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Synodontis nigrita  Valenciennes, 1840

his month (May 2008) we head of to the African family, Mockokidae, and to one of my favourite genera, the Syno's and to its most common member, the spotted catfish, Synodontis nigrita, or as it is sometimes known as the "false upside down catfish" owing to the mix up, when youngsters, to the much smaller and true "upside down cat" Synodontis nigriventris.

Synodontis nigrita

This species is being sold as the all comprising name of "spotted catfish" or in some cases Synodontis eupterus which can look similar when young but have more of a reticulated/striated pattern. When youngsters (see bottom pic.) their bodies are adorned with spots including all fins and as they grow into adulthood they begin to lose this trait and (as above) take on a change in colour and markings from a light coloured fish with spots to a dark brown with less spots. There are always spots that adorn the fins especially the adipose fin.



Synodontis nigrita = juvenile

The holotype speciman resides in the Muséum National d' Histoire Naturelle de Paris and is a poor quality speciman although you can just see the spots in the adipose fin which may have pointed to a spotted body.

Synodontis nigrita = Holotype speciman MNHN 0000-3051


Another Syno which is alike is the Brown-spotted Syno, Synodontis robbianus, the difference is that robbianus seems to keep its spots into adulthood and attains a smaller size at 13cm. (5ins). The adipose fin is also larger in robbiana and does not have the upper lobe longer then the bottom, but the two can be quite difficult to tell apart.

Can be found in large lakes and waterways and are widespread on the African continent.

D1/7; A4/8-9. Maxillary barbels longer than the head, not branched, without tubercles and with a distinct blackish basel membrane. Dorsal spine not serrate on anterior edge. Caudal fin forked with upper lobe longer than the lower. Humeral process keeled and sharply pointed.

Brownish, lighter on the belly. All fins with spots which are arranged as a band on the caudal fin.


Fine as juveniles but with most larger Syno's will get a little teritorial going into adulthood. A 4ft tank or above with larger tankmates such as Rasboras, African tetras or Cichlids will do fine.


In their natural habitat they are nonguarders of their eggs and as substratum egg scatterers they will scatter them in open water. Not bred in aquarium so far but some have turned up as hybrids, crossed with other Syno species in Eastern Europe.

Sexual differences
Not apparent but the females will be deeper bodied than the males.

As with most of the Synodontis genus they will accept a wide range of foods and can be fed on a good quality flake, tablet, pelet and frozen foods such as bloodworm.

Glossary of Terms
Holotype: The specimen on which the description of a new species is based.
Maxillary barbels: Pertaining to the upper jaw. (maxillary barbels)
Tubercles: Tentacle-like projections.
Dorsal: is defined as being top or above.
Humeral process: Bony extension of the pectoral girdle.


Synodontis: Ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile (Cuvier 1816) .
nigrita: Blackened.


Stiassny, LJ Melanie; Teugels, G. Guy; Hopkins, D. Carl; The Fresh and Brackish Fishes of Lower Guinea, West-Central Africa. Vol.1 p739-40
Sterba, Günther; Freshwater Fishes of the World vol.1 t.f.h. p408-9
Morris, P.J. [programmer] and M.H. Sabaj [editor], 2006. ACSImagebase: A digital archive of catfish images compiled by participants in the All Catfish Species Inventory. [WWW image Database] URL http://acsi.acnatsci.org/base


Photo Credits

Top:          John Bradley

Middle: ©  Hippocampus Bildarchiv

Bottom: Mélyne Hautecoeur, Muséum National d' Histoire Naturelle de Paris

Factsheet 143

Hemisynodontis nigrita, Synodontis ornatus, S. fascipinna 
Common Name:
False upside-down catfish


Africa: Chad, Niger, Senegal, Gambia, Casamance, Geba, Kolente and Volta basins; coastal rivers from  Ghana to Nigeria, Nile basin; including the Bénoué
17.5cm. (6¾ins)
21-26°C (69 -79°F)
6.0 -7.5.
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                                                                                                                                    Factsheet 143 = updated December 16, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top