Catfish are popular species belonging to the order Siluriformes. Most catfish species are bottom dwellers with long feelers in their mouth that resembles cat whiskers. Some species also have spines in the area of the dorsal and pectoral fins that cause painful injuries if mishandled.
Unlike other fish, catfish have no scales but instead are either armored with bony plates or their body is naked. Most catfish species are freshwater fish, but a few belonging to the family Plotosidae and Ariidae are marine species.
Catfish are active at night and feed on other animal species and vegetable matter. They also reproduce by laying eggs and exhibit different types of parental care. For example, the brown bullhead catfish guard their nest and protect their young ones by their mouth.
As a new catfish angler, knowing how to distinguish them is important. Here, we have prepared a detailed guide to different types of catfish, where they are found, catfish colors, and how to identify them.
Table of Contents
What Is a Catfish?
Catfish are a versatile group of ray-finned fish and a popular catch among anglers. There are close to 2,900 of these catfish in existence today. The majority are spread out in all kinds of freshwater environments in the continent except Antarctica.
These fish species are distinguishable by their paired cat whisker-like barbells that help them smell and sense vibrations from potential food. Not all catfish families have the barbels, though. So, what primarily identifies a catfish are unique features on its skull and swimbladder.
Catfish vary in size and behavior. They measure around 1.2 meters to 1.6 meters on average, rarely longer than 2 meters. The largest catfish ever confirmed on record was in 1879, and it measured around 2.5 meters and weighed 150 pounds.
In general, catfish are bottom feeders, primarily because of their negative buoyancy caused by their weighted bony heads and small gallbladders.
Impact of Climate Change
Catfish farms and fisheries across the US have been exposed to the worsening climate change effects. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) experts, other signs of climate change besides heightened temperatures include increased wind and precipitation.
This means that rising sea levels from excessive precipitation will increase salinity and erode catfish fisheries and ponds. Unable to contain water, catfish getting out of the eroded ponds, and foreign specimens entering the ponds might cause disease outbreaks that devastate the sector.
Also, water depletion in aquifers and other water resources due to drought will cause overreliance on water in the wells, affecting groundwater. Without a firm biosecurity framework and more sustainable catfish farming methods, there poses a threat to the sector’s sustainability.
Types of Predators of the Catfish
Catfish have a few natural predators. They are hunted by larger fish-eating fish such as sharks. Larger catfish also prey on smaller catfish. Other threats include turtles, alligators, birds of prey like great blue herons, snakes, and humans.
However, catfish are capable of defending themselves. The species can camouflage with the seabed, making them unnoticeable to predators.
Other catfish species, such as the striped eel, have venom to help deal with enemies. Humans have been affected by the poisonous compound, with a few deaths reported.
Generally, catfish lack teeth to help defend themselves against threats. But they have spines. Although not poisonous, these fish use the spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins to sting their threats.
A catfish has more than 27,000 taste buds. These lack teeth but have a fairly large mouth that allows them to swallow small prey. Also, a catfish can produce between 3000 to 50,000 eggs depending on its body size.
What Is The Most Common Type Of Catfish?
1. Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)
They are among the largest catfish species that can live for over 20 years. Blue catfish are identified by their light blue or dark blue color n their upper side. They have white bellies with no dark marks.
Blue catfish can grow to a length of about 16 to 36 inches. However, some blue catfish can grow to over 6 feet long.
On average, most catfish species can weigh between 20-30 pounds. However, there are cases where anglers land monster catfish weighing up to 150 pounds. For example, the biggest blue catfish to be caught in North Carolina weighed 143 pounds.
Blue catfish are commonly found in areas within the Mississippi River drainage system. They are natively found in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Ohio rivers. They are also found in some areas in the Rio Grande and the Gulf Coast of Guatemala.
Over the years, blue catfish have been introduced to other areas. You can now find them in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, and Florida. As an angler, you can use the best fish finders for catfish to increase the chances of catching blue catfish.
Interestingly, blue catfish are opportunistic feeders and can eat almost every living thing. They like residing in areas behind dam spillways with plenty of wounded prey like frogs, shad, herring, perch, crayfish, and mussels.
2. Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Channel catfish are among the most popular catfish in most American restaurants. These catfish species are delicious and are known for their strong fighting ability.
When targeting channel catfish, ensure you use the best catfish reels that are strong enough to handle big, fighting fish.
You can identify channel catfish by their spotted body. Their skin is covered with numerous black spots that become less visible as they grow.
You can also identify these types of catfish by the presence of two pairs of barbels in their mouth area. Also, channel catfish have a longer upper jaw which is different from other catfish species.
Channel fish have deeply forked tail, resembling those of blue catfish. They also have olive or brown coloration and white belly.
Most channel catfish weigh around 30 lbs., but some can grow up to 58 pounds. For example, the largest channel catfish was caught in Lake Marion and weighed 58 pounds. A typical channel fish can measure between 12-20 inches in length.
Channel catfish like living in large streams, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They are native to Kansas, Lowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Tennessee states. They also like living in areas with low to moderate currents.
Channel catfish like hunting at night and rely on their smell to get to their prey, such as fish, crustaceans, mussels, insects, and plants.
3. Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis Olivaris)
The Flathead catfish is the largest species belonging to the genus Pylodictis. These catfish species are identified by their relatively flat head and yellow or pale brown color.
Unlike other species with white bellies, flathead catfish have light cream color. They also have short-rounded anal fin with less than 30 rays.
Flathead catfish can reach up to 44 inches, while some can be as short as 22 inches. Most flathead catfish weigh between 4-20 lbs. but there are instances where they can exceed 100 lbs. For example, the largest flathead catfish ever caught measured 5 feet long and weighed 123 pounds.
Flathead catfish species are commonly found in Mexico and the Great Lakes. They have also been introduced in other water bodies like South Carolina rivers. Flathead catfish like living in dark, heavy structures with no current and cloudy water.
Unlike other opportunistic types of catfish, flathead catfish are active hunters and will prey on sunfish, shad, bass, perch, and smaller catfish species.
Other Catfish Worth To Be Mentioned
4. Cory Catfish (Corydoras Geoffroy)
Cory catfish are freshwater fish popularly kept as pets in an aquarium. These species of catfish have two rows of overlapping scutes found at the back of the head to the base of the tail.
Cory fish are also known as armored catfish as they have stiff spines from their dorsal fin to where the pectoral fins end. Some cory species have venom glands in their spine that protect them from predators.
The size of cory catfish varies but grows at most 4.75 inches. In fact, most cory catfish grow about 2.7 inches in total length and can live up to 20 years. They are usually small and can weigh up to 8.8 lbs.
Corydoras catfish are native to South America, especially in Ande Mountains. They can be found along the Atlantic coast, from Trinilad up to the drainage of Rio de la Plata in Argentina.
Cory catfish can be identified by their sail-like vertical dorsal fins that are mostly pointed. However, some species have round dorsal fins and forked tails.
Another distinctive feature is the short face with ringed, wide eyes. They also have three pairs of barbels on their face that help them locate food in the substrate.
The color of these cory catfish varies depending on the species. Most of them have shades of brown, while others have an albino or pale appearance.
Cory fish are unique, and you will find them moving up to the surface to breathe and then move to the bottom. Swallowing enough air helps them to stay at the bottom for a long thus reducing the risks of being eaten.
5. Glass Catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis)
Glass catfish are also known as ghost catfish. Glass catfish can be identified by their transparent appearance, which allows you to see their internal organs.
These species of catfish have an anal fin that runs under their body from the head to where the tail fin is. Unlike other types of catfish, glass catfish has no dorsal fin.
The size of glass catfish varies depending on the species. However, these species can grow up to 5.9 inches. Most glass catfish are smaller in size and weigh less than an ounce.
Glass catfish are known for their translucent color, making it easier to hide from predators. They are also natively found in freshwater bodies in Southeast Asia. However, some species are found in Indonesia.
For example, species like Krytopterus piperatus are found in Indonesia in Lembang and Alas River, while Krytopterus vitreous are found in southern areas of Thailand.
Most glass catfish like living in areas with slow-moving waters. They also feed on small fish and small invertebrates such as zooplankton, tiny crustaceans, and mosquito larvae.
6. Pictus Catfish (Pimelodus pictus)
Pictus catfish are a popular type of catfish belonging to the Pimelodidae family. They are native to the Amazon and Orinoco River basins but can also be kept as pets in aquariums.
Pictus catfish are identified by their extremely long barbels that can extend up to where the caudal fins are. These catfish also have sharp spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins that protect them from predators.
The female pictus catfish are larger than their male counterparts and can weigh up to 2 pounds and grow to a length of up to 6 inches.
They have silver to grey coloring, and their bodies are striped or spotted with black colors. The spots extend to their fins but are not common on their bellies. Pictus catfish are nocturnal and like hiding in areas with cover.
7. Upside Down Catfish (Synodontis nigriventris)
Upside-down catfish belong to the family Mochokidae and are named after how they swim upside down. In fact, swimming upside down is normal for these catfish species, and they spend almost 90% of their time swimming when assuming this position.
Upside-down catfish are natively found in the midstream of the Congo River basin. You can find in Ubangi River, Pool Malebo, and Kasai River. They have also been introduced artificially in the Philippines.
The female upside-down catfish are usually bigger than their male counterparts and can grow up to 3.8 inches. On the other hand, male upside-down catfish can grow up to 2.36 inches long. On average, most of these species can weigh around 1.8 pounds.
Apart from how these species swim upside down, you can also identify them by their short body with flattened sides. Their backside is more gibbose, and their eyes are large.
They also have a small mouth with three pairs of barbels. They have a triangular dorsal fin with a large first ray and lobular tail fin.
Upside down, catfish have a greige body coloring covered with black-brown spots. Unlike other catfish species with a white belly, the upside-down has a darker abdomen with a lighter back.
This distinctive feature protects them from being eaten by predator fish since they spend most of their time swimming upside down.
8. Otocinclus Catfish (Otocinclus vittatus)
Otocinclus catfish are popular freshwater fish that rarely grow to bigger sizes. Most weigh up to 0.5 pounds and grow up to 2 inches long. Otocinclus catfish are natively found in South America and some streams of Venezuela and North America.
You can identify these species by their cylindrical shape that gets narrow at the head region and around the caudal fin. They also have small sucker mouths that help them to suction onto surfaces. The armor plating on their body protects them from their predators.
These species come in different colors, but most have a brown, muted green, and grey appearance. Most otocinclus catfish species have distinctive brown strips stretching down the body.
9. Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus cirrhosus)
These fish species are peaceful creatures belonging to the family Loricariidae. They are popular bottom dwellers that are native South American waters.
They are especially popular in rapid-flowing tributaries of the Amazon River Basin. Other species can be found in Central America and Panama.
Bristlenose catfish have a green, brown, or grey coloration with yellow or white spots. Some of these fish species have uneven coloring with darker or lighter splotches. They have lighter bellies and darker backs.
You can identify Bristlenose pleco by their flat body with bony plates. They are usually smaller and can grow up to 5 inches in length. They are also lightweight and can weigh up to 0.3 pounds.
10. Striped Raphael Catfish (Platydoras armatulus)
Striped Raphael catfish belong to the Doradidae family, also known as talking catfish. These catfish species are peaceful and usually kept as pets in aquariums. However, they are natively found in Paraguay, Amazon, and lower Orinoco in South America.
Striped Raphael catfish are identified by their tiny curved pectoral fins and spines running along their bodies. They also have arrow-shaped bodies and large heads. They have three pairs of black barbels around their wide mouth.
Striped Raphael catfish can live up to 20 years and are natural bottom dwellers. There are three species of catfish, and each has different markings.
For example, striped Raphael catfish have black or dark brown bodies with striking white stripes running from head to tail. Spotted Raphael catfish have black bodies with large white spots on their tails.
These freshwater catfish can grow to a standard length of 7 to 9 inches and weigh up to 8.1 oz. However, some striped Raphael species can grow up to 17 inches long.
11. Bumblebee Catfish (Microglanis iheringi)
Bumblebee catfish are nocturnal creatures with black and yellow coloration. These bands make them appear broadly stripped. You will also find a dark brown part around their caudal peduncle.
You can also identify them by their fork-like caudal fin and elongated bodies. They have well-developed spines and an outstanding dorsal fin. Bumblebee catfish have a flat heads with visible lateral lines. They have long barbels that can reach up to where the dorsal fins are.
Bumblebee catfish can live for up to 5 years and grow to a length of up to 3.5 inches. On average, these fish species can weigh between 2 to 4 pounds.
Bumblebee catfish are tropical fish native to countries like Columbia, Venezuela, the Amazon basin, Peru, and some parts of South America. They are also kept at home as pets due to their colorful appearance.
12. Chinese Algae Eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri)
Chinese algae eaters are among freshwater catfish species that can live for about 10 years. Unlike other catfish species, these species have relatively muted patterns and colors. On average, a Chinese algae eater weighs around 0.5 pounds and has a length of 11 inches.
They usually have a pale brown or golden backside with lighter bellies. They also have a dark black stripe at the base of their skin that runs horizontally across the body.
Chinese algae eaters can be identified by their long slender bodies with small fins. Their dorsal fins have firm rays that give them a spiky appearance. They also have large mouths with sizable lips.
These species are common in Southeast Asia. They can be natively found in the Chap Phraya basin and rivers in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Their nice golden appearance also makes them be kept at home as pets.
13. Wels Catfish (Silurus glanis)
Wels catfish are among the largest species of catfish. Wels catfish can be identified by their triangular-shaped head with two barbels on the upper side of the mouth. There are also four shorter barbels at the lower side of the mouth.
Wels catfish also features a spine with about 18 rays behind their head. You can also identify them by their large anal fin and small round tail fin. They also have flat and round snouts with widely spaced nostrils.
Wels catfish have a dark-greenish to black coloration at their back and a mottled or marbled creamy yellow appearance on the sides. The underbelly has a grey-to-white color.
These species of catfish are native to Eurasia. They are widely found on the Baltic, North, Caspian, Black, Aegean, and Aral sea drainage waters in Eastern and Central Europe. They are also natively found in Southern Sweden, South Greece, Iran, and Turkey.
Wels catfish are enormous species of catfish and grow up to 16 feet. They can also weigh up to 660 pounds.
What makes these species special is their ability to change color depending on their habitat. They also have exceptional night vision because they have a tissue layer that allows light to pass even when it’s dark.
14. Bullhead Catfish (Ameiurus Nebulosus)
There are different species of bullhead catfish, including the black, brown, white, and yellow bullhead. The brown bullhead catfish are the most popular bullhead family widely distributed in different drainage systems across North America.
Bullheads are natively found in central Montana, the streams of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, New Brunswick, the Atlantic Coast, Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. Unlike channel catfish, bullheads like living in waters with low oxygen.
You can identify brown bullheads with dark barbels and slightly notched squared tails. They also have dorsal and pectoral spines.
Brown bullhead catfish have brown to yellow coloration that fades as they get to the belly. The color changes from dark green on the top to yellow on the belly.
Bullheads can grow to about a foot in length. However, there are cases where some grow up to 20 inches depending on the food and habitat. Most bullhead catfish species rarely weigh more than 2 pounds.
Most of the bullhead catfish eat what channel catfish eat. Unlike other types of catfish sports anglers prefer, bullheads are caught in accidents but make delicious filets.
15. White Catfish (Ameiurus catus)
The white catfish can be identified by their blue-black or grey coloration with white or light yellow bellies. They also have yellow or white barbels and a black adipose fin.
White catfish can also be identified by their forked caudal fins. Their anal fins are short with rounded outlines and have 22 to 25 rays. They also have about 15 large saw-like teeth at the rear side of the pectoral fin.
White catfish are natively found in the Gulf Slope drainages and the Atlantic. They can also be found in the lower Hudson, Pascagoula, and Peace River drainage. However, they have been introduced in other areas outside their native range.
The length of these catfish varies but usually ranges between 10-18 inches. Moreover, white catfish can weigh between 2-4 pounds. There are instances where some white catfish weigh over 10 pounds, but this depends on the habitat and climate.
Like channel catfish, white catfish are omnivorous and like feeding on various plants and animals. Some popular food they like feeding on includes crayfish, clams, insect larvae, fruits, and berries.
Types of Catfish: Frequently Asked Question
What catfish eat varies across species, but most of them are omnivorous. However, there are a few species that are herbivorous and scavengers. The most popular diet includes algae, crayfish, water beetles, insects, fish eggs, snails, and plants.
Catfish are opportunistic feeders and can like feeding during the day and night. However, their feeding pattern can vary depending on the season. They are active during warm seasons and are inactive during cold seasons.
Generally, catfish are not dangerous as they don’t kill humans. However, they have sharp fins that can cause injuries if not handled carefully.
Some common edible catfish species include Channel, Blue, Flathead and Asian Catfish. But, not all catfish are suitable for consumption. Many of them have toxins or be raised in contaminated environments. Verify the source and proper cooking for safety.
Catfish are delicious and healthy to eat. They are a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. They have a mild, sweet taste with a dense, moist texture.
One of the most rare catfish is the Goonch catfish. It’s found in certain river systems in South Asia. The Goonch has gained attention due to its large size and elusive nature, and it’s considered a challenging catch for anglers.