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Synodontis polli  Gosse, 1982

e have now reached the milestone on ScotCat of the 160th factsheet since 1997 and this month (October 2009) we have been joined by Catfish expert and author, Chris Ralph and his take on one of the Rift Valley Mochikids, Synodontis polli.

Synodontis polli

Synodontis polli belongs to the family Mochokidae known as the Squeaker Catfishes or Upside-down Catfishes from Africa and is naturally found in Lake Tanganyika. It is also documented as being found in Burundi, the Congo Democratic Republic, Tanzania and Zambia. Reference is made to the fact that this catfish occurs in the Western Rift Valley Lakes.

The catfish featured appears as Synodontis eurystomus in the book ‘Revision Des Synodontis Africains (Famille Mochocidae)’ by Max Poll, who worked extensively in the field with fish from Lake Tanganyika and the River Congo.


6 weeks old Synodontis polli = bred by Bob Barnes of the Catfish Study Group

6 weeks old Synodontis polli
bred by Bob Barnes of the Catfish Study Group


I have seen a few of these truly stunning catfish available for sale over the years and I would suggest that you would expect to pay around £20.00- £30.00 per fish (2007 U.K. prices) depending upon size. This catfish features in the recent ‘Taxonomic Revision of Lake Tanganyikan Synodontis’ by Jeremy Wright and Lawrence Page. It would appear that Synodontis polli has a wide distribution within Lake Tanganyika and some slight colour variations amongst the populations present.

Synodontis polli prefer to be kept in water which has a pH in the range of 7.5-9.2. This catfish is ideally suited to temperatures in the range of 23-29ºC or 73-84°F. and they prefer hard water conditions which is very clean and stable in terms of pH.

I would suggest a minimum size of 60” x 18” X 18” for a small shoal of these magnificent catfish. I would suggest good quality aquarium sand such as BD Aquarium Sand, or very smooth rounded gravel as the preferred substrate when keeping these catfish. The aquarium should provide some shelter in the form of rocks or bogwood along with a small covering of aquatic plants, although this is not essential. As with all other species of fish, water quality and general husbandry is very important, and I would recommend that a minimum of 25% water is changed on a weekly basis.



The body shape of Synodontis polli is described as being compressed. The head is also described as being compressed and the body is described as being naked. The mouth is described as being inferior with wide lips (from the original description of Synodontis eurystomus which means ‘wide mouth’). It is documented that this catfish has 40-70 mandibular teeth which are described as being short, uncuspid and arranged in 6-8 short transverse rows. It has three pairs of barbels which are described as being short, with the maxillary barbels having a small membrane at the base. The mandibular barbels have slender ramifications. Synodontis polli is described as having a cusp on the dorsal edge of the humeral process. The dorsal fin is described as having 7 soft rays. The pectoral fin is described as having 8-9 soft rays. The caudal fin is described as being forked with rounded lobes.


The base colour of the body and head is described as being creamy white to light brown with black spots and blotches scattered irregularly over the body. The ventral region is described as being lighter in colour. The dorsal, caudal, pectoral, anal and ventral fins are described as having white outer edges to them, with similar colouration to the body eventually turning black in colour towards the outer borders of the fins. It is documented that adult males are chocolate brown in colour with numerous black spots, with dull white edging on the posterior edges of the fins. Juvenile specimens are described as having lighter colouration and somewhat brighter white coloured fin edging.


Synodontis polli is an ideal addition to an aquarium containing fish such as other species of African Rift Lake catfish and cichlids, large tetras and large barbs, just as long as the other occupants are not too aggressive. It is documented that newly added males will fight with one another until territories have been established.


There have been a number of reports of successful aquarium spawnings of Synodontis polli. Bob Barnes of the Catfish Study group has been breeding them for a number of years and there have also been breeding attempts in the Czech Republic using hormone injection, and it is generally thought that there are now a few hybrids available to the hobbyist resulting from these breeding attempts.

Sexual Differences
The males tend to be larger and more robust than the females and when viewed from underneath exhibit external genital papilla.

Synodontis polli readily accepts a mixed and varied diet which includes sinking foods such as catfish pellets, tablets and frozen bloodworm. These catfish benefit from the addition of some meatier foods in their diet such as prawns and mussels. Their natural diet would include insects and crustaceans.

Glossary of Terms

Dorsal fin is defined as the medial fin on top of back.
Caudal fin is defined as the tail fin.
Anal fin is defined as the medial fin immediately posterior to the anus.
Pectoral fins are defined as the paired lateral fins.
Ventral fins are defined as being the paired fins between the pectoral and anal fins (also referred to as pelvic fins).
Maxillary is defined as being in relation to the maxilla, the bone of the upper jaw.
Mandibular is defined as being in relation to the mandible or lower jaw.
Anterior is defined as being in front.
Posterior is defined as being situated behind.
Ramifications are defined as side branches.
Compressed is defined as flattened from side to side.
Ventral is defined as being bottom, below or underneath.
Papilla is defined as being a small fleshy projection.


Synodontis: Ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile (Cuvier 1816).
Polli: in honour of Dr. Max Poll an eminent Belgian ichthyologist.


Jeremy J Wright and Lawrence M Page, Taxonomic Revision of Lake Tanganyikan Synodontis (Siluriformes: Mochokidae)

Photo Credits

Allan James @ ScotCat 

Factsheet 160

Synodontis eurystomus
Common Name:
Poll’s Syno
Africa: Lake Tanganyika. Type locality: Luhanga, Lake Tanganyika
145mm s.l. (standard length – this is the measurement of the fish from the tip of the snout to the base of the caudal peduncle).
23-29°c (73-84°f.)
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                                                                                                                             Factsheet 160 = updated March 30, 2009, © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top