Your internet guide to
all things catfish

Synodontis decorus Boulenger, 1899  

he ‘Clown Catfish’ although it grows large is, in my book, the original gentle giant. It does well in an aquarium environment but do bear in mind that if you have purchased it as a juvenile and it is placed in a small tank you will certainly have to move it, as it grows, to a larger tank for the benefit of the fish itself, and of course the enjoyment of its owner.

Synodontis decorus


Talking of enjoyment, you will need to be patient as this fish is extremely nocturnal as an adult and is one of the shyest Syno's around. Regular contributor to the monthly factsheets, Linday Dobree-Carey, tells me that her decorus (Charlie) shares its home, a plastic pipe, with one of three large Clown Loaches (Botia macracantha) and they follow each other around which she thinks makes ‘Charlie’ feel more secure.

The unusual trait of this Synodontis is the long extension of the dorsal fin which can reach as far back as its caudal fin and along with its attractive body colouration makes it one of the most popular catfish of the genus, Synodontis.

The picture below shows Lindsay's pair of clowns! Clown Catfish to the top and the Clown Loach on the bottom bunk. Lindsay explains her feeding routine below.

Clown Catfish & Clown Loach

“At night I have a ‘Moonglow’ lamp which cuts in for a few hours in the evening and this gives Charlie a chance to pop out and do the rounds without him being disturbed by the bright light. Even so, I tend to feed them about 10.00 pm and they have cottoned onto the ‘feed time’ and Charlie is looking out of his pipe any time from 9.30 onwards, any other time you wouldn't think he was there, unless you occasionally look at the end of the pipe”.

The genus Synodontis sports three pairs of barbels 1 pair: maxillary, 1 pair: outer mandibular and one pair of inner mandibular barbels that are branched (filaments). There are only three species that have filaments on their maxillary barbels as well as the mandibular, and they are,
S. clarias, S.decorus and S. flavitaeniatiatus.

The picture above shows the ramifications (filaments) on the maxillary as well as the mandibular barbels which is unusual in the Synodontis genus.

The picture above shows the ramifications (filaments) on the maxillary as well as the mandibular barbels which is unusual in the Synodontis genus.

Acknowledgement's:  Thanks to Lindsay Dobree-Carey for her input and photos and also to Czech aquarist Jiri Pistil for his photograph of the head area and barbels.

Head and body compressed. Three pairs of barbels, maxillary barbels with a small membrane at the base and small slender ramifications larger than on maxillary barbels. Dorsal fin spine smooth anteriorly and posteriorly occasionally with between 2-5 serrations at the filament. Pectoral fin spine smooth on outer edge, inner edge serrated, but not at the base, and ends in a short filament. Caudal fin deeply forked with each lobe forming a point. Head shield pitted.

Base colour creamy white with large black spots and blotches scattered over body. Ventral region white. Dorsal, caudal, anal and ventral fins with black transverse bands.

You will have to choose its tankmates carefully as small characins will be viewed as lunch to an adult decorus on its night-time foraging but a good addition to a large community tank.

No information on the breeding of this species but males are reported to be smaller and darker coloured than the females.

In their native habitat they live on invertebrates, small fishes and crustaceans.In the aquarium they will take a wide range of foods bearing in mind that it might be better to feed at night to make sure that they get their fair share in a community tank. They will accept live food, frozen food (bloodworm) tablet foods and a good quality flake food.

Synodontis: Ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile (Cuvier 1816).
decorus : Elegant; decorative; becoming.

Sands D; Back to Nature Guide to Catfishes.
Baensch; Aquarium Atlas 1.
Catfish Association of Great Britain; Volume 1.

Photo Credits
Top image :      ©  Hippocampus Bildarchiv
Middle image:  ©  Lindsay Dobree-Carey
Bottom image: ©  Jiri Plistil @  http://www.akvarium.cz 
Factsheet 054

Synodontis labeo, Synodontis vittatus
Common Name:
Clown Catfish
DemRep. Of the Congo Democratic Rep.of the Congo. Congo basin except Luapula River system     
25cm. (10ins)
22-27°C (71-81°F)  
6.5 - 7.5
If you found this page helpful you can help keep ScotCat running by making a small donation, Thanks. 

Donate towards my web hosting bill!


Print Friendly and PDF

































































                                                                                                                              Factsheet 54 = updated December 16, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top