Synodontis nigrita
False Upside Down Catfish, Common Syno, Common Synodontis, Falsk Rygsvømmermalle (Denmark), Lace Catfish, Nigerianischer Rückenschw. (schwarzwer) Kongowels (Germany), Syno - Synodontis nigrita   Valenciennes, 1840

Article © Julian Dignall, uploaded June 05, 2008.

This month I must admit to being a bit short on ideas when it came to picking a catfish to feature. After some on and off thought about it, I decided to take the scientific approach and wrote a bit of software to find out from the PlanetCatfish database which species was most accessed that had not featured in its own article as yet. Perhaps unsurprisingly the top hits came back as all plecos. I had to go past 34 suckermouths to find something else. And so, with my apologies for a rather dull selection method, here's a more commonly found catfish than viewing statistics might make you think.

Upside down catfish, or to give them a name which is perhaps a bit more accurate, Squeaker cats are from Africa. Upside down catfish is not the best name for them as only a few species spend nearly all their time upside down and there are other catfishes from other families that do the same. The latter is however something of a moot point and squeaker is not that better either as they do not claim to be the sole type of catfish that makes a jarring, squeaky noise when removed from the water. To my knowledge they are the only group of catfish that do that from Africa, so, for this article today, let us call them squeakers. If you don't like that, you can stick with the families formal name, Mockokidae - no squeaking there and it does sound wonderfully African.

This is a large genus of (at the time of writing) 123 species and has had a place in the aquarium hobby since the first freshwater fish began to arrive from Africa. Although many people's favourites, these characterful and sometimes very colourful fish have been somewhat out of fashion for a decade or two now. Despite this, you're likely to find this very common member, the spotted catfish, Synodontis nigrita, or as it is sometimes known as the "false upside down catfish" owing to the aforementioned ill placed naming for a fish that doesn't spend all that much time actually upside down.

There are many, many spotted catfish in the world. In fact, there are many spotted Synodontis. Their background colour is lighter, and the spots are all across the fins and body when youngsters. As they mature, they begin to change to take on a dark brown base with fewer spots especially less on the body. There are always spots on the fins and these tend to cluster somewhat on the fleshy adipose fin. In increasing difficulty of telling them apart and in terms of those you will find commonly in fish stores, when young, this species is sometimes confused Synodontis eupterus which can look similar when young but have more of a network pattern and high fins.

Synodontis ocellifer is another potential species for mistaken identify when looking at young fish. Synodontis ocellifer stays a lighter colour usually, but the tell-tale sign (in this case literally) is a striped tail fin as opposed to spotted bands. This is less evident in younger specimens but comparing all fins in the round makes it easier. Additionally, those looking closely at the humeral process will see a considerably bigger and heavier one in S. nigrita

Another similar species to the adult is the brown spotted Syno, Synodontis robbianus, generally, and rather unreliably, this species keeps more spots going into adulthood and but does firmly only reach a smaller size of around 13cm. (5"). The adipose fin is also higher but the two can be tricky to tell apart.

This species is exceptionally hardy, inexpensive, will eat almost all aquarium foods and does not grow especially big. It's an excellent catfish for the slightly more boisterous aquarium.

Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.

Down Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific Name Synodontis nigrita  Valenciennes, 1840
Common Names False Upside Down Catfish
Common Syno, Common Synodontis, Falsk Rygsvømmermalle (Denmark), Lace Catfish, Nigerianischer Rückenschw. (schwarzwer) Kongowels (Germany), Syno
Type Locality Senegal River, Senegal.
Synonym(s) Hemisynodontis nigrita, Synodontis fascipinna, Synodontis ornatus
Pronunciation sin oh don tiss - nig reet ah
Etymology According to Cuvier, Synodontis is an "ancient name for an undetermined fish from the Nile". It is apparently not derived, as often reported, from syn-, together and odous, tooth, presumed etymology of the lizardfish genus Synodus and in reference to the closely-spaced lower jaw teeth of both genera. 
Down Species Information
Size 220mm or 8.7" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.
Identification All species in the genus Synodontis have a hardened head cap that has attached a process (humeral process) which is situated behind the gill opening and pointed towards the posterior. The dorsal fin and pectoral fins have a hardened first ray which is serrated. Caudal fin is always forked. There is one pair of maxillary barbels, sometimes having membranes and occasionally branched. The two pairs of mandibular barbels are often branched and can have nodes attached. The cone-shaped teeth in the upper jaw are short. S-shaped and movable in the lower jaw. These fish produce audible sounds when disturbed rubbing the base of the pectoral spine against the pectoral girdle.

Commonly misidentified in the trade. Contaminants often include S. nigriventris and small juveniles of many West African Synodontis species.
S. nigrita has a dark gray background with black spots on the body and fins, giving it a ''lace-like'' appearance, hence the common name: ''lace catfish''.
Humeral process ends in a point, sweeping up in a curve on the bottom edge.
Sometimes swims in an inverted position.
Sexing First lay the fish in your hand with its head toward your palm and the tail toward your fingers. Hold the dorsal spine between your middle and ring finger so the fish is belly up and you won't get stuck (Which by the way, hurts like crazy!). The genital pore is in a small furrow of tissue (in healthy fish) and will be obstructed by the pelvic fins. Pull down on the tail gently to arch the fishes spine and the pelvic fins will stand and the furrow open to display the genital pore and the anus of the fish. The male has a somewhat ridged genital papillae on which the spermatoduct is on the back side, facing the tail fin. A gravid female will also show an extended papillae but the oviduct is on the ventral side of the papillae (And may also show a little redness if really gravid). A thin or emaciated female will have just two pink pores, the oviduct and the anus.
General Remarks An explanation is in order as to the status of the synonym, Synodontis ornatus. There is a paper by Pappenheim & Boulenger(1914) using Synodontis ornatus which shows a drawing of a fish that very much looks like a Synodontis nigrita, the fish shown in this paper is now considered a synonym of S. nigrita. A second paper by Boulenger (1920) using Synodontis ornatus shows a drawing of a fish that looks like the images that are shown for Synodontis ornatissima which this second ornatus is now a synonym of.
Down Habitat Information
Distribution Africa: Chad, Niger, Senegal, Gambia, Casamance, Geba, Kolente and Volta basins; coastal rivers from Ghana to Nigeria, Nile basin; including the Bénoué.
African Waters, Casamance (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Geba (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Kolente (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Volta (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Gambia (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Nile (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Nigeria Waters, Niger (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Sénégal (click on these areas to find other species found there)
African Waters, Chad (click on these areas to find other species found there)

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IUCN Red List Category Least Concern, range map and more is available on the IUCN species page. Last assessed 2019.
pH 6.0 - 7.6
Temperature 21.0-26.0°C or 69.8-78.8°F (Show species within this range)
Other Parameters In nature, one of the most common of all Synodontis species where it congregates in pools and ponds by the side of large rivers, but is typically not found in the rivers themselves.
Down Husbandry Information
Feeding Omnivore. Feed flakes and tablet food, supplemented by frozen and live food.
In nature, eats plant detritus and small crustaceans and insects.
Be careful not to overfeed. Has gluttonous appetite. Juveniles grow quickly. User data.
Furniture Plants, driftwood, rocks.
Compatibility Relatively peaceful, though older specimens can become territorial.
Breeding In nature, breeding occurs during flood season. It is uncertain if bred commercially by hormone injection or if it has been bred in the aquarium.
Breeding Reports There is no breeding report.
Down Further Information
Reference Histoire naturelle des poissons v. 15, pp 265, Pl. 441.
Registered Keepers There are 71 registered keepers, view all "my cats" data.
Wishlists Love this species? Click the heart to add it to your wish list.
There is but a single wish to keep this species, see who wants what.
Spotters Spotted this species somewhere? Click the binoculars!
There are 13 records of this fish being seen, view them all.
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Last Update 2023 Jan 12 05:33 (species record created: 2008 Jun 05 03:08)

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