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catfish facts

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Foraging in the depths of lakes or rivers, catfish are always aware of their surroundings thanks to prominent whiskers on their faces and a complex network of chemical receptors throughout their bodies.

This species' amazing sensory organs can relay important information about the composition of its surroundings. Catfish is also a common delicacy in many human cultures around the world. This is both a blessing and a curse. Without fishing regulations, catfish could be endangered. But catfish can thrive when humans are interested in its survival.

An Incredible Fish: Three Facts About Catfish!

  • Catfish have many different local names. In the southern United States, it is sometimes called a mud cat or a fool .
  • Introduced by humans to various non-native environments for agricultural purposes, it is one of the world's worst invasive species . It can wreak havoc on ecosystems by consuming vast quantities of native flora and fauna.
  • Some species produce a toxic compound to counter the threat . This has been shown to be dangerous to humans only in rare cases. The venom of the striped eel catfish in particular has been responsible for some deaths.

Want to learn more about catfish? Check out "10 Crazy Facts About Catfish."

Different types

Catfish - Fish - Mississippi River - Underwater - USA
The flathead catfish , Pylodictis olivaris , is just one of possibly 3,000 different species of catfish that lives on the bottom of the Mississippi River.

© iStock.com/stammphoto

The Siluriformes possess truly astonishing diversity. It contains approximately 3,000 species in 35 different families. In contrast, primates, which include all humans, apes, and monkeys, have only a few hundred species. Here are some examples of catfish species:

  • Blue catfish: Endemic to Mexico and the southeastern United States, this is the largest species of catfish on the entire North American continent. The fish is bluish-gray in color and has a strong tolerance for brackish water, so it thrives in all kinds of rivers and lakes.
  • Channel catfish: This species inhabits much of the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in Mexico. It is probably the most fished catfish species in the world. If you've ever eaten catfish, chances are you've eaten this fish. Its popularity has led to its introduction to Europe, Asia, and South America, where it is sometimes considered an invasive species.
  • Cory Catfish: Cory catfish are popular in the aquarium trade. In the wild, this species buries its snout to the bottom of rivers and sucks up food. In captivity, Cory catfish feed on other foods such as fish pellets and worms.
  • Micro Catfish: This South American tropical freshwater fish is one of the smallest catfish in the world. It grows to a length of no more than an inch or two.
  • Mekong Giant Catfish: On the other end of the spectrum, the gigantic Mekong Giant Catfish is part of the shark catfish family. Inhabits the Mekong Basin in Southeast Asia and China.
  • Goonch: Also known as the giant devil catfish, the goonch is a large species weighing over 200 pounds. Primarily inhabited in India, the goonch inspires both fascination and dread.
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Here are more types of catfish to check out:

  • Banjo catfish, ghost catfish, pictus catfish, redtail catfish, steelhead catfish, armored catfish, largemouth catfish, white catfish, flathead catfish and bullhead catfish.

taxonomic name

All catfish belong to a single order, the scientific name Siluriformes . As you probably already know, orders are the next major level of classification below classes. In the case of catfish, it belongs to a group of ray-finned fish known as actinfishes , which also includes tuna, swordfish, salmon, cod, and many other types of fish. All catfish have evolved from a common ancestor. This means that a single group branched off and gave rise to all modern catfish species.


Spotted Catfish Mouth
The channel catfish is common in the United States and is a good example of this fish known for its tentacles (whiskers or tentacles).

© iStock.com/v_zaitsev

This fish comes in a variety of colours, shapes and characteristics, but there are a few unique features that hold all species together. The most prominent physical feature is a pair of long vibrissae (whiskers or antennae) along the upper jaw, which serve as sensory organs. Most actually have receptors all over their bodies that allow them to taste or smell various chemicals in the water, but the antennae are their main tool for sensing their surroundings. One pair is standard, but some may have as many as four pairs of whiskers that line the mouth, nose, and chin.

Another important sensory feature is the bony structure that connects the swim bladder to the fish's auditory system, called the Weber apparatus. This enables it to generate and detect sound in water.

Most have elongated bodies and flattened heads to feed on the bottom. Since they tend to sink rather than float, they spend most of their time on the floor looking for food, usually at night, but sometimes also during the day. Their widely spaced mouths allow them to suck in large amounts of food at once. The colors of most species are gray, white, yellow, brown or green. The skin is made of bony plates or mucus linings, rather than scales. Certain species have spines near their fins to ward off dangerous predators. It usually delivers a sharp sting or a very painful and debilitating venom.

Some species of catfish are huge — much larger than the common catfish caught in the United States.

©Fabien Monteil/Shutterstock.com

The size also reflects its enormous diversity. The order varies widely in size, between the banjo, which is less than an inch long, and the truly gigantic catfish, which can reach 15 feet in length and 660 pounds. In about half of all documented households there appear to be sex differences between men and women. Some species have truly unusual adaptations. For example, the upside-down catfish lives up to its name by swimming upside down. African electric catfish can generate about 450 volts of electricity. The walking catfish can use its front flippers and tail to move short distances on land between pools; it also has the ability to take in oxygen from the air. Each of these adaptations is well suited to the environment in which it lives.

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Distribution, Population and Habitat

Most of these fish inhabit shallow freshwater on every continent on Earth except Antarctica. The only exceptions are some species specially adapted to saltwater environments and even caves. Population numbers around the world are generally quite strong, and most species are not yet in danger of extinction. However, some species are increasingly at risk due to overfishing and ocean pollution. The giant Mekong catfish in Southeast Asia and China, the Andean catfish in Ecuador, the blind-whisker catfish in Mexico and several others are considered critically endangered, and many others are headed that way.

predator and prey

Large Piraiba catfish (brachyplatystoma, Filamentosum) searching for food in the aquarium
Large Piraiba catfish (Brachyplatystoma filamentosum) looking for food such as algae, snails, worms, insects or any local food.

©Pavaphon Supanantananont/Shutterstock.com

Catfish live in so many different places that it has an amazing list of predators. Some of the most common predators include birds of prey, snakes, crocodiles, otters, fish (including other catfish), and of course humans. Due to their large size and defensive spines, catfish are hardly the preferred prey for many predators. But some smaller species are especially vulnerable.

The fish's diet also varies by location. Most species feed on random algae, snails, worms, insects and other small sea creatures, sucking or devouring them with their large mouths. Larger species also eat frogs, salamanders, birds, rodents, and other animals. For a complete analysis of what catfish eat, we published What Do Catfish Eat? 13 foods in their diet.

Reproduction and Lifespan

There are about 3,000 species of this fish, which vary greatly in their reproductive habits. The breeding season usually occurs in late spring and early summer. Females can lay thousands of eggs at a time in small hiding places such as rock crevices or dense vegetation. The eggs hatch rapidly after only 5 to 10 days. Men bear most of the parenting responsibilities. In the wild, the maximum life expectancy of a typical catfish is between 8 and 20 years. Some of them apparently fell prey to predators long before that.

fishing and cooking

Catfish is such a popular dish all over the world that large numbers of it are intentionally bred on farms. Each local culture tends to have its own method of cooking catfish. In the southeastern United States, it is usually rolled in cornmeal and fried. In Southeast Asia, it is grilled or deep-fried and served with various vegetables and spices. In Hungary it is cooked with hot pepper paste and noodles.

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Catfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What do catfish eat?

Catfish are eaten by birds of prey, large reptiles, mammals, and other fish.

What do catfish eat?

Catfish have an eclectic diet that includes algae, snails, worms, insects, aquatic plants, small mammals, and more.

Is catfish delicious?

Catfish have been an important source of nutrition for humans throughout history. It is rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

What does catfish taste like?

Catfish has a rather sweet but subtle flavor. Some people like or don't like how dewy it feels.

To which kingdom do catfish belong?

Catfish belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do catfish belong to?

Catfish belong to the phylum Chordate.

What order do catfish belong to?

Catfish belong to the order Siluriformes.

What type of mulch do catfish have?

Catfish are covered with scales.

What type of habitat do catfish live in?

Catfish live in fast-flowing rivers and lakes.

What are the distinctive features of catfish?

Catfish have flat, broad heads and whiskers.

How many eggs do catfish lay?

Catfish typically lay 40 eggs.

Any fun facts about catfish?

There are nearly 3,000 different species of catfish!

What is the scientific name of catfish?

The scientific name of catfish is Siluriformes.

What is the lifespan of catfish?

Catfish can live 8 to 20 years.

What is the optimal pH for catfish?

The optimum pH for catfish is between 6.5 and 8.0.

How do catfish give birth?

Catfish lay eggs.

What's the Difference Between Blue Catfish and Spotted Catfish?

There are many differences between blue catfish and channel catfish. Channel catfish are much smaller than blue catfish, and blue catfish are pickier eaters.

What's the difference between swai and catfish?

There are many differences between swai and catfish, including their size and location. Swai is larger than some types of catfish and is found only in Asia, while catfish can be found all over the world.

What is the difference between catfish and bullhead?

The main difference between catfish and bullhead is that bullhead has a square tail whereas catfish has a notched tail. Most catfish also outgrow bullheads in terms of size and weight.

how to say catfish in

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  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica, available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/catfish
  2. Soft Schools (1970) https://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/catfish_facts/1119/ Jump to top