Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Catfish

(Ictalurus punctatus)


Fifteen species of catfish can be found in Missouri, among them the channel catfish, flathead catfish and the bullheads. The four pairs of barbels near the mouth of these fish look like the whiskers of a cat and are used in much the same way.  Because catfish are most active at night these barbels help them explore their habitat and find food.

Eating Habits

Catfish eat a variety of foods.  The menu may include insects, snails, crayfish, freshwater mussels and other fish.  The taste buds of a catfish are actually outside the mouth and on the sensitive barbels.  When a tasty insect comes in contact with the side of the fish’s mouth it is quickly gobbled up. Taste and touch are very important senses to a catfish.


Catfish lay their egg mass (which looks like a big scoop of tapioca pudding) in a “nest” or natural cavity. The parents will fiercely protect these eggs from predators until after they hatch.  Some catfish dads even keep the baby catfish inside their mouths, away from predators. The young leave the nest about a week after hatching and are on their own.  Catfish can live up to 10 years.


Catfish can be found in rivers, lakes and streams throughout Missouri.  Natural cavities or crevices make perfect catfish homes.  During the day catfish spend time in deep pools, quietly resting.  


Many types of catfish have sharp spines in front of their dorsal (top) fins and pectoral (side or swimming) fins.  Others have armored scales on parts of their bodies. 


  • One of the largest catfish caught in Missouri was a Blue Catfish that weighed 117 pounds.  But the world’s largest catfish is found in Europe.  The Wells Catfish can measure 15 feet and weigh 650 pounds!

  • The only vertebrate parasite of humans is a type of catfish.  The tiny, worm-like Candiru lives in South American rivers and when people are wading the fish enters the body.

To learn more about catfish

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(Photo credits: Portrait from US Fish and Wildlife Service; Profile from Missouri Department of Conservation; Catfish fry from Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources)

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