Catfish are so named because of whisker-like structures on their face, known as barbels. Some species of catfish are among the largest freshwater fish alive today.
Scientific & Common Names
Family: Ictaluridae (North America)
Catfish have a few distinctive features that separate them from other fishes. Their most obvious are their barbels – whisker-like structures that help them detect food. Another distinctive feature of catfish is that they do not have scales. Some species have bony armor-like scutes, but most species are completely smooth.
Catfish vary widely in size, from tiny banjo catfishes that grow to less than an inch, to the Piraíba catfish which can grow well over ten feet long.
Catfish are mostly bottom feeders, using their barbels to help them locate food. Catfish have taste bud receptors spread out over their entire body, meaning they can “taste” anything they touch. These taste buds are more densely concentrated around their barbels.
Most catfish are found in muddy waters, and so they do not depend on their eyes to navigate. Instead, they rely on sounds as well as chemicals which they release from their body in order to communicate with other catfish.
Catfish first developed during the Late Cretaceous Period, 100 million years ago.
In North America, the most common catfish are those of family Ictaluridae, which includes the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and the bullheads (Genus Ameiurus). The channel catfish is the most common catfish species in North America, and is a popular food fish. It is the official state fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee.
Channel catfish are a species of Least Concern according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Many catfish, including those of the Ictaluridae family, are invasive species, spreading into areas where they are not native and threatening local wildlife.
Other species, like the Mekong giant catfish of Southeast Asia, are Critically Endangered.