A Fish with Whiskers: Catfish

They are fun to fish for. You can keep them in an aquarium. And, they make a tasty meal. No matter how you enjoy them, catfish are fascinating underwater creatures.

With the exception of Antarctica, they live on all continents and are believed to include 3,000 different species. Some are living in freshwater ecosystems like rivers and streams. Others are at home in saltwater, like the ocean. They can be just inches long or they can be giants: the Mekong catfish in Asia can reach nearly nine feet in length and up to 646 pounds.

They are easily recognized and distinguished from other fish due to some unusual characteristics. They are named for their barbels around the mouth, which resemble cat’s whiskers. They also have smooth, scaleless bodies and at heads. They are typically dull in color so they can blend into their surroundings, but there are some more brightly colored varieties.

Catfish in Arkansas

One of the more popular North American catfish is the channel cat. It is sometimes known as the “Fork-Tailed Cat,” “Fiddler” or “Lady Cat.” The athead catfish is another prominent North American species, as well as the blue catfish. All three types are found in Arkansas.

Both channel and blue cats are found in lakes in Arkansas, and are native to the Arkansas Ozarks streams. Arkansas Game and Fish stocks tens of thousands of channel and blue cat sh in Bull Shoals Lake, Lake Norfork, and area streams every year. Flathead catfish are native to most of the Arkansas Ozarks waters, including lakes and streams.

What they eat

Channel catfish are omnivorous, generally feeding along the bottom. They will eat cray fish, fish, amphibians, terrestrial insects, and decaying matter. Blue catfish are a more aggressive fish predator that generally inhabits the open water. Flatheads are pure carnivores, they eat almost nothing that is not alive.

“Seeing” with their whiskers

Barbels and other sensory organs help them locate food in the dark waters they call home. They also have taste sensors all over the surface of their bodies. These taste buds detect chemicals in the water and respond to touch.

Purring like a catfish

They may not say “meow,” but they can produce various sounds. According to SoftSchools.com, they are able to produce and detect sound due to a bony structure that connects their swim bladder and auditory system. By rubbing together body parts or inducing vibration of the swim bladder, they can produce different noises.

On a plate

Their sweet-tasting, mild flesh makes them an important food source around the world. In the United States, fried catfish is especially popular in the southern states. It is also popular in parts of Asia and Africa.