larger pieces of driftwood in the tank for these catfish, along with moderately sized caves.

Moreover, you should add accessories that a group of fish can use together. They are known to be social fish that move around in groups, so setting up common areas for them is essential.

When it comes to plants, you should add the ones with broad leaves. These include Anubias, Enchinodorus, and other floating plants. These plants have large leaves that the catfish can swim under, and also feed on.

Water flow is another important factor that you should consider. These fish require a strong flow since they are hardy and resilient. They tend to latch on to any food that they find. Therefore, you can add a strong pump to provide them with the strong water flow that they need.

Similarly, you can make use of the outlet tube of your filter to create a strong water flow.

Apart from this, you can also add an air bladder or bubbler inside the tank, since Upside Down Catfish thrive in oxygenated water.

Common Diseases

It is also important to know about the common diseases that affect Upside Down Catfish. Although they are quite quirky and active, they are known to stay healthy.

Plus, they have been closely examined by Ichthyologists, who have established that their swim bladder and balance mechanism are no different from other fish that swim upward

The most common disease that may affect these fish is Ich, which is the result of Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, a ciliated protozoan. Also called white spot disease, this disease causes the appearance of little grainy spots throughout their bodies.

Apart from this, the symptoms include scraping of bodies against objects in the tank, loss of appetite, and excessive hiding behavior.

Over time, Ich can cause tissue damage in Upside Down Catfish, and it can severely affect their health if they aren’t treated in time. To treat them, you can use over-the-counter medication and also isolate them from other fish in the aquarium.

Moreover, you should keep changing the water frequently, and also monitor the water parameters to prevent them from getting infected.

Apart from Ich, Upside Down Catfish can also be affected by several parasitic and bacterial infections that are common among freshwater fish.

Another common problem that they face is infected barbels. This is caused due to high nitrate levels in the tank, and it can hinder their ability to move around freely.

Therefore, you should change the water regularly to keep the nitrate levels from rising.

What Do Upside Down Catfish Eat?

Upside Down Catfish are natural omnivores, so they are used to scavenge the water surface for insect larvae. Then, they swim to the bottom of the water to find anything they can eat among the driftwood and plant leaves.

In the aquarium, you can feed them with anything, as they aren’t picky eaters. They thrive on well-balanced diets with high protein. You can give them dry commercial foods regularly, which include sinking pellets, algae wafers, and flakes.

Also, you can feed them with live food, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and larvae.

These foods will help your catfish stay well-fed and give them the nutrition to grow properly and stay healthy.

Behavior & Temperament

Unlike other catfish, the Upside down species is nocturnal. During the day, you might not see too much of them, because they spend their time hiding. This is why you need to add driftwood, rocks, and caves to the tank.

When the sun goes down, you will see them getting out and about. They will scour the entire tank from one end to another, and they are really fun to watch and observe.

These fish have a peaceful behavior and get along with other non-aggressive fish. Therefore, you should keep them with three or four fish of the same species.

When they are in groups, these fish feel more confident and social. When they are in groups of the same species, you might also see them break their habit and come out during the day.

Sometimes, you might also see your Upside Down Catfish swimming in different positions, but they will generally be upside down. This doesn’t mean that they can’t swim upright. Whichever position they swim in, they will adopt it and stay in position for a few hours.

Upside Down Catfish Tank Mates

Upside Down Catfish are smaller fish, which is why you can’t pair them with larger or aggressive species. Otherwise, you might see them being eaten, or they might injure the predatory fish with the sharp rays on their fins.

This can even lead to the death of those larger fish, and you might have a harder time removing the fish and cleaning the tank.

Make sure to stick to smaller and peaceful species of fish, as they will get along well and be social with each other. Here are some of the most suitable tank mates for Upside Down Catfish:

  • African Butterfly fish
  • Congo Tetra
  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • Small Elephantfish

Apart from these, you can also pair them with freshwater aquarium snails. It is best to keep them with their own kind.


Just like some of the freshwater catfish, breeding Upside Down Catfish can be very difficult. This is why most of the fish you find are wild-caught or bred using reproductive hormones only.

Only the most experienced aquarists have found success in breeding these catfish, but you won’t be able to do so in your home aquarium.

These fish lay eggs when they are ready to breed, and this happens during the rainy season. If you can reproduce those conditions, you might get closer to breeding them. Another problem is that you can distinguish between the male and female species, so you won’t be able to separate an ideal pair for mating.

If you still want to give it a try, you will have to provide them with large caves and keep a group of catfish together. The female fish are duller in appearance and have rounder bodies. Plus, you should give them lots of live food, and also sprinkle cold water into the tank to replicate the spring rains.

When they actually breed, the female lays as much as 450 eggs. Both the male and female fish protect the eggs, so other fish won’t be able to eat them. The eggs hatch in four days and the young fry feed on the egg sac before they grow enough to swim around.

Then, you can feed them brine shrimp. As they continue to grow in size, you can give them other protein-rich foods.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking to get your first-ever aquarium fish, or you are an expert, Upside Down Catfish is a good choice in both cases. Plus, you can also place them in multi-species tanks, provided that you have taken care of their pairing restrictions.

Now would be a good time to go out and get them for your home aquarium. You can always check back here if you get stuck with any of the care requirements.