Upside Down Catfish
That's right friends, don't try to adjust your computer monitor! Don't strain your neck! Your eyes are not playing tricks on you! It's one of the smallest, oddest catfish of all: the Upside Down Catfish!
It was a while after I had earned a reputation for collecting odd and rare fish that I purchased a couple of upside down catfish. I had seen the upside down catfish in the pet store for a long time, and to be honest, I had never seen anything like them before! I'm from the south, so I grew up around catfish. But never in all my years of catching blue cats, flat-head cats, yellow cats and channel cats had I ever seen one swim upside down, unless something was seriously wrong with it! But these much smaller catfish spent almost there whole lives upside down!
A lot of people who have seen my upside down catfish ask if they are alright. Or they will ask why they swim upside down. The reason is quite simple: it's easier to eat that way! I'm surprised other fish haven't thought of it! Food on top of the water or under logs is much easier acquired by a fish floating upside down with it's mouth fully directed toward the food! These fish must have been intelligent, because it is speculated that when food became scarce on the bottom (where most catfish eat), some species inverted (swam upside down) to take advantage of a food supply that was available at the surface. As the catfish acquired neutral buoyancy, it became more difficult to resist that upside down force. In order to save energy, the catfish gave in to the upside down swimming! My kind of fish: lazy!
There is another interesting theory as to why the upside down catfish swims they way it does. Some scientists believe the upside down catfish took up inverted swimming as a means of protection. The theory is that because mid-water predators usually attack from below, the upside down catfish is better able to see the imminent attack, enhancing their chance of survival.
The upside down catfish was first discovered in 1936 in it's natural habitat in Africa. The upside down catfish is native to the Congo and Zaire basins, and has been known to be found in the Nile River. The upside down catfish is a relatively small catfish. In captivity they usually grow no longer than 4 to 5 inches in length. Aside from their size and their inverted swimming, they are a true catfish. They have the typical spiny fins that other catfish sport. And yes, even though they are small, these spiny fins hurt just as bad!
Most hobbyists would call the upside down catfish a little drab. It is not a colorful fish. It is basically a dark brown fish, with lighter brown specks on it. Another oddity, which is attributed to the inverted swimming, is the fact that the upside down catfish's belly is darker than the rest of the fish. Most fish have a lighter underside, a feature developed by them in order to escape detection from predators lurking beneath them. The lighter underside against the light water makes for a less obvious target. However, the upside down catfish has a reversal of the normal shading. If anything, it has a lighter backside because it spends it's time upside down!
In the wild, upside down catfish are found in huge shoals of several thousand fish. This means that in your home aquarium, you will need to keep these fish in schools of four to six or maybe more, depending on the size of your tank. You should group these fish in a similar fashion like you would group corydoras. If you are pairing up the upside down catfish, keep in mind the female has a more rounded body and pale coloring compared to the male. The good news is that even if you only have one upside down catfish, as I do right now, it will prosper. These are very hearty, peaceful fish. Mine currently shares a tank with a blood parrot, an eel and numerous freshwater sharks. The only thing you need to keep in mind, if you are breeding fish, is the upside down catfish is a notorious egg eater.
There is a small bit of bad news if you attempt to keep a solitary upside down cat. It won't die of loneliness, like some corys will. But it will go into hiding. They are like some species of catfish, and prefer to feed at night or prefer to move about in a darker, shady tank. This can be fixed. Just throw in some overhanging retreats, like some driftwood, and these fish will spend a good deal of time moving about.
Feeding the upside down catfish is very easy. They will take flakes, and they are especially fond of freeze dried bloodworms. They don't have to compete for their food, simply because in many cases they can get into places where other fish can't or wouldn't think to look for food in. If food settles on the bottom of your tank, and then ends up under some of your decorations, if the upside down catfish can fit under the decorations, it will clean up all of the left over grub.
As mentioned earlier, the upside down catfish is a very peaceful fish. You can keep this catfish with nearly any type of other peaceful fish, or even cichlids. It just needs a place to retreat to every now and then. It will also need the water to range in temperature from 72 to 78 degrees.
There was one other question that everyone has asked me about the upside down catfish. "If they die, do they float right side up?" The answer: surprisingly not! Belly up like other fish, like they have spent their entire lives!