why are catfish called catfish

Solved: Why Are Catfish Called “Catfish”?

If you’ve ever heard of or seen a catfish, you likely think of a whiskered bottom-feeding fish swimming along the bottom of slow-moving water, sucking food off the bottom. And you’re right. However, you may not know that there are thousands of species of catfish that come in all shapes and sizes, dispersed around the world. And not all come with the telltale whiskers.

So, why are catfish called catfish? Catfish are called catfish because of the kitten-like whiskers that extend from their face. They look like the whiskers seen on cats. However, these protrusions are technically called barbels, and some species of catfish do not have them.

Catfish are a diverse species of fish and one of the most popular worldwide to sport fisherman, as a food source, and for hobby aquarists.

Where does the term catfish come from?

Since we now know how catfish got its name, it’s time to learn more about these whiskers. The catfish whiskers are technically called barbels. Catfish have eight barbels, always found in pairs on their face and consistent amongst all species except those that do not have them.

Catfish barbels help these fish find food and are covered with tiny taste buds. Since catfish tend to swim in dark, murky waters like at the bottom of rivers and lakes, their eyesight is not always reliable for helping them find food. Therefore, these whiskers help them seek out food. 

They are believed to be one of the best fish species for surviving in the dark because they can seek food with their barbels, but predators can’t see them in those dark waters. 

A common myth about catfish is that they sting with their whiskers. This is false, as the whiskers are harmless and do not contain any toxic poison. Therefore, it is okay to touch catfish whiskers safely. 

Where do catfish come from?

Catfish are found worldwide, with more than half of all species found in the Americas.

where do catfish come from

Most live in slow-moving freshwater, while some live underground and others inhabit caves. Others live in saltwater. As mentioned before, they tend to live in dark, murky waters at the bottom of water bodies.

Various catfish species have been transplanted and released in non-native areas around the world, resulting in invasive species and nuisance issues. For example, Walking Catfish have been introduced to Florida freshwaters and become a significant pest since they are non-native to that area. 

Characteristics of Catfish

Physical Characteristics of Catfish

Catfish come in various sizes, body shapes and exhibit a wide range of behaviors. Many of the larger catfish species are farmed and used as food. Smaller catfish species are popular in the hobby realm.

They are ray-finned fish, meaning they belong to the class Actinopterygii and have fins supported by long rays of bone.

All species besides the electric catfish have a bony spine-like ray on their dorsal and pectoral fins. These spines can be locked into places and cause severe wounds. This may be where the confusion with the whiskers being dangerous comes in. In a few species, the fish can use this ray to inject a lethal venom, while other species may cause hospitalization. 

Catfish don’t have scales, and some species actually breathe through their skin. Other species have bony plates that cover their body. 

The smallest catfish species grow no larger than one centimeter in length, while larger species may exceed eight feet. In addition, there are stories of giant catfish fatally attacking humans and even a water buffalo in the Kali River on the India-Nepal border! They estimate this fish (or fishes) weighed hundreds of pounds.

How do catfish eat?

Catfish are bottom feeders because they tend to sink rather than float. This is called negatively buoyant and is due to a small gas bladder. They also have a heavy, bony head that doesn’t help them in the floating department.

Many species of catfish feed through suction or gulping, with a mouth that can expand significantly, while others have a suckermouth that can attach to objects in fast-moving water. They eat food sources on the bottom of these water bodies.

When fishing for catfish, patience is critical because of how they feed. Drop your line with bait to the bottom, make sure it is secured to something sturdy, put a bell on your pole for when they bite, and step away. While catfish can’t see well down in their dark, murky depths, they are highly sensitive and have a keen sense of movement on the land above them. As catfish feed along the bottom, hopefully, they’ll eventually come across your bait and go for it, causing the bell to ring and alerting you to a bite. 

Catfish Nicknames

There are many nicknames for catfish, depending on the region you’re in, and the type of catfish found there. Some of these include “chucklehead,” “polliwog,” or “mudcat.” However, it is important to remember these nicknames are not standardized. So, for example, a species referred to by a nickname in one area may be a totally different species in another region.

Catfish as Food

Catfish have been a good food source for people worldwide for hundreds of years. Feelings are mixed on the edibility of catfish, with some finding it an excellent fish to eat and others finding it watery and flavorless. It is cooked in numerous ways depending on where you are in the world.

It’s easy to farm catfish in warm climates, with Mississippi being a significant producer of U.S. catfish. There have been issues with Vietnamese exporters labeling fish as catfish, selling it in the U.S., and hurting the U.S. catfish industry. So, what is the fake catfish called? This “catfish” is a shark catfish species, Pangasius bocourti. In 2003, the U.S. passed regulations that prevented it from being labeled as catfish, and now it’s sold under the name “basa fish” or “striper.” 

Conclusion: Why are Catfish Called “Catfish”?

Now you know more about catfish than you ever thought you would. 

So to recap, how did the term catfish come about? It’s whiskers. 

And if you’ve ever wondered where catfish come from, you now know the answer is basically everywhere

Catfish are intriguing fish, with thousands of species found all over the world and varying wildly in size, body shape, and behavior. The whiskers that give them their name are called barbels that help them find food even in the darkest depths of both freshwater and saltwater. 

Contrary to popular belief, the barbels are not dangerous and can be touched without harm. However, some species have a ray on top of their back to sting and inject poisonous venom. 

So, if you’re going to be fishing for or handling catfish, make sure you know which fish have this characteristic. 

Also, don’t be fooled by fake catfish being sold as catfish next time you order them for dinner. And if you really want to have the whole catfish dining experience, head to the Southern United States, where catfish are highly celebrated and enjoyed.