Ideally, when most fishes are considered counting their last breaths, this creature is found thriving perfectly in the tank.

Yes, we are talking about the Upside Down Catfish. The name itself is an intriguing aspect of its life. Subsequently, you won’t be receiving any issues such as high maintenance and behavior, making this a perfect fit for the water tank.

Speaking of which, their behavior is not like every second tropical fish that you see. Known to have its presence in the Egyptian Times (through Egyptian Art), this fish is still a popular choice for aquarists.

Here, we will be guiding you with your decision to pet and care for the Upside Down Catfish.

An Overview 

Quick Look
Scientific Name Synodontis Nigriventris
Other Common Names Upside Down Catfish, Blotched Upside Down Catfish
Family Mochokidae
Origin Central Africa
Lifespan 10 – 13 Years
Size 3.5 – 4.0 Inches
Offspring Egg-Layer
Schooling Possible & Recommended
Price $8 – $11
Type Freshwater Fish

Where Do These Originally Come From?

Found in densely populated regions in the Congo River basin, native to Central Africa, this fish has reached several corners of the world for petting purposes. Generally caught in the wild, these do not live under the same premises as other catfish. Most of these come from Basonga and Kinshasa.

When you think about petting these, you must know that these love to get under the logs and huge leaves in the wild. As a matter of fact, their upside-down swimming allows them to find food easily under these shelters.

These are best put in schools. And as such, you should be buying half a dozen if your tank is suitable for it. For more information on the upside down catfish’s size, lifespan, and breeding, continue to read below.

Size: How Big Do Upside Down Catfish Get?

Do not expect this fish to lengthen as long as other catfish. The upside down catfish has a max size of around 4 – 5 odd inches, and that too when it receives the desired care. That being said, you have to be very precise regarding the water parameters. Any deviation from the standard mark for a long would definitely put a full stop to its growth.

  • How much does a Juvenile cost? – $4 to $5
  • How much does a full-grown upside down catfish cost? – $ 10 – $15
Upside Down Catfish - Care and Size
Image Credit: Reddit User: RIPnRhyme

What Does This Fish Look Like?

Looking at this fish swimming in an awkward position will make you identify it without blinking an eye. With translucent fins consisting of sharp rays that are fully capable of damaging your hand, this fish is not a piece of cake to move.

Its flat fins, adipose and dorsal, quickly point up when they feel threatened. Otherwise, they appear flat and flowing with the water. If you notice the fish, you will see the domination of brown color with white spots and a small antenna-like structure (whiskers) on the head, looking upside down. These look like a mustache.

With prominent black eyes, a black belly, and even blacker spots in between brown, this fish creates a perfect camouflage effect while swimming. Unlike other fishes, having a dark ventral side, this creature has shown that it has adapted to maintain the camouflage pattern when it floats upside down.

With a light underbelly and scale-less body, this fish does not feel any discomfort in swimming upside down, so you do not have to worry a little.

Mind-Boggling Fact – Most of the sea creatures you see have a dark upper body and a lighter belly. But not the upside down catfish. Since it swims the opposite, it has improvised and evolved its camouflage technique by adapting to a darker belly; thus, the name Nigriventris (meaning black-bellied). It allows it to swim without being noticed by the creatures above the surface. This adaptation is called countershading. It hasn’t been a fortnight’s journey. The artistic work has been going on for approximately 35 million years now and serves this fish an easy survival.

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Lifespan – How Long Do They Live?

The lifespan of this fish is limited to 15 years, and that too when the ecosystem inside your fish tank is set according to the natural habitat. The average time it spends on this planet is around 10 – 11 years.

With that in mind, water conditions, diet, and tank mates need to be very specific. Parameters are discussed below.

  • Is this fish a long-term commitment? – YES
  • Is Upside Down Catfish Hardy? – YES, it adapts well.

How to Distinguish Male from Female?

You can tell that the female is usually larger than a male. While the former grows around 4 inches, the latter gets restricted to the 3-inch mark. Further, you can take a look at their colors. Females are on the pale side.

Comparing them with size, the female usually has a rounder, thicker body, while the male looks aligned and slim. Aquarists with a professional eye can look at the spots and tell which gender you are eyeing.

It is hard for ordinary people to differentiate on the basis of spots. For the record, males usually have lesser spots or blotches on their bodies.

Care Instructions

Petting The Upside Down Catfish
Issues Difficulty in Catching
Care Level Easy
Friendliness Quite Friendly (Shoaling Fish)
Breeding Level Advanced
Diet Omnivore
Favorite Piece In The Tank Driftwood
Temperament Non-Aggressive

But First, Talk About the ISSUE.
Upside Down Catfish are not the ones that readily come into your fishnet. These are hard to catch and even harder to handle. As an owner, you have to be very cautious of the rays emerging from its body, as they can harm your hand.

What does the Favorite Food Look Like?

As with every omnivore fish species, you have a wide range to include in the menu. Starting with the very basic, you can have commercial fish food or pellets. Mix it up with a few veggies such as peas and cucumber to satisfy the snack thirst.

You have bloodworms, brine shrimps, and larvae for the meaty main course. Not to forget the non-vegetarian commercial flakes available. Dried, frozen food and Algae wafers do good.

The only thing to keep in mind is you keep its diet well balanced and protein-rich.

In the wild, they are found going near the surface to find food. These can mimic the same behavior in the tank. Noticing that would be an alarm that these need to be fed.

Temperament & Behavior

Being nocturnal, you only get to see their lively movements during the night, and it is when the sun goes down they think it is time to have dinner. Therefore, you have to be precise in determining the eating habits of this fish.

Talking of the temperament, you do not have to worry about these hitting other fish. You won’t be seeing an aggressive upside down catfish. They are peaceful and very-very social in their groups. If they get comfortable, they might even respond to your fingers placed outside the tank.

While many people are alarmed seeing it swimming in awkward positions, you shouldn’t raise an eyebrow as it is entirely normal.

The upside down catfish swim in ways that they find comfortable. Exploring inside caves, logs, driftwoods, plant leaves, and small toys, these will keep on entertaining you as long as they wish.

Author’s Note: Petting them in groups will make them feel away from any threats. Hence, you can see these swimming during the daytime as well.

How to Get Upside Down Catfish to Mate and Breed?

Breeding upside down catfish is not a piece of cake. Only experienced aquarists are able to mimic the whole scenario that triggers mating.

Here are a few issues you might face:

  • Not being able to identify the gender.
  • Subsequently, being unable to separate a couple in another tank.
  • Creating spring-type conditions for active breeding.
  • Unable to find reproductive hormones for captive breeding (aquarists do that)
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However, if you are motivated to get this pair to breed, you first have to try creating ideal conditions. This starts with sprinkling cold water (to give an impression of spring season) and offering protein-rich food in abundance.

Subsequently, if you do not have toys or caves for hiding, you won’t see any signs of interest. They have plenty of space to hide and mate in the wild, and they would want it here too. It is what the professionals call ‘Cave Spawning.’

If it happens, you will have a sight of eggs being laid on the surface. Numbers can top the 450 mark.

It takes 48 to 72 hours for the eggs to hatch, upon which you will see fries feeding on the sac. Feed brine shrimp after some time, and they swim upright at first. Only after 2 to 4 months will you see an ‘upside down parade.’

Threats and Diseases Affecting Their Health

One major threat is obviously the giant aggressive tank mates. Other than that, this fish is susceptible to diseases such as Ich (white spot disease). Please do not think of it as a common ailment. It can harm this fish to the core, losing its ability to swim upside down.

Parasitic and bacterial infections are common and should be treated with medication (only if needed). Aquarists have always been warning people about the infected barbels issue. It causes damage in more than one way. You are most likely to see your fish losing its appetite, hiding a major portion of its day in caves and plants, and not showing lively signs.

  • What makes these prone to Diseases? – Stress & Unfavorable Water Conditions
  • What makes this right? – Counter Medications & Adjusting Back Water Conditions

The Ideal Abode

Constructing The Home For Upside Down Catfish
Place in Tank Bottom Feeder
Actual & Suitable Environment Dense Vegetation
Minimum Tank Size 25 Gallons
Water Temperature 22˚C – 25˚C
pH Level 6.0 – 7.5
Water Hardness 5 – 15 dGH
Tank Mates Similar Sized

What is the Ideal Tank Size?

Any tank size that allows the whole school to roam, hide, explore, thrive, and in accordance with how big upside down catfish get in their adult age is going to be the ideal one. For the numbers, you must have a 20-gallon tank at least, provided that there are plants, toys, and other tank mates wanting their own space.

Though aquarists have petted these in as small as a 12-gallon tank, you shouldn’t try to replicate that. As a beginner or an individual with a busy routine, you won’t be monitoring every minute of their day. So, if the signs of stress induce, you won’t be able to notice it.

Pro Tip: Since many of you will be motivated to bring in a group of these quirky creatures, we recommend you stick to the 20-25 gallon mark.

How Do you Decorate Their Tank?

You can set up a glamorous tank with this species inside as it is hardy enough to adapt to the surroundings it is being put in. The motto is to allow these fish to have the exact surroundings it enjoys in the wild.


Live plants are always a good option for this fish. Make sure you are adding big leafy plants such as anubias to offer a room to hide and explore.


Your regular sandy, pebble, gravel substrate would do alright. Rock decorations at the bottom with vegetation would be aesthetic and beneficial for the tank.


Along with tankmates, upside down catfish will love to have driftwood in their tank. Couple them up with rocks, caves, and toys. You’d find your pet loving its home.


Since these come out when the sun sets, it is essential for you to watch out for the lighting. Dim light during the night would initiate movements and also allow you to witness these.

Filtration & Oxygenation:

Yes, these are indeed a necessity for the upside down catfish. They require strong currents and highly oxygenated water.

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Feel free to add multiple decorative in the tank as these excite this fish. Just make sure there is some space for the group to hang out and swim together.

Water Parameters

This is where your fish’s life comes to a halt. If you are not maintaining the parameters right, you are slowly decreasing the number of days left in their life. For a start, you must maintain the temperature around 76˚F as these like slightly warm water and keep pH levels close to 7 as a neutral level is recommended.

For the water hardness, you should not be going hard at them. Soft waters with a level of around 8 dGH are preferred.

With a community tank in place, you have to be very cautious of ammonia and nitrate level. Anything in excess will lead to barbels, as mentioned above.

Regular water changes are always in demand. Clean up to 25% water every second week. Add pristine water only.

Tankmates: What Company do They Enjoy?

Large predatory aggressive fish is a big NO-NO. You can only pair them with other fish having calmer nerves and sizes identical to these. It is not that large fishes threaten them. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Their sharp rays can harm other creatures inside.

The list of ideal tank mates for an upside down catfish includes:

  • Zebra Danios
  • Corydoras
  • Platys
  • Small Snails
  • Guppies
  • Congo Tetras
  • Shoaling Fish – Molies
  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • Elephant Fish (Small)
  • Other members in the same Family

If at all you find signs of aggression from any end, it is best to remove the fish that sees it as prey. The only result would be a sharp ray stuck in the throat of the predator.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are their bellies dark?

Upside Catfish have purposely adapted to swimming that way and their dark bellies help make them blend in dark conditions, so any predator over the top cannot catch sight of it.

Will the baby fish swim upside down from the beginning?

No, you won’t be seeing a newly born baby swimming the awkward way. It takes around two to three months before they start adapting to their new swimming technique. After that, they swim as they like without having any imbalance in their organ system.

Is there a chance I can get the wrong fish in the group?

Yes, there are all the chances that you may buy the wrong fish in the group. Of all the mixed-sold species, the major one is S. Nigrita. Please check with the store manager or an expert. The one (upside down catfish) you are looking for is S. Nigriventris.

What should I use while transferring my fish?

Since these have sharp rays ready to damage any threat coming close, these might harm the owner’s hand in one way or the other. First, it is hard to catch, and when you are successful in it, you must ensure you have a net that is soft and has a long handle.

Can I pet the Upside Down Catfish in an 8-Gallon tank?

Petting this creature in a small tank is not advised at any point, whether juveniles or adults. Though many keepers have made them thrive in a 10-gallon tank, you should not do so, especially if you have a school to pet. Give them adequate space to swim.

Can this fish be of help in controlling Algae?

Well, we may not say that this is your sure-shot solution to limiting the algae growth in your tank, but they do feed on algae wafers. Hence, there are all the chances that they might help control the population but not up to the full extent.

What kind of toys can I keep in my tank?

Any toys that are not sharp, poisonous, and dangerous are considered suitable for these. Though there are plenty of options, you should stick to structures like pipes, tunnels, and caves. This fish loves going beneath wood logs, plants and may find caves homely.

Is the Asian Upside Down Catfish and the African version the same?

The black Asian upside down catfish is not the same as the African albino upside catfish. The former is way more aggressive and way more threatening to the tank mates than the latter. There are hardly any aquarists petting the Asian creature.

Is the Upside Down Catfish a Worthy Addition? – Final Verdict

A fish that is interesting, affordable, adaptable, low maintenance, peaceful, strange, and of course quirky; an Upside Down Catfish is all of that. All that we see are the reasons that motivate you to go and pet a group of these.

Yes, we would say this is a worthy addition to your tank. If there are any issues, you know which guide to refer to.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

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